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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Creek, tired, resting, counting noses, cleaning muskets and talking over
the incidents and hair-breadth escapes of yesterday. It comes out now
that the 89th N. Y. were expected to charge first and alone, ujjon the
enemy, and the Thirteenth were not to charge at all unless the 89th were
repulsed. The enemy develo})ed an unexpected strength, the 89th had
lost heavily, and when the time to charge came along, the enemy's volleys
told severely upon the 89th ; and the 13th rather hastily broke through
the 89th, and took the van. As a body the 13th actually got into the
woods first, running pell-mell over a number of men of the 89th while
they were lying upon the ground, and outrunning the most of that regi-
ment. A mixed affair surely. To-day the commander of the 89th said
to Col. Stevens : " You may well be proud of that Thirteenth New
Hampshire Regiment." One thing is sure : the Thirteenth was well
commanded by Lt. Col. Bowers yesterday ; it has a number of quick and
hot-headed line officers well provided in their companies with men of
their own mettle — and there is no such tiling as holding the bulk of
such a regiment back.

That is one picture ; here is another of a different sort : It appears
that five men of the Thirteenth sought reputation far in the rear during
the battle of yesterday sneaking in Capt. Pruden's gullies. Being proven
guilty, they are to-day mounted on barrels near camp and beside the
mam road. A board is tied to the back of each one, and they are made
to turn around every few minutes for four hours. It is pleasant most of
the day, and while these five gentlemen are having a holiday and quietly
airing themselves, sixteen prisoners — of the 4th Texas — are brought in.
The scene amuses the prisoners greatly, and they halt, and laugh and
shout at the show like a parcel of school-boys. The boards tied upon the
backs of our special exhibition are marked respectively : ' I shirked.'
' I skedaddled.' ' So did I.' ' I did too.' ' DittO.' These are not of
New England — that much of disgrace is spared the line of the Thir-
teenth. But the day gave to us the surprise, and the stinging pain, that
we have cowards among us. In the train of cowardice parades every
known infamy : to cut it all short : crafty, overbearing, wordy, arbitrary,
rascally, deceitful, selfish — spells cowards every time.

The enemy retreated hastily last night, in the intense darkness, from
our front along the Nansemond ; our troops gave chase and captured a
large number of prisoners, and they are coming in to-day. AVe receive
orders to march to the front again, but they are soon countermanded.

The more this siege of Suffolk is studied the more remarkable it ap-
pears. The conduct of the Union troops engaged in it has been worthy
of the highest praise. Gen. Peck had scarcely 9,000 men all told in the
line of works encircling Suffolk, and Gen. Longstreet planned to surprise


him, and cut him off by crossing the Nansemond farther down, and then
turning to fall ujion Portsmouth, Norfolk and the country adjacent. His
plans were carefully laid, his force was fully 40,000 men, and with these
he swept down like a storm, and spread his forces along for miles upon
the north bank of the Nansemond river. Gen. Getty, however, when
Gen. Long-street fii'st began to threaten, was called up from Newport
News with a flying column of about 8,000 men, and placed as the right
of Gen. Peck's line, along the Nansemond between Jericho Creek — Fort
New York — and the bluffs opposite Ft. Huger at Hill's Point ; below
Hill's Point the river widens into a bay, and is too wide to be crossed
safely on pontons while under fire.

Gen. Longstreet planned to cross at several places between Hill's Point
and Suffolk, on several days, and at different times in both day and
night ; but whenever he approached the river for that purjjose he found
himself confronted at short range by an earth-work fully armed with can-
non, and heavily manned by Union riflemen, all ready and waiting to re-
ceive him. AVithin three days — after the arrival of Gen. Getty's troops
— all along these rough, swampy, creeky, timbered, bluffy eight miles of
river bank strong forts and rifle-trenches grew up, under the sturdy work
of the Union soldiers, as it were by magic ; and after that continued to
grow higher and stronger, until, as Gen. Getty puts it, ' the works were
astounding for magnitude.' Fort Connecticut was the first fort, of any
considerable size, that was built. The many creeks and swamps demanded
bridges, and Col. Derrom of the 25th N. J. devised a peculiar trestle, that
was most convenient, and was adopted for use during the siege ; Gen.
Getty speaks of it in the liighest terms, as well as of Col. Den-om its in-
ventor. The investment continued from April 11th to the night of May
3d, when Gen. Longstreet, baffled at evei*y point, withdrew and raised
the siege ; his retreat, says Gen. Dix, commencing about 9.30 p. m. on
the evening of May 3d. Gen. Dix adds that the rebel line of works, ten
miles in extent, were immensely strong.

