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 17 of 81)
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quiet, the quietest day and night we have seen since the siege commenced.
For two weeks we have lived in an indescribable hubbub and rush day
and night. We are still under orders to turn out every morning at three
o'clock, and to remain under arms until seven a. m., in line of battle on
the front street of camp.

April 24. Fri. Very rainy. Reg. in line in camp from 3 a. m.
to 5 a. m. A reconnaissance in force this morning. About 10,000 men,
including Corcoran's Irish Legion and the Connecticut Brigade, move
out on the Somerton road. The advance have some skirmishing, the 16th
Conn, having a sharp brush with the enemy's pickets. The Reg. falls in
a little after noon, stacks arms in the company streets, and returns to


quarters out of the rain ; and is again called out in haste about dai'k as
a support for Corcoran's Legion, but is not engaged. The whole force
is recalled early in the night. To some extent the men enjoy the rush
of the charge, or the ordinary fighting, but thoroughly detest this bush-
whacking sort of skirmishing. They call it every sort of name, squirmish,
squeamish, skittish, schottische, etc. A detachment of the Thirteenth
is sent out to cut down trees and clear the range for our batteries ; are
ordered to finish the job, and work for nearly twenty-four hours at a
stretch. Lieut. Staniels writes in liis diary : " Reg. gets under arms at
1.15 p. m. AVe go over to the rear of Fort Dix at 4 p. m. Remain until
7.30 p. m., when we return to camp."

April 25. Sat. Pleasant. Reg. in camp resting. Heavy firing
is heard in the distance, rapid, noisy. Gen. Dix states that the enemy
clearly meditated crossing the Nansemond last night between Jericho
Creek and Ft. Connecticut. A large prayer-meeting is held this evening.
The largest we have ever known in camp.

Like skirmishing, reconnaissances in force are much disliked. A jerky
march, frequent halts, distant firing, spent bullets coming over, shells
hunting us out ; a quiet rest interrupted by a nervous, " Fall in — fall
in ! " ; two or three thousand men jumping hurriedly into line, throwing
their rolls of blankets over their shoulders, ordered — every ten minutes
— to see if their muskets are projierly loaded and capped ; and the whole
programme repeated over and over again aU the day through, and coup-
led with it all a strong belief that a rebel ' masked battery ' or an ambush
is just over yonder, 'the woods are full of them,' and an expectation
that the next moment will bring in an engagement. After a whole day's
work of this sort, a man is used up, disgusted and ugly ; and returns to
camp angry and indignant all through because there was not a fight.

April 26. Sun. Cold, fair, warm at noon. Reg. in camp near Suf-
folk. Inspection, Dress-parade and religious services — the first for
several weeks ; the Reg. listens formed in a square. The Band plays
many spirited pieces this morning at guard-mounting and inspection. Out
of the fighting for a few hours, all this is a pleasurable relief. The gun-
boats are quiet for the first day in two weeks. The most of the day
passes in rest — not so the night. About 9 p. m. the whole camjj is sud-
denly up and coming like a rush of hornets with a pole in their nest.
We are called out by Gen. Peck himself riding into camp like a whirl-
wind, and demanding that an hour's work be done in two minutes. He
is in a terrible hurry, and ' sassy,' and the men scramble into line speed-
ily and march off to the front on the Nansemond river bank, in the chilly
dai'kness, mad ; and then shovel all night.

The general plan of this campaign has been for Gen. Getty's Division
to occupy the Nansemond front from Suffolk down the river to where it
broadens into a bay, and also along the lower part of Jericho Creek ;
while Gen. Peck occupies the works encircling Suffolk. Fort Connecti-
cut was the first fort built and manned. A very scientific trestle, sug-


gested by Col.*Derrom of the 25th N. J., is used for nearly all the bridges
required in this campaign.

April 27. Mon. Fair. Thirteenth in rifle-pits at the front, along
the bank of the Nansemond. We have shoveled all night, until daylight,
when the enemy's pickets commence firing and stop the work ; then
we take breakfast ; after which those who can have cover work at the
shovels again until 9.30 a. m. ; then the 13th is relieved and marches
back a few miles to the old camp again, arriving about noon, and rests
for the balance of the day. It is this sort of jerky business that uses
men up. We have marched, and fired, and picketed, and shoveled, night
and day, in all sorts of weather, in water, in mud, in swamp and brush
and timber, up hill and down dale, in this sort of ' hare and hounds ' play
for nearly three weeks. Very little rest or peace, and no comfort, since
April 1st ; but it is one of those campaigns which furnish a great deal of
rough sport, play and adventure as well as much hard work.

