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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and a few of his wounded in our hands. A number of his men even leave
their ammunition and their cartridge-boxes — the latter hanging upon
the trees. (The writer still, 1887, has a few bullets taken from one of
these cartridge-boxes.) A few prisoners ai"e captured. Quite a number
of large pine-trees are standing in front of their rifle-pits, which are a
full rod and more within the edge of the timber. Laurel and pine brush
is set up thickly in the earth thrown up in fi-ont of their pits, quite effec-
tually masking them. The men of the Thirteenth, seeing the trees in front
of the rebels, were very desirous to run forward, out of the clear, open
ground, to get among these trees and thus have a fair, even chance with
the enemv- The charge from the rail fence, and from the position of the
right wing, to the woods, does not occupy more than two or three minutes,
and we run close upon the enemy in his masked rifle-jiits, before we
clearly see the enemy's advantage, and before he scrambles out and runs
for dear life deeper into the woods. They held their ground bravely and
nobly. In less than a minute more, they must all have been captured, or
else must have indulged in a little bayonet exercise — or both. At 1.15
p. m. the enemy is in full retreat, the rifle-pits in our hands.

The men of the 89th N. Y. necessarily scatter somewhat — in the rush,
and the men of the Thirteenth run among them, and ahead of them, in-
tending to out-charge them on this occasion. When the enemy's rifle-pits
and trenches are cleared, the Thirteenth is halted. Company E takes its
place in line of battle — having during the most of the forenoon preceded
the line of battle as skirmishers — and the 89th N. Y. is moved forward
again upon the skirmish line deeper into the woods.

The enemy is found very strongly entrenched, where we dislodged him,
along near the edge of the woods, in a line more than half a mile in
length, to the right and left of the road, and is driven out by our show
of numbers and bayonets alone. Musketry could not have driven him
from his pits with the dense and heavy timber around and behind him,



1863



BATTLE OF PROVIDENCE CHURCH ROAD. 143



and he could have lain with considerable safety under a heavy fire of ar-
tillery. The writer heard a rebel prisoner state that our Brigade, in this
charge, dislodged two strong rebel regiments backed by a field battery.
But it should be borne in mind, that these two rebel regiments were sta-
tioned as pickets and not in line of battle, a picket line in large squads a
rod or two apart, and though their force was strong, the Tliirteenth in
their hurried onset pierced and forced back a part of their line first,
flanking all the rest, which was compelled to follow, and did so. After a
little time, however, the rebels were rallied in the woods and turned upon
our advance, fighting it from tree to tree, and so were forced back by
the skirmishers of the 89th, after the 13th had been halted in the woods.
It was a very pretty little fight, and generally well managed on both sides.
The rebels ran only at the moment of inevitable capture.

While the Thirteenth is halted along a little brook in a ravine, about
two hours after the short chase into the woods, one of our batteries — a
section, as we are informed, of the steel gun battery commanded by Lieut.
Beecher, son of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher — comes up near the woods
to the right and rear of the Thirteenth, takes position in the field about
200 yards west of the road, and engages in a sharp duel with a rebel
battery entrenched a short distance back in the woods and also to the
west of the road. Col. Stevens rejoins the Thirteenth, in the woods, soon
after this artillery firing begins.

It was the Thirteenth almost alone, who in well closed column on the
run broke in the enemy's line, and therefore we lost moi-e heavily than
any other regiment. We outcliarged the 89th N. Y. deliberately and
purposely, and when we halted nine tenths of their men were in our rear,
and had to come up and pass through our lines, we parting to give them
room to do so, out again upon their skirmish line. Possibly if they had
known our intentions they might not have allowed themselves to be out-
run in this way. They criticised us at Fredericksburg and without occa-
sion — now we payback their unfair words with fair deeds. The two
regiments, however, are on quite friendly terms, the action of to-day a
bit of natural rivalry, and we desire in no way to disparage the 89th
N. Y., a very excellent regiment.

Just as the Thirteenth entered the woods, an officer of the 89th N. Y.
steppetl up behind Capt. Betton and called out, " Hello, Captain ; I was
just behind you in the charge at Fredericksburg." *' So you are now ! "
replied Capt. Betton, as he hurried forward ; and there the colloquy
ended.

