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 13 of 81)
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omless. The whole Keg. is hurried off early for picket duty on the river
near the Lacy House. A strong, double line of ])ickets are posted along
much of the river bank. The Lacy House was once a splendid place, but
is now terribly torn and battered. The storm yesterday and last night
was of rain and sleet, the northeast wind at times a gale. The roads
were soon bottomless ; wagons sunk to the bodies, and hundreds of nmles
and horses lay stranded and helpless in the clay. Teams are doubled
and trebled ; even as many as twelve horses harnessed to one twelve-
pounder gun, but aU in vain. The roadways and paths across the coun-
try are strewn with every conceivable kind of aimy materiel, from mus-
kets and accoutrements to cannon, caissons, supply wagons, lumber,
ponton boats and planks, dead horses and nmles. Many men, too, en-
feebled by the hardships and exposures of this worst camp of all camps,
have succumbed in this storm, fallen out, and died by the roadside, from
cold, wet and fatigue.

The rebels over the river shouted to our mud-bound pontonniers :
" Wait till morning, after it has done raining, and we '11 come over and
help you build your bridge." It was Gen. Burnside's intention to attempt
a crossing at Banks' Ford, and at other fords above the city. Our field-
guns posted along the bluffs have been hauled back a little out of sight of
the enemy, but many cannot be brought back to camp because of the mud.
Even at this time, our pickets near the Lacy House cross the river in a
boat to-night, and trade with the rebel pickets.

Jan. 23. Fri. Fair. Reg. returns from picket at noon. Lieut. For-
bush returns to camp from home. The recent movement is called the
' Mud INIarch,' and thousands of the nuid-larks are coming home in a
sorry looking condition. There is any amount of chaffing, and coarse
fun. as the muddy columns pass. The storm abates with light showers.
The rebels have a large board set up on the Fredericksburg shore, and
lettered : " Burnside and his army stuck in the mud." It is read dis-
tinctly with the aid of a glass. Little cannon, field-i)ieces. pass camp
drawn by twelve horses to a gun. The nnid rolls away from the axles
in great chunks, and the horses flounder and plunge ; in a word every-
thing, excelling the skies and trees, is mud, mud, mud.

Jan. 24. Sat. Fine. Thirteenth paid off this morning for twelve
days, to Oct. 31. 1862, by Maj. S. A. Walker. A detail of IGO men and
thi-ee or four officers sent on picket. Pedlers al)out camj) ; the pedler is
a pay-day parasite. Quarter-master Cheney is dangerously sick with
dysentery and nudarial fever. Thirty-eight sick men, from the Thir-
teenth, are sent in ambulances to new Hospital at Aquia Creek. A ])art-
ridge visits our camp, lights on a tree and is shot and eaten. The
Corps Surgeon inspects the quarters of officers and men, suggests im-


provements, and orders that no person must lie on the ground. Beds
must be raised at least four inches above the surface. Heretofore hun-
dreds of beds have been made of a few pine boughs thrown upon the
ground, which here is a vast sponge, wet with all the water it will hold,
and half frozen. All day long straggling soldiers have been passing our
camp, muddy, wet, ugly, sour and insubordinate.

Jan. 25. Sun. Rained last night, to-day clear. Usual Sunday
inspection and parade. Whiskey rations have been given out to the men
liberally — usually about one gill per man. Hot strong coffee is better.
A great quantity of quinine is taken ; salt relieves its bitterness. To-
day there is formed in the Regiment a Masonic Relief Association having
40 members, one half of them officers. Its purposes are to attend to
the wants of the sick, or wounded, to procure for them remedies, food,
clothing, and such comfort as can be secured ; and in all cases where
practicable to send their remains, if they die, home to their friends.

Jan. 26. Mon. Very warm. Reg. drilling. Non-commissioned
officers commence a rigorous term of drill. On one of these warm days
the Thirteenth is again drilled, with their knajisacks on, for several
hours, and rapidly. A part of our drill ground had been a cornfield, the
thawing made the top of the ground very muddy and more slippery than
if greased. Many of the men fell to-day and were badly hurt ; and
some of them return to camp in a complete mud armor. The writer and
several other men were laid up for two or three days with sprained
ankles. Lieut. Kilburn leaves camp for home.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker assumes command of the Army of the Poto-
mac, Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside having been relieved at his own
request. Generals Franklin and Sumner relinquish their commands.