Some men of the 13th on another part of the line, while on picket, ar-
range with the rebels not to fire, and swim across to a sandy point or an
island. Here they are met by men swimming out from the rebel picket,
and they have a very friendly meeting, shake hands, swap jack-knives
and pipes, have a chat, and then return to their several posts. Strict
orders are issued forbidding any more of such useless, dangerous and
dare-devil business.

The crookedness, windings, twists, netting, and general tortuousness, in
these Nansemond swamps — a part of the Dismal Swamp — of the paths
and roads around pool and bayou, boghole and creek (" krik ") form a
maze baffling the imagination. Sergt. John Pinkham of E, an old sailor,
declares : " I can never box the compass after marching all day here ; to
follow these roads would make a rat sea-sick."

April 28. Tues. Fair and showers. Pay-rolls being made up.
The writer (frequently serving as clerk of Co. E), Cyrus G. Drew, clerk
of B, and the clerks and Captains of two or three other companies, make
temporary desks in an old negro hut near Jericho Point, by driving sticks,
at a convenient height, into the log-chinks, and laying rough boards upon
them, and work together upon the rolls, for parts of two or three days.
Occasionally a rebel bullet whacks against the hut, knocking the dried
mud out of the chinks between the logs, and making sudden little wiggles
and crooks in the writing's ' lines of beauty ' ; while two or three of the
enemy's shells burst nearer to us than shells ought to do when a man is
busy writing his level best. Regimental Hdqrs. are near the old rebel
small-pox hospital. Several men of the 13th slept in it recently one rainy
night, not knowing its character, but did not contract the disease. They
call this " Ilarland's front." The 13th furnishes a picket for the Norfolk
road, also a heavy picket in the front trenches all day, and at 6 p. m. the
whole Regiment moves out and joins them. At dark the Reg. goes to
work upon a fort near the small-pox hospital. Gen. Longstreet, it is
said, has sent word to some citizens of Suffolk that he will dine with
them there to-morrow !


April 29. Wed. Warm, fair ; a heavy rain last nignt. The 13th
is nowadays called every day at 3 a. m., stacks arms in theM|gmpany
streets, and remains near quarters with accoutrements on. leady tor an in-
stant move, until 7 a. m. A large detail from the 13tli, under Captains
Stoodley and Buzzell, takes a turn on picket far out in the swamp on the
Jericho canal — a slough under foot and no shelter from the rain. Com-
pany E furnishes 33 poor, forloi-n, water-soaked, bedraggled fellows for
Capt. Stoodley's command. But the worst is at night. The several
picket details assemble at picket Hdqrs. about noon, and then return to
Jericho Point. They remain there until about sunset, when all return to
camp, and are just fairly at home when a storm commences, the like of
which we have never seen. The thunder is a regular roar for over an
hour, the skies are all ablaze with incessant and vivid lightning, there is
much heavy wind, the rain is in torrents and streams, spattering and
pouring through the tents as if they were sieves ; and the whole level
camp is a sheet of water glowing with the dancing lights in the skies. The
camp-guard wade their beats, splash, splash.

April 30. Thurs. Fair ; rained all last night. Reg. on picket in
the forenoon ; about noon returns to old camp near Suffolk. Mustered
for pay by Col. Donohoe of the 10th N. H. In the afternoon we remove
camp towards Jericho Point, to a clean and dry spot and therefore wel-
come, near the Nansemond and the small-pox hospital, and about two
miles below Suffolk. We move camp to this place in order to be near
our picket lines, and to save marching back and forth. Our old camp is
set on fire as we leave it, and makes a fine blaze. Nearly the whole Reg.
goes again and works nearly all night on Ft. Jericho — the same fort we
worked upon on the night of April 26th. First Sergeant Charles M.
Kittredge of B has been serving as ' Instructor of the guard ; ' a new
official jjosition in the Thirteenth. His duties, extending to the services
of both officers and men, are delicate and difficult ; but he j^erforms them
to the entire satisfaction of all the parties concerned.

