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 12 of 81)
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tain Julian, demanding more rations for his men, got into a spat with Col.
Stevens, threw down his sword, and threatened to resign."

An old cherry-tree, that was standing on the Washington farm opposite
Fredericksburg, has been nearly all cut in pieces and carried away by the
Union soldiers. Some one has said that this is the original tree of the
famous hatchet story, and there are many credulous enough to believe it.
Cherry stones from that locality, to plant at home, are in great demand.
The wood of the tree is used to make all sorts of crosses, pijjes, rings,
etc., that can be sent away by mail.

Dec. 29. Mon. Cold. Reg. drilling all day. At midnight orders
are received for the Thirteenth to be ready to move to-morrow morning
at daylight, in light marching order, with thi-ee days' cooked rations and
sixty rounds of ball-cartridge per man. Cooks are hurried out of bed,
fires are lighted, and Sergeants are set at work to see that all their squads
of men are ready ; and there is a busy stir and bustle all over camp for
the rest of the night, while the men shout and cheer at the good news of
a move from this locality, however temporary the absence may be.

Board at the officer's mess costs from two to three dollars per week —
and much serious indigestion ; no luxui'ies are to be had and supplies are
scant and poor. All the regimental hosjiitals in our Brigade are filled to
overflowing, and a steamboat load of sick men is sent to Washington in
charge of Asst. Surgeon Sullivan.

Dec. 30. Tues. Cold. Reg. ready to move at daylight, but no
order arrives ; disappointment prevails, and we remain under arms all
day. Writes one man of the 13th : " A small amount of wheat flour stole
into camp the other day ; i)rice of a peep at the stranger, twenty -five
cents." A soldier of the 13th, careless of his clothes, reniarks concerning
an extra smirch of dirt upon them : " Oh, that '11 wash off." A Sergeant
in re\Ay delivers a volume of wisdom in a sentence : " The best way, sir,
to wash off dirt, is not to get it on."


Dec. 31. Wed. Very cold. Reg. mustered for pay, by Col. A. F.
Stevens, in the forenoon. " Mustered for pay " is an agreeable expres-
sion, indicating much prospective pleasure, and to some persons whiskey
straight, but in the preparation of the muster and pay rolls there is a vast
amount of tribulation for the company commanders ; as much fuss is
made over ten percussion caps, three bullets and a gun-plug, as over a
park of lost artilleiy. In the afternoon our whole Regiment goes down
to the river on the picket line at the highway bridge. This bridge, of
which only the abutments remain, s])anned the river at Brown's Island,
on the road leading to Orange Court House.

The writer, who wears heavy boots, wades into the river just south of
the bridge to-day to get a shining object seen upon the river bottom. He
has not taken five steps into the very shallow water before the rebel picket
guard, on the Fredericksburg shore, turns out under arms. He retreats
instanter, of course, while our own pickets shout with laughter, echoed in
louder tones by the rebel pickets. The shining thing is fished out, how-
ever, after night comes on, and pi'oves to be a highly polished brass orna-
ment for some piece of furniture.


Jan. 1. Thiirs. Clear, cold and windy. Thermometer near down to
zero. Reg. on picket on the banks of the I'iver opposite the city. The
men sleep, while here, on the ground close down to the water, and with-
out fires or shelter. While the clock in the old church steeple over in
the city struck the hour of twelve, midnight, hard-hearted wags waked the
half frozen sleepers ; merely to wish them a " Happy New Year," and
elicit sundry remarks. We lie about near the abutments of the hip-hway
bridge, now destroyed. The enemy's picket is in full sight along the city-
side shore and wharves, all within hailing distance, the river here 200 or
300 yards wide. No picket firing now along the line. A deserter from
the enemy swam the river last night, and gave himself up to our pickets,
and was taken to a house near by, dried and warmed. The Reg. returns
to camp about noon, and has the afternoon for rest, excepting time for a
Dress-parade about sundown, all the men shivering with the cold.

Jan. 2. Fri. Clear, cold. Reg. in camp, and resting for a day. A
Dress-parade is held near night, while it is so cold that the men can
scarcely hold their guns. The rebels have been digging rifle-pits, work-
ing nights, all along the Fredericksburg bank of the river. A strong line
is now seen the whole length of the city. They expect another visit
from our side. They are now said to have more than fifty miles of
earthworks along their bank of the river. There is fearful suffering
among the men in our camp ; when the devil first hit upon this Falmouth
camp scheme, he must have thrown up his hat in jjerfect glee.

