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 20 of 81)
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' Louisiana Tigers,' and ' Wild Cats,' and ' Wharf Rats,' were here also ;
and when they departed in May of last year, they left an amount of filth
amply befitting their names. Norfolk was occupied by Maj. Gen. John
Wool on May 10, 1862. The water near camp is abominable, and much
that the men use is brought from the swamp, a mile distant ; a reddish
decoction of cyi)ress and gum-tree, but proves to be wholesome for drink-
ing and cooking.

1863 CA^IP BOWERS. 163

May 21. Thurs. Hot. Reg. at work on the fort for four and a
half hours in the afternoon. Capt. Julian has heen sick since the battle
of May 3d, when he did work enough for two men. Last night the men
of the 13th got up a small bread riot. The affair threatened a consider-
able mischief. Some say it was sjjecially worked up to draw sundry non-
commissioned company officers into possible acts of violence or insubordi-
nation, and so spoil their chances for promotion. Others say it was a
genuine outburst of indignation on the part of the men, because of really
poor bread, and not enough even of that ; but there appears to be no pos-
sible way to reach the real cause of the affair.

May 22. Fri. Hot. Reg. at work on a fort just west of camp. A
fort with four names at least — ' No. 1,' ' Steere,' ' Gilmore,' and finally
' Rodman.' As a result of yesterday's demonstration bread is now hot,
when given out as rations, and much better than usual. Lieut. Staniels
appointed Judge Advocate of a regimental court martial.

May 23. Sat. Hot. Reg. at work on Ft. Rodman. In the ditch
of this fort, and about ten feet below the present level of the ground, are
a number of stumjjs of trees, in a long row, cut off at about the same
height — about two feet above the original soil. The trees were evidently
cut off with small axes, the marks still visible ; but at some prehistoric
period, when the level of the country was at least ten feet lower than now,
and before the plain was formed which now surrounds the Dismal Swamp.
Quite a curiosity, and older than the swamp in its present condition.

May 24. Sun. Exceedingly hot. We rest for one whole day, ex-
cepting the usual inspection, parade and religious services. INlany letters
written home. It is now generally said of the Thirteenth, that no regi-
ment of the force hereabout has done more, if as much, shoveling and
slashing. Men cannot make long days, however, in this heat. One detail
works from 5 to 11 a. m., another from 3 to 7.30 p. m.

May 26. Mon. Cooler. Detail at work upon the fort and road.
The order now is to arrange " uniform tents and bunks ; " the camp is to
be put on Dress-parade. Red-cedar boughs ai*e ' prescribed ' for beds,
as preventive of malaria. Large detail shoveling.

Many letters are written home for the soldiers who cannot write for
themselves. Generally the party interested desires the letter written,
' just as I would write it, you know,' and some of the req[uests are very
amusing. They mainly follow one order. First very affectionate words
to the wife, then the children are attended to, then items of business,
then connections of the family, then a joke or two for old Jake or Sally,
then a little final gush, with more or less in special terms, which must be
written word for word — because those words were agreed upon when
the soldier left home — and they will be fully understood at home, though
now worse than Greek to the writer.

May 26. Tues. Cool. Reg. at work on the fort in the afternoon.
A large detail at work on a corduroy road near Portsmouth, covering
the old roadway with logs laid cross-wise, and then covering them with


brush and earth. The army poets are busy. Numerous ' Poems ' have
been written, and several published ' onto ' the wounds and death of the
May 3d heroes who fell on the Providence Church road. Bad enough to
be shot without these poems. If all the soldiers fallen in this war should
at once arise from the dead, and stand exactly as and where they were
one second before the fatal stroke came upon them, the view would be
wonderful ; but still more striking would be their indignation and anger
because of the army poets who served them up so fearfully after they
were iionorably dead.

May 27. Wed. Warm. Reg. at work on Ft. Rodman and the
military road near it. The nights here usually remain very warm and
close till past midnight, before the breeze from the bay penetrates these
thick woods of the swamps that surround us. Brigade Hdqrs. are moved
down near the west end of the camp of the Thirteenth. Music, dancing,
a large assemblage, a fine illumination lighting up the pines and rivaling
the brilliant moonlight, and a general jubilee holds the camp late to-night
near the Hospital tents.

