S. Millet Thompson.

Thirteenth regiment of New Hampshire volunteer infantry in the war of the rebellion, 1861-1865: a diary covering three years and a day online

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Online LibraryS. Millet ThompsonThirteenth regiment of New Hampshire volunteer infantry in the war of the rebellion, 1861-1865: a diary covering three years and a day → online text (page 10 of 81)
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chat with Lt. Col. Pearsons ; than whom few better and braver men ever
drew sword in America.

Here and there in the yards about the houses, men are lying, in many


places half a dozen or more tog-other, with their coat-capes thi'own up over
their faces — dead. A cellar is shown, where a number of women and
children had gone for protection. A shell burst in their midst, not known
whether a rebel or a Union shell ; but upon the occupation of the city
by our troops, it is said that the bodies of ten women and one child were
found here, dead, all killed by pieces of shell. Several women and children
were found alive hidden in cellars ; some in cisterns ; one woman was
found in a well. The enemy left many of their dead, and a few of their
wounded, in the city. A soldier looking for wood in a back yard, in the
dark, stumbles over three dead bodies, and not caring to repeat such an
experience, secures his wood elsewhere. Another Union soldier, on the
same night, looking for wood, finds a long strip of board, places one end
upon a log, and is just in the act of jumping upon it, to break it, when the
log calls out: "What in — are you at?" This was the night of Dec.
11th, dai-k as Egypt. The log, a wounded man, spoke just in the nick
of time. So are the horrid and the ridiculous jumbled together in the
army. About a dozen officers, names not known, sit down to dinner in a
small out-door dining-room with many windows. A shell comes down
through the roof, down through the table, and down through the floor into
a sort of cellar beneath, all done in a twinkling ; about as quickly there is
a row of boots sticking in at the windows, all around the room, as the
officers all scramble out — forthwith. Waiting a little, they reconnoitre,
return within, and finish their dinner. The shell is a rebel solid shot.
Some of the men of the Thirteenth, together with others in the Brigade,
find a spirited Irishwoman, a wild maid of Erin, with huge snaggle teeth,
which sometimes indicate a snaggle temper, and finding a kitchen well
fitted up, ask her to cook some bread for them. She puts her brawny
fists upon her hips, arms akimbo, and swears by all the frogs and snakes
out of Ireland that she is not a cook, and will not cook for ' yes blatherin
Yanks.' They threaten to duck her in the Rappahannock, if she does not
cook immediately. She cooks ; and confesses that she has served as a
cook for some skedaddled city nabob. Her biscuit are excellent.

At dark to-night the Thirteenth moves to the front, and is placed on
the outer picket line, ruiming along the railroad, and in front of it, and
southward on both sides of Hazel Run. Here too the enemy is persist-
ently endeavoring to press our pickets back, and a lively fusillade is kept
up all night. We fully realize the fact that we are a part of the rear-
guard of Gen. Burnside's army in retreat, and that the responsibility and
danger is very great ; a sudden dash of the enemy down that little hill
can capture us all. There is one important idea that rarely gets a firm
lodgment in a soldier's mind, and is a most potent encourager of equanim-
ity : Your enemy is also afraid — of you. More than once during the
night, when the little spurts start up in the firing, chiefly with the few
U. S. Sharp-shooters near us on the line, our men almost instinctively fix
bayonets, in grim determination not to budge an inch if the enemy comes.
These sharp-shooters are the last troops to be withdrawn.

78 thirtp:enth new Hampshire regiment. 1862

A few men who pass the night, where they had been posted by the
officer in charge of the picket, under the shelter of ahttle ridge, where an
old fence had stood, on an otherwise smooth hillside, find that they can-
not rise, when the order comes to withdraw, on account of the enemy's
close fire ; and as the only way to save themselves, they throw their rolls
of blankets, and everything they have to carry, excepting their guns and
the equipments buckled upon their persons, as far as thev can down the
hill, and then go on hands and knees down after them, gather their effects
in a bundle, and move oif as best they may. The writer was one of
these, and recalls the two or three minutes occupied in gaining the cover
of the ridge where the line was waiting, as among the longest minutes he
ever experienced. Two or three of the men rolled down the hill, and all
have a hearty laugh over the little affair as soon as they are safely be-
yond the zip, zip, zip of those bullets. Many of our men near Hazel
Run have nuich more difficulty in getting away.