Jan. 27. Tues. Cloudy, rainy. No drill. Quarter-master Cheney
leaves camp for Washington, very sick. Malarial and typhoid diseases
very prevalent. Still, notwithstanding the great physical and mental
depression here in the army, the old fire of true patriotism, that led these
men to take up arms, now burns as bright, strong and hot as ever. This
suffering army means brisk business when once again the campaign
opens. These sufferings and privations are what patriotism leads a man
to meet, and helps him to endure.

Jan. 28. Wed. Cold. A heavy snow storm sets in about 4 p. m.
with a severe northeast wind, and causes a great deal of damage to the
Thirteenth's frail tents, on the roofs of which it accumulates to the depth
of five or six inches. The cloth roofs have been torn and patched, and
every seam is strained and leaky. It is next to impossible to keep fires
burning in the little fire-places in the tents, and the men have to roU
themselves in their blankets to keep warm. There is water in the bottom
of half the fireplaces, and but little dry wood can be obtained. Nine
tenths of the firewood used is green pine.

Rice is complained of and as rations roundly condemned. The men
call it '• swamp-seed," and every other vile name imaginable; and rice is


truly a very poor substitute for good food. A board of officers investi-
gating the matter, call in a few of the men, and among them Sergeant
Gibbs of E, to learn their opinions concerning rice. They are all loud,
and most severe, in their condemnations, excejiting Gibbs. He is called
upon last, and ])raises rice in terms fully as emphatic as the others' terms
of dislike. He contends that there is no diet so veiy wholesome, con-
venient, and desirable ; especially for men to have while on a forced
march. '• And why," they ask, "is it then so very desirable? " " You
see," answers Gibbs, " men fed on rice can march right along all day,
and all night, they never have to halt for anything — till they dro})
dead." As a consequence of the investigation, rations of rice give way
to something more substantial.

Jan. 29. Thurs, Rain and snow all last night, a hard storm.
Above eight inches of snow falls during the night and morning ; clears
cold about 9 a. m. No drill. The Reg. still have only shelter tents
for the roofs of their huts ; nothing but cheap cotton drilling, and badly
worn at that. Not a tent but what leaks badly, and the men have to
get up, every hour or two, and shake the snow off the roofs. Some tents
are worthless and break under the weight of the wet snow, and the poor
men " double-up " in other tents, already too crowded ; and so they
suffer — wet, chilled, sick, gloomy, disheartened.

Think of it you able bodied army-shirks, cowards, slinks, sneaks ; who
are willing to " let the Union slide," and who now let us do all the fight-
ing and hard work to save it, while you stay at home, and will have an
equal share and benefit, all for nothing, in our hard won successes. Not
one in fifty of you can look a soldier straight in the face. A few hun-
dred of your soulless carcasses set up along the front lines, to shield
honorable men from rebel bullets, every one of them fired by better men
than you, might have saved to Union arms the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Jan. 30. Fri. AVarmer. Snow melting a little. Mud and slush
all over camp. No drill. Dress-parade at sundown. O such thinned
ranks ! In order to keep the men employed, and to divert their minds
from their extreme sufferings, discomforts and privations in this winter
camp, they have been exercised in some form of military drill on every
day during the whole winter, excepting when the weather was very bad
indeed, or the ground so very wet and snowy that marching was next to

The bands are forbidden to play pathetic or plaintive tunes, such as
Home, Sweet Home, Annie Laurie, Auld Lang Syne, etc., lest they serve
to dis])irit, and unnerve our suffering men. While we are here in
America's second Valley Forge, the hearthstones of New England are
glowing warm and cheerful, and the traditional nuts, apples and cider
are ])assed as when we used to be at home there. "Wholesome food in
])lenty, warm clothing, snug houses, luxurious beds, all are there ; and
the deserving, and the undeserving, enjoy them alike. "We are not
envious. Those home comforts could to-day stand between hundreds of
us soldiers and death ; hence we long for them.


Jan. 31. Sat. Veiy cold and clear. Ground frozen hard. Picket
sent from the loth to the river near the Lacy House. One post at the
highway bridge crossing over Brown's Island. Another picket support-
ing a battery on the bluffs ; an extremely cold job on a wide bare plain.
The Tiiirteenth has taken its turn on the picket line, a little oftener than
once a week all the winter.