May 28. Thurs, Very warm. Reg. at work on the fort as usual.
A great deal of land near by is worked by the contrabands. They are
to have half of what they produce. They are coming within our lines in
large numbers, and bringing woful tales of their ill treatment by the
Confederates. The scenes on their arrival beggar description. INIany
of them are extremely pathetic, and would draw tears from the most
stolid and hard-hearted men, if the monkey-like actions of the negroes
were absent, and the negrotesquerie so far laid aside that the scenes
could be freely realized as part and parcel of the life and experiences of
human beings. You ask them how they feel now that they are free, and
they will answer : " 'I-golly, Massa, we 's feelin' pow'ful good ! "

May 29. Fri. Very warm. Reg. breaks ground for a new fort
near the Western Branch. The walls are to be fifteen feet thick at
parapet, twenty-one at base, about ten high. A house is enclosed but
afterwards torn down — said to belong to a Mr. Wilson, a Colonel in the
Confederate Army, and a member of the C. S. A. Congress. This work
is to be hurried both day and night until the fort can be used. The men
work in six-hour reliefs. Green peas, costing ten cents a quart shelled
ready to cook, are abundant. The negroes bring to camp great quantities
of strawberries. Cattle are driven here in large droves, turned to pas-
ture, and killed as they are needed. We have excellent fresh beef in
plenty. Lieut. Parker has resigned his commission. His health very
poor. (He leaves camp on May 31st.) He is popular in the Regiment,
and will be greatly missed ; the leave-taking a sad one. The loss of so
many officers because of sickness casts a gloom over the whole command.
The first case of small-pox occurs in camp to-day.

May 30. Sat. Very warm and dry. Reg. at work on the new
fort. The dust in the road is about six inches deep, and about one inch
deep now upon us. The men are making all sorts of odd tilings to use

1863 CAMP BOWERS. 165

and to send home, bone rings, briar-root pipes, cane-brake fifes, buzzard-
quill pens, and necklaces of bears' teeth and claws obtained from the na-
tives about the swamp.

May 31. Sun. Warm. Great need of rain. Usual Sunday in-
spection and parade. The talk that lias been going on for nearly a month
about our being mustered out on June 19th has arisen because it is
claimed that the 12th N. H. filled New Hampshire's volunteer quota.
The talk is making many of the men very uneasy. With the excej^tion
of fresh beef, rations are very poor now again. The men have had to
work so very hard all this sjnnng, that the regular army rations, as served,
have not furnished sufficient nourishment ; provoking discontent, causing
sickness, encouraging secret foraging parties — and filling the sutler's
purse. Cavalry and infantry reserves, with a few light cannon, hold the
distant Suft'olk lines, Corcoran's Legion garrisons the Bowers Hill works,
while we run this new line across between the branches of the Elizabeth
river. The 9th N. Y. have gone home ; the 25th N. J. — nine-months
men — go home June 3d, their term of service having expired. The 10th
N. H. again a permanent part of our Brigade. The whole force here-
about is kept exceeding busy, building fortifications, leveling forests, build-
ing roads, etc. The citizens' children are wearing crape on their arms in
mourning for Stonewall Jackson ; and these future lords and ladies of the
South take especial care to exhibit to the Union soldiers such emblems of
rebel sentiment and feeling.

June 1. Mon. Warm, very. Reg. at work on the corduroy road
to Portsmouth ; commencing work at an early hour in the morning, and
continuing but half the day. The 10th N. H., having come down from
Bowers Hill, camjjs near us to-day. The ofiicers of the 13th hold a
meeting this evening, and subscribe liro.OO apiece to purchase an elegant
gold snuff-box for Lt. Col. Bowers. They desire to make up a purse, for
it, of $150. He must resign because of injuries in his shoulder and leg
caused by a fall at the battle of Fredericksburg, resulting in severe
rheumatism ; while added to this are the effects of malaria and this cli-
mate, all aggravated by a very severe cold contracted in the fight on
May 3d.

A soldier of the 13th writes home : " All happiness in the army here
is a matter of the imagination. I am not homesick, but tired of this man-
ner of living. The weather is now as hot as a New Hampshire July.
Soldiering loses all the charms it ever had in this place and heat. I
have a very depressed opinion of all the Southern cities I have yet seen,
neglected, old, broken down, ramshackle affairs." Another writes : " The
Thirteenth has shoveled dirt enough this season to make itself immortal,
were it possible so to do in this way."

