We are approaching the anniversary of an event that occurred in April of 1861: the formation of the Twelfth Massachusetts Regiment. Benjamin F. Cook, who enlisted as a Union private in the Civil War and quickly rose through the ranks, was later tasked by his comrades with documenting the history of that regiment. [1] Affectionately known as “The Webster Regiment,” it was named after Fletcher Webster, the longest surviving son of the great Daniel Webster  [2]   (who is commonly referred to as the “Defender of the U.S. Constitution”).
Fletcher Webster had previously served under his father in the State Department and was one of the two men chosen to deliver the news of President William Henry Harrison’s death to Vice President John Tyler. [3]  On April 21, 1861, responding to an event that happened in Baltimore two days earlier [4]  as well as to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers, Fletcher Webster gave a moving speech urging the formation of a new regiment. [5] Benjamin Cook recorded a newspaper’s description of the scene:

Mr. Webster’s remarks were patriotic in the extreme. He could, he said, see no better use to which the Sabbath could be put than to improve it by showing our gratitude to Divine Providence for bestowing upon us the best government in the world, and to pledge ourselves to stand by and defend it. [6]

Webster concluded that speech by stating:


Let us show the world that the patriotism of ’61 is not less than that of the heroes of ’76; that the noble impulses of those patriot hearts have descended to us. [7]

The crowd responded and a new regiment was formed. Having enlisted enough men to fill “sixteen full comp
anies,” [8]  it arrived at Fort Warren the first week in May. Significantly, WallBuilders owns original organizational documents for this regiment that we thought you might enjoy seeing. They establish temporary officers, chaplains, etc., pending the official recognition of the regiment, which occurred in early June.

Although Fletcher Webster was killed a little over a year later on August 26, 1862, at the Second Battle of Bull Run, [9]  the regiment retained its nickname as “The Webster Regiment.” It went on to fight in major battles at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and elsewhere, and was later declared by General Meade to be “the finest regiment in the service.” [10]

 

 


[1] “Captain Benjamin Franklin Cook,” Antietam: On the Web. See also, Benjamin F. Cook and James Beal, History of the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers (Webster Regiment) (Boston: Twelfth (Webster) Regiment Association, 1882), pp. 3-5.

 

[2] William Schouler, A History of Massachusetts in the Civil War (Boston: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1868), p. 111.

 

[3] “John Tyler, Tenth Vice President (1841),” United States Senate.

 

[4] “Exciting days of the Civil War are Recalled: When Webster’s Regiment Passed Through York,” The Reading Eagle (Friday, August 4, 1922).

 

[5] “The Late Colonel Fletcher Webster,” Harper’s Weekly: A Journey of Civilization, Vol. VI, No. 299 (New York: Harper Brothers, Saturday, September 20, 1862). See also, Benjamin F. Cook and James Beal, History of the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers (Webster Regiment) (Boston: Twelfth (Webster) Regiment Association, 1882), pp. 9-10.

 

[6] Benjamin F. Cook and James Beal, History of the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers (Webster Regiment) (Boston: Twelfth (Webster) Regiment Association, 1882), pp. 9-10. See also, William Schouler, A History of Massachusetts in the Civil War (Boston: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1868), p. 111.

 

[7] Benjamin F. Cook and James Beal, History of the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers (Webster Regiment) (Boston: Twelfth (Webster) Regiment Association, 1882), p. 10.

 

[8] Benjamin F. Cook and James Beal, History of the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers (Webster Regiment) (Boston: Twelfth (Webster) Regiment Association, 1882), pp. 10-11.

 

[9] “Webster, Fletcher,” The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, (New York: James T. White & Co, 1906) Vol. XIII., p. 169.  See also, “Death of Col. Fletcher Webster” New York Times, September 2, 1862.

 

[10] Benjamin F. Cook and James Beal, History of the Twelfth Massachusetts Volunteers (Webster Regiment) (Boston: Twelfth (Webster) Regiment Association, 1882), p. 143.
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