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 15 of 81)
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with his best riders ; mounts all the buglers he can obtain ; calls in a
battery of mountain Ijrass-hoAvitzers ; makes an assembly of this large
mounted host — a thousand or two apparently — and ])arades on the road.
Then joined by his whole staff, up somewhere near Suffolk, he brings the
whole cavalcade, in full uniform, bugles sounding furiously, and the
mounted l)ands ])laying " St. Patrick's Day in the Morning," tearing
down the road, and through camp, all their horses galloping at their
highest .speed. A stirring show, a tremendous hullaballoo. Four Irish


regiments also turn out and march in grand procession through camp ;
their banners very numerous and gay. Each man wears a sprig of ever-
green in his cap. Three mottoes are — " Erin and Columbia ; " " Irish-
men to the rescue ; " " Erin go bragh." The volunteer Irish element in
our ai*my is generally a magniticent fighting material — brave, reliable,
true. The day closes with a torchlight procession, extremely noisy, but
all in good nature. The whole day a wild scene from Old Ireland's wild
hills and vales, acted more wildly in the wildest swamp of Virginia.
Mrs. Stowe in " Dred " describes the Dismal Swamj) most admirably ;
but she never saw it with the annex of three or four thousand* wild Irish-
men, all shouting, yelling and cheering at once.

Some of Corcoran's men during the day cajiture a big negro cook in
the 13th, known as "Nigger Joe," take him to their camp, strip him
nearly naked, and make a " rainbow nigger " of him ; pamting him in
patches, bars and stripes, yellow, green, red, blue — every color they can
muster, and then turn him loose. He returns to the 13th camp, running
as if for dear life, scared half out of his wits, and looking worse than the
evil one. This is another phase of the Irish question.

March 18. Wed. Very cold and disagreeable, some rain. Reg.
building a bridge across the swamp to rifle-pits. Reg. receives whiskey
rations again. Hot, strong coffee is better. The 25th New Jersey,
some of whom broke back through the Thirteenth, on the night of Dec.
13, 1862, in the charge at Fredericksburg, are now encamped about half
a mile below our camp, and near " Jei'icho." They are out, or are going
out, of our Brigade — Col. Dutton's. We seem to be Brigaded vari-
ously, nowadays, for field pur])oses. One thing sure : wherever there is
a ticklish, dangerous and hard place, there they will put the Thirteenth
to hold the line firm. Several prisoners brought into our camp last night
report the enemy in heavy force, above Suffolk, and about 18 miles

March 19. Thurs. Rainy, snowy, cold. Reg. remains in quarters,
the men rolled up in their blankets to keep warm. Heavy hail storm
towards night. Reveille nowadays at the break of day, and half the
time before daylight. Our cavalry vedettes are about four miles in ad-
vance of the infantry, on this front.

March 20. Fri. Snow storm ; nearly six inches in depth falls over
all the camp, the wind, very severe, piling the snow in heaps, and driving
it into every crack and cranny. The men, in shelter tents only, suffer
severely. As one soldier of the 13th writes : " We have to sleep under
a cotton sheet drawn over a pole. We keep warm by going to bed and
covering up thick." Capt. Stoodley leaves camp for home on fifteen
days' leave.

March 21. Sat. Stormy all day. Reg. in quarters, such as they
are. This storm — hail, snow and rain mixed — caught us in a very
awkward situation. When it commenced, we had just begun to fit up
our camp, having taken down our tents for the purjiose of putting them


up in a better order ; and were all in a hubbub. No camp could easily
be in a worse condition. Sevei^al men crawled into empty barrels, leaving
their feet out or heads out, and slept as " short " as nature would allow.
Tlie want of proper shelter lays up a large number of men. The com-
pound of snow, hail and mud is nearly a foot deep all over camp. While
we are in this mess, the story comes along to-day, that we are going at
once to Tennessee ! The Colonel of the 89th New York takes pity on the
loth, cleans some barracks, and offers them to Col. Stevens, and our
Colonel declines them, for some reason. It is very difficult Co keej) fires
burning out of doors, and none at all can be had in the tents and all the
men have suffered severely from the cold, the snow and the i"ain.