June 2. Tues. Very warm. Reg. at work on fort and I'oad. Fine
shower last night. Lt. Col. Bowers receives his resignation papers.
Small-pox having made its appearance in camp and among the citizens,
a general vaccination is the order of the day. At a recent dinner, one


enthusiastic individual offers a toast to Lt. Col. Bowers in these words :
" Here 's to Col. Bowers. Jus' 's brave man (hie). Jus' 's brave man —
's any other brave man 's a brave man — (hie), jes' so ! "

June 3. Wed. Cooler. Welcome shower last night. Reg. at
work on fort and road. The 25th N. J., nine-months men, leave camp
for home this afternoon. They have been in our Brigade since Dec. 10,
1862. A very good regiment as a whole. Gen. Burnside says that we
have been merely on detached service since leaving Newport News
(•Neuse') on March 13th, and he shall "claim the honor, of defending
Suffolk, for the Old Ninth Corps." There is much talk of our joining
the Ninth Corps in Tennessee or Kentucky.

Lt. Col. George Bowers leaves the Reg., and camp here, for home, this
morning. While he is in a tent at bi'eakfast, the First Sergeants quietly
call out the Reg. The men surround the tent, where Lt. Col. Bowers is,
and surprise him with three cheers, and then three times three. He
comes out and tries to make a speech, but breaks down in tears. The
men give him three times three more cheers, and form a line to properly
honor him as he leaves the camj).

Extracts from letters written June 3, 1863, and later : " Lt. Col.
George Bowers left us this morning — June 3d. We feel very badly
to lose him — the best friend the Thirteenth had amongst all of its
officers, both field, staff and line. A party of sixteen of the officers of
the Thirteenth visited him at Mr. Edward Bunting's house on the even-
ing of June 2d, had a social chat and a serenade by the Band of the
Thirteenth. A formal and elaborate recei)tion and su})23er Avas planned
fur him for this evening, all the officers of the Regiment to be present ;
but he could not be persuaded to stop, he was so anxious to get home.
He Avas taking breakfast in camp this morning with Col. Stevens, and the
Captains had the men of all the companies in the Regiment quietly
assembled by the Fii'st Sergeants, formed them in line of battle, marched
them ui> to the tent where Lt. Col. Bowers was, and there at once sur-
rounded the tent on all sides, and surprised him by giving three rousing
cheers. He left the table, came to the tent door and attempted to ad-
dress the Regiment, but after a few words he broke down in tears. The
Regiment then gave him more cheers, and then returned to their quar-
ters. In the fight at Providence Church road on May 3d, he was for-
ward with the men during all the advance and charge, the day was very
warm, and he was much heated by his exertions. After we enteied the
woods he was chilled by their dam])ness. and caught a severe cold, wliich
settled in a rheumatic form in his limbs, rendering him unable to jjer-
form field duties." Capt. Julian.

June 4. Thurs. Pleasant. Reg. at work on fort and road. The
negroes ar*e coming into our lines in troops. A large camp of them is
formed in the woods between our camj) and Portsmouth. They regard
the Union soldiers as their deliverers, and are unconditional friends to us
wherever met. Strawberries cost but three cents a quart now, and they



are huge ; to eat ten cents' worth of them is considered a good morn-
ing's work. Chaplain Jones writes to a Northern paper : " Lt. Col.
Bowers looked after the needs and wants of the privates. They love
him. He was very courteous and kindly."

June 5. Fri. Warm. Reg. at work on fort. Very hard for the
men to work in this hot, steamy, sweet-box of a country. More talk in
camp about our being mustered out as nine-months men.

One word more about Lt. Col. Bowers. The soldiers' letters, that the
writer has looked over while j^rej^aring this sketch of the Reg., have con-
tained many very pleasant things written of Lt. Col. George Bowers. He
was, in short, the beau-ideal of a soldier, and of an officer, to the mem-
bers of the Thirteenth — their friend and their brother ; and there could
not possibly be a better proof of the affection of the members of the
Thirteenth for him than these remarks, written voluntarily and sponta-
neously to their relatives and friends at home, and in such way that Lt.
Col. Bowers would probably never hear a word of them. He served as a
Captain in the Mexican War, and greatly distinguished himself there on
many a battle-field. He was from early youth always prominent in the
affairs of the New Hampshire militia. Was Postmaster at Nashua from
1852 to 1860. Was twice Mayor of that city, in 1861 and in 1868, and
served in numerous minor public offices. For a year, 1862-3, he served
as Major in the Tenth Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps. Was Depart-
ment Commander of the New Hampshire Grand Army of the Republic
for the years 1879 and 1880, also Junior Vice Commander of the Na-
tional Department for the year 1881. His fellow officers in the Thir-
teenth, a few only excepted, raised a fund sufficient to meet the ex-
penses of his badge and initiation fees, and of his annual fees so long as
he lived, in the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States,
and he was elected a member of the Massachusetts Commandery on
October 4, 1882. He died February 14, 1884, of heart disease, and
chronic diarrhoea contracted in the service at the front while he was a
member of the Thirteenth.

