by Erin McGough, Collections Manager
Have you ever picked a penny up from the sidewalk, or rubbed a rabbit’s foot? Do you have a special trinket that you believe brings you good luck? This pocket watch is now missing its case, but was made sometime around 1860 by Joseph French, in Liverpool, England. It was owned by Julius Bernard Chandler, a 25 year old house painter from Duxbury who signed up to serve as a private in the Civil War with the 12th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He served nearly the entire war, serving from June 1861 – July 1864 and then again from September 1864 – June 1865. With such a lengthy service, it is little wonder that Chandler felt the need for some good luck, and he carried this pocket watch with him during the war, believing it to be some kind of talisman.
The 12th Massachusetts was a regiment formed on June 14, 1861 in Boston, Massachusetts. Its original commander was Colonel Fletcher Webster, son of the famed U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Daniel Webster. It is from this connection that the unit got its nickname, the “Webster Regiment,” although, Colonel Webster would later be killed at the Second Bull Run. A three-year unit, the 12th was trained at Fort Warren in Boston harbor, and on July 19, 1861 the regiment was reviewed by Governor John Albion Andrew on Boston Common and presented with its colors. A few days later, the 12th Massachusetts departed Boston for the war front.
The pocket watch was indeed well-traveled: the 12th Massachusetts saw significant action on some of the most infamous battlefields of the Civil War, including Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Spotsylvania. In many of these places, casualty rates for the 12th Massachusetts were high, exemplified perhaps by their experience at Antietam, where the 12th Massachusetts suffered the highest percentage of casualties among all Union Army regiments present at the battle. Of the 334 that went into battle, 224 were killed, wounded or missing, resulting in a casualty rate of 67% (some accounts give even higher casualty rates). When the 12th Massachusetts regrouped after battle, only 32 men were standing to rally around the colors. Today, a Massachusetts State monument stands on the battlefield at Antietam in the approximate location where the 12th saw action.
Despite the significant losses by the 12th Massachusetts, Julius Bernard Chandler survived to return to Duxbury, and in 1871 he married Mary Louise Bradley (1839-1913). He died of rheumatism in Duxbury in 1885, at the age of 49. Julius Bernard and Mary Louise Chandler had a daughter named Mary E. Chandler (1873-1957); she married Joseph Van Buskirk Merry (1868-1957). It is through the Merry family that the pocket watch would continue its journey, as it descended to their son, Frederick Merry (1894-1978). It seems fitting that the grandson of Civil War soldier Julius Bernard Chandler carried the watch during his two years of service in World War I. Hopefully the pocket watch elicited for him the same type of good luck on the battlefield.