March 22. Sun. AVarm, very muddy. Reg. in quarters. Usual
Sunday duties so far as possible. Our three days of storm have made
very bad work for the guard and pickets, and the Reg. in camp has been
but a little better off. Many men found themselves in the mornings ac-
tually blanketed deep in snow. In fact some of the situations are posi-
tively laughable as well as pitiable. Three cold, dismal days indeed, and
continuous snow, hail and rain for over 48 hours. Warmer to-day, how-
ever. A sharp skirmish is reported at the outposts, where we have
heard heavy firing to-day. A few rebel prisoners come in to-night, and
one of them on being asked what regiment he belonged to, replied : " To
Lorngstrit's Ormy Co', er'ekn." ('' Co' " for Corps.) One man of the
13th writes of to-day : " It has snowed and rained all the time for 48
hours, and we have had to lie in our tents to keep from freezing. Mud
from six inches to six feet deep. Saw an immense host of niggers, and
their young ones of all sizes and colors. I killed two snakes to-day."
Probably a true mixture ! The snakes entered many of the tents for
shelter, when the storm commenced.

March 23. Mon. Fine day and warm. It is said that the enemy's
troops along the Blackwater have no shelter at all, excepting such as they
can improvise out of pine boughs, etc. They would better come down and
take our camp — it is a beauty. We would soon be mutually warmed up,
and we all need it. A party from the Reg. attended church yesterday
in Suffolk. The citizens kept away ; none of them will attend church
where there are any Yankees. Wags put up signs : " AU seats free I "
Many officers in the 13th are short of funds, while a recent order de-
prives them of the privilege of obtaining rations from the Commissary on
credit I But where is the officer in the Thirteenth stupid enough to
starve for his country ? The whole land flows with milk and honey —
for those who know where to send a spry forager to procm*e them.

March 24. Tues. Cloudy ; showery afternoon. Dress-parade at
sundown. Our ])ickets go out every morning for 24 hours. A thin line
of cavalry vedettes are stationed about four miles from camj) ; the in-
fantry outposts about 3^ miles from camp. The worst danger is from
" Bush-whackers," men who pretend to be farmers in the daytime, and
who shoot our pickets at night. vSurgeon Richardson returns to the Reg.


to-night. Regimental Hospital moved to a dry piece of ground, and a
board floor laid.

March 25. Wed. Fair. Reg. drills all day. Detail cutting logs.
We already have quite a sti'ong line of earth-works around our camp.

March 26. Thurs. Fair. Nights very cold. Heavy detail, 200
men, sent out on picket ; squad drill in afternoon. Along here one day
a detail from the Thirteenth penetrated the Dismal Swamp for about
two miles, making their way at times on floating logs. They came out
near a canal, where they jjassed the night, and then returned to camp,
having had enough of that kind of scouting. The reverberations of a
cannon shot heard in the swamp are deafening. Lieut. Forbush, officer
of the day, has a large quantity of white, clean sand hauled into camp
to-day, and dresses the sidewalks with it, covering up the black, vile mud.
A very great inq)rovement.

March 27. Fri. Fair. Pickets return. Company drill. Capt. Dodge
of B returns from leave. Some of the companies now have quite com-
fortable quarters, but the camp-ground is very wet. The picket sent to-
day from the Reg. numbers 200 men, with Lt. Col. Bowers, Major
Storer, Captains Grantman, Julian and Buzzell, and Lieuts. Wilson, Cui -
tis. Sawyer and Saunders. Ten men are sent to work on a bridge, forty
are detailed for fatigue, in care of camp, etc., and sixty for guard duty of
various sorts. The rest drill, in squads, and on Brigade drill also. Capt.
Bradley, in temporary command of the Reg. in camp, holils a Battalion
drill with less than five men to a company, and goes through all the
movements, strictly according to " Casey." A sample day.

Our " wells " here are made by sinking a flour barrel in the ground.
The water tastes as a brick yard, or a new, wet country road might taste.
The color a '•yellowish-nasty." The reptiles are just now thawing out,
and these little wells are their chief delight. A man's coffee of a morn-
ing is more refreshing, if, when he goes to his well for water, he first
takes a stick, and drives out of the water its last night's occupants — a
snake or two, some toads, and frogs, and lizards, and a multitude of in-
sects ; for then he dips up their bed clothes, so to speak, and makes his
coffee out of their unwashed linen. If he has no well, he varies the fla-
vor, by procuring water from a pool, where in addition to the above list
of regular boarders, there have bivouacked for a period, some old shoes,
fags, bones and a few turtles. This is a little sketch of a No 1 coffee-
vater well. " You go for a soldier — and you take your chances."

Sergt. Gibbs of E.