Lieut. Beecher's battery exchanges rapid shots with the rebel battery in
the dense timber and supported by a strong body of infantry, all of which
our charge has unmasked. The firing continues until dark, many of the
shells, from both friend and enemy, going over our heads, cutting up the
trees, treating us to the falling branches, and occasionally bursting near
and giving us little rattling showers of the pieces and small shot. The
enemy has a few guns of large calibre, and from these come, level, straight



144 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1863

through the foliage of the trees, large charges of singing, purring and
tree-cliiJi)ing grape shot ; grape makes the most disagreeable noise of
any missile used in this war. None of it, however, unless spent, can enter
the ravine where we now are.

While the Thirteenth is lying in the ravine along the brook, about two
hours after the charge, we are in full view of some of tlie enemy's sharp-
shooters — evidently posted in trees. Their buUets, coming from a point
to our left and rear, as we have advanced beyond the general line, re-
peatedly strike a pine-tree on a high bank near by, and also strike the
ground about us. Just after one of these bullets has torn a piece of bark
otf the side of this tree, and hurled it against the head of a man of the
Reg. (we think of Co. F), knocking him down, Capt. Buzzell goes up to
the tree to find, if he can, the whereabouts of the sharp-shooters. He is
too venturesome — there never appeared any fibre of timidity in him —
and he does not secure a sufficient cover behind the tree. He has scarcely
watched a minute, when he guddenl}^ cries out loudly, " Oh — I "m killed ! "
takes a step or two, and instantly falls forward upon his face, dead.
At the same moment a sjient bullet buzzes close over the heads of First
Sergeant Thompson (the writer) and Sei-geant Yan Duzee, and a few
other men of Co. E, who are sitting on a log down near the brook, and
drops into the muddy water at their feet. From the time and the direc-
tion of its coming, and its spent condition, it is reasonably believed to be
the same bullet that passed through Capt. Buzzell ; a long search is there-
fore made for it in the deep, soft mud of the brook, but it is not to be
found. The bullet passed straight through his body, and through his
heart. When shot Capt. Buzzell is standing near a large pine-tree about
twenty feet from the brook, and perhaps ten feet above it ; and his death
falls upon the Regiment like a cold-blooded murder committed in their
midst, and not as a stroke of war.

All our men are soon removed from this dangerous locality. No far-
ther advance into the woods is made, and at dark the Reg. retires, with
the rest of the force engaged, to the camp near Jericho Creek, carrying
back its dead and wounded ; arriving there at 10 p. m., and turning in
about midnight The most of the officers and men are pretty well tired
out by this long, hard day's work. Lieut. Curtis has command of the
rear-guard as the Reg. retires from the field to camp.

The 89th N. Y. supported by the lath N. H. formed the left Aving of
the advance ; the 103d N. Y. supported by the 25th N. J. the right wing,
the Providence Church road dividing the two wings. The 11th. 1 5th and
16th Conn, regiments were also engaged farther to the right, while a
heavy supi)orting column moved near the advance. The infantry was
accompanied by a small body of cavalry and a field battery ; the whole
force about 7,000 men. Acting in concert with our force, a body of TInion
troops crossed the river farther down, at " Sleejiy Hole," or Cbuckatuck,
engaged in a skirmish with Gen. Longstreet's rear-guard, and captured a
batch of prisoners. The general movement is made to hasten the raising



1863 BATTLE OF PROVIDENCE CHURCH ROAD. 145

of the Siege of Suffolk, already begun by Gen. Longstreet — a reconnais-
sance in force. While we inarch off in one direction to-night, the enemy
calculating that our advance of to-day threatens him with a more persist-
ent i)nrsuit on the morrow, packs and marches off hastily in the other
direction.

The advance and charge of the Thirteenth to-day is considered excep-
tionally brilliant for its dash and steadiness, even though the Reg. was
formed somewhat irregularly, in a hurried movement, as the final assault
was made — our first bayonet charge on an enemy in view. The honors
due to all of its Companies are quite even all along the line. Veterans
say that the charge of the Thirteenth, made to-day, was the best one
they ever witnessed ; and worthy of special commendation because it was
impossible to tell whether the enemy's force was one tliousand or five
thousand. Besides, after capturing the enemy's line of rifle-trenches, and
when lying in the woods, the Reg. holds its place steadily between our
own battery and that of the enemy, during their long and sharj) engage-
ment, though we were meanwhile exposed to the fire of the enemy's sharp-
shooters, and stray shells from our own gunboats, all four being about
equally dangerous. We were advanced during all the day, beyond the
right of our main line of battle, and had much waiting to do, under fire,
while the rest of the line was brought forward. The 13th are withdrawn
about 8 p. m., and at once return to camp. On the whole the day is one
of which the Thirteenth may well be proud. A slow, old-fashioned, regu-
lar army charge would have lost us two or three men for every one lost
in to-day's most hasty rush. Nine tenths of the Thirteenth made the charge
upon the run, as if in a race, their guns held in the right hand, as they
would hold a heavy stick by the middle of it when running. Upon the
wild racing of our men aci-oss the field, the skedaddling of the enemy in
the woods was something to laugh at.