May 5. Tues. Sunshine and showers. Reg. in camp, nothing doing
except a Dress-parade. Many men, and several officers, of the Thirteenth,
among them Lt. Col. Bowers and Capt. Julian, are suffering from severe
sickness caused by the excitement, hard work and heat of May 3d, and
from remaining inactive in the damp, chilly woods just after being much
heated by the charge. Reg. furnishes a small detail for picket duty, and
another detail for labor on a fort near camp. Lieut. Forbush of G
assigned to the command of Company F, vice Capt. Buzzell. The camp
resounds from end to end with the muffled drum, the fife and the dirge,
in the burial of the dead.

Gen. John A. Peck estimates the enemy's losses during this siege at
2,000 men ; and the Union losses at nuich less. Gen. Peck and Gen.
Getty together have had about 16,000 or 17,000 men here, and several
gunboats, and our lines at all times have been very much extended.

" May 5th. We buried Capt. Buzzell in the woods to-night with only


the light of a lantern to see by. A storm is coming up and it is very
dark.'' Pkescott.

May 6. "Wed. Rainy. Reg. in camp. A large detail goes to work
upon a fort near by. The pressure of the siege made one or two of the
officers of the 13th unduly nervous. One of these on a certain night,
when there was not the least danger, was suddenly waked by a man who
wished to learn the countersign. The officer sprang to his feet, revolver
in hand, exclaiming: "Where! Where! Which way? Which way?"
and it was a minute or two before he could be brought to his senses. The
watch of the siege was heavy on his mind, and his body tired out.

May 7. Thurs. Cold, clear. Reg. in camp. Capt. Smith and
Lieut. Staniels with detail go on picket along the river bank. The pickets
lodge under some dense pine-trees. It is surprising what a good tent is
provided by a scrub pine. Clear away a few of the lower limbs, crawl
well under, and make your pillow close to the trunk, your bed of the dry
needles — ' pine tags ' in pure Virginia lingo — and sleep in the soj)orific
abounding fragrance of the wholesome pine.

A pretty story now comes out in relation to our scouts in the siege.
A small body of them penetrated deep into the Dismal Swamp and lost
their way. While stumbling about in the thick brush vainly looking for the
trail, they were accosted by a similar body of Confederate scouts, in a
very similar predicament, who asked where they were going. The Union
men replied that they were trying to find the way out of this — very big
D — swamp. The Confederates at once answered : " If you 'uns will show


A. Nansemond River, having an average width of less than 100 yards.

B. Dismal Swamp Canal.

C. Fort Halleck on the edge of the swamp, which stretches south.

D. Petersburg R. R. E. Seaboard and Roanoke R. R.
F. Suffolk. G. Norfleet or Northwick.
H. Battle-field of May 3, 1863, on Providence Church road N.
Z. Confederate line of rifle-pits and trenches captured that day.
K. Jericho Creek forming an island near the river.

L. Portsmouth Road. P. Coplin. R. Council.

M. Hill's Point, Ft. Huger, where the Nansemond widens into a bay.

S. Fort Jericho. T. Ft. New York (or Onondaga).

Gen. Getty's Division held the line from opposite Fort New York
(Union) to opposite Ft. Huger (Confed.) at Hill's Point, a distance of
nearly eight miles. The 13th moved April 30th from camp near Suffolk,
on the Portsmouth road, to near the point where the S. & R. R. R. crosses
Jericho Creek at Ft. Jericho ; on which fort (now standing) the 13th did
a great deal of work. All the earth-works south of the Nansemond arc
Union ; all north of it are Confederate ; and all the forts on each line are
closely connected by deep and strong rifle-trenches.


Tracing of Official Map. Scale, one and one half inches to one mile.



we 'uns out, we 'uns will show you 'uns out." The result was a very
friendly meeting, an exchange of souvenirs ; and a mutual escape from
the swamp to their respective commands.

May 8. Fri. Warm, showery. Reg. on picket from Jericho Creek
to Battery Kimball. The enemy has gone — that is he no longer threat-
ens, and the siege of Suffolk is ended. The enemy pressed very close for
twenty-three days, keeping us working day and night, and then suddenly
withdrew. Powder enough has been burned to blow all Suffolk a dozen
miles over into the Dismal Swamp. Near about us now are one brigade
and two batteries. The I'est of the troops, that came up to this point to
re-enforce us, have gone ; hundreds only remain where thousands were.
A part of tlie camp of the 13th is now in a small orchard sweet with a
burden of blossoms. There is much cheering to-day all along our lines.