March 28. Sat. Cloudy, very windy. Heavy thunder storm about
one p. m. '• Linen tents slacken when wet, and the wind plays the
Dickens with them to-day ; walloping them off the poles, and tearing out
the lopes." The men have to turn out under arms at dayUght ; no
furloughs allowed ; signs of coming trouble. The 11th Penn. cavalry
have on exhibition the Confederate '' Rocketts Battery," recently cap-


March 29. Sun. Fair ; very cold at night. Regimental inspection
in the t'oreiioon ; brigade Dress-parade in the afternoon ; both well done.
A few members of the Reg. attend church — Episcopal — in Suffolk
town. Chaplain Jones at home on leave.

Charles A. Lull, our drummer-boy, has reddish yellow hair. He and
Ira E. Wright, the other drummer-boy, greatly enjoy a chat with Lt.
Col. Bowers. The writer called at the tent of his most excellent friend
Lt. Col. Bowers and found these two boys there. After they withdrew,
the Lt. Colonel turned to the writer, and said : " These boys make me
feel young again. Wright and that brass-mounted boy are the oldest
men in this Division ; I am but a mere youth compared with them —
but I like these promjjt, smart boys."

Surgeon George B. Twitchell went with the Regiment into Virginia
and remained with it during the most of the time up to the battle of
Fredericksburg, but during that battle he was detained in Washington.
His eminent abilities soon led to his being detailed as Brigade Surgeon
on the staff of Arthur H. Dntton, Colonel of the 21st Conn, comdg. 3d
Brigade 3d Div. 9th Army Corjjs, in December 1862. He did not
again return to the Thirteenth, and was present in no battle where the
Thirteenth was engaged. March 24, 1863, he resigned to receive pro-
motion, having been appointed Surgeon U. S. Vols, by commission dated
January 7, 1863, and bearing the signatures of President Abraham
Lincoln, and Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War. On receiving this
appointment he was ordered to report to Gen. U. S. Grant, then com-
manding De})t. of Tennessee, and was assigned to duty as Surgeon in
Chief of the 7th Division of the 17th Army Corj^s, about April 15, 1863.
After the fall of Vicksburg, July 4, 1863, he was assigned to duty as
Surgeon in Chief of the 6tli Division of the 17th Army Corps, at which
post he remained until he W'as honorably discharged the service because
of disability, Sept. 15, 1863. He was ever a faithful, true friend to the
Thirteenth, both during the war and afterwards.

March 30. Mon. Cloudy, cold ; showery afternoon. Brigade drill.
Dress-parade at sundown. A numl)er of men sent with Descriptions to
Battery A, Heavy Artillery, as a permanent detail.

March 31. Tues. Rained heavily all last night and this forenoon ;
afternoon cold and clear. Mud deep ; no drill. March is as hard and
blustering South as North. The Reg. ordered to send a strong picket tJ
near the small-pox Hospital on Jericho Creek about three miles from
camp. The Brigade, all excepting the 13th, are ordered to build and
garrison forts. This means any amount of marching-about for our Reg.
A large force of cavalry passes camp outward bound.

April 1. "Wed. Cold, fair, a high wind. Battalion drill, and the wind
makes such a noise that we cannot hear the orders. Negroes find their
way to our camp — out of slavery, fresh — with steers and cows harnessed
to carts just as horses are, bits and all. and are the happiest persons in
the whole Confederacy. On picket to-day "Wooster E. Woodbury of C

1863 CA:\IP near SUFFOLK. 123

climbed a tall pine-tree near the small-pox Hospital, Suffolk, to look
within the enemy's lines over the river ; one of the bravest acts clone in
the Regiment, the tree being within easy rifle-shot of the rebels.

April 2. Thurs. Cold. Company drill. It is not an unusual thing
here now for a soldier, on rising in the morning, to shake out of his bhm-
kets a full-grown snake, a copperhead or moccasin. These cool nights
cause the snakes to desire warm bedfellows.

April 3. Fri. Cold and windy. We sign Pay-rolls for four months'
pay now due, and draw A tents. Two good things at once. An A tent
is small, but when mounted on walls of logs — " stockaded " — it makes a
good roof, and holds on better than any other. The amount of shamming,
'' playing sick," in the Reg. becomes a serious question. Rheumatism is
the favorite plea. A hypodermic injection in the region of the muscle
complained of works some wonderful cures — especially of all desire for
another injection. Our Surgeon is a first-class genius.