Dec. 16. Tues. Pleasant morning ; frosty last night. Orders come
to the Thirteenth on the vedette and picket line, a little after midnight, to
prepare for retreat. Bayonets must be hidden in scab])ards, tin dippers
and plates must be covered, so that there may not be the least glitter or
rattle ; guns" must be trailed, or carried lower still as held by the strap ;
the men are to stoop low as they move, and to preserve utter silence, not
a word is to be spoken, but orders passed from man to man in whispers ;
there must be neither sight nor sound of moving. We are finally re-
lieved from picket, a mile or so back of the town, about 3 a. m. Hazel
Run is near by. We are near a high broad ridge, and stooping low.
trailing arms, and filing in right and left, we soon assemble beneath the
ridge and stand there waiting, for some time, in a dead silence. Save
for an occasional rifle shot, the whole land is now as silent and still as
yonder hideous heaps and windrows of the unburied dead, whose white
uncovered faces and torn bodies and limbs fleck the wide, dim and shad-
owy field of death. 'T is an uncanny hour. The dead are everywhere.
We step over and about them. A dozen or two of vedettes,^ a mere thin
fringe of men a rod apart, file towards the left between us and the
enemy's lines, where we can now and then see a head as it comes be-
tween us and the sky ; and where a rebel is occasionally seen to raise his
gun, take deliberate aim at some man he sees moving on our line, and
to fire, and the badly aimed bullet whistles past, harmless, to the earth.
Ticklish business this moving away from the rebel army, now not twenty
rods distant, in full force along their chosen lines and strong defenses.
The night is just passing into the first gray touches of dawn, a few stars
are visible. Gen. Burnside's army is retreating ; the greater part of Gen.
Lee's army is quietly asleep, but can be roused to action in ten minutes,
and throng those near hills and ridges, compelling Burnside to halt, turn
back and join unequal fight ; two armies, two hundred thousand men. are

1 U. S. Sharp-shooters from New Hampshire, E Company. See Adjt. General's
Report, Vol. H. for 1865, page 748.


now parting company from a terrible and a drawn battle, the Federals
from a field strewn with the mangled bodies of many hundred dead and
unburied comrades ; each of these two huge armies hourly expects the
other to strike again. In the few moments of uncertainty and suspense
while we are slipping away, the scene invites the imagination to indulge
romance ; but the enemy's pickets, who are very near, seeing our vedettes
moving, as now and then their heads appear against the sky, open fire
with vigor, and their vicious bullets zip, zip, zip to the ground about us,
or whistle near over our heads, and we all need our sharpest senses. The
enemy probably supposes that we are merely relieving the guards. No
serious casualty occurs, and all is still again ; a stillness falls that no
man feels like breaking even to save his life. Orders are passed in whis-
pers from man to man and we move again, all stepping so softly that not
a footfall is to be heard. Soon we catch glimpses of the enemy's long
lines of pickets advancing, and firing as they come, then dropping again
out of sight, as the few vedettes on our side rejily ; but we move com-
pactly, cross a muddy brook leading into Hazel Run, breathe freer, march
into the city crookedly along the course of a bank of earth, join the
Brigade, all done in quick step and in silence, cross the muffled pontons,
in a rapid route-step, at 4 a. m., and climb the slippery road up Stafford
Heights, — and thus it was all along his line, changing only with circum-
stance, that Gen. Burnside accomplished one of the most masterly re-
treats, directly from the face of the enemy, ever made in all history —
and that, too, from shore to shore of a rapid river.

In a sudden and severe shower of rain that now comes on, we plod
along over the plain in thin mud three to six inches deep, finally entering
a bit of brush near the place of our old bivouac, and encamping there at
6.30 a. m., about one fourth of a mile north of the Phillips House. The
men of the Reg. were ordei-ed to take sundry supplies -with them as they
left the city ; rations, equipage and stores being piled on the sidewalks
where we passed along, with much other army gear ; and many a stray
roll of blankets, or of old tents, serve them well in the winter camj) that
follows. Two zealous men of the loth start from town with a cracker-
box between them half filled with sugar. The rain and the sugar find in
each other a sweet and juicy affinity, and when the leaky box is opened
in camp, there is about a pint of syrup and dregs in one corner. A
few boxes of hard tack come into camp, pulp ; and as for sundry lots of
coffee taken along, it arrives, second-hand — Fredericksburg was an
awful failure.

