As part of Secretary Edwin Stanton’s appeal for 20,000 New York National Guardsmen to be sent to Maryland and Pennsylvania, the 12th New York State National Guard (S.N.G.) was among many regiments who answered the call. On June 20th, 1863, the 12th New York S.N.G. left New York for a third enlistment for the defense of the Union.
After boarding a vessel, they moved onward to Philadelphia where they boarded train cars bound toward Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They arrived at Harrisburg on June 21st and was ordered to Camp Curtin, where they awaited orders. Colonel William G. Ward was the commander of the 12th New York S.N.G., and must have wondered how his regiment would fare during the Pennsylvania Campaign. In September of 1862, during the Maryland Campaign, the 12th New York S.N.G. was among those ordered to surrender to Confederate General Thomas Jackson during the Siege of Harper’s Ferry. The 12th New York S.N.G. was not officially exchanged until January of 1863, although the regiment mustered out of U.S. Service in October of 1862.
After being officially mustered into U.S. service, the 12th New York S.N.G. was placed with General William F. Smith’s First Division, General Charles Yates Second New York State National Guard Brigade, as part of the Department of the Susquehanna under the command of General Darius Couch. Their brigade commander and his staff had reported to General Couch on June 20th. Upon his arrival, his brigade was quickly reduced when the 4th New York S.N.G. was ordered to Camp Curtin for detached service. The 6th and 84th New York S.N.G. were ordered to Baltimore, Maryland. Briefly, the 71st New York S.N.G. was placed under General Yates’ command, however, they too were detached and never officially served with his brigade.
The 12th New York S.N.G., along with the 5th New York S.N.G. made up Yates’ Brigade.
On June 21st, General Yates received orders to march his brigade of 1,000 soldiers to Marysville and Fenwick. The assignment was a junction where the Dauphin and Susquehanna Valleys connect. They were to guard two railroad bridges crossing the Susquehanna at that point. Early the next morning, the 12th New York S.N.G. marched across the Susquehanna River and began to take on their assignment.
The area was very important, and needed to be defended in case it would come under attack. General Yates’ recalled in his official report, “The Dauphin Valley runs parallel with the Cumberland Valley, being connected with it by several mountain gaps, the farthest of which is Sterrett’s Gap, through which the road to Carlisle passes. The enemy being then advancing toward Harrisburg, it was supposed he might make a diversion to the left, pass down the Dauphin Valley, and cross the Susquehanna. Our position, therefore, assumed a very important character, and required very great diligence in checking a movement of that kind. On arriving at the Dauphin Valley, the only force we found there consisted of about 50 or 60 men of the Invalid Corps, stationed at block -houses near the bridges.”
From the 22nd through July 7th, the soldiers performed many fatigue duties, as detachments were sent out periodically to fall trees obstructing roadways leading to their camp and dig rifle-pits. They were often aided by other New York National Guardsmen and soldiers from the Pennsylvania Militia. General Yates recorded, “We immediately commenced constructing such earthworks in front and flanks as were deemed necessary, and selected a position to make a determined stand, the left flank of our contemplated line being protected by an obstruction of felled woods, and the narrow pass along the Susquehanna being guarded by such force as could be spared for that purpose. Various detachments from time to time were sent with ax-men, to obstruct and guard the mountain gaps. During the service there they were exposed to almost incessant rains, having only their shelter tents to protect them from the inclemency of the whether. These detachments performed the duty assigned to them with alacrity and fidelity.”
On July 7th, four days after the close of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 12th New York S.N.G. was ordered to Carlisle, where they arrived by rail at midnight. Upon arriving there, the soldiers bivouacked in the town square during a massive rainstorm. Early in the morning, they were ordered to march toward Shippensburg, which was roughly fourteen miles away. Reaching Shippensburg near sunset, they continued their march for another nine miles with the moon guiding their way to Greenville, where they bivouacked for a few hours.
During their march to Shippensburg, General Yates’ Brigade received reinforcements. The 20th, 35th, and the 45th Pennsylvania Militia were attached to the brigade and reorganized as First Brigade of Second Division under the command of General Napoleon Jackson Tecumseh Dana. During the Confederate invasion, General Dana was in charge of the defenses of Philadelphia.
By July 11th, the 12th New York S.N.G. reached Chambersburg. More reinforcements were placed in the brigade. They received the 26th Pennsylvania Militia, and the 5th U.S. Artillery. Yates’ Brigade swelled to 4,300 men. Dana’s Division totaled more than 12,000 soldiers. They were encamped one mile from Chambersburg. The 12th New York S.N.G. encamped near Chambersburg until July 14th when it, along with the division, was ordered to Greencastle.
Upon reaching Greencastle, the soldiers learned of the Confederate army’s escape into Virginia. This was around the same time that the riots broke out in New York, and due to this, the 12th New York S.N.G. was ordered back to assist in putting those riots down. Between the riots, Lee’s escape into Virginia, and near expiration of their term, Yates was ordered back to New York. On July 15th, General Yates, along with the 5th and 12th New York S.N.G. units were ordered to march toward Shippensburg. From there, they would take the train back to New York where they would arrive on July 18th. Their service in Pennsylvania came to a close, and they were mustered out of U.S. service on July 20th, 1863.