Jan. 3. Sat. Fair, cold. Company drill on the plain near camp.
A walk-round of half frozen men — nonsense. The men make their tents
warmer by sprinkling them witli water at evening. The water freezes


and makes the cloth wind-proof. A little touch of the Esquimaux ice-
made hut. A large mail arrives in camp, bringing some letters from New
Hampshire now over two months old. Some irreverent persons here
think that our old State needs a little toning up.

A great deal of the time a peculiar haze tills the sky here, chilling as
a garment woven of icicles and lined with fleecy snow ; the chill seems to
grasp every fibre of a man ; while the sun hangs back in the distance as
if unaccustomed to the country, afraid to come out, and looking in the cold
o-ray sky like a rounded cake of ice. On such days comfort is out of the
question, no matter how well the green pine wood may burn.

Jan. 4. Sun. Very fine day. Regimental inspection, followed by
religious services — doleful as seven funerals. Half the Reg. sick with
colds, rheumatism and jaundice. Rations of onions cooking ; being
roasted in the ashes of little fires all over camp, and they smell to heaven.
The men are scattered about camp on the sunny sides of their tents and
huts, some reading, some writing, some whittling, some singing, some
telling camp stories, some cleaning clothes and equipments, some reading
aloud to their fellows, some trying their hands at cooking, some repairing
tents, and some merely vegetate. The men have been in common shelter
tents aU the time since we left Faifax Seminary on December 1st ; a few
low, small log huts, with shelter tent roofs, are now being put up.

Jan. 5. Mon. Clear, fine, warm ; heavy rain all night. Lieut. For-
bush starts for home on ten days' leave. Company and Battalion drill,
the men with their knapsacks on. Any comment would be inadequate.
"We are so near the city in our camp here, that we can see the church
spires pointing upward, among the trees, and when all is still can hear
the town clock strike the hours. Funeral this afternoon of a man of Co.
B." Several men visit the 6th N. H. Vols., and meet a nearly forgotten
strano-er — flour bread and butter. Thirteenth placed to-day in 3d
Brigade 3d Div. 9th Army Corps.

A teamster driving up from Aquia Creek finds the mules in his team
exceedingly frisky ; he can do notliing with them, they run with him up
hill and down. He helps other teams through sloughs and up hard hills,
but needs no help himself. He has a load of whiskey in barrels. After
a while, and quite early in the morning, and after listening to more com-
ments made upon his team than are welcome, he investigates, and finds
every whiskey barrel empty. Last night, while halted for the night on
the road, some man, or a dozen, had bored holes up through the bottom
of the wagon into the barrels, and so wracked off and carried away all
the whiskey. All done while the guard slept, or " watched backward,"
as the boys say.

Jan. 6. Tues. A drizzling cold rain. Too muddy to march troops.
Gen. Burnside reviews the Army of the Potomac on the plain, just east
of the Phillips House, now Gen. Sumner's Hdqrs., and directly in front,
and south, of our camp. The troops, because of the mud and rain, do
not march in review past the General, as is customary. There are said


to be 75,000 men in line. Gen. Burnside, unwilling to expose liis men
unnecessarily to the cold storm, cuts the review short ; and with bared
head, hat in his right hand, and followed by his staff, all dripping with
the rain, he rides at a swift gallop up the front and down the rear of the
lines — an imperial face and figure. This army will remember him
best as he appears to-day ; and thus he should be cast in lasting bronze.
Few cheers, comparatively, are now heard, for it is stern determination,
rather than enthusiasm, which pervades the Army of the Potomac.
While on the field we stand where we can see at a glance almost the
entire body of troops on review, while many thousands of the men pass
where we can see them on their way to their camps. The Thirteenth
wears knapsacks : the only regiment present that has them on to-day.

Assistant Surgeon John Sullivan is granted a leave of absence because
of sickness ; the order of the Medical Inspector certifying : " A change
of location, and furtlier treatment, is necessary to save his life."