The Nansemond is of an average width of less than 100 yards, a nar-
row, crooked, shoal, muddy stream, its banks an ever-varying marsh
and point and headland, all generally well wooded and supplied with
dense underbrush. The gunboats play a very important part in this siege ;
the ' Stepping Stones,' especially, with its dare-devil crew ; what these
men Avill hesitate to venture were best let alone. The gunboats are little
river steamers with their sides protected by sheet iron or bundles of hay.
Mounting one or two guns, and of light draft, they will sail ' on the dew
when the grass is wet,' almost, and have a wide sea in a common ci-eek.
They are exceeding noisy. In these woods and swamps one of their
cannon discharges in the dead silence of night — all as unexpected and
startling as a clap of thunder in a clear sky — booms, roars, reverberates
and jars for miles around, while in a few moments the sound of the burst-
ing shell strikes back like an angry echo.

The Confederate soldiers have no high regard for President Lincoln ;


to tliom lie m,iijs as the head of the forces suppressing their rebellion.

Then, i^ff they du not all appear to love Jeff. Davis.* One of them put it
natui;iTlyt(i-(I;iy, while exchanging trifles with our Regiment's pickets dur-
ing a meeting across the river. He said : " Say, Yank, you 'uns bring
Abe down heali to the river ; we 'uns will jjj'ing Jeff. ; then drown um both
'n go home — er'ekn." They call their scrip ' white-bellies ;' we call
ours ' green-backs ' — and not even the most patriotic Irishman could
express a more instinctive preference for the green than they do.

May 1. Fri. Pleasant. Reg. fits uj) its new camp, and packs all
sui'plus personal baggage to be sent home, or to be stored at Fortress
Monroe. Reg. supplied with new shelter tents, much needed. A large
detail hurried out to work on Ft. Jericho. On some parts of the line
now the pickets have mutually agreed not to fire ujion each other. The
rebels com{)lain that their rations now are, chiefly, flour, corn-meal and
bacon. All the wounded of the 13th are sent to the General Hospital
this forenoon ; they have excellent care here, and dread to leave.

May 2. Sat. Fair. A large detail, about 200 men, go to work on
a fort near the river. The 13th builds forts, other troops garrison them
as heavy artillery ; that is to say, many of them do the heavy standing
around, while we shovel up the earth to protect them. There has been
too much favoritism shown among the troops during this siege. Orders
are received for the 13th to march to-morrow, at 3 a. m., with two days'
cooked rations, and in light marching order. The enemy has fired upon
us more or less all the time while we have been building Ft. Jericho, and
several men have been hit. The fort was about a week in building and
was finished this afternoon. Very noisy about Suffolk to-day. Col. Cor-
coran is in charge in that direction, and when near the front, he always
manages to stir up a breeze. The Confederates say that they have eighty
Regiments in our vicinity — an infantry force of near 40,000 men.
Regimental Hospital and sick moved to new camp.

Some heavy artillery — infantry serving as such — in the fort here
nearest to our camp, were very recently trying to dislodge the enemy's
sharp-shooters from a brick house over across the river and what apjjcared
to be an old cellar near by it ; and could not succeed. Sergt. John F. Gibbs
of E and other Thirteens were looking on. After a while Gibbs salutes
the officer in command, desires to try a shot and is allowed to do so.
The ground beyond the river is an almost dead level. Gibbs has just
powder enough put into the gun to send the round shell fairly across the
river, cuts the fuse himself, sights the gun, and sends the shell rolling
over the smooth ground beyond the river. It rolls into the old cellar and
bursts there ; and a dozen or so of rebels scramble out, lively, and make
the best time on record to the brick house, while the burning brands of a
little fire they had in the cellar are flying about with the pieces of shell.
Now for the house. Gibbs tries again, with a heavier load of powder,
sends his shell ricocheting over there, where it lodges within the house
and bursts ; and there is another scattering of Confederates. After firing


the two shots, and without saying a word, Gibbs turns^ sjilutes again,
and marches off, with the air of an actor leaving the stage.' S^