June 6. Sat. Cool. Heavy thunder shower this evening flooding
the camp. Capt. Stoodley assigned to the command of the axe-corps —
ten men from each comj^any, and each man provided with a sharp new
axe. Their first job, it is said, is the result of a mistake made by a
member of Gen. Getty's staff, and a large orchai-d belonging to one of
the enemy's officers is leveled. The axe-corps goes out to work every
morning at 5 a. m. ; 100 men, 10 Non-Commissioned Officers, 2 Lieuten-
ants and Capt. Stoodley. They return to camp at 11 a. m. and have the
rest of the day to themselves. Capt. Stoodley can, somehow, accomplish
more effective work with a gang of choppers than any other officer in
the Regiment. He goes about continually from squad to squad, and
plans the felling of nine tenths of the trees. His lively activity makes
him seem able to be in several different places at once — and the whole
of him in each of the several places.


June 7. Sun. Cool. Showers at night. Inspection. One Dress-
parade a week nowadays ; it ought to be with shovels, picks and axes,
for the Reg. now works with them all the time. Miss Hozier, residing
near Suffolk, a rebel spy, has been captured, while trying to make her
way to Richmond. She is found to have, hidden in the handle of her
parasol, exact diagrams and descriptions of our whole line of works, on
this front. She was captured May 27.

June 8. Mon. Warm, fair. Reg. slashing. The trees are felled
and left lying with their tops pointing towards the enemy, the limbs cut
off so as to form a sort of abatis, not above five feet high, and the more
intricately interwoven the better. Col. Button is absent on leave, and
Col. Donohoe of the 10th N. H., and formerly a Captain in the 3d N. H.,
has for some time been in command of our Brigade. Lieut. Young has
had charge of building the military road — mostly of corduroy — from
Ft. Rodman south to Ft. Tillinghast. The backwoodsmen of Company
H are selected to give lessons in felling trees.

June 9. Tues. Warm. Reg. slashing. Albe Holmes, ex-Lieutenant
of Company H, opens a fine stock of sutler's goods, and we now have for
the first time a sutler of our own. This summer stands of record as the
warmest known for many years. So it is always ; the last bad is the
worst bad of all bads. The Reg. is divided into bands of choppers,
shovelers, corduroy road makers, carpenters, etc., every man employed.

June 10. Wed. Warm, fair. Reg. slashing. Under this severe
labor in slashing and shoveling, the health of the Thirteenth is again
visibly breaking down. Lieut. Curtis has charge of the pioneers cutting
' bramble paths ; ' that is paths through the brambles, where the military
roads are to run. The path through the swamp between Forts Rodman
and Tillinghast had in many places to be cut foot by foot through thorny
tangling vines utterly impassable to man or beast ; a most intricate snarl
and network, in some places several rods in width and extending to the
tops of trees fifty to seventy-five feet high. Some of our jjioneers men-
tion this bramble cutting in language quite as tangled, bristling and
thorny as these most vicious vines themselves.

June 11. Th\irs. Warm, fair. Paymaster in camp. Reg. slashing.
The largest pine felled here this summer is a little over five feet in diame-
ter at three feet above the ground, very straight and tall ; but thousands
of noble trees from two to four feet in diameter have gone down to waste
and utter loss. Lieut. Murray returns to camp, but not yet to duty, his
wound not sufficiently healed. He is a brave, })rompt and efficient officer,
and has been greatly missed in the Regiment during his absence. A
large force sent from our lines here towards the Blackwater to dismantle
the rebel works. They find many skeletons of the unburied rebel dead.
Lieut. Staniels has been out, with a squad of soldiers, for three days,
picking up contrabands and sending them to the negro canq).

June 12. Fri. Hot. Reg. paid off to May 1st by Maj. G. W.
Dyer, in the forenoon ; in the afternoon earning greenbacks again at the

1863 CAMP BOWERS. 169

slashing. The able-bodied negi'oes, now coming in in great numbers,
are employed on the works, receiving rations for themselves and families,
and some money also, in the way of payment. Lieut. Coffin leaves camp
for home this morning ; resigned June 9tli, and honorably discharged
the service. Lieut. Staniels has charge of the guai'ds posted at citizens'
houses to protect their persons and property.