Jan. 7. Wed. Cold, cloudy. Drilling resumed. The pickets along
the river cross and re-cross, so much, in boats, that a special order is
needed to put a stop to the dangerous pi'actice. The rebels want good
coffee, our men want good tobacco, and the temptation to exchange is
hard to resist. There are in use several little ' hand-ferries,' tight boxes
drawn back and forth across the river by a small rope running over
pulleys, but they are hard to manage in the swift current and among the
drift. Many a little toy-like boat is rigged and sent across, by contri-
vance of sail and rudder, landing far below tlie place of starting. Scarce
a soklier on either side can be induced to give information, being deterred
either by honor or fear. We have been in Hawkins' Brigade — 1st Brig.
3d Div. 9th Army Corps — consisting of tlie 9th, 89th, and 103d N. Y.,
25th N. J., 10th and loth N. H. ; but on Jan. 5th were placed in the 3d
Brigade, Col. Button of the 21st Conn, commanding, and consisting of the
21st Conn., 25th N. J., 13th N. H. and 4th R. I. No change is made in
location of camp.

One of the Companies in the Thirteenth had a man of the bow-back
species, and who was awkward, and able to strike an erect attitude only at
rare intervals. The Reg. came into camp one cold and rainy day, every-
body wet, muddy, tired and out of humor, and was to bivouac by divi-
sions. It was " Joe's " off week, and he leaned his shoulders back, and
tlu-ew his abdomen forward, several inches more than usual. The Cap-
tain commanding division was soon out of patience, and called out to Joe
to dress up to line. Joe came too far to the front by half of him. Next
he was told to fall back ; which he did, all out of sight. Back, too, went
the centre of the division line. Next came the order to the division to
dress up in the centre, and so it backed and filled three or four times,
while all in the Regiment grew more and more impatient in the pouring
rain. The Captain declared he would keep the division standing there
all night if they did not form a good line, and losing the usual words in
the order, shouted : " Swell out there — in the middle I " Joe did not


come up far enough, and the Captain shouted louder than before : " Swell
out there — in the middle — Joe ! " The Regiment roared. The Cap-
tain could but laugh too, and ordered his division to Itack arms. It was
Joe's middle that caused all the trouble.

Jan. 8. Thurs. Cold, cloudy. Reg. drilling in forenoon ; after-
noon improving camp. New York Heralds ten cents each. That enter-
prising paper can kill off a regiment or two of soldiers every day. A
close computation from its columns would possibly figure up the armies in
the field, dead and alive, to about 20,000,0U0 of men — all for ten cents.

Jan. 9. Fri. Fair. Company drill. Ofhcers mess board $3.00 per
week. No luxuries to be had. Two Union pickets cross the river in a
boat to Fredericksburg, exchange newspapers, and trade Avith the rebels.
While returning, their boat is upset, and both men are drowned. Men in
camp are refitting quarters ; preparing for a threatened storm.

Jan. 10. Sat. Severe rain storm. A detail from the Reg. goes on
picket down by the river, near the wire bridge, and has a hard night of
it. Pickets now go out in the morning, for 24 hours. Our line is in and
near the old Washington garden, not far from the central ponton landing,
where we crossed the river into the city on Dec. 11, and re-crossed on
Dec. 16. A rebel deserter swims across to our pickets ; a mid-winter
plunge for freedom. These determined and bold fellows are usually
pulled out of the water about half dead, they are so chilled and benumbed
with the cold, and exhausted by their struggles with the river current.

Jan. 11. Sun. Cloudy, rainy. Dress-parade at sundown, with
religious services. A detail from the 13th goes two miles from camp
for firewood, and brings it in upon their shoulders. They make a bun-
dle of the wood and tie it with ropes, run a pole longer than the bundle
through it, and then two men hoist the pole upon their shoulders, the
bundle hanging between them, and come staggering back to camp. It
must be borne in mind that there is not one man in twenty of the Union
Army here, who now enjoys his full normal strength. The writer has
borne one half of many such a bundle of wood for one and two miles,
and though in better health than the most, he found the labor of it sufh-
ciently severe.

At times last night the rebels in the city, some of them in full sight,
were very merry, cheering and singing. This morning the church bells
are ringing ; but the extremest pietist in all Fredericksburg would not
even allow us to attend churdi in that city — so near and yet so far.
But we have a hundred churches here in camp better than any over
there to-day. The good old Northern custom of families and friends
joining in Christian hymns and pure songs, on Sunday afternoon or
evening, is not forgotten here by the suffering but heroic boys in blue.
There are many such hours here when the air rings and rings again with
the old familiar tunes and hymns, and with many a jjatriotic song.