" Companies B, C, and H arrive in camp about 9 a. m. These three
Companies were stationed on the outer picket line, on the R. & F. R. R.,
just where it crosses Hazel Run ; Co. B to the right of the railroad
bridge, north, and C and H to the left of the bridge, south. Here they
held the enemy's pickets back while the rest of Getty's Division evacuated
the lower end of the city, and retired across the river. Company H,
which I was with and commanding, was the most exposed, and came near


being left behind, on their i)icket posts, after all the other troops had re-
tired, and are now the last Company to rejoin the Regiment in camp."

Lt. Col. Smith.

First Sergeant William H. McConney of C and a few other men
stopped in the city for tents and stores to bring to camp, and when they
reached the ponton bridge the last boat had swung from its moorings into
the stream, and the delayed party had to wade into the river until the
water was up to their waists, before they reached the boat and could be
pulled into it ; the last men of the 13th to leave Fredericksburg.

Our retreat this morning over the central ponton bridge occupies less
than two hours for the whole force ; in which two hours above 16,000 troops,
not to mention unorganized parties, of pioneers, bands and other unarmed
men, cross in perfect order. The bridge is muffled with earth three or
four inches in depth, and the men march across in the route-step. It
must not be foi-gotten that the enemy's guns have completely commanded
this bridge, a portion only being hidden by buildings, none of which are
proof against cannon balls. ^ The crossing in retreat is made under the
personal supervision of Major Hiram B. Crosby, of the 21st Conn., Pro-
vost Marshal of the 9th Army Corps, who has sat on his horse near the
bridge, and given the necessary orders to each regimental commander as
he passed. " A strong southwest wind blows to-night, 15th, wafting the
sound of our army's tramp on this bridge, and the rumble of wagons and
artillery, away from the enemy."

Hosp. Steward Royal B. Prescott writes of the battle under date of Dec.
18, 1862, and later (condensed) : " The order ' ForAvard ' came to our
Brigade, while we were on the river bank, at thirty minutes past four.
We went (along the wharf) up the river bank, across the streets, out at
the back of the town, down a very steep bank, across a field, up the rail-
road bank, across the track, on the double quick, with the bullets flying
about us. At the railroad we came up in the rear of a regiment, or
body of zouaves, lying flat on their faces against the railroad embank-
ment, and we ran directly over them, while they swore at and reviled us
without stint, saying, among other things, ' See these countiymen ! They
have not got the hayseed out of their hair yet.' Their officers cursed
them, struck them with their swords, harangued, urged and scolded, but
could not get the men upon their feet, and I do not think those men ever
crossed the railroad at all.

" Surgeon Twitchell was in Washington, Asst. Surgeon Richardson de-
tailed on the amputating staff to remain in the city, and the Hospital
corps was headed by our Asst. Surgeon Sullivan, and halted near the
railroad. The Band went forward and returned with some wounded
men. Turning for the bag of bandages, brought on the field by our con-
traband. I discovered that he had skedaddled, bandages and all. I dis-
patched one of the nurses for him, and the nurse returned with the ban-
dages but not the negro. Our Brigade after crossing the railroad were
^ See interview with Gen. McLaws, page 72.



ordered to charge on a rebel battery just across the field. Away they
went with a yell right up to the earthworks, where they were repulsed by
the rebel infantry behind a stone wall. As the wounded were brought
back, we were positively forbidden to light a candle or even a match. It
was now quite dark. That charge ended the fight of the day. We of
the Hospital Dept. remained on the field until midnight, by which time all
of our wounded, who could be found, were brought in, carried on stretch-
ers to the ambulances, and thence to the city. I was in charge of the Band
and stretcher men all that night, and when the Regiment withdrew from
the field, Col. Stevens told me to take a lantern and look among the dead
and take the names of any of our Reg. I might find and do what I could
for them, and adding that in the morning there would be a flag of truce
and ambulances to take them away. Charles W. Green of Company B
was alone with me in this work. We found Lieut. Shaw and Capt. Car-
ter, and several men. I finally extinguished the light in my lantern after
being sworn at by our wounded men on the field for drawing the ene-
my's fire. We worked until the morning was well advanced.

" Sunday I was in the Hospitals. Surgeons with sleeves rolled up, with
bloody arms and hands, were busy with saw and knife. Arms and legs
were scattered about the floor, and streams of blood flowing in all
directions. The streets were crowded with troops and hospital flags were
flying from the windows of houses. The Surgeons went across the river
Sunday noon, and I was left with about fifty sick and wounded men to
cross at night. I remained in the city until 4.30 a. m. Tuesday 16th,
and then started the nurses, the sick, the Band, and the stretcher men
across the river. The rebels stripped all our dead of everything, leaving
them lying naked on the ground.

