A look at the “Twosters”

by Fred Ray on May 28, 2008 · 0 comments

Came across an informative web site about the 122nd New York Volunteers, the “Onondagas,”—so named after their home county in upstate New York—or “Twosters” as they sometimes called themselves. Most unit-based web sites seem to be either by reenactors (as here), local historians, or descendants. Some combine all three. In any case there is a lot or primary source material here, including a transcription of the diaries of Sergeant Alonzo Clapp, newspaper articles, letters and reminiscences. Wish all unit sites were this good!

Also of interest is material on the 122nd posted by local historian Kathy Crowell, who transcribed it from a regular veteran’s column in a local newspaper. These newspapers are often a rich and untapped source of information drawn from the memories of local veterans.

Crowell also put up another article about the regiment’s casualties originally published in 1864 and reprinted in 1891. It’s by Lieutenant Colonel Augustus Dwight (writing as “D”) and gives a complete list of men killed, wounded, captured, and missing up to March 8, 1864. Colonel Dwight was just over two weeks away from his own roll call with destiny—he was killed on March 25th in the intense picket fighting that took place in the aftermath of the Confederate assault on Fort Stedman. His detailed information gives us a snapshot of the regiment’s service.

“The regiment entered the campaign with four hundred muskets and twenty-four officers. It sustained three hundred and nineteen casualties out of the four hundred enlisted men, and twenty-four casualties among the twenty-four officers.”

When looking at those figures you should keep in mind that 1) some men were wounded more than once and returned to service (some tough Yankees there!) 2) some men were captured but escaped or were exchanged, and 3) some died in later prison who were not recorded here. The regiment’s compendium also notes that 3 officers and 85 enlisted men died from disease. I don’t know whether the 122nd received any replacements or how many. The regiment was never consolidated or disbanded and was demobbed at the end of the war.

I’ve extracted the information on various battles for the purposes of comparison, ignoring some of the smaller actions. The other factor to consider is that the regiment got smaller as the year progressed, so casualties are proportionately greater i.e. 50 casualties to a regiment of 400 men is the same proportionately as 25 casualties to a regiment of 200. Since I don’t have exact strength figures I can’t figure this exactly, but here are the losses for various major battles. These differ just a bit from Phisterer’s figures.

Wilderness — 31 kia, 70 wia, 37 m/p (missing/prisoner)

Spotsylvania—1 kia, 17 wia, 1 m/p

Cold Harbor—14 kia, 53 wia

Fort Stevens—6 kia, 18 wia

3rd Winchester (Opequon)—10 kia, 24 wia

Cedar Creek—6 kia, 26 wia

The Wilderness stands out as the 122nd’s most costly battle. What happened there? At the time the regiment was part of Shaler’s brigade, 6th Corps, and was hit by Gordon’s flank attack on the evening of May 6th, losing heavily. By contrast their losses at Spotsylvania were relatively light, but they more than made this up at Cold Harbor. What is worth noting is their casualties at Fort Stevens, just outside Washington, were almost as great as they were in the hard-fought Valley battles of 3rd Winchester and Cedar Creek. The “Twosters” were part of Bidwell’s brigade and were selected as one of the regiments to assault the Confederate positions on what is now Walter Reed hospital at dusk on July 12, 1864. There followed an struggle that some remembered as being the most intense of the war. The accompanying 61st Pennsylvania also lost 6 killed, the 43rd New York counted 5 killed and 29 wounded (including its commander). All these were very small regiments—49th New York lost 28 of the 85 men who stood in its ranks. One veteran “Twoster” observed that the proportion of dead to wounded was unusually high, with over a third of the wounds being fatal as opposed to the normal 16-20% for a major action—a tribute to Southern marksmanship. Given the much smaller number of men engaged (2,000-2,500 on both sides), the percentage of dead and wounded for those units actually in the fray compares favorably with the battle of Monocacy fought only three days before. Indeed, the sharp-shooting Confederates killed or wounded all of Bidwell’s regimental commanders along with many of his other officers, and the action cost his command roughly a third of its men.


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