May 9. Sat. Fair. Reg. in camiJ. More surplus baggage and
winter clothing is sent to Fortress Monroe and home. The Reg. hard at
work by details, cutting down trees beyond the river, building earth-works,
etc. The rebel earth-works, across the river, are being dismantled, and
the river bank cleared of trees. The work has been going on since May
3d. Our picket line is now about three fourths of a mile from camp, and
on the river bank ; Union outposts and scouts are numerous beyond the
river. Asst. Surgeon Small examines the sick of the 13th at Surgeon's
call for the first time.

May 10. Sun. Fair. The body of Capt. Buzzell has been em-
balmed, and is to-day sent out of camp on its way to his old home in New
Hampshire. He was a brave man — too brave, and is mourned by every
member of the Regiment. Our Band played for the procession while it
marched to the railroad station, about three miles from our camp. It
costs about $125 to embalm, coffin and transport a soldier's body to New

May 11. Mon. Fair ; a few showers. Reg. at work on a new fort
near camp ; the non-commissioned staff ordered out with the fatigue par-
ties. The writer and the two Van Duzees of E are desiring greatly to
take a view of the rebel camp : and ' become separated ' — rather too will-
ingly — from a large axe-party sent across the river under Capt. Stoodley.
We dejiosit our three axes in a hollow tree, intending to recover them
later on, and return with the other choppers to camp but do not succeed
in doing so ; alas ! what became of those three axes ? We are soon off,
and make a long tour of the rebel camp, and visit the battle-field of May
3d. We find, where the 13th charged into the woods on that day, two
bodies of the rebel dead, and we try to bury them with a couple of old
shovels the enemy left near there, but the condition of the bodies is such
that we have to desist. The enemy left a large number of his dead un-
buried. We find the place where Foye of E was killed, and gather as
a memento a few leaves of a plant growing on the very spot where his
blood was shed, and send them to his family.

The rebel camp is a curiosity ; nothing like it under the sun in these


last two thousand years. An immense collection of ' dug-outs ' — holes
made in the banks of earth and covered with poles and brush — small
log huts, board shanties, lodges made by lopping the branches of a pine-
tree and then piling on still other branches ; and every conceivable con-
trivance that can be made of poles, weeds, hay, straw and brush, all low,
dirty, damp and bids for cliills and rheumatism ; but only a few places
can be found where tents have stood. The Union army would mutiny
to a man in three days, if subjected to such straits. The enemy's earth-
works and trenches are immense. We see where a shell from one of
our gunboats had lodged in a large hut, had burst and torn some men
into hundreds of pieces, shreds, and scattered them aU about — horrible.

After tramping all day — dinnerless — until past mid-afternoon, we
get lost in the woods, are followed, as we discover, and are very nearly
captured by the enemy's scouts. We start upon the run down toward the
river in hopes of reaching the vicinity of a gunboat, and finally reach a
point on the river, north side, after dusk, at about three miles below
where we crossed in the morning. We see some Union pickets across
the river and hail them. They demand our number, and we answer,
" Three." Our pickets reply that there are seven ; and sure enough on
the high bank a few rods behind us are gray-clad men — rebel scouts. We
insist that there are but three of our partj^, and shout to our pickets to
" Shoot the rest." This remark saves us, and our pickets send over an
armed guard in a large boat to bring us across the river. We institute a
hunt for the rebel scouts, but nothing but their tracks can be found. We
had previously seen that they were armed with navy revolvers. We were
entirely unarmed. They had desisted from firing probably because they
thought they could run us down, and effect our capture.

When across the river, to escape arrest, as a ruse we pretend to have
returned from a scouting expedition, and ask for a guide, instanter, to
show us the way to the General's Headquarters. The guard send a Cor-
poral with his gun. At a convenient point, after we have reached familar
ground, we suddenly take to our heels through the low brush — like
three genuine scouts ! — and leave the Corporal to look on, and whistle,
while we run. The last we see of him, he is leaning on his gun, and
looking after us — probably expressing his feelings. We arrive in camp
just in time for the last Roll-call at night. We report to Col. Stevens,
own up, and tell him the story. He excuses us, but says : " This must not
occur again." Well, we do not believe it will ; we have enough. But Cajit,
Stoodley is not so easily satisfied. Two other men have left their axes
also. And the loss of axes is not so easily managed as the absence of men,
and loss of labor. However, the affair is the cause of no further trouble.