April 4. Sat. Rainy, cold, windy, and snow falls to-night to the
depth of about six inches. No drill. Heavy detail on picket, a terrible
work in this weather. Loud cannonade heard about dark. Our cavalry
have a brush with the enemy, a few miles above our camp, and drive
him ; but four horses, with empty saddles, come slowly back this morn-
ing into camp. Capt. Stoodley returns to the regiment from leave.
Our pickets leave camp under Capt. Goss at 8 a. m., and go out about
five miles on the line that runs from the railroad to the Nansemond,
where there are two Union gunboats. The night is very dark, a wet snow
falling from 4 p. m. until near morning, then followed by a heavy rain.
The pickets have no shelter. Division teams and ambulances come to
camp to-day. Ex- Lieutenant Albe Holmes of H, Avho resigned Feb. 19,
1863, is nominated by Lieut. Gafney for sutler of the 13th, and is to-day
elected by a unanimous vote — save one.

April 5. Sun. Cold, some rain. No work outside of quarters, ex-
cept a Dress-parade at sundown. Last night, an April snow storm, of
nearly six inches, gave us the parting blow of winter. It has been cold,
wet and generally hard weather for campaigning since we came over here.
The weather is a great item in the soldier's life when in the field. He is
often confined to one spot for many hours of extreme exposure, while all
his life is spent practically out of doors. Pickets are relieved at 11 a. m.
and return to camji through snow and mud knee deep. A tents arrive
for the men of the 13th.

" I was posted to-day a sentinel in front of Col. Stevens' Hdqrs.
There was a continual stream of ofiicers — Generals, Colonels, and others —
calling upon the Colonel, and I was kept very busy saluting them as they
passed in and out. Just before I was relieved, Adjt. Bout well came out
of Col. Stevens' tent, with paper and pencil in hand, and said that Col.
Stevens wished my name and company. Knowing that I had done nothing
wrong, and had been proni])t and correct in my salutes. I did not feel
much worried, but still I was anxious to know what it meant. Well, at


Dress-parade this afternoon, an order was read ai)})ointing me to the posi-
tion of left general guide of the Regiment. As the directions are that :
' The two best drilled Sergeants in the regiment shall act as right and
left general guides,' I naturally felt complimented by being selected from
nearly a thousand men — or boys as we were then — and placed in such
a responsible position. I acted in this ca})acity until April 24, 1864, when
I was detached for duty at Division Headquarters."

Wm. H. Spiller, Co. C.

April 6. Mon. Fair. Reg. paid to March 1, 1863, for four months.
Had a review instead of a Dress-parade. Bad — too much nuul. Reg.
ordered to turn out under arms at daylight ; to remain under arms half
an hour, then stack arms in line of battle. About a dozen men from each
company are daily detailed for picket duty, and remain in camp, armed
and equipped for an instant call.

April 7. Tues. Fair. Battalion drill on rough ground. The new
greenbacks go largely to Suffolk, and find a poor market. We have seen
but few ladies since leaving the vicinity of Washington last December.
Some of the men say that for four months they have not set eyes upon a
white woman. Under these circumstances men are somewhat excusable
for staring when a white woman appears. Two a])peared to-day in Suf-
folk, visiting town, from a distant plantation, on a shopping tour, and
elegantly clad. They are young, handsome, and aristocratic in appear-
ance. They are seen to enter a dry goods store, and we naturally wait to
see them when they come out — if they don't keep us waiting too long.
Presently they appear, take their carriage and drive off. Carriage — a
little, old, rickety, country " ding-cart " on two wheels, that go wabble-
wabble — the two beautiful ladies sit on straw spread on the bottom of the
cart ; driver — a little, ragged darkey mounted on a high stool in the
front part of the cart ; harness — a combination utterly tangled, of strings
and ropes, with many ends hanging ; team — a small, poor, bony, dirty,
yellow-red cow! No " antique and horrible " procession ever had a more
ridiculous turn-out. The rebels had taken from the family all movable
property of any value, for military purposes, as they said.

April 8. Wed. Fair. Grand Review of the 3d Division by Gen.
Peck and Gen. Getty, in the afternoon. Verj' tiresome in the mud, by
which the troops are badly spattered, but still a fine review. Our A tents
are now mounted for roofs on log walls about three feet high. Bunks
(beds) are made on each side, and across the back end. A bunk is made
in this way : four forked sticks are driven into the ground, and left stand-
ing about one foot high. In these forks strong sticks are placed cross-
wise the bunk, and upon these are placed long, small poles, lengthwise the
bunk. Spread upon the poles are red-cedar boughs, if possible to pro-
cure them, or those of the pine, or leaves, hay, or what best can be had.
On the boughs is spread a rubber blanket ; the woolen blankets are used
to roll one's self up in. The result is a springy, elastic and easy bed fit
for the warrior gods tliemselvcs ; or for a better ])ers()n — the Union sol-
dier. Red-cedar boughs make the best bed. fragrant and soporific.