A soldier of the 13th writes home : " We crossed the river about 9
a. m., and deployed in line of battle, fronting the wood. In the charge the
89th N. Y. moved rather slowly, and the left wing of the 13th shot by
them, and their Lt. Colonel, being in command, ordered the 13th to ' for-
ward,' and let his men stay there if they would ; and the 13th did go for-
ward, making the Johnnies take F'rench leave — some of them leaving
their guns and everything else in our possession. We were ordered back
about dark, and returned to camp."

The losses of the day in the Thirteenth were about thirty — of killed
three and of seriously wounded sixteen. The Reg. went in with less than
500 men. The largest number were hit during the charge. Lieut.
Murray was severely wounded, and Capt. Stoodley slightly. Hundreds of
men went into the charge wearing button-hole bouquets of apple blossoms,
from the orchard ; many of them cut off by the bullets which were ripping
through the trees overhead all the time that our men were among them.
Quite a natural thing for a man to pick up a twig, covered with fresh
blossoms and cut off by a bullet within a few feet, or a few inches, of his



146 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1863

head. A number of the enemy's shells tore through the trees also, cut-
ting off large limbs. From both causes the petals and blossoms were
showering down among us for several hours. An apple blossom would
not be a bad emblem, or badge, for the men of the Thirteenth, but most
appropriate. The writer, and several other men, had their feet and hands
badly jarred by bullets hitting the rails of the fence, when they were upon
them in the act of climbing over, but are otherwise unhui't. Lieut. Curtis
of C, in coumiand of the Thirteenth's rear-guard in retiring, was ordered
back to hurry up some stragglers and narrowly escaped capture by passing
the left wing of the Thirteenth, the whole j^arty coming within an ace of
going to Libby.

During the charge a part of Co. C slackened their speed a little at the
fence which was encountered by the right wing of the Reg., near the edge
of the woods. At this First Sergeant McConney actually jumped up and
down with impatience, exclaiming: " Foi'ward, Company C — we'll all
get killed if we stop here ! " The slowing was but for a moment, and
was caused by the action of two or three men avIio first reached the fence,
and properly enough waited a moment for the rest of the company to come
up. During the action, instead of holding to proper supporting distance,
the Thirteenth improved the opportunity, given by the order to charge, to
burst through the line of the 89th N. Y., and make a hot race for the
fence at the edge of the woods, shouting : '• Beat them to the fence, boys,"
and were the first to reach the fence. This impulsive action is prompted
by accusations of timidity at Fredericksburg, where the 89th followed the
Thirteenth, and crowded upon them while their progress was for a mo-
ment hindered by the lying down and running back of some men of the
25th New Jersey. One man of the Thirteenth writes : " The men of the
89th N. Y. were in the front line till the charge, when the men of the
13th passed them at almost every point, and took the matter mostly into
their own hands." The members of the 89th call us the " Granite Thir-
teenth " — and seem to be glad that we did the work. Many of the 13th
charged without fixing bayonets, there being so much noise as to drown to
the orders. The affair on the whole is considered very brilliant, our
forces having encountered " a powerful rear-guard of the enemy, which
was posted in a position of immense strength," and routed them.

During the most dangerous part of the charge, when John H. Foye of
E fell, Albion J. Jenness of E stopped short beside him, gave him water,
cut off his belt, and unbuttoned his coat : and remained attending to his
wants, amid the i)attering, whistling bullets, as coolly and quietly as if be.
side a cot in the hospital. A very courageous act. During the charge,
also, a number of men along the regimental line, seeing the enemy firing
upon the advance, deliberately halted and fired one shot at them, then
joined again in the charge — a sort of independent skirmish line firing
over their comrades' heads. But the most of the Thirteenth fully realized
that the only way to secure an even chance with the rebels was to run
across the open field and into the woods where the rebels were, and so



1863 BATTLE OF PROVIDENCE CHURCH ROAD. 147

went for them with a rush. Much of the battle overran gardens. The
men never before showed such a fondness for flowers, and especially for
apple blossoms.