May 12. Tues. Fair and warm. There is now much talk in camp
about our being ' nine-months men.' Some are even trying to decide
whether they will re-enlist or not. Much shoveling at the fort near
camp ; a fort that has half a dozen names — of which the most prominent
is " Fort Jericho " — and looks across the river northward. There is



such a demand for men to work that the pickets are not relieved for
three days.

May 13. Wed. Warm. Every man on duty, who can work. The
enemy expected to return upon our front. K-eg* at work on the fort.
Assembles and has a Dress-parade after its hard day's work. Have
orders to prepare to move. The 13th Band serenades Lt. Col. Bowers

George W. Long of E, a character in the Reg. usually known as " Pud
Long," visits Suffolk with the writer, who is sent up there on an errand.
Long purchases a quart of molasses, of which he is excessively fond, and
carries it in a large open-mouthed glass pickle-bottle. While returning
to camp through the woods, by the shortest path. Long discovers a very-
plump and nearly naked negro girl, perhaps eighteen years old, washing
a white garment — possibly her last and only — near a little cabin in the
brush, as pretty a brown statuette as her race affords, and wholly uncon-
ventional. Long creeps noiselessly up behind her as she bends over the tub,
and suddenly pours about a pint of the molasses on the top of her head.
When she turned and looked at him, with a most startled expression on
her face, her eyes rolled up, and herself frightened half to death, the mo-
lasses running down over her neck and shoulders, in streaks lighter than
her skin ; the whole scene were well worth a painting. She screams :
" bress de Lord — what hab I done ? " and rushes into the cabin yell-
ing" loud enough to be heard a mile. We hurry from the scene. But
Long has only one idea — "I 've sweetened one nigger anyhow," he re-
peats again and again.

May 14. Thurs. Very warm — hot ; — showers in the afternoon*
We break camp about 9 a. m., and move to the railroad and halt there
for a short time, then march down on the Seaboard and Roanoke Rail-
road about seven miles towards Portsmouth, then halt again ; then move
about two miles, and encamp in shelter tents at 4.30 p. m., in thick woods
at Bowers Hill. While on the railroad to-day, during a short halt, the
men lying down upon the grass and weeds under the shade of trees, the
whole Brigade still and quiet ; suddenly a long, rattling clap of thunder
breaks from a clear sky, sounding so much like an irregular volley of
musketry that the entire command instinctively springs to ai'ms. There
soon follows a heavy shower of rain thoroughly wetting everybody. Such
phenomena are said to be quite common here in the Dismal Swamp. The
railroad is lined with a thick forest, covered with a tangled matting of
brambles and wild vines exceeding dense. The writer usually keeps a
considerable number of postage stamps about him^ as a supply for the
men of his company, and this shower uses up the most of a recent pur-
chase of two dollars' worth. The pickets sent out are unable in many-
cases to reach their designated posts, because of the water, the mud, and
the almost impenetrable jungle of the swamp.

May 15. Fri. Pleasant. Reg. fitting up camp at Bowers Hill —
but there is here neither hill nor Bowers. The nearest approach to a


hill is a half-built fort, and on a knoll near by a huge Scuppevnong grape
vine giving large 2)romise. Not far away is a large swamp and ex-
tremely muddy ; the origin of * Goose Creek,' the head of Western
Branch. Close to our camp is a large spring furnishing the best water
we have yet found in Virginia. Two flour barrels are sunk near each
other to prevent the sides of the spring from caving in. One of our men,
not knowing that the heads of the barrels are out, is advised, and at once
attempts, to dip one of them dry. After dipping out thirty-two pailfuls
— sixty or eighty gallons out of a thirty gallon barrel — he gets warm
enough to think himself the victim of a practical joke, quits and goes to
his quarters.

May 16. Sat. Warm. Reg. all at work during the whole forenoon
on the entrenchments under direction of Col. Dutton of the 21st Conn,
who has command of the troops at this point ; resting in the afternoon.


May 17, 1863 to April 18, 1864.