May 3. Sun. Pleasant as a whole, but very warm at mid-day. The
Thirteenth is in line at 5 a. m., and about 6 a. m. marches toward Suf-
folk, with Col. Stevens in command. Arriving in the city at 8 a. m., after
a march of about three miles, we halt on Main street near the Court
House, a few rods from the river, and remain here for an hour or two.
Here bullets coming over from the enemy's skirmishers fall among our
men in the street, or strike against the buildings, altogether too freely.
One bullet, seeming to come sti-aight down out of the sky, shaves close to
the faces of two men of Company E, and strikes upon the earth sidewalk
between their feet with a loud blow — unpleasantly interrupting their con-
versation. Many have similar experiences with the spent bullets, and a
few are hart by them. In the movement to-day the 103d N. Y. is the
first regiment to cross the Nansemond, then follow in order the 25th N. J.,
89th N. Y. and the 13th N. H. ; the 89th and 103d New York regiments
in advance of the whole force as skirmishers. At 9 a. m. the Thirteenth
moves down Main street, and soon (Luey writes at 9.30 a. m.) crosses
the river at the highway bridge (on canal boats moored and planked over),
inarching ' by fours ' — by the right flank — with arms at ' right shoulder-
shift,' and rapidly and rather jauntily. Company A leading, and is the
fourth regiment to cross, following the 89th N. Y. as a support — and
rather too closely. This is done under fire of the enemy's artiller}\ As
soon as we have crossed, and have moved up the bank, past the ruins of
Capt. Nathaniel Pruden's house, we swing into line of battle to the left,
across a field ; the right of the Reg., Co. A, resting on the west side of the
Providence Church road ; and continue to advance in this field, Co. A
keeping close upon the west — left — side of the road during all the day.

When the head of the Thirteenth arrived at the gullies near Capt.
Pruden's house, a few minutes after 9 a. m., Col. Stevens was called to
some other part of the Brigade, and Lt. Col. Bowers succeeded to the
command of our Regiment ; and continued in that command until about
two hours after the enemy's rifle-pits had been captured, when Col.
Stevens retux'ned.

As Ave come up on the high ground, we can see the skirmishing going
on for a long distance to the right and left, and the two long clouds of
powder-smoke i-olling up above the heads of the combatants. The line of
the enemy's rifle-pits appears to be between half a mile and a mile in
length along the edge of the woods, a few hundred yards north of us.
The firing is very spirited, and we receive an abundance of the spent
bullets. A few sneaking cowards are scared, and hide in the gully close
to the ruins of Capt. Pruden's house, and so shirk the battle. From the
time when we commence crossing the bridge, all through the day, the


enemy p]gy,^^.jBpon our lines with several light field-pieces mounted north
of us uMPthe road, and still farther west, but without much effect. Evi-
dently the enemy is seeking to hit the bridge, and the troops as we come
up on clear ground, and avoids throwing shells into the city. Our gun-
boats and batteries are constantly firing over our heads, all the forenoon,
with an incessant racket. Comi)any E is detached, and sent forward on
the left as skirmishers, and advances through an apple orchard, the trees
in full bloom. A part of the left wing of the Reg. also advances through
this orchard, which is about half a mile beyond the bridge we crossed.
Before the charge, however, Comj^any E is partly merged in the regi-
mental line of battle and with a portion of the 89th N. Y. The right
wing of the Reg. advances in open ground.

Lt. Col. Bowers has stated to the writer that he was '' particularly di-
rected by Gen. Getty to maintain a distance of 100 to 150 feet between
the 89th N. Y. and the Thirteenth ; but the men of the Thirteenth would
not keep back — they were determined to outcharge the 89th New York."
The 89th forming the advance, and the 13th as their support, constitute
the left wing of the advancing column ; the right wing of the column
coming up from under the pi'otection of the river bank, down stream, and
extending through the fields for half a mile or more, and all in full view
of our more elevated position. A force of dismounted cavalry lying on
the ground in a long straggling line, and armed with carbines, are clear-
ing the front of the enemy's skirmishers who are hidden among the weeds
and brush along the road, and we move towards the left among these
cavalrymen and to their rear. As the men of the 89th N. Y. take the
place of this line of dismounted cavalry, they rise up, shoulder their car-
bines and suddenly disappear, no one knows whither. Our men say they
sink into the ground. It may be, for a cavalryman is a most uncertain
and mysterious animal.

As the battle line of the 13th comes into clearer view of the enemy, he
aims direct for our line over the heads of our skirmishers, and the 13th
is ordered to lie down. Two regiments — the 103d N. Y. and 25th New
Jersey — now suddenly appear on the right about one fourth of a mile
distant from us, down stream, and move directly forward towards the
enemy in two splendid lines of battle. Their appearance provokes a
spiteful little fusillade, and draws the attention of the enemy's artillery
from us. They advance rapidly several rods, in straight battle lines,
while quite a number of them are seen to fall under the enemy's fire ; and
then both regiments drop out of view among the grass and weeds, and
the enemy opens again with renewed vigor upon us. As the enemy's
bullets, and an occasional shell, cut, rip and tear through the apple-trees,
we are showered with ai)})le blossoms, as if in a miniature snow storm
— pretty scene, but terribly suggestive bullets. One apple-tree is cut down
near us by a rebel shell. From where we now lie, the enemy's line, in
the edge of the woods, appears to be about 500 yards distant, and his
buUets sink very deep into the wood of the trunks of the trees about us.