Col. Stevens advanced with the Tliirteenth to a point near the ruins of
Capt. Pruden's house just above tlie river bank ; and there Lt. Col. Bowers
took command of the 13th, haxang received orders, how to support the
89th N. Y., directly from Gen. Getty, Probably no one would be more
ready to correct the error made in the N. H. Adjt. General's Reports, Vol.
2, for 1865, page 326, lines 27, 28, and Vol. 2, for 1866, page 787, line
31, than Col. Stevens ; for neither the 13th N. H. nor the 89th N. Y.
were under command of Col. Stevens during the advance or charge, at
any time after the line passed the ruins of Capt. Pruden's house and into
the apple orchard near it, until after the capture of the rebel works.
Whatever Col. Stevens' duties may have been with the rest of the Brigade
— as it was said he was called away — the 89th N. Y. was i*i command of
its Lt. Colonel, and the 13th N. H. was in command of Lt. Col. Bowers,
who charged with the 13th upon the rebel rifle-pits, and was overheated
by his most energetic exertions on this occasion. Col. Stevens rejoined
the Thirteenth about two hours after it had captured the rebel rifle-pits,
and while it was halted in the woods.

" The left wing of the Tliirteenth charged from an orchard with the
89th N. Y. The 13th generally outran the 89th, reaching the woods
first ; all the time exposed to the fire of the enemy from their rifle-pits in
the edge of the woods. We fixed bayonets while charging. We ad-
vanced into the woods beyond the rest of the line and were halted. The
battery that came up in our rear, after we halted in the woods, played
over our heads for several hours. We were withdrawn after dark, and
arrived in camp about 10 p. m. Capt. Buzzell, when shot, exclaimed,
'Oh — I 'm killed ! ' Lt. Col. Bowers led the Thirteenth after we
passed the river bank." Lt. Col. Smith.

" The Thirteenth has received many compliments for its action to-
day ; and has gained a name for bravery which will last as long as any
one of its members shall live. Lt. Col. Bowers commanded the Thir-
teenth, and was forward with the men, when they charged."

Capt. Julian.

Lossing states that Gen. Longstreet's force has reached nearly 40,000
men, and that Gen. Getty's line of defense has been nearly eight miles in
length — aU held by his Division alone — running down the Nansemond
from Battery Onondaga, and sweeping around on Jericho Creek (which
forms a large marshy island near its junction with the Nansemond), cov-
ering Battery Jericho and Battery Halleck, on the creek farther up.

The most of the foregoing account was written before the writer's visit
to the battle-field in May, 1885. We marched up from our camp — two
miles below Suffolk on Jericho Creek — between the main Portsmouth
road and the Nansemond ; and entered the city by an old lane just south
of the Court House, and halted in Main st. near the Court House front.



148 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1863

The river for a little way near the bridge runs nearly due east, but a
few rods above the bridge — west — there is a bend sharply around to
the northwest between bluffs cut with numerous ravines. Main st. runs
down to the bridge nearly due north, and the road beyond continues in
nearly the same direction for about two miles from the city, and then
a branch runs northwest to Providence church. The field of the Regi-
ment's operations on May 3d lies on the west side of this road, and be-
tween the road and the northwest bend of the river — a large, irregular
V with the point at the bridge, and the wide part at the line of heavy
timber a mile north, the road forming the right hand line of the V. The
bank of the river, on the north side, is high and wide, and the road for
the first half a mile is quite near the river. As you cross the river and
go up the road, and immediately after you have mounted the bank, a deep
gully runs from the left side of the road down to the river. A rod or
two beyond tlie guUy are the ruins of Capt. Nathaniel Pruden's house ;
a little farther on is a similar gully, and just north of it is a new house
built since the war and now, 1885, owned by a Mr. Nelson. These were
the gullies into which sundry cowards crawled and liid, while the Regi-
ment advanced. Mrs. Nelson informed the writer that their house " was
built among the stumps of an old orchard." Here is the field of the
orchard through which the 89th N. Y. and 13th N. H. advanced ;
and the north side of this orchard — where the zig-zag rail fence stood —
is nearly three fourths of a mile from the bridge, and it is 300 to 400



DESCRIPTION OF PLAT.

A. Portsmouth Road — north branch to Jericho creek, south to white

marsh.