May 17. Sun. Pleasant, warm. While on regimental inspection at
Bowers Hill camp about 10 a. m. to-day, orders arrive for us to move ;
and we march at 12.40 p. m., arriving in this pine grove, which is to be
our permanent camp-ground, at 4 p. m. — distance four miles. Col. Cor-
coran's Irish Legion remains at the front. The army is moved about too
much on Sundays.

May 18. Mon. Very warm. Reg. at work on our new camp in the
forenoon, and on a fort near by in the afternoon ; a fort afterwards called
Fort Rodman. While on the wing in these last two months, the Reg. has
set at work at once on the entrenchments nearest the point where it has
happened to light for a few hours. The Thirteenth is the first to break
ground here on this new line of earth-works. The 4th R. I. is encamped
a short distance to the west of us near Ft. Rodman ; details from both
regiments are working together ' corduroying ' the main road to Ports-
mouth. The growing cotton on a small field just west of our camp is very
soon among the things that were. Our camp here is called Camp Bowers
in honor of our loved and esteemed Lt. Col. George Bowers.

Getty's Station — Camp Bowers — The Pines. This camp is between
three and four miles from Portsmouth, near a very important point where
the railroad and three highroads meet. The course of the Seaboard &
Roanoke Railroad where it passes the site of our camp — on the south
side — runs a little south of west towards Suffolk. The Portsmouth and
Suffolk carriage road runs, parallel with the railroad, on the north side of
the camp. Thus the camp is crowded in between the two roads, on a
strip of low, level land 750 feet wide — measured. The quarters of the
field and staff, and of the line officers, are west fronting east ; and the
company quarters east. The company streets, running east and west, are
parallel with the railroad. The site of Col. Steere's Hdqrs. was pointed
out to the writer as between the two roads, and 50 yards east of the lower
platform of the present Getty's Station ; the quarters of the Thirteenth
as commencing about 100 yards farther east. The old Quay road, so
called, crosses the railroad, from the southward to the Suffolk carriage
road, a little west of our camp.

It is on the whole very difficult to locate the exact site of this old camp.
Now, 1885, every tree is gone, and the whole region round about is a
cultivated field ; scarcely one old landmark is left — even the old Quay


road has moved west. Ft. Rodman is located whei'e the Suffolk carriage
road and the raih'oad come very near together, ahove Getty's Station, and
about half a mile west of the camp. See August 20, 1863. The corner
below this camp, and the negro camp, about one mile from Portsmouth,
where the Suffolk road turns south and crosses the railroad, is called
Hall's Corner. Now, 1885, nearly the whole area of all our slashing,
and from our old stockade and line of rifle-trenches flanking Fort Rod-
man, down to Portsmouth, is a vast ' truck ' garden, four to six miles
square. In 1863 two thirds of this area was forest ; the soldiers of the
Thirteenth, you perceive, helped to clear this land for cultivation ! See
June 6, 18, and July 28, 1863.

May 19. Tues. Very warm, uncomfortable, frequent showers. Reg.
at work on the entrenchments, which run from the Eastern to the West-
ern Branch of the Elizabeth river — a line about six miles long, all under
command of Gen. Geo. W. Getty. He now has here ten regiments of in-
fantry, about 5,000 effective men, with a gunboat in the Branch on each
flank ; and that small force can hold this short line more easily than three
times that number of men could hold the old long line near Suffolk.
Hence this new position. Lieut. Kittredge, promoted from First Sergeant
of B, receives his commission, and is congratulated. His company makes
him a present of an elegant sword.

The following incident did not occur in the Thirteenth, but deserves
record. A certain colonel in the Union army was very much annoyed by
the incorrigible character of one of his men. He had tried in every way
he could by persuasion, argument and punishment to bring -the fellow to
a sense of his duty, but all in vain. Finally in desj^air, and in disgust at
some new caper, he called the man to him, and asked him what he him-
self thought should be done with him. The man at once replied : " Well,
Colonel, since you ask my opinion, I will give it. Better let me alone to
do as I please. You cannot expect to get the cardinal virtues for eleven
dollars a month." The man was let alone, thrown upon his honor — what
little he had — and gradually reformed himself, and became a good and
trusty soldier.

May 20. "Wed. Very warm. Reg. at work on the entrenchments.
" The boys hallooed for bread when they came in from work." (Luey.)
The men have A tents, which are to be raised on poles in the same man-
ner as at Suffolk. See April 8, 1863. At night now, unless rainy, the
tents are all thrown wide open. Our camp here is on the site of an old
rebel encampment, a part of it occupied by the 2d Louisiana. The

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 19 of 81)