April 9. Thurs. Fair. Company and Battalion drill. Reg. works
hard and long on its miserable canip-grounds, makes streets, digs ditches,
etc., to give it the semblance of dry ground. The whole Dismal Swamp
region is a vast peat bog, and is like a sponge full of water. Seven bad
men, for doing bad deeds, sit on a rail near the guard-house, for several
hours. The contrivance is called the " guard-house mule ; " it raises them
about ten feet above the ground — a fine perch for human buzzards. There
is a class of men in the army who, on the eve of any move, put up a job
to make trouble, for the purpose of being placed under arrest, and so es-
cape duty, and, may be, danger. They plan for this weeks ahead. They
are caught, occasionally and deserve a severe punishment. A few hun-
dred of them would paralyze a brigade.

Because of the little excitement along the front, the colored people are
hurrying within our lines in large numbers. They come in poor, desti-
tute, starved and ragged. Rations are delivered them by the government.
While the adults excite some sympathy among the men, it is naturally
less than the black children receive. The odd scraps of the soldiers'
poorest rations are better food than these little fellows have been accus-
tomed to receiving ; and they gather about the men at their meals, watch-
ing every motion with their large, pathetic, longing eyes. As a result
they receive many a nice fresh lunch ; but while their mouths are equally
full of food and flooding thanks, both their hands are ready to steal all
they can reach and hold — so much for slavery's moral training. The
men hire the negroes to sing and dance ; it is a source of unending amuse-


April 10. Fri. Fair, warm. The camp was full of rumors all last
night. Many officers kept awake nearly all night, expecting momentarily
to be called out, and to meet the enemy. The camp guard were ordered
to allow no man to pass out or in without satisfactory pajjers, and the re-
sult was a motley gathering at the guard-house. Early this morning the
arms and ammunition of every man in camp are closely examined, and a
special muster is made of all the troops in our Division. At 7 a. m. Com-
panies A, H, and G, with Major Storer in command, leave camp and go
down on the Nansemond three or four miles, a part for picket, and a part
to garrison a fort. The 21st Conn., on the river about four miles below
Suffolk, have a A^ery fine camp, and are building their famous " Fort Con-
necticut." One of these heavy artillerymen of the 21st, as our pickets
pass their camp, assumes a contemptuous manner and tone, and asks
Lieut. Churchill where — as he was pleased to call us — '' this dirty Thir-
teenth " is going. Churchill replies : '' We 're going, of course, to relieve
the 21st Conn. — who are frightened by the muski'ats down here." This
ended the conversation. Lieut. Churchill was quick at upsetting sauce-

While the other seven companies of the Reg., left in camp, are on
Dress-jiarade about 5 p. m., orders arrive for them to march. They stack
arms, break ranks, go to quarters, pack up, and are in line again in less
than fifteen minutes — all i-eady. The majority were back in their
places in eleven minutes. They start about 6.30 p. m. and march until
10.30 p. m., and about nine miles down the Nansemond, before having
supper; and then lay on their arms all night — on the bare, wet ground,
in thick woods, and in line of battle — prejjared for an instant move.

Gen. Longstreet's first regular advance in force upon our lines is made
to-day, and he is expected to attempt to force a passage of the river to-
night at this point where we lay ; for which purpose he has had a road-
way, winding and masked, cut down the sloping bank to the water's edge
just opposite our place of bivouac. We hope he will try it. The Thir-
teenth, the 4th R. L and the 103d N. Y. occu})y to-night a position di-
rectly opposite the mouth of Western Branch and are enjoined to be
prepared for action ; the night here, however, passes in quiet, though we
can hear heavy firing in the distance. Troops ordered to New Berne are
held here for a time as a measure of safety. A soldier of the Reg. writes
home — and it shows the uncertainty of campaigning life : " The drums
to-day beat the call for Dress-jjarade as usual. On assembling, the men
are ordered to hurry to their tents, get one day's rations, their blankets,
etc., and to fall in again as soon as possible. This done, we were soon on
our way for a place unknown to us, and marched about ten miles."


April 11. Sat. Clear. Now come the shovels. We commence at
tlie first gleam of daylight this morning to dig rifle-pits and trenches, and
to build a fort close upon the bank of the Nansemond, working in connec-
tion with the 4th R. I. We work all day shoveling, turn in at dark, are
again called about 9 p. m., and start on a hasty march back again to our
camp near Suffolk, leaving all our provisions, supplies and heavy baggage
on the river bank. Some of our men fall asleep while marching, trij)
their toes, and fall headlong. Companies G and H are relieved, but

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 15 of 81)