There has been a serious disturbance over " Regulation Brasses " dealt
out to the Thirteenth ; a miserable, old-fashioned piece of regular army
foolishness. Rightly the Thirteenth rebels, buries or destroys the en-
tire mess of stuff, and tlien jjays the swindle, like honest and indignant
soldiers. About a bushel of the brasses, shoulder-pieces, etc., go into one
deep hole in the ground, at the hour of twelve, midnight, the writer's
with them. " We came down here," the men say, " to put down the
rebellion ; not to garnish ourselves with old brass, and poor at that, and
spend hour after hour in polishing it. We will not submit to such

The rebel pickets, over the river, call to us to come over and try them
now ; and still yell sundry jokes about the mud march. The jioor fellows
over there have so few jokes, that when they get hold of one they think
good, they never know when to drop it.

It is interesting on a sharp, clear morning to go up on the bluff north
of our camp, very early, and listen to the bugle and drum calls, the
Reveille, of these two great armies. The hour is about the same in both,
and if one or the other precedes by a few moments with its first call, the
sounds are soon all mingled together, as if the entire country were celebrat-
ing in some vast jubilee. But it is far enough from a jubilee ; two hun-
dred thousand men are turning out in the cold — shiveinng. grumbling,
growling, and each answering to the roll-call with an angry snap of his
jaws, as if he would like to bite a ten-penny nail in two. and chew the
pieces. Of course there are some who joke, and even laugh ; but both
jokes and laughter freeze upon their lips and drop like icicles to the
ground, or the jokers are kicked, punched and reviled for disturbing the
general tone of the meeting.

Feb. 1. Sun. Rainy afternoon. Reg. came into camp from picket
at 10 a. m., all more or less muddy and wet. No Dress-parade, iio
religious services. Capt. Cummings and Lt. Col. Pearsons of the 6th
N. H. visit camjj. (Lt. Col. Pearsons laid down his life for his country
at the battle on the North Anna river. May 26, 1864.) The people at
home should see the men turn out from the tents when the arrival of the
mail is announced. Nothing more welcome here than letters from home ;
nothing more disappointing than their failure to arrive, or more trying
than the waiting after they are due.

" The rebels have got a board, still nailed up in Fredericksburg, on
which is written in big letters : ' Burnside and his army stuck in the
mud.' " Prescott.


Feb. 2. Mon. Cold, clear. Company drill in the forenoon ; ugly
work in the snow. Lt. Col. Bowers returns to the Reg. this afternoon.
Arrangements are made for granting furloughs of fifteen days each to
two enlisted men in every liundred ; and to two line officers in each regi-
ment, leaves of absence for the same period.

Feb. 3. Tues. Very cold ; snow squalls. No drill. Prof. Lowe's
balloons, sometimes three of them, go up almost every day (and have
done so all winter), and we soon read what he sees from them, possibly,
in the columns of the New York papers ; and that is the first and all we
know about it, though the balloons are not a quarter of a mile distant
from our camji. Our camp is just in range of those balloons and when
the enemy essays, as he frequently does, to burst the big bubbles, we take
the shells. That fact also conduces to make our camp a pleasant place
to sleep and wake in.

Joseph A. Jones of E dies in hospital at Aquia Creek, the first death
in the Company. He was a good soldier, kee])ing up and doing duty
just as long as he possibly could, but the deadly malaria slowly de-
stroyed his vitality, and his life ceased as a clock runs down.

Some one in the Thirteenth stepped outside of his hut into the sharp
air to-night, and in a magnificent voice opened that favorite song of all
songs in the Union army : " Old John Brown." The camp quickly
joined in the song ; it spread to neighboring regiments and on toward
the front, and the grandly swelling chorus must have reached the ears of
the rebels over the river. Other patriotic songs followed. It was a
cheering and inspiriting hour.

Feb. 4. "Wed. Stinging cold. No drill. Capt. Grantman starts
for home on fifteen days' leave. David Hogan of E has an experience
that he can never forget. His round of guard duty takes him near the
Regiment's sinks and cesspools. A large shell, intended by the enemy
for Prof. Lowe's balloon, falls into one of them, bursts there, and scatters
about two cartloads of the vile contents for rods around, nearly burying
Hogan out of sight ; Hogan is unhurt beyond a scare, but his clothing,
and his appetite, are utterly ruined. Another shell strikes a stump near
a shelter tent with two men in it. They jump instantly right through
the roof, taking cloth, poles and all with them, for a little ravine close
to the side of the tent opposite the stump. The shell does not burst, and
the two men fit up cam^J again on the old ground.