Jan. 12. Mon. Fine day. Reg. improves tents and grounds, and
the more the grounds are ' improved ' the worse they look. The Surgeon


General of our 9th Army Corps states that the Thirteenth has the best
camping ground in the Corps. If that be so, Heaven pity the rest ! No
drill to-day. The Reg. has now 960 men on its rolls, about 440 of them
are reported as for duty ; of whom scarcely one half are fit for duty, and
many are too weak to march in firm order while on drilL The nerveless
weakness that comes upon men here is astonishing ; strong one day, they
are scarcely able to stand erect the next. Regimental Hospital moved
to top of hill north of camp. Asst. Surgeon Sullivan goes home on leave.
Butter costs in camp 85 cents a jiound ; cheese 60 cents ; potatoes $3.00
per bushel ; apples 5 cents each, and everything else in proportion.

A Lieutenant in the 13th temporarily in command of a division on Battal-
ion drill, approaches an extremely dirty, muddy place in the drill ground ;
puzzled by the situation and not recalling quickly enough the proper order
to give, he settles the case off-hand by shouting : " Boys, break up ;
scoot that hole, and git together on t' other side ! " The movement was
a quick success. The traitorous Press has been full of remarks about
the Union army doing injury while in Fredericksburg. All such ma-
licious stuff may as well take a furlough. There were thousands upon
thousands of Union soldiers who did not, and who would scorn to, damage
or appropriate the property of citizens ; while expressions of sympathy
for innocent persons were heard on all hands. Everything was done
that could be done to prevent injury to private property, and any Union
soldier found offending in this particular was at once arrested.

Jan. 13. Tues. Pleasant. Reg. again takes a day, and makes
special endeavors to improve its quarters, for there is much sickness, and
great mental depression among the men. Teams are hauling logs to our
camp ; and shelter tents, which have afforded nearly all the protection
that the men have been able to secure, through all the stormy, wet, win-
try weather since Dec. 1, are being replaced by low huts. Little cellars
are dug seven feet square and one or two feet deep. Log walls are
raised about two feet high close around these little cellars on all sides,
excepting one. At this side is the doorway, chimney and fireplace. The
logs are plastered with mud, and banked up with earth on the outside to
keep the water out of the cellars. A fireplace is builf of mud and turf
at one corner of the hut, and above it on the outside of the hut is raised
a chimney of mud and sticks, with a pork or flour barrel placed on the
top. Shelter tents are drawn over the hut for a roof. Small poles laid
alongside each other a few inches above the cellar floor, and covered
with a layer of cedar or pine boughs constitute the bed. The chimney
covers nearly all of one end of the hut, and pieces of board, or of tent-cloth,
serve for a door. Four to six men are crowded into a hut of this size ;
and not one in twenty of the huts in Gen. Burnside's army here is
really so good as the one above described. The most afford but a poor
shelter, and all are miserable lodgings at best ; still we can do no better.

Jan. 14. Wed. Pleasant. Battalion drill. JMeasles suddenly be-
come epidemic in camp. Capt. Stoodley gives up his tent to the sick,


and some other officers do the same. Measles under these conditions of
tent life are a threatening scourge. We have constant daily drill unless
the weather and the condition of the ground is very bad indeed. Lt.
Col. Bowers leaves camp for home on a twenty-days' leave granted be-
cause of his ill health.

Jan. 15. Thurs. Cold. Rainy at night. Burial of Ira M. Whitaker
of Co. G at 3 jj. m. Died of the measles. The excitement in camp is
now worse and worse indeed. Capt. Stoodley and Private John B. Stevens
of G make for AVhitaker a coffin of three cracker-boxes jjlaced end to end,
and nailed to a couple of saplings. The simple burial of a private soldier
is one of the saddest scenes on earth at any time, but here departs a mere
boy but sixteen years old. Whitaker's is the first death in Company G.
A man's own company forms the usual procession on such occasions, any
friends joining who may choose to do so. A bottle well corked and
sealed, and containing the man's name, regiment, home address, etc., is
usually laid in the grave with his body. The burial is not prolonged :
the slow march, the arms reversed, the muffled drum, the piercing fife,
the dirge — often the Portuguese Hymn, but more often the Dead
March in Saul — the platoon fire over the grave, the quickstep march
back to camp, two men left to close the grave, and all is done.

Jan. 16. Fri. Rain storm last night ; clears warmer to-day. Orders
are received for us to be ready to move on the morrow at daylight, with
all camp equipage, three days' rations in haversacks and five days' in
wagons, and sixty rounds of ball-cartridge per man. No one sorry to
move, almost anytliing is preferable to this vile camp. The rebels send a
small shell at Prof. Lowe's balloon, and it falls within our camp ; makes
the mud fly where it bursts, and that is all.