"My experience with the Band of the Thirteenth on this occasion was
exciting. The Thirteenth, I believe, was the last regiment (or regi-
mental organization) to I'e-cross the central ponton bridge, the pioneers
waiting for us before taking up the planks and releasing the boats. As
we marched through the city our jjrogress was lighted up by the flames of
huge stacks of provisions burning in the streets, having been set on fire
to prevent their falling into rebel hands. As we neared the river some
one cried out, ' Where 's the Band ? ' The question was taken up and
ran rapidly through the ranks, ' Where 's the Band ? ' ' Where 's the
Band ? ' No one could tell. In the hurry no one had taken any thought
of the musicians, and it was certain they were in the city. At length some
one remembered seeing the bass drum standing outside one of the negro
huts in rear of the house occupied by Col. Stevens. Turning to me, the
Colonel ordered me to go back quickly, and hasten the Band down to the
river. I flew back with all speed through the deserted city, and as I did
so the moon shone brightly out from masses of dark clouds, revealing
with horrible distinctness the ghastly faces of the rebel dead strewn
thickly about. I finally reached the house, and to my great joy saw
the bass drum standing just outside the door of one of the negro quar-


ters. I pounded on the closed door with might and main, and shouted
to the sleejjers within to arouse and bestir themselves or they would all
be taken i>risoners. For a little time there was no response, but as the
j)()unding continued, a drowsy voice at length asked : ' AVhat is want-
ed ? ' I answered : ' Get up, quick, or you will all be made prison-
ers. The army is all across the river and you are here alone ! ' As this
was taken as a joke, the sleepy voice replied, requesting me to go to sun-
dry places much warmer than Fredericksburg, and again all was quiet.
I then seized a large stone and hurled it with all my strength against the
door, which tore it from its hinges and it fell with a loud crash upon the
floor. This brought every man at once to his feet ; and when the situa-
tion was fairly comprehended by their lethargic brains, the ' hurrying to
and fro ' was lively indeed. A few of tliem almost forgot to take their
instruments, while the time made to the central ponton bridge was one
of the quickest on record." Prescott.

And so ends the first battle fought by the Thirteenth — a failure in
every respect ; and -the ranks of the Reg. are thinned by losses, in killed,
wounded, and prisoners, of three officers, and thirty-nine men. To add
to our vexation, a lot of the men's knapsacks and their contents, left
here at the bivouac near the Phillips House while we were in the city, are
soaking wet, through and through ; and many have been pilfered of
articles of especial value to the owners, and there are murmurings loud
and deep. Our experiences, all through, are outrageous and exasperating
to the last degree, and now we camp, wet, cold, ugly and tired out, in
the nastiest of nasty Virginia mud. A third of the men, and eleven
officers, are unfit for duty, sick. One tiling, however, we shall never
forget: We of Gen. Getty's Division and of Col. Hawkins' Brigade
made the most hopeless and the last infantry charge in the battle, the
closing charge of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The chief day in the battle was Saturday December 13, when the roar
of the firing commenced at 9 a. m. and continued almost unceasing until
the charge of Gen. Getty's Division brought on its most furious thunders
at early night. After this charge the firing ceased. Meanwhile for over
eight hours our Division stood between the artillery fires of the two
armies, exposed to much of both. The battle of Saturday raged for ten
hours, counting from beginning to close. That the losses in the Thir-
teenth during the charge in the night were no gi-eater may be counted
as one of the fortunes of war ; and attributed in great measure to the
fact that the rebel infantry fired high and wild. W^e could see their
heads and arms above the stone wall along the Telegraph road, and they
worked wnth the utmost rapidity, as if number of shots, and not accuracy
of aim, was the first consideration ; and we could hear their officers
urging and hurrying them during the whole of their firing.

One writer states (in corroboration) that the Thirteenth with its
Brigade held the lower part of the city on the night of Dec. 11 ; in the
charge on the evening of Dec. 13, of Hawkins' and Harland's Brigades,


Hawkins formed his Brigade in two lines, the Thirteenth on the right
of the second line ; Hawkins assaulted, and Harland remained near the
railroad in reserve ; a terrific volley was received when our lines, in the
charge, came up to within a few yards of the enemy's works at the
point aimed at ; and on the night of Dec. 15, while Gen. Getty's Divi-
sion retreated across the river, the Thirteenth held the outer jjicket line
on both sides of Hazel Run and along the railroad, and lively firing was
kept up with the enemy's pickets during the latter part of the night.