Our camp seems to wear a more cheerful face since the return of Lt.
Col. Bowers. Within these two days, it is safe to say, he has visited
every tent, and has shaken hands with every man in the Thirteenth. He
18 everywhere, encouraging and cheering the men.

Nearly every street in this camp is named, and in many cases the
name is inscribed on a bit of board nailed to a tree or corner of a hut.
Hundreds of the huts also are conspicuously marked with names or
legends ranging through every grade of notion and idea. Several of the
worst sort of huts are labelled Home, Sweet Home. Here is Lincoln


Street and Burnside Avenue ; Starvation Alley and Mud Lane ; Astor
House and Swine Hotel ; Dew Drop Inn and We 're Out ; Post No Bill
Street and Thompson's Chateau. Come Jine Us, offsets Git Out, and
Happy Family, balances with Tiger Den. One street rejoices in the
name of Mud Alley, and near it is Sunny Lawn under a huge pine-tree
where the sun never shines and grass never grows. An especially muddy
place near Chaplain Jones's tent is called Holy Park.

Feb. 6. Thiirs. Very cold. Snow in the forenoon, and rain in the
afternoon and all night. Another long period of miserable experiences with
the shelter-tent roofs of the huts. What with rain, snow, mud, cold, and
wind, inside the tents and huts nearly as bad as outside, there has been
little comfort for the past two weeks. Fully one half of the huts of the
men have broken in, or broken down in parts. The day closes with a
severe northeaster. The snow continues until 3 p. m., then the storm
turns to rain, which pours heavily all through the night. The mud is
washed out of the cracks between the logs, in the walls of the huts, and
the rain pours in. The pork or flour barrels on the tops of the chimneys
are all blown off, and before morning many of the chimneys, made of
mud and sticks, also go down.

Some reader may think that the picture of this winter camp is over-
drawn ; but let him inquire of the survivors, or read other accounts, and
especially hospital records and death rolls, and he will conclude to dis-
card the vehicle of language to bear to him a true account of this camp's
abominations, and depend upon his imagination altogether. The camp
and its miseries, discomforts and sufferings are simply indescribably bad.
The earth is saturated with water. Men whose tents were set upon the
little cellars dug among the roots of trees, have found after a rain storm, a
temporary bubbling sjjring under their bed, or in the middle of their little
floor space. One tent in the loth was for this pleasant reason dubbed
" Cold Spring House," and another, " Geyser Number Forty-Two." At
most we can give but a few of the facts, and no string of facts can ever do
the subject justice. Many of the men in sheer desperation cut the state-
ments of their outrageous experiences short with the roughest of old
English and a burst of most vicious profanity, by way of relieving their
pent-up feelings of indignation. Frequently the floors of the little cellars,
just after a rain storm, are covered with ice-cold water from two to six
inches deep, and the water has to be bailed out as from a leaky boat ;
such is the house and land we live in. A soldier of the 13th writes home :
" We could have no fire in the fireplace in our tent to-day, for the water
in it is three inches deep ; so we roll ourselves in our blankets, and lie in
bed to keep from freezing." Most welcome orders are received for the
Thirteenth to be ready to-morrow morning, with three days' cooked rations,
to move to Fortress Monroe. Cheers, such as our army, and especially
such as the Thirteenth, never gave before, ring out from regiment to regi-
ment, again and again.

Feb. 6. Fri. Cold, showery ; warm at noon. Reg. ready on time


to niai'ch — most exceedingly ready ; the men cannot express their readi-
ness to ([uit this place. The First Brigade of our Division — 3d, 9th
A. C. — marches early this morning; the Second Brigade early in the
afternoon. The Thirteenth, and the rest of our Third Brigade, are
under arms all day, waiting to move. The mud is too deep for army
shoes, called in camp language " whangs " and " gun-boats," and tena-
cious enough to pull them off ; hence the troops move away verv slowly,
and march in a very irregular order in search of dry ground. Another
night in the old camp ; with many expressions of disappointment, and
nuich denunciation of the promise of dei)arture as a fable and a sham.