June 13. Sat. Warm, fair. Our whole Reg. slashing every day ;
clearing a space in front of our works eleven hundred yards wide. Sol-
diers are out scouring the country in all directions for loafing negroes.
Sometimes they bring in large numbers of them. One day two hundred
of them were marched in through our camp. W^hen the negroes cut
down a tree, they cut into the trunk on all sides alike, showing less sense
than a beaver when he gnaws a tree off ; while the butt of the log is left
sharpened to a central point, with a long ' scarf,' like a fence stake.
" The negroes here are filthy and indolent, and freedom to them means
perfect idleness ; they are brutes in human form, destitute of all ambi-
tion, and thieves — stealing everything they can lay their hands upon."
So writes truly one member of the Thirteenth.

June 14. Sun. Warm. Inspection in forenoon ; Dress-parade in
afternoon. The men of the Thirteenth and of the Fourth Rhode Island
fraternize on the most friendly terms. Some sort of temporary feud
exists, however, between the men of the Thirteenth and Tenth N. H.
The 10th were out of our Brigade for a long time between the battles of
Fredericksburg and Providence Church road.

June 15. Mon. Warm. Reg. at work. Col. Stevens' wife arrives
in camp. It is a fact that the more ignorant people about here have been
taught that the Yankees have horns. One of the worst things, which
they can think of, is that : " Abe Lincoln will make the negroes equal
with the white people, to eat at the same table with them, and to enjoy a
social and political equality."

June 16. Tues. Very warm. Reg. at work : so hard at work that
we have a Dress-parade only about once a week. Albion J. Jenness of E
is on guard at the house of one John Stafford. Unable to catch the idea
in the favorite Union army song, Mrs. Stafford wants to know, " Where
John Brown's soul is marching to."

June 17. Wed. Hot. Reg. slashing. " A detail from the 13th,
including myself, worked on Ft. Rodman, hewing timber for the maga-
zine and unloading cannon, from 6 p. m. yesterday to 1 a. m. to-day."
(LuEY.) Signs of a move. The trees stand very close together where the
Reg. is now chopping, and it is often exceedingly difficult to make around
a tree room enough in which to swing an axe, on account of the masses
of tangled thorny vines — greenbrier or bramble. The underbrush and
cane-brake form a dense jungle also. The thorns penetrate clothing, and
the men are punctured and scratched from head to foot.

June 18. Thurs. Hot, very. Reg. slashing. The trees are so
much tangled and tied together by vines that one often stands firmly up-


right after being cut entirely off. Advantage is taken of this, and the
trees are cut nearly off, on one side, over a large space of ground — an
acre or more — and then some huge ' bull-pine,* or other large tree, is
felled directly into the mass — when down goes the whole ' drive,' with a
great noise and crash. The term of labor is increased to eight hours a
day, instead of four and a half hours. The men were obliged to work
slowly before, in the intense heat ; now their work will be " double-slow."

June 19. Fri. Fearfully hot. Showery. Reg. slashing — working
eight hours a day. Heavy guns coming down, from the forts nearer
Suffolk, and being placed in forts here. Corcoran's Irish Legion remain
in the vicinity of Suffolk. Our Brigade transferred from the 9th to the
7th Army Corps. Order read on Dress-parade to that effect.

June 20. Sat. Rainy, warm. A train of army wagons over a mile
in length passes down the road to-day. Marked signs of immediate
activity. One thing is certain, we are not nine-months men ; all bets on
that are off. As one man of the 13th writes, " Nine-months stock is flat."
The sick are sicker to-day — as a rule. The advance of Gen. Lee's army
toward Pennsjdvania calls for some movement of the troops in this com-
mand, and a hundred rumors are flying.

June 21. Sun. A little rain. Inspection at 11 a. m. Orders arrive
this noon for the Thirteenth to leave camp at one o'clock and to be ready
to embark at Portsmouth at three o'clock to-morrow morning. Our
camp is to be left standing, and a few men left to guard it, and to care
for the sick and convalescent. Several men, in view of trouble ahead,
are seized with violent fits of vomiting this evening ; a powerful emetic
and the guard house are prescribed, and work wonderful cures in every
case. Corcoran's Irish Legion are to garrison and hold this line in the
absence of our troops. Capt. Bradley is very sick, and is forbidden to
leave camp. He sits to-day on a stump, the jiicture of wretchedness,
watching the preparation made by his Company to march, and vowing
that he will follow. This is plucky.

Extract from a letter written June 21, 1863 : " Rainy. The Thir-
teenth will take knapsacks for the march to-morrow, three days' rations

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 20 of 81)