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 23 of 81)
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July 17. Fri. Fair day ; a heavy rain at night. Reg. in camp
resting. A number of men have deserted from the 13th to the enemy
during the late march. We hojie they will be impressed into the rebel
service. Tents have to be thrown off the poles almost every day, to dry
the ground within. Tlie water we have to use we boil before drinking.
Some persons add vinegar to the water to kill the animalculse ; then
after the water is cool it is sweetened a little before it is used. The
water not only looks repulsive, but it tastes and smells bad ; a decoction
of surface filth.

July 18. Sat. Pleasant. Reg. in camp. A great deal of sickness
in the Thirteenth, and throughout the command ; a direct result of the
late raid. Almost every man in the 1 3th is more or less ' broken out '
with boils and sores, from overheated blood — some of it, possibly, very
bad blood. Capt. Normand Smith and ten officers of other regiments
appointed as a General Court Martial to meet at Portsmouth, Col. Dono-
hoe, President, and Lieut. J. D. Mahon, Judge Advocate.

July 19. Sun. Warm, rainy. Usual Sunday duties. Dress-parade
and religious services. The waste on the raid, in army supplies and
equipage, was scandalous — a heavy total. We have been ready and
waiting all day, to turn out, at a moment's notice, and receive Major
General Foster.

July 20. Mon. Rainy, hot. Reg. in camp. Reviewed by Maj.
Gen. John G. Foster, upon his taking command of this Department of
Virginia and North Carolina. Yesterday at 2 p. m. we were in line to
receive Gen. Foster, but he did not appear. This morning at 10 o'clock
we are in line again, and manoeuvre for two hours while waiting his arri-
Yal. Again we fall in at 3 p. m., and again exercise for about two hours,
when he appears. Gen. Foster is a Nashua man, and the men of the
Thirteenth stand at a ' Present-arms,' and with their colors at a ' Dip,'
for a very long time. The General notices it. and when he is saluted
enough, he passes the order for the men to bring their arms to the shoul-
der. One of those pretty mistakes that will happen any way. He highly
com])liments the 10th and 13th — and then makes them work hard to pay
for his approbation. " Gen. Foster was the first commander of the 18th
Army Corps." (History of the 44th Mass.)

Jioly 21. Tues. Very hot and showery. Reg. in camp. No one
busy but the members of the regimental court martial, trying cases grow-
ing out of the raid. A heavy thunder shower to-night continuing all
night and flooding the camp with water, which is several inches deep
under all the tents. The feud between the men of the 10th and 13th
N. H., never very serious, has altogether disappeared since the raid.

1863 CAMP BOWERS. 187

July 22. Wed. Fair. Reg. in camp. Sergeant James M. Hodg-
clon of B has been acting as Sergeant Major, and makes a very good one.

This land furnishes a little insect nuisance called the pine-tick. He
burrows quickly and deeply under the skin of man and beast, and is very
difficult to remove — can be picked out only in pieces. A drop of kero-
sene oil, however, placed upon him, when in the skin, causes him to with-
draw himself almost instanter. Everything in Virginia — even a rebel
picket — wants to get into a hole, either in whole or part ; this propen-
sity is universal. We hope to make tlie rebel army get into a very big
hole — and then pull the hole in after them.

July 23. Thurs. Rainy. Reg. in camp. Detail made for slash-
ing in the swamp — Captain Stoodley's valiant one hundred axemen. A
detail of three Lieutenants — Wilson, Staniels and Sawyer — three non-
commissioned officers and six 2)rivates (the writer has this from a sol-
dier's letter) also leaves camp for Concord, N. H., to bring forward recruits
for the Thirteenth. Adjt. Boutwell's wife arrives in camp.

July 24. Fri. Fine, but very warm. Reg. slashing. ' A change
in pasture makes calves fat ; ' but a change in commander makes soldiers
lean, as we are now learning to our cost. The hours of labor, and of all
other duties, are largely increased since the arrival of Gen. Foster.

July 25. Sat. Very warm, showers. Reg. slashing. The promoted
First Sergeants and tlieir Colonel not mutually happy because of sundry
due and delayed commissions. We lose our rights — and a hundred or
two dollars apiece besides.

July 26. Sun. Very hot. Inspection at 10 a. m., and Dress-pa-
rade at sunset. The hottest day any of us have ever seen. A thermome-
ter hanging up on the shady side of a little sapling four or six inches in
diameter indicates 108°. It is above 100° in the tents, and 126° in the
sunshine. Reg. again begins work on the fortifications to-day ; every
available man sent out, either chopping or shoveling. More than 1,500
men who went on the raid have been sent to hospital, sick.

The Thirteenth has one man who suffers from attacks of sleeping, and
cannot keep awake wlien under the spell of his peculiar malady. He has
been twice caught sleeping at his post while on guard. He cannot help
it. The meanest thing in the world is to find a man asleep at his post ;
the punishment for the offense Is very severe, and a desperate man would
sooner kill the man who finds him asleep, than run the risk of being shot
himself. It is best, therefore — and a sort of general order — to first
secure possession of the sleeper's gun, before rousing him.

July 27. Mon. Very hot forenoon, rainy afternoon and night. Reg.
out slashing only in the forenoon. Regimental Hospital moved across
the road to field north of camp, in pursuance of the Medical Director's
orders — the pine grove too close and damp for the sick.

A furious riot with cries of " Kill 'em all," " Murder," " Help — help,"
oaths, and the shrieks of a hundred or two of black women — the most
blood-curdling shriekers under the sun — suddenly breaks out upon the


quiet camp to-night ; the night pitchy dark and very rainy. A body of
teainstei's, encamped across the raihoad southward of our camp, invade
the contraband camp near by, and about twenty of them armed with axes
and revolvers are tiring and slashing right and left ; the whole gang mad
with drink. Wlien the disturbance first begins, Captains Julian, Stood-
ley and Forbush and a few other officers, who are gathered in one of
the officer's tents, spring up and hurry to the scene, some armed and
some not, and come near having a hand-to-hand conflict with the team-
sters before the guard arrives. Major Storer, officer of the day, orders
First Sergeant Thompson of E, who is officer of the regimental guard, to
proceed out of camp, with about a dozen men of his guard, and to quell
the riot ; Major Storer remaining in charge of the guard-house and head-
quarters meanwhile. Only seven men of the guard, however, can be
spared. As soon as this guard arrives upon the scene, the teamsters in-
stantly surround Sergeant George H. Van Duzee of E, who is also one
of the guard, and threaten him with instant death. He is only saved by
the quick orders of Thompson to his guard, to fire. The teamsters quit
rioting and haul off under the nmzzles of the guards' guns ; the purpose
of the guard being to scare rather than to kill. A few are arrested, some
slink away in the darkness, but the most of them retire to their huge
' Sibley ' style of tent, put out their lights, and threaten to shoot any one
who approaches. The guard, however, is at once drawn up in line in
front of the tent, their guns aimed, the muzzles almost touching the can-
vas, and the teamsters are called upon to surrender. Thompson's demand
is answered by a flood of vile scurrility from the tent. He then gives
slowly the order to the guard : " Ready — Aim — ; " the teamsters cave
in, the tent is entered, a candle lighted, and two men arrested who had
crawled under their bunks. The rest had ripped holes in the back side
of their tent, and made good their escape into the deep woods near by.
Before the riot was quelled, many of the negroes were badly hurt and
several killed, all shot down, or chopped down with axes. This errand
should not have fallen to the regimental guard, who on the whole consider
it a worse job than attacking rebel pickets at night.

July 28. Tues. Fair, very close and hot, a few showers in after-
noon. Reg. in camp, the most writing letters home. The mail leaves
camp at 6 a. m. regularly. The oixler now is to cut down every tree, for
a space one mile wide, in front of our works, clear across from river to
river, a distance of five miles. A large part of this space is densely
wooded. The 100 choppers from the 13th are hard at work on every
suitable day ; similar parties are furnished by every regiment along the
line, while sometimes the 13th in a body, and other entire regiments turn
out with axes for the work — five or six square miles of the Dismal
Swamp i-egion are thus being rapidly cleared of their dense forest of
vines, brush and timber.

July 29. Wed. Afternoon very rainy. Reg. in camp. No work
done. Brigade guard-mounting in the morning ; very well done. Dress-

1863 CAMP BOWERS. 189

parade at sundown, at which commissions are given out to sundry Second
Lieutenants all promoted from First Sergeants. The commissions dated
June 10th, 1863. The recipients mustered on July 29th or Aug. 5th,
having first received their discharges as First Sergeants. There was a
hitch in the niustering-in and several of them were for two or three days
out of the service altogether. The 1st Brigade of our Division leaves
camp this forenoon for Charleston, S. C.

The pines in our ' Pines Camp,' are in places dense and tall. The grove
has open ground on all sides. During the frequent thunder storms the
trees wave and bend, and threaten to snap short off in the heavy wind.
Their limbs break oft", fall and crush in the canvas roofs of our tents.
During the days their closely massed tops shut out the sun, and while af-
fording an agreeable shade, they prevent the evaporation of the water on
the ground, and the camp-ground remains soaked like a sponge, and glis-
tening with numerous pools. While fortunately no tree in our camp has
been struck by lightning, a cluster of oak-trees an eighth of a mile dis-
tant has been struck frequently this summer and some of the trees torn
to shreds. One of these thunder storms at night is fearful to witness.
The thunder roars, rattles, bellows, resounds and clangs on high con-
tinuously, as if the earth was a tremendous battery cannonading all the
planets at once. The rain falls in sheets, breaking and pouring in streams
from every pine limb ; the incessant flashes of vivid lightning are re-
flected from every rain sti*eam, every wet jjine bough, and from the sur-
face of the wide level camp area nearly covered and flooded with water ;
the guns of the men in their tents are charged with electricity and glow
from end to end ; the camp guards' guns and bayonets, similarly charged,
flash and glisten, and the guards tramp their beats with an incessant
splash, splash, like a line of lightning-rod holders, each inviting a hun-
dred strokes of lightning during every storm, while the roar near and far
continues without cessation hour after hour.

In the morning after such a night storm, the men and almost every-
thing in their tents are wet, in many cases thoroughly drenched, and the
tents must be thrown off the poles ; blankets and clothing are hanging
on lines all over camp to dry ; the water floods the camp, and lies from
three to six inches deep in and about all the tents : gradually it evapo-
rates in the hot air, while the whole camp is filled with evil smells, or else
the water runs off slowly into the deeper depressions in the ground, and
sinks away to form the ' surface water ' we must use for drinking and
cooking. No sooner is the camp dry, or half diy, than another furious
thunder storm causes the whole programme to be repeated — and so on,
and so on, without a rest. While therefore we keep an account of the
weather, it is because bad weather plays an ugly part in the experiences
of the soldier, whether in camp or field.

July 30. Thurs. Showery, more heavy thunder, Reg. slashing.
Insects flourish in this warm, danq) weather. The camp is pestered with
gnats, flies and mosquitoes in numberless swarms. The Surgeons have


formally declared this camj) in the Pines extremely unhealthy, and that
the Keg. must move out ot" it, and farther away from the negro camp,
which threatens a pestilence. The 10th N. H. moves to Julian's Creek.

July 31. Fri. Fine day. Reg. slashing. Quarter-master Cheney
returns to camp. At 5.30 p. m. orders come for Conipanies B and D
to be ready to strike tents and march to-mcn-row at G a. m.

One dark and rainy night, near this time, the commissary guard in our
Brigade is relieved about ten minutes ahead of the regular time, but ap-
parently in the regular way, and the old relief returns to quarters, having
taken ' no note of time.' Ten minutes later the new relief of the regular
guard comes around on time, and relieves the relievers — and when the
morning dawns the commissary finds that he has been relieved, during
the night, of two barrels of whiskey ! Now there is a furious storm, that
breaks nowhere, and the commissary is advised to report the whiskey as
lost in action. It was a job very neatly done.

Aug. 1. Sat. Hot. Reg. in camp. Companies B, Capt. Dodge,
and D, Cajit. Farr, leave camp at 8 a. m. under command of Major
Storer, and march to Fort Tillinghast, about one mile southwest of our
camp. They are to garrison that Fort as heavy artillery and to drill all
winter. Our Brigade — 3d Brig. 2d Div. 7 th Army Corps — a few
batteries and a small force of cavalry, are all the troops now left on this
line. The Thirteenth has about a mile of line to watch and guard — and
half our men are sick. Col. W. H. P. Steere, 4th Rhode Island, com-
manding our Brigade.

Aug. 2. Sun. Awfully hot. One thermometer indicates 108° in
the shade. Usual Sunday duties. We should have been ordered South,
but the order was to send the two largest brigades in our Division. Our
3d Brigade was the smallest of the three by over 300 men, so the 1st and
2d Brigades were selected. Diphtheria is very prevalent in camp,
caused in great degree by the heat and the bad water we have to use.
We are to be transferred to the 18th Army Corps ; the 7th Army Corps
to be broken up.

Aug. 3. Mon. Hot ; 109° in the shade ! Reg. stewing in camp.
Boys, and young men, 16 to 25 years of age, endure the strain of this
army life here in the South much better than men of 35 years and up-
wards. The Union army averages a little under twenty-two years of age.

Short, thick-set men are more hardy here than the tall men — ' for the
purely military reason,' as the boys put it, ' that their forces are nearer
their base of sup])lies.' This Pines camp is a steam-box to-day.

Aug. 4. Tues. Hot. Reg. in camp. Paid off for May and June.
Little things, the parts of guns, or parts of equipments or clothing which
the men lose or destroy carelessly, or needlessly, are deducted, at stated
government prices, from their pay. Officers also have to pay cash for
unnecessary losses. It is the only possible way to prevent waste. The
pocket rules the world. A negro appears in camp swearing furiously,
and gets into trouble. It is a very rare thing to meet a grown-up negro

1863 CAMP BOWERS. 191

who uses much profane language ; and a much rarer thing to meet a
Southern white man who does not. Really the best part of the native
white population hereabout must now be in the rebel army !

Aug. 5. Wed. Hot and dry. Reg. in camp. Diphtheria very prev-
alent. It is a very strange disease. Many men who blistered their feet,
vi'hile marching on the Blackberry Raid, now have suppurating sores
where the blisters were, and very difficult to heal — these are free from
diphtheria. Many men have a finger or hand to nurse, where a mere
little scratch or bruise will not heal. Diphtheria is organic and whole-
sale unspeakably repulsive rot.

A corduroy road twenty feet wide — that is, made of heavy logs twenty
feet long laid side by side on stringers thrown ujion the surface .of the
morass — extends for near half a mile of the distance between Forts Rod-
man and Tillinghast ; first a strip of the very dense forest was leveled sixty
feet wide, and the brush and old timber of fallen trees were thrown into
the bog holes. This corduroy road cost the labor of one hundred men
working four and a half hours a day for over six weeks. The snakes
killed during tlie time were almost numberless. Disturbmg the soil and
rotting wood seemed to attract them.

Sundry First Sergeants are mustered in as Second Lieutenants. Every
one of the original Second Lieutenants and First Sergeants have received
promotion, and some of the First Lieutenants. There is nothing which
conduces so much to the honor, stability, efficiency and spirit of a Regi-
ment as the regular promotion of its members as vacancies occur, for
that plan alone pays honest dues.

Aug. 6. Thurs. Hot. Reg. slashing, and can work only for a few
hours a day. A number of men from the Thirteenth, and others, go
out of camji, and make a midnight raid on a lot of hidden theatrical cos-
tumes, and other things, and return to camp dressed in the most fantastic
fashions that their wit can invent. They departed on foot, they return on
mules. Each has a bundle, each has a different style of dress, while the
odd hats, bonnets and costumes generally make up a grotesque exhibition
indeed. One small mule, ridden by a large man in the costume of the
typical Uncle Sam, is dressed up in the fashion — rather pronounced —
of a woman of the 17th century, with huge poke-bonnet, bustle, dress,
train gathered and dragging at one side, two ^^airs of white pantalettes,
etc. — the head of the mule protruding forward through the division in
one pair of the pantalettes, and the tail back through the other pair. A
companion mule is gotten up in the costume of a man of the same period.
A poke-bonnet and pantalettes look best on a mule. Sergt. Charles F.
Chapman of E, and D. Webster Barnabee of K, a right merry jjair —
though the latter is sick — furnish a deal of amusement to a (ticketless)
audience of a thousand or two of men, who line the roadsides. The
' General commanding ' laughed at this most ridiculous cavalcade as
heartily as any private in the ranks. Fun is the spring of healtli.

Aug. 7. Fri. Hot. Reg. slashing. Quarter-master Cheney, hav-


ing resigned his commission, departs for home. Too bad. The climate
is too severe for liim. He has been sick for nearly seven months, and
was one of the last to break down under the effects of exposure and mala-
ria at Fredericksburg. He has taxed his resolution and strength to the
utmost to remain with the Thirteenth, and leaves us with profoundest re-
grets, and only under the pressure of absolute necessity. The members
of the Regiment all feel as badly as if parting with a personal friend —
as in fact they really are. No man of the Thirteenth has ever complained
of him as its Quarter-master ; and where the soldier does not grumble
the officer is popular indeed.

Quarter-master Person C. Cheney nearly recovers his health in civil life,
engages in the manufacture of paper and wood-jiaper pulp, and is gen-
erally understood to have been financially successful in his large and ex-
tended business enterprises ; he also rises to the position of Governor of
New Hampshire, and Senator in the Congress of the United States, be-
sides filling many minor official positions. It should be said, to the honor
of faithful woman, that Quarter-master Cheney owes his life to the de-
voted, almost superhuman efforts and care of his wife, seconded in every
possible way by Mrs. Col. A. F. Stevens, while he lay helpless in Hospi-
tal, and wasted by malarial fever and its attendant ills. She found him
at the point of death, and succeeded in saving him only as by a miracle.

Aug. 8. Sat. Very warm and close. No work done — too hot-
Dijjhtheria increasing in prevalence and becoming malignant in tyjje all
through the camp, and also among the native families hereabout.

A Lieutenant of Company E, as a special temperance treat for his new
straps, gathered a fine water-melon from the ' Government Farm ' last
night, at the innninent risk of a bullet from the guard, and this morning
calls in a few of his friends to share in the feast. The tent is tied close,
and the melon — a large one and a beauty — is produced from the cooler,
a hole in the ground under the tent; there is a flourish of knives, and
the choicest melon of the field falls open — greener than a summer pump-
kin ! 'Twixt smiles, regrets, and remarks, the melon finds permanent
quarters back in the cooler. It happens to be an old darkey's pet melon,
and he is early about camp hotly inquiring, " Who — who got dat ar
watennillium ? " The Lieutenant and all concerned are doubly sorry, but
can give him no information on the subject — that is, not safely. But the
old darkey feels so badly (and the harvester also), that he is supplied with
sundry rations, worth ten times more than the melon, and returns heavily
laden to his ebony Dinah.

Aug. 9. Sun. Hot; but cooler — the thermometer indicates only
100° in the shade. Usual Sunday duties. As the wind comes up from
the eastward we can smell the negro camp a mile away. They are in-
describably filthy ; and nothing but ages of civilization will teach them to
discard their vile habits. There are a host of them encamped between
our camp and Portsmouth, and near by.

Aug. 10. Mon. "Warm. Reg. slashing. Lieut. Saunders has com-

1863 CAMP BOWERS. 193

mand of the colored laborers. AVe have had no drill since April 10th.
A man of Company E, and one of another Company, are found sick to-
gether in one of Co. E's tents. Lieut. Thompson of E is sent to see what
is the matter with them. On opening the tent door the odor from within
is so vile that the Lieutenant cannot enter ; they are told to cover
themselves with their blankets, and he immediately throws the tent off the
poles. The Surgeon is sent for and pronounces their disease small-pox ;
— one already breaking out. Both j^rove bad cases. The Lieutenant
did not catch the disease, however — a narrow escape.

Aug. 11. Tues. Warm. Reg. slashing. A soldier of the 13th, try-
ing to describe the weather of the past week, puts it down as : " Hot,
awfully hot, terribly hot, hot as blazes — and several other ])laces — all-
fired hot ! " A negro religious meeting here at night is a curiosity ; gener-
ally half fetish and half crazy, utterly and irrepressibly niggerish. The
worshipers dance, sing, pray, exhort, yell, scream, shout ' Hallumlooyah,'
' Glory,' ' O — Lord,' and all that sort of thing, and all at once, and all
the time. The boys have dubbed these meetings ' solemncholys.' They
are much tempered with Voudooism pure and simple, as if direct from
Africa. Frequently in the meetings one, or more, of the woishipers loses
all control of himself or herself, and commences shouting : ' I'se got it ! '
' O, I'se got it ! ! ' and then falls to striking out right and left, slashing
about, jumping up and down, and screaming with might and main. They
act as if they had got it ! These fearful S2)asms of hysterics are a very
important find. The favored ones are usually soon caught and held by
three or four other negroes near by, so they may do no special harm to
themselves or to any one else, but they are allowed to ' spress demselfs'
as loudly and as forcibly as they please. This is all ' git'n glory,' and
having a ' pow'ful time — shuah ! ' To touch a person when thus ' under
der infloounce uv de spirit,' is regarded as sharing something with the for-
tunate possessor. If these Voudoo spasms fail to appear in any meeting,
the reason is given, that ' some fool nigger has brought a rabbit foot, to
scar 'way de Lord.' It is the same everywhere, the worst ignorance that
ever beclouded a people is religious ignorance. The ' Swamp nigger '
appears to be of a specially low and degraded class.

Aug. 12. Wed. Hot again. Reg. slashing. The whole force slash-
ing. Down comes the splendid forest. The owner, an old gentleman
and a rabid secessionist, who lives near by, looks sadly on ; but believes
the South will win, and then the ' North will have to pay for all the
damages of the war ! ' This helps him to bear the present waste. Happy
thought. Quarter-master Sergeant Mortier L. Morrison appointed Quar-

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 23 of 81)