Jan. 17. Sat. Fair. Very cold. Reg. remains in camp in suspense
all the day. Maj. Storer in command. One Company in the Thirteenth
has so far had twelve cases of the measles, but this is above the average
number in the several companies. There have been about seventy-five
cases in all.

Jan. 18. Sun. Very cold. Clear. Inspection of Reg. by Col. Dutton
at 9 a. m. Orders to march to-night. In fact, all along here, for six or
eight days, the Thirteenth lives in constant exjiectation of an immediate
march, and in readiness to move at an hour's notice. Rations in haver-
sacks spoil, are thrown away, and re-supplied — waste on waste. In-
formal inspection of arms ; a sure indication of trouble near ahead.

Jan. 19. Mon. Fair. Reg. remains in camp under arms. This long
suspense, backing and filling, is a mean business. To-day we have to
drill for several hours. The regimental Hospital is too small to receive
all the sick, well men are crowded into narrower quarters, and the sick
men ])laced in the vacated tents. The regular hours for drill all winter
have been : Company drill 10 to 12 a. m. ; Battalion drill L' to 4 p. m. ;
Dress-parade at 4.30 p. m.

Jan. 20. Tues. Cloudy, showery. Reg. still in camp under arms.


Oi'ders are received to inarch to-morrow at 4 a. m. During a break in
the rain to-day, the Reg. is hustled out for a Brigade drill, only to get wet
in the next shower. Late to-night in almost pitchy darkness, the Reg. is
formed in a hollow square, and Col. Stevens makes a fine speech. It is a
night of such intense dai-kness that one remark made hy him is taken too
literally, and ever after serves as a by-word, when a night comes on that
is black enough to make its use seemingly appropriate : " Men of the
Thirteenth, the eyes of New Hampshire are upon you ! " The Reg. is
fairly in their quarters, and settled for the night, when about 10 j). m. the
rain again begins to pour furiously.

A barrel of dried apples was drawn for rations, and the apples proved
to be mouldy, sour, rotten, black. One man of the 13th upon taking up
a bunch of them from the reeking mass, with the hook used to draw things
out of barrels, held them up and examined them, while he himself pre-
sented a countenance of utter melancholy and disaj^pointment, and re-
marked : " O if my poor dear mother could only see what her darling son
is going to have for his supper to-night ! " provoking a general burst of
laughter. Melancholy overdone is the most ridiculous of all drollery.

Jan. 21. Wed. Very severe rain storm. The rain commenced last
night about dark, rained all night, for many hours literally pouring, and
rains aU day to-day. The tents leak very badly, and scarce a man in the
Reg. can keep dry. The Thirteenth is up and all ready to strike tents at
2.30 a. m. Those having spare shelter tents can leave the roofs of their
huts on, all other roofs must be taken off ; which order would uncover
two thirds or more of the huts. It rains very hard at this hour, the wind
has been high aU night, and the whole country is flooded. Soon the men
are ordered to remain in quarters until orders come to move ; officers are
going from tent to tent to tell the men what to do to avoid needless ex-
posure to the cold storm. Orders to move do not arrive, though the signal
gun was fired at 3 a. m., and the Long-roll was sounded all through the
camp. The rain and mud stops all movements of the Union army, ex-
cepting concentration. At 4 a. m. it rains like a cloud-burst.

Language cannot describe the scene of this attempted movement. Gen-
Hooker's and Gen. Franklin's Grand divisions move off in the mud, and
rain, while we look on and await our turn. Orders for us to march are
countermanded about 4 a. m. A whole division of one of the Corps
laid out in the fearful storm of last night, near our camp, and without any
shelter whatever. They kept so still that their presence was known to
but few until daylight.

Some little time ago the men received a ration of " desiccated vege-
tables," and visions of a rare feast danced through ten thousand heads.
The ration was cooked, and proved to be some half a dozen different kinds
of vegetables and roots cut up in pieces and dried ; but they were dirty,
sandy, mouldy, and utterly uneatable. The men received them on their
plates in liberal quantities, and after one taste threw them away in dis-
gust, not caring where they fell — the camp was paved with them. The


men dubbed them '' desecrated vegetables." A better surprise was a
quantity of " Boston brown bread," fresh and wann when it reached
our camp.

Jan. 22. Thurs. Rainy, cold, disagreeable, and the mud almost fath-

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 12 of 81)