Twelfth New Jersey Infantry Regiment was raised under the second call of
president for 300,000 men, Robert C. Johnson, of Salem, formerly major
of the 4th regiment (3 months' men), being commissioned as its colonel
early in July, 1862.
in Gloucester County, was selected as the rendezvous, and on July 25 the
first detachment of troops, about 950 men, was mustered into the U. S.
service. Many of the officers had already seen service in other
regiments, but comparatively few of the men were familiar with military
duties or requirements, though all entered cheerfully upon the work of
preparing for the duties before them.
September 7 the regiment left the state for Washington, but at Baltimore
was diverted from its course by General Wool, commanding that district,
who ordered it to proceed to Ellicott City, the county seat of Howard
County MD, 15 miles from Baltimore on the line of the Baltimore &
Chancellorsville, on May 3, 1863, the regiment received its first taste
of actual warfare. It behaved with great gallantry, though the loss was
severe, amounting to 179
in killed, wounded and missing. Although under arms during the two
succeeding days and nights, it was not again engaged, and on the night
of the 5th it re-crossed the Rappahannock and proceeded to its old camp,
having in its first battle lost over
one-tenth of its men.
after reaching the field at Gettysburg on July 2, Company I was sent out
on the skirmish line, but the combat not yet being opened, only two or
three casualties were sustained. In the afternoon a house and barn
standing about 200 yards west of the Emmitsburg road and nearly
equidistant from either army having been occupied as a cover by the
Confederate sharpshooters, Companies B, H, E and G were sent out to
dislodge them, which they did, capturing 6 commissioned officers and 80
men, but with considerable loss, Captain Horsfall of Company E, a brave
officer, being killed, and Lieut. Eastwick wounded. During the fearful
infantry contest of the following day the regiment was actively engaged,
but only lost 5 or 6 men killed and 1 officer and 30 men wounded.
October 14, 1863 when near Auburn mills, some 2 miles east of
Warrenton, the Confederate cavalry made an attack upon the corps of
which the regiment was a part, evidently hoping to capture its train,
but they were repulsed with loss and the corps continued its retreat
toward Centerville, the point which Lee was straining every nerve to
reach in advance of the Union troops. In the engagement at Bristoe
Station, which lasted for 3 or 4 hours, several men of the 12th were
wounded, Lieutenant Lowe, of Company G, being among the number. In the
skirmishes at Mine Run on November 28, 1863, the regiment did not
sustain any casualties, although under fire on several occasions. In the
affair at Morton's Ford, on February 6, 1864,some 10 men of the regiment
were wounded, but only 1 fatally.
May 4 through June 23, 1864, the Twelfth New Jersey was in battle on no
less than fifteen separate occasions. At the battle of the Wilderness,
although not engaged as a whole, the regiment suffered considerably,
Lieutenant John M. Fogg, of Company H, being killed, while Lieutenant
Frank M. Riley, of Company K, and several others were wounded. Two days
later the regiment lost heavily, Lieutenant Colonel Davis and Captains
Chew and Potter being among the wounded. In the magnificent assault at
Spottsylvania, which resulted in the capture of over 3,000 prisoners and
some 30 guns, the 12th again suffered severely, Lieutenant Colonel Davis
being instantly killed while bravely leading the regiment; Captain H. M.
Brooks and Lieutenant E. P. Phipps were severely wounded and were
obliged to quit the service in consequence. In the assault at Cold
Harbor the loss of the regiment was severe, Captain McCoomb, commanding
the regiment, being mortally wounded by the explosion of a shell, which
also killed or wounded several privates. Up to June 16 the total loss of
the regiment in this memorable campaign had been some 250 killed,
wounded or missing--a large proportion of the wounded being officers.
this time forward the regiment was in position at various points on the
line, and in July it participated in the movement and affair at
Strawberry Plains and Deep Bottom, on the north side of the James.
Thence, by a forced march, it returned to the Petersburg front, arriving
in time to support the assault at the explosion of the mine, July 30,
though not actually engaged. It participated in the second movement to
Deep Bottom, charging the enemy's picket line under Captains. Chew and
Acton, and upon returning marched to the extreme left flank of the Army
of the Potomac, whence it was marched to Reams'
station, on the Weldon railroad, where the 1st division of the corps had
preceded it. In the severe action at the latter place Lieutenant Colonel
Thompson, commanding the regiment, was severely wounded and Lieutenants
Rich and Stratton were killed.
the action at Reams' station the regiment was in various positions along
the Petersburg front, Fort Hell on the Jerusalem plank road, Fort
Morton, and at other points, until late in October, when it moved out
and participated in the action known as the battle of the Boydton road,
where it lost 4 killed and 9 wounded--including Captain T. O. Slater. In
the winter of 1864-65 it took part in the various actions at Hatcher's
run, where in one instance it charged across the run, waist deep, and
took the enemy's works, upon which its color-bearer, Ellwood Griscom,
was the first to plant the national
colors. It was present in the movements of the army preceding the main
assault on the Petersburg defenses; took part in the assault, under the
command of Major Chew, and aided in the various actions during Lee's
retreat until his surrender. It returned, via Richmond, to Bailey's
crossroads, in front of Washington, where in June, 1865, the old
battalion of the regiment was mustered out of service, and in July the
remainder of the regiment. Its total strength was 1,899, and it lost, by
resignation 14, by discharge 171, by promotion 56, by transfer 206, by
death 261, by desertion 216, by dismissal 3, not
accounted for 29, mustered out, 943.
1870 Virgil Willett was living in Camden's North Ward with his wife
Leonora, son Joseph, and daughters Clara and Leonora G. "Gertie"
Willett. A son, also named Virgil, came shortly after the Census was
taken, but sadly, Joseph Willett would pass during the 1870s. Virgil
Willett listed his occupation as a "dealer in milk" in 1870.
some point during the 1870s Virgil Willett went into the business of
packaging coffee. He was still involved in this at the time of the 1880
Census, when he was living at 501 North 3rd Street. The coffee venture
had ended by early 1888, when he went into the grocery business in
Philadelphia. By 1887 he was living at 828 North 2nd Street in North
Camden, and was there as late as 1890. He filed for his Civil War
pension on September 4th of that year. Virgil Willett was also a member
of the Thomas M.K.
Lee Post No. 5, of the Grand Army of the Republic, in Camden.
On occasion he traveled about the area, speaking at G.A.R. events. He
was a;sp active as a member of Tabernacle
Methodist Episcopal Church.
Willett passed away on January 16, 1899. He was survived by his wife, Leonora
Willett was a longtime member of New Jersey Lodge No. 1, Independent
Order of Odd Fellows and of Camden Lodge, No. 1, Ancient
Order of United Workmen. George Reeser Prowell wrote the
following in his History of Camden County, New Jersey which was
published in 1886: