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 16 of 81)
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Company A, Capt. Grantman, is left for two or three days ; and when
the men of the loth come again, to relieve tliem. Company A thinks they
may be the enemy, prepares for a fight, and halts them at a long distance,
until they find out who are coming. Capt. Grantman has no counter-
sign, hence his extreme caution. The Union troops stationed across the
Nansemond are withdrawn to-night, under cover of the gunboat ' Stepping
Stones,' Capt. C. C Harris, and the bridge at Suffolk is destroyed. The
Long-roll resounds, twice to-night, all up and down the Union lines.

Gen. Peck is chief in command. Gen. Getty has command of the river
defenses. The story in camp is that Gen. Longstreet, counting upon his
greatly superior numbers, hoped to cut Gen. Peck's troops off, by crossing
the river in overwhelming force, and so capture the entire garrison ; and
is greatly ' non-plused ' when he finds Gen. Getty's troops posted in
force all along the river from Hill's Point to Suffolk, and ready to meet
him at every point.

April 12. Sun. A pleasant day. Col. Corcoran shot and killed
Lt. Col. Kimball, 9th N. Y., on the picket line at 4 o'clock this morning.
The cause of the shooting is unknown.

Reg. arrives at camp near Suffolk about 1.30 a. rn., and turns in for a
little rest — only to be called out again immediately ; the enemy attacking
on the Somerton and Edenton roads. Many of our men work on a bridge,
every available man busy. Before the day is out we form in line in our
rifle-pits near the river, two or three miles below Suffolk. Off to our left
troops are hastily forming line — a long line of battle — for the enemy
has near there driven in our pickets. Things grow decidedly interesting
and lively, the muskets rattling, the cannon booming, the shells flying.
There is nothing under the sun so exhilarating, inspiriting, and full of life
and blood-stirring snaj), as a sharp fight, when once you are at it. The
day is quite warm, and some very rapid movements cause a number of
our weaker men to fall out. The sudden stir involves rather more than
a brigade, quite a little army. The enemy in large force is in plain
view on the Petersburg Railroad, nortliward and west of town. Sharp
picket firing all day. Night again finds us lying on our arms, on the
ground, and as a whole without tents or cover. The citizens are held in
Suffolk to prevent the enemy from shelling the city.

April 13. Mon. Rainy a. m., fair p. m. Now comes the tug of war,
Reg. in line at 5 a. m. in the streets of their old camp — seven companies,
the rest on picket. The Reg. relieves the 10th N. H. on the picket


line, along- Jericho canal, northeast of town, about 9 a. m., and are set at
work on the defenses near Fort Jericho, which conniiands the raih'oads to
Norfolk. The 10th N. H. go farther down the river. We are on the
southeast side of tlie Nansemond with about 16,000 men, in a long, thin
line as a whole. Gen. Longstreet's army, by Gen. Peck estimated at
40,000 men, is on the other side of the river, and threatening in force.
He is expected to attack us to-night, and rifle-pits and defenses are being
made with all possible dispatch. Houses and buildings are burning on all
sides. The enemy dis^les one of our gunboats, amid a tremendous can-
nonading nearby, and we can hear and see the bursting shells — near
enough !

A bridge is built to-day across a creek and marsh — 100 to 150 feet
wide — in an incredibly short period of time. The men of the Thirteenth
stack arms, cut trees and bring them on their shoulders. Stringers are
laid on forked trees set on end opposite each other in the water and mud,
the tops inclining inward a very little, and the logs, ten or twelve feet
long, are laid on about as rapidly as they can be counted. A layer of
brush and earth completes the bridge. Our column, desiring to cross, has
merely halted a few minutes, when the bridge is all completed, and the
troops proceed on their way. A few men add more supports, and the
bridge is ready for artillery, which soon follows. The churches in Suf-
folk are to be used as hospitals in case of a battle, and Asst. Surgeon Sulli-
van is ordered to report at the Methodist church when the battle begins.

The entire native population, excepting the negroes, are non-committal,
and appear to answer all questions evasively, or dodglngly. They are
free with opinions — that always look two ways at once. Their most
positive assertions are rendered utterly valueless by their everlasting
"• er'ekn " appended to every sentence. The Southron's " I reckon " beats
the Yankee's " I kalkerlate " all out of time and number. The following
expression by a native shows the folly of it : " Jigger my buttons, 'f I
ain't tiud of this dog'ond rackit — er'ekn."

April 14. Tues. Fair; a few showers. Reg. returns to the old
camp near Suffolk to-night, having been relieved on the picket line ; but
is called into the front lines again at midnight. Our gunboats and the
enemy's batteries make midnight hideous. We have been scattered all
along the river and Jericho Creek and canal, for three or four miles ; a
sort of flying column. Where we are guarding the section of line is con-
sidered very important, and we are worked to the limit of endurance. At
night detachments from the Reg. march a few miles, then halt and build
camp-fires — ten or a dozen fires nearly in a line ; wdien they are well
a-burning, we move again for a few miles, halt, and built more cam})-fires ;
then move again, and so repeat the deception over and over again — a
deception innocent, excepting in reference to the rail fences burnt up.
The zealous enemy shells these mock cam]>-fires. " We never knew of his
hitting but one fire ; that was severely wounded by a shell, and die'd
(out) before morning.'" While the boys were building these mock camp-


fires last night, one old fellow stood in his front door-way and for half an
hour poured out a perfect ' hypermyriorama ' of awful and eternal dam-
nation experiences and places, and scenes most foul and horrid, for every
agency under the sun — and above it — that was in any way or degree
responsible for this war or was carrying it on. He piled in one promiscu-
ous condemned heap every one he could think of, from a rebel sutler
down to the leaders of the Confederacy (as he graded them) and from the
meanest Yankee soldier up to President Lincoln — all because the soldiers
burned up ten rods of a rickety old rail fence on his paternal acres now
too poor to grow wolf- grass.

Col. Corcoran's Irish Legion have a severe brush — on the 11th to
14th — with the enemy on the Edenton road ; the 21st Conn, in support.
There has been heavy firing all day up to 5 p. m., and Gen. Peck states
that the enemy attacks along the Nansemond with 11,000 men. This
afternoon, after a four hours' bombardment — from about 1 p. m. — three
of our gunboats silence a heavy rebel shore-battery on the river. Many
houses are torn down in and about Suffolk, to obtain an unobstructed
range for our guns. A large force of Union artillery comes in and passes
to the front this afternoon. Company A, 13th, returns to the Regiment.

April 15. Wed. Very rainy. About midnight, last night, the Reg.
turned out of camp in great haste and occupied the front rifle-pits (not far
from our camp near Suffolk) and at daylight form in line as a support for
a battery in action on the river bank, where the enemy is expected to at-
tempt a crossing. Later in the forenoon, for a couple of hours, the firing
on our front is very severe, the lines very close ; an affair of the pickets
and artillery. The gunboats are now, noon, shelling the woods where the
enemy is supposed to be — exceeding noisy business. About sunset three
companies of the 13th go with the 10th N. H. and a section of the Sec-
ond Wisconsin Battery, all under command of Col. Donohoe of the 10th,
to a point near Fort Connecticut, arriving about 11 j). m., and there work
and skirmish all night ; are absent 48 hours. A part of this expedition
crosses the river, reconnoitres the enemy's camp, have a brush with his
pickets, and returns without loss. The Thirteenth is called into line three
times to-night, each time by a false alarm. Sergeant Batchellor of D
writes : " A solid shot came near Jesse W. Place of D, and knocked him
over without breaking the skin. He jumped up, ran as far as he could,
,and then fell. He will probably recover in a few days."

April 16. Thiors. Showery and sunny. The cannonading brings
rain, as it usually does. About 9 a. m. the enemy's batteries and our
gunboats have a duel, the pickets and sharpshooters firing continuously
all the time during the artillery fire. The Reg. in rifle-pits and busy
firing too. The narrow river divides the two armies, and both banks are
honeycombed with defenses, and swarming with men. " Show your head
— and soon you are dead." When a bullet strikes a man's head, it makes
H sound like a blow upon a basket of sea shells, and causes no possible
pain. A bullet striking a man's body makes a dull thud, or crack if a


bone is struck. There has heen an increasing cannonading and picket
firing for these last five or six days. Shells and bullets ai-e flying at all
times, and in every direction. But the distance disturbs aim, and few are
hurt ; besides there is much timber for shelter. The larger part of tlie
13th are moved up the river, about four miles this afternoon. The 9th
Vermont comes up as a re-enforcement.

April 17. Fri. Fair, warm. Reg. on picket near Fort Jericho.
Lively firing on both sides — we cannot show anything without calling over
a rebel bullet. A hat held up on a spade brings several bullets, and two
of them striking the sj^ade are elegantly flattened. The firing of muskets
and cannon, far and near for many miles, is incessant. Every night
picks, shovels and axes, thousands of them, are busy. Forts grow up in
a night — and cut full sets of teeth. Jonahs gourd and Jack's l)ean-
stalk are fair types of the growth of Gen. Peck's and Gen. Getty's de-
fensive works along the Nansemond. The enemy is equally busy.
The constant alai'ms, watchings, marchings, picket duty, shoveling, chop-
ping, and exposure to rain and cold, night and day, are enough to wear
out men of steel. The men of the 13th do their share of the hard work,
and some thiidc a little more. Heavy rercnforcements join us, fifteen or
twenty regiments in the last twenty-four hours.

" A New Hampshire soldier wearily digging in the small hours of the
night, called out to his neighbor : ' I say. Bill. I hope Old Peck will die
two weeks before I do.' ' Why so ? ' asked Bill. ' Because he will have
hell so strongly fortified, in that time, that I can't get in.' Then Bill
and his neighbor, greatly encouraged, again commence shoveling."

April 18. Sat. Fair, warm. Reg. everywhere ; marching, digging,
skirmishing, and building mock camp-fires at night. The enemy's shells
and bullets thicker than ever. The boys think that the enemy has
struck a lead mine. In a short time to-day, one of the Thirteenth's picket
posts, entrenched on the river, fires over forty rounds per man. The
enemy equally busy in replying. A day of severe picket firing all along
the river. The line of the Nansemond is divided between Colonels Button
and Harland ; the Thirteenth to-day holding the position next below the
mouth of Jericho Creek. (Official Report.) Two gunboats — one of
them aground — have a six hours' contest with the Hill's Point Battery.
Both escape, badly riddled. Gen. Dix sends up a dispatch highly com-
plimenting Gen. Peck's troops. Adjt. Boutwell returns to duty. Under
date of to-day General Dix commanding the Union forces here says of
the enemy : " We have ascertained that the enemy's force is about 38.000
men ; they have come for a campaign, and not for a raid or diversion."

Now the writer must again speak of himself — how to-day a necessity
was laid upon him. A few men of the Thirteenth are in a rifle-pit, dug
in a wide, bare space on the river bank, and flanked by a few trees. The
first fort below the mouth of Jericho Creek is situated a few rods to the
right, and there is a spring of water a few rods to the left, in a little
brush. The men are very thirsty, and Charles F. Gerrish of E volun-


teers to go for water — for Gerrish scarcely knows what fear is. He
takes several canteens, ties the strings together, springs out of the pit, and
makes a rush for the spring. He is ahnost instantly shot in the thigh, and
one leg is utterly disabled. He falls, drops the canteens a rod from the
pit, and wi'iggles and scrambles back into the pit. where he must lie until
night. His wound is a very bad one, liis jacknife being broken in pieces
and driven into his thigh with the bullet. Water now must be had —
and the writer must go for it. There is no alternative, so he throws off
his coat, not thinking of his white flannel shirt sleeves, springs out of the
pit, picks up the canteens dropped by Gerrish, and succeeds in reaching
the spring, filling the canteens, and returning to the rifle-pit, among many
bullets, unharmed. He is now very warm, and keeps his coat off. The
pit is so small that a spade must be had to enlarge it ; all on account of
Geri'ish, who is a tall man, lying at full length on the bottom of the pit,
and suffering unutterable tortures. The writer must now go to the fort —
50 to 60 yards distant — for a spade, and so he springs again out of the
pit, and as swiftly as possible runs the gauntlet of the enemy's fire to the
foi't ; there regains his breath, takes two spades, holds them so as to pro-
tect his head with one and his side with the other, and thus returns to the
pit. While returning with the spades, he is not aware that the enemy
fires at him one single shot — and at night he is told at the fort that the
enemy clieered him. The enemy possibly recognized the white shirt
sleeves. There is no credit in any of this — the writer had to go.

April 19. Sun. Fair. Capt. Stoodley with about a dozen men from
Company G goes out on the ' Neck,' either really or almost an island, in
a great bend of the river, where they receive the fire of the enemy from
all sides at once. How they ever got safely out of the scrape is a wonder.
Until to-day the Reg. has been in the rifle-pits along the Nansemond, a
part of the line about two miles below Suffolk, and stretched out for a
long distance on ' Jericho Point.' Most of the firing at long range, and
a great deal of it ; comparatively quiet, however, to-day, and the whole
Reg., with the exception of a few pickets who went into the rifle-pits at
2 p. m., is once more together to-night. Col. Stevens has charge of the
Jericho Point defenses.

The very brilliant Hill's Point Battery affair occurs about sunset to-
night. This afternoon six companies of the 8th Conn, and six companies
of the 89th N. Y., in all about 280 men, under Col. John E. Ward of the
8th Conn, (a part of the expedition passing Ft. Connecticut at 2 p. m.), go
to the river and embark on the ' Stepping Stones,' and at dusk suddenly
attack Fort Huger (pronounced Hn-jee) Located on the forks near Reed's
Ferry, practically the left of Gen. Longstreet's line, and the last earth-
work on his left. Our forces capture two 24-pounders and four 12-pound-
ers, brass cannon (taken from us at Harper's Ferry), and 100 to 150
prisoners. The affair was a combined attack by our sailors and infantry
— both of whom seem to have been first in entering the fort ; though it
appears that the sailors, knowing most of the ground, were a little ahead.


At any rate the affair was very brilliant, and a great discouragement to
the enemy, who never afterwards seemed to care much about permanently
holding Hill's Point, and gave his attention to the narrower part of the
river nearer Suffolk. Hill's Point lies near where the river widens into a
bay. Gen. Getty holding the right of Gen. Peck's line, along the river
and Jericho Creek — or ' Western Branch,' — had to do with Gen. Long-
street's centre and left. One of these captured brass cannon had a hole
scooped out of one side of it by a large grape shot — showing the force of
grape. The 10th N. H. had a hand in the Ft. Huger affair, as a reserve-
It is said that the rebel commander, seeing himself overpowered, surren-
dered instanter to save life, calling out : " We cave, we cave, don't fire ; "
and upon his exchange was cashiered for losing the fort by such a sur.
])rise and capture. A rebel in this captured battery tried to desert this
afternoon, was caught in the act and tied hand and foot. When the
rebels saw they must abandon their battery, tliey blew the fellow's brains
out ; and so our men found him to-night, nearly headless, still tied, and
stretched out on the ground within the fort.

April 20. Mon. Rainy. Reg. on picket day and night about two
miles from camp. Re-enforcements coming in all day in large numbers.
Our men have a few hours' respite now and then, march back from the
rifle-pits into the pines, lie down in some little ravine and take a nap,
while the bullets and shells fly across overhead — the sort of angels that
sing above and around the soldier's couch. At five o'clock p. m. we are
hurriedly moved up to within about twenty rods of our rifle-trenches, and
are formed in line of battle in reserve. The enemy seem to act to-day
over the Ft. Huger affair like hornets whose nest has received a punch
with a pole ; and they are expected to resent it by a dash to-night. One
soldier remarks : " Guess Longstreet swared." When the brave expedi-
tion with their trophies of captured guns and prisoners — among them a
number of very tall Texans — march up through and along our lines, they
are cheered to the echo. A soldier of the 13th writes : *' Gen. Getty says
he can depend on the 13th, and I guess he means it — by the way he
makes us hang to these lines."

The labor expended in chopping, shoveling, screen and gambion mak-
ing is enormous. One of these mornings the 8th Conn, wake up to find
their camp-flag replaced by a sheet, on which is painted in large letters :
" Peck's Avengers, or the Basket-makers of the Nansemond."

Col. Stevens is fond of trying to gain information from the front, and
to learn what kind of land — if any at all — there is in the swamp of
Jericho Creek between our lines and the edge of the river toward the
enemy ; thinks he may want to run a cannon out there, and therefore
desires a brave and trusty man to move out and explore. Upon errands
of this sort he has sent, several times. First Sergeant Charles M. Kittredge
of B with two or three men. It is like going into the jaws of death, and
into the gulf of the bottomless pit, at one and the same time — the whole
region is a slough. Nevertheless, Kittredge goes with his men, and


managing to return alive, reports each time that there is no dry land to
be seen in that vicinity. One of the men, on an occasion like this, re-
ported to the Colonel that : " No man could get a cannon out there on a
boat — it was so infernally wet."

April 21. Tues. Showery, cold. Reg. on picket day and night.
We have been operating for the most of the time in these last two weeks
along the Nanseniond river bank, and the shores of Jericho Creek, on
the left, to Battery Morris near the island, on the right — space enough,
and work enough, for two regiments, the place an intricate succession
of creeks and miry swamjjs. We are relieved by the 21st Conn., which
remains on the same line here until May 2d. Some of the men, under
the hard strain, become so tired and used up that they go to sleep while
marching, trip, and fall headlong into the brush. Officers of the guards
and pickets have to be continually moving along the sentry line, both day
and night, lest some poor, overworked man shall fall asleep) at his post,
and invite disaster.

We remain late to-day in line of battle in reserve, and lie on our arms
until midnight, when we are all suddenly called up — " routed out in a
hurry " — and in great haste go forward into our rifle-pits. The night
passes in comparative quiet, however, except for one incident. We are on
a tongue of land entering the river northward. On the end of it are two
cannon in a little redoubt. To the right of it, sheltered by the bank, is a
gunboat, carrying one very large gun. A part of the Thirteenth are in
the rifle-pits, a part in the rear of them on the grass and weeds, with no
cover but the skies, and nearly all are sound asleep. Now, one man in
the Regiment is a little traveling tin-store. He carries an iron spider and
more tin dippers and tin plates than any other three men, and sleeps with
them all tied upon him. When the night is at nearly the stillest hour the
big gunboat cannon is fired not 100 feet distant from us, and the huge
shell tears across the tongue of land, directly over our heads, with a terrific
roar, and bursts short. Our hero is roused from sound sleep by the hide-
ous noise, springs high into the air with a loud scream, loses his balance
and falls back in a heap and with a great rattle and crash of tin. The
whole Regiment is waked by the gunboat's discharge, and our hero fur-
nishes the bit of comedy necessary to relieve the unpleasant annoyance.
The boys laugh at him heartily while swearing at the gunboat — then all
go to sleep again. He is ordered to reduce his stock, both of his tin and
his scream. He is joked unmercifully about the affair.

The picket reserve, a part from the Thirteenth, have to lie all of one
night within fifty feet of two field-pieces, wliile they are being fired, alter-
nately, every five minutes. They sleep, however, through the incessant
rap — rap — rap, so very tired are they. A constant succession of simi-
lar sounds rather conduces to drowsiness. One man said it made him
" feel sleepy just the same as good Parson Blank's liturgy used to do, up
in Yanktown."

April 22. Wed. Clear, cold. Reg. assembles at 10 a. m., and


returns to our old camp, near Suffolk, arriving at noon, having been re-
lieved in the night again by the 21st Conn. Capt. Goss cheers himself
and enlivens the camp by playing his flute. Thirteenth transferred to
Gen. Harland's Brigade. This noon ends a period of thirteen days and
twelve nights out of camp in tlie swamps of the Nansemond ; all the time
under lire, with little sleep, having no shelter worth the name, in very
much rain, fording brook, swamp and creek, at constant picket duty,
choi)ping and work on entrenchments, and in hourly expectation of an
attack by the enemy. Every member of the Thirteenth has worked from
five to ten pounds off his weight, and used up nearly half his effective
strength. Rest is imperative. Our clothing, torn and muddy, looks as if
it had been run through a threshing machine, been washed in the brick-
yard pond with ochre for soap, and then dried on a clay-bank.

Every time the enemy laid his plans to surprise Gen. Getty, and to
force the passage of the river. Gen. Getty had ready, at that very point,
batteries in position and troops in line ; surprised the surprisers, and sent
them speedily to the cover of their works. We have made strong lines
from three to five miles in length ; forts, redoubts, and rifle-parapets, with
all the appliances of covert way, ditch and abatis. For ten days Gen.
Longstreet invested our forces on three sides.

We think that next to Gen. Getty, Capt. Hazard Stevens, on Gen.
Getty's staff, has been the busiest man on our part of the line. His horse
always gallops. The boys say : " He does not know how to ride that
horse at a trot ; they look up and there goes Capt. Stevens, on an errand,
ten miles down the road ; a few minutes later he has returned, and is gal-
loping, on another errand, ten miles up the road ; and before there is
time to tell it, he is rattling over all the cross-roads in the neighbor-
hood — guess there 's going to be a fight."

April 23. Thurs. Rainy. A large detail of our stronger men
goes out on picket under Lieut. Forbush ; the balance of the Reg. rest-
ing. Troops are moving rapidly all about us. We are tired of seeing
moving troops — the monotonous tramp, the unchanging scene ; all troops
look alike, dusty blue in clothing, and dirty gray in blanket and tent, and
all heavily loaded. The boys say " There goes another old caravan," as
the bodies of troops pass cam}). However, our camp seems strangely

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 16 of 81)