Feb. 7. Sat. Clear, and quite warm in the sunshine at noon. Very
early in the morning the miserable roofs are again pulled off the huts,
and the Reg. packs ready to move. Again we wait under arms all day,
nearly. The men build fires, by order, for the day at morning and even-
ing is very chilly. There is a large lot of fresh beef in camp, and the
men have a splendid dinner. The last dinner in the Falmouth camp is
the best one ever known there. We destroy a large quantity of food
supi)lies of every sort, which cannot be moved ; among the rest, a lot of
' old government ' Java coffee, of the regular brand used in the army.
Fires are built upon it, and then water is poured on. First Sergt.
Thompson and Sergt. Van Duzee of E, and others in the Reg., leave their
huts standing exactly as occupied all winter, roofs on and fires burning
on tlie hearth. The Thirteenth leaves camp at 4.30 p. m., marches to
Falmouth station, distance two miles, takes cars, most of them box freight
cai's, at 6.30 p. m., arrives at Aquia Creek, after the fifteen mile ride,
about 9 p. m., and bivouacs at 10 p. m., at the wharf, in cars, in boxes, on
boards, anywhere, everywhere. Some of the men capture a few bales of
hay, from cars on a side track, spread it deep on the floor of sundry
cattle cars, and thus have a fine clean bed to sleep on. Here they remain
until called to go on board the boat.

Good-by Valley Forge Number Two. No place where men can exist at
all for three winter months can be much worse, so any change is welcome.
Any one desiring to learn how much we have enjoyed this camp can
gain experimentally some idea of the matter by taking a sheet oft' his bed,
making a tent of it, pitching the tent in any common swamp in New Eng-
land, and living in it through the months of February. INIarch and April ;
the experience will be more nearly similar to ours at Falmouth, if he has
about half enougli of clothing, and his rations are hard bread, coffee and
salt beef, none of it too good and always a scanty supply. This winter
camp has been an indescribable mixture of the diabolical, pathetic, laugh-
able, dismal, droll, horrid, funny, sick, ])icturesque, abominable, comical,
damnable, amusing and outrageous, all at once and continually. Men
laugh, joke, and die ; men cry, and die ; men suffer the excruciating tor-
ments of rheumatism and fever, and die ; men waste away in mind and


body without a twinge of pain, and die ; all side by side, and in tent by
tent. A party of congenial spirits, sick, suffering and almost hopeless,
gather in a tent, bemoan, whine and wail, and act like whipped children ;
in an adjoining tent a party, ecpial in all points of actual suffering, pour
all their miseries into an unending stream of fun, joke, gibe, frolic and
glee to drown their soi*rows ; the next day one or more of each i)arty is
dead, or on his way to a Hospital, and is never again able to return to
active service ; and so it has gone on, week in and week out, all the long
winter. Another party look their trials, and even death itself, coolly and
deliberately in the face, contrive every i)ossible plan to keep their health,
or to regain it if lost, confidently depending upon the eternal truth that
God helps them who properly help themselves, and almost every one of
these manages to survive. To-day there are not fifty men in the Thir-
teenth regiment who can call themselves well men, and the same has been
true of almost every day since the battle of Fredericksburg ; while the
good spirits of many of the worst sufferers have been preyed upon con-
tinually by the doleful forebodings and scoldings of many of the most
vigorous. There is one bright point of relief : practical Christianity — and
there is no other — was never more fully at work than here. But as for
the whole, write it however you may, language cannot describe this winter
camp ; and while its denizens survive, they will sing of it, scold it, be-
wail it, laugh over it, and most roundly denounce it, all in the same breath.

Feb. 8. Sun. Pleasant morning, cold afternoon. Reg. at Aquia
Creek. We assemble early, have a liberal morning bath, and go on board
the steamer ' George Washington,' about 10 a. m., and are stored as
close as cattle ; but the boys little mind it : we are going to a better place
than Falmouth. Seven companies are on the steamer, the other three on
board the schooner ' Pawnee ' in tow of the steamer. Occasionally on
the trip our Band furnishes fine music. We start at 2 p. m. for Fortress
Monroe. Quite a number, about lUO, of our men receive boxes here from
home, they having been held here to await our coming ; and as a conse-
quence almost everything in them is spoiled. Rich and dainty viands,
sent to the soldiers by loving hands at home, merely serve to feed a few
Potomac fishes, as our boat speeds down the river, and the contents of the
boxes go overboard.

The first court martial convened in the Thirteenth was organized Jan.
30, 1863, to try sundry cases of misdemeanor among the men, and the
detail for the same was Capt. Smith of H, Lieut. Durell of E, Lieut.
Coffin of K, with Lieut. Young of F as Judge Advocate. The condition
of the Reg. was such that no larger detail could be made. Maj. Storer
was at that time in command. This movement necessarily dissolves the
court, and its members reported to the Regiment yesterday for duty.

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 13 of 81)