To our right is a ruined house (Norfleet's or Northwick's) — seems to
be of brick — about which a furious contest is waging, the enemy*,shelling
our lines there very severely. His entire range, however, is too high.
Our advance is made, all along the line, as such advances, in open ground,
are usually made, with " a lie down and fire, and a jumi) up and run for-
ward," repeated over and over again. During the whole advance Lt.
Col. Bowers is upon his feet, and continually moving, and keeps all the
time either with or in front of our Regiment's battle line.

It is perhaps 10 or 11 a. m. when the 89th reaches a rail fence on the
northern side of the orchard, and apparently 300 or 400 yards from the
enemy, posted in rifle-trenches and behind trees, in the edge of the wood.
From this rail fence a brisk fire is kept up with the enemy until the time
of the charge. It is a strong, high, zig-zag, ' Vii-ginia ' raU fence, made
of heavy rails, and affords much better shelter than the small apjile-trees
in the orchard or the little ridges of ground farther back ; and as a con-
sequence. Company E, many of the left wing of the 13th, and of the 89th,
are soon mingled together and lying down close behind this fence, in
some places as dense as three ranks deep ; and the enemy, pleased with
this larger target, splinters, clips, chips and batters these rails with hun-
dreds of bullets, not one in fifty of them having any other effect.

Company E of the loth, a Company of the 89th N. Y., and a few
other men, are in the northeast corner of this apple orchard and rail
fence, from which point a similar rail fence runs somewhat diagonally
down towards the woods, a fence which eventually divides the two wings
of the Thirteenth in our final charge. Captain Julian is soon ordered to
send a dozen rneu into the tall weeds along this diagonal fence. They
at once take their ground, under a brisk fire, and answer it in earnest.
The ground at this rail fence where we now are on the north side of the
orchard is a little higher than the rebel position in the woods, a clear
field, 300 to 400 yards in width, lying between us and them. The too-
inviting rail fence has brought this part of the line up nearer the enemy's
line than the right wing of the 13th, which is in more open ground, or
our troops farther down towards the right of the main line. This ne-
cessitates a delay of more than an hour at this fence.

At one o'clock — 1 p. m. — the order is passed : " Make ready to
charge." The little stir in our line brings upon us an increasing rebel
fire, from all along their line on our front. An officer — Capt. Hazard
Stevens, Adjt. Genei-al on Gen. Getty's staff — who has been seen riding
and bearing orders to all parts of the field during all the forenoon, and
who, after leaving his horse in a safer place, has come up to the line of
battle, and has been sitting near the writer, under protection of the fence,
for the past few minutes, closely watching the course of affairs, now sud-
denly rises, mounts the toj^ rail of the fence, steadies himself by a stake,
stands there bolt upright — despite the enemy's bullets — waves his hat,
and shouts : " Forward I " " Forward I " Another officer, said to be the
Lt. Colonel of the 89th N. Y., also mounts the fence. Several oflBcers


of the Thirteenth, and men also, are on the fence nearly as soon as they,
aU shouting at the full strength of their lungs. The right wing of the
Thirteenth is also springing up, some fixing bayonets and some not,
and all the while the enemy's bullets are coming among us thicker and
faster than ever, pounding against the rails of the fence, ripping through
the trees, knocking up the dust and earth — a bullet strikes hard — and
clipping, chipping, zipping among the dry grass and weeds — wliew !

In a moment more almost every man in the Thirteenth is in a wild
rush for the woods and the rebel rifle-pits and trenches within them, over
fence, ditch, brush and what not, some with bayonets fixed, some fixing
bayonets as they run, and all yelling like madmen. The enemy fires into
us two quite regular volleys, and follows with a brisk firing at will before
the charge is over, and a number of men in the Thirteenth are seen to
fall ; but the distance, 300 or 400 yards, mainly over the descending and
clear ground of a cornfield, is made as quickly as men can run, and just
as we enter the woods the enemy takes to his heels, leaving his dead

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 17 of 81)