B. Camp of Thirteenth near Suffolk, one mile from town.

C. C. Railroads. D. Old lane on which we entered the town May 3d.

E, Court House. G. Nansemond River.

F. Main Street, Suffolk, branching two or three miles north of town,

west to Providence Church, east to Chuckatuck.
H. Ruins of Capt. Nathaniel Pruden's house, and gullies near by
wdiere a few men hid while the rest of the Thirteenth fought the
battle out.
I. Apple orchard ; with zig-zag rail fence, L, north of it, where the

Thirteenth formed line of battle for the charge.
M. Field across which the Thirteenth charged. The course of the ad-
vance and charge of the Thirteenth is indicated by the arrow.
N. N. Edge of dense woods, of heavy timber and thick brush, with rebel
rifle-pits ; the works captured by the Thirteenth.
P. Point near brook R where Capt. Buzzell was killed, about 200 to
300 yards west of the road. S. Main part of Suffolk.

T. T. Rebel camps, earth-works and batteries.

K. Mr. Northwick's brick house, about one half mile east of road.




PROVIDENCE CHURCH ROAD.

From a sketch made by the writer in May 1885.



1863



BATTLE OF PROVIDENCE CHURCH ROAD. 151



yards farther, northward, to where the edge of the woods was, across
the iield, beyond the rail fence. The 13th charged across this field to the
Confederate rifle-pits and trenches and into the woods, in all not far from
600 yards. The open field is now quite square, and about one fourth of
a mile on the road north and south, and about one third of a mile (strong)
east and west toward the bend of the river. The field inclines gently
northward to the woods. The whole advance of the 13th was about one
mile north beyond the river. The wide field containing Mr. Norfleet's, or
Northwick's, brick house, on the east side of the road, was the scene of
the advance of the 103d N. Y. and the 25th N. J. forming the right of
our Brigade.

Hospital Steward Royal B. Prescott writes, May 7, 1863 : " We left
camp at 7 a. m., May 3d, and formed, in Main St., Suffolk, a line con-
sisting of the 13th N. H., 89th and 103d N. Y., 25th N. J., 7th Mass.
Battery, Battery L 4th U. S. Regulars, and Dodge's Mounted Riflemen.
We crossed the bridge about 11 a. m., and the 13th Indiana, 144th N. Y.,
11th, 15th, and 16th Conn, remained near the bridge as a reserve. When
we came up the north bank of the river opposite the ruins of a house (Pru-
den's) the rebels opened upon us with a brisk musketry fire from a brush
fence, from the woods on our left, and from an open cornfield (in front)
where the enemy laid flat on their faces. The 89th N. Y. and 13th
N. H. charged through the cornfield to the woods.

" Surgeon Richardson selected a place for a field Hospital ; a fence was
torn dovpn to lay the wounded men upon ; lint, bandages, tourniquets,
and surgical instruments were prepared ; water brought and everything
arranged at hand. A Lieutenant from the 103d N. Y. was the first one
brought in, shot straight through his head. Next a man of the 89th
N. Y., then another of the 103d, then one of our own 13th boys shot through
the body — and so they came all day long. IVIen were cut, torn and
mutilated in every conceivable manner. The day was very hot and we
had all we could do until after dark. Captain Buzzell was shot dead,
through the heart. We recrossed the river about 10 p. m., and arrived
in camp about 11 p. m.^ A Major of a Michigan regiment having an
attack of delirium tremens shot Surgeon Smith of the 103d N. Y. through
the bowels. Colonel Ringgold, 103d N. Y., was shot and died. The
Chaplain of the 25th N. J. also shot. The 13th N. H. suffered greater loss
than any other regiment engaged, losing twenty-three — four killed and
nineteen wounded. The original order directed the 13th to leave camp
at 2 a. m. May 3d, the bridges being down caused delay." Prescott.

Among the first to bound over the rail fence on the north side of the
apple orchard, at the order to charge, was Major Storer, and he was also
one of the first to reach the rebel rifle-pits in the woods. He wore boots
made of alligator skin, and some of the men who did not know him, but
who were referring to his gallant conduct on this occasion, designated

^ The Hospital-corps followed the Reg., and this accounts for the differences in
hours given.



162 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1863

him as ' that high toned gentleman with his boots all marked over with
diamonds, squares, figures, and so on.' Major Storer was always elegant
and courtly in manner, and very careful in dress and appearance.

May 4. Mon. Fair, showers, warm. Reg. in camp near Jericho



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 18 of 81)