The following, from Rev. Augustus Woodbury's " Burnside and the
Ninth Array Corps," may be of mterest. General Burnside organized
the Army of the Potomac in three Grand Divisions of two corps each :
left, Franklin ; centre. Hooker ; right, Sumner. (The 13th in Sumner's
Grand Division.) On Dec. 10, the morning report gives the force of the
army as 111,834 officers and men, and 312 guns. Of these Sumner's
Grand Division numbers 22,736 officers and men, and 60 guns, and con-
sists of the 9th Corps, Gen. Wilcox, and 2d Corps, Gen. Couch.
Wilcox's division commanders were Generals Getty, Sturgis and Burns.
About 100,000 officers and men of the Union army actually engaged in
the battle. The battle opened early on the morning of Dec. 11, and
after several attempts to build the central ponton bridge had failed,
owing to the severe rebel fire, the attempts being made while the bom-
bardment was going on, volunteers from the 7th Michigan, ]9th and
20th Massachusetts Regts. crossed in boats, the oOth N. Y. furnishing
oarsmen. A party from the 89th N. Y. also crossed. After a half
hour's fight, under the eye of Gen. Burnside himself now down on the
river bank, the city was captured about four o 'clock in the afternoon.

The bridges were now quickly completed, and our 1st Brigade, Col.
Hawkins, was the first to cross into the city over the central bridge.
Gen. Sumner's Grand Division crossed on the 12th. In the disposi-
tions, our 9th Corps on its left connected with Gen. Franklin's right.
During the battle Gen. Sumner's Hdqrs. were at the Lacy House ; Gen.
Burnside's at the Phillips House, which was Gen. Sumner's Hdqrs. after
the battle. Gen. Sumner's Grand Division was to move out on the
Telegraph and Plank roads. Gen. Longstreet's Corps occupied Marye's
Heights, on which we charged.

On Dec. 13th, the 9th Corps, Wilcox, held the line from the vicinity
of Hazel Run south towards Deep Run. Gen. Burns' division on the
left, Gen. Getty's in the centre. Gen. Sturgis on the right. Gen. Stur-
gis' division was sent into the fight about noon, to the right, to support
Gen. Couch of the 2d Corps, and advanced and held their ground until
night. Sturgis withdrew about 7.30 p. m. About 3 p. m. Gen. Burns'
division crossed Deep Run, in support of Gen. Franklin, and could do
little but to stand and look on.

Gen. Getty's division, in which the Thirteenth, was held in reserve all
day, as a guard to the left of the town ; about sundown it moved out,
and was formed in two lines under fire, crossed the plain, the R. & F.


Railroad, the canal trench (the unfinished railroad), and some marshy
ground, and gained a position on the left of Couch's 2d Corps line,
and within less than a hundred feet of the enemy's strongest position.
Here a severe fire of the enemy's musketry was added to the artillery,
and the first line, Col. Hawkins' Brigade, was forced hack under a storm
of fire in front and flank. The second line. Col. Harland's Brigade,
advanced through a heavy fire of shell and shrapnel to within a short
distance from the R. & F. Railroad. Night then settled down. Half a
mile beyond the city, the Telegraph road diverges to the left, turning
southward. A handsome estate (Marye's) is above this road, near the
northern extremity of the first fortified line of hills. The grounds are
supported, where they come down to this road, by a heavy bank-wall of
stone. On the side (of the road) opposite the same, and toward the
city, is a similar wall of stone, in length nearly half a mile. The Tele-
graph road, after leaving the Plank road, winds along the edge of the
second terrace (or ridge of hills) southward, and crosses Hazel Run,
thence turns westward into the country beyond. The lawn in front of
the Marye mansion was crossed by a line of rifle-pits, and in the southerly
part of the grounds was a small redoubt. There were other earthworks
on the northerly and westerly side of the Plank road.

At night immediately after Gen, Getty's assault. Gen. Burnside re-
turned to his tent, firmly resolved to renew the battle on the subsequent
day. On the morning of the 14th he selected and formed a column of
eighteen regiments, of the Ninth Corps, and decided to direct their
assault on Marye's Heights in person. Listening to the persuasions and

Online LibraryS. Millet ThompsonThirteenth regiment of New Hampshire volunteer infantry in the war of the rebellion, 1861-1865: a diary covering three years and a day → online text (page 10 of 81)