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 24 of 81)
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ter-master of the Thirteenth — an excellent choice.

Aug. 13. Thurs. Hot — very, thunder showers. Reg. slashing.
No white man can work all day. The nights, too, are nearly as hot as the
days. There has been a great deal of complaint about this camp in the
Pines — an old rebel camping ground, and very dirty when we came
here. There has been much sickness here, and several deaths from diph-


theria, and when news conies to-day that we are to move to a new camp,
it is received with much rejoicing by both officers and men. One com-
pany in the Thirteenth, whose men were all apparently as well as usual in
the morning, had two men, both in one tent, dead at evening ; both dying
of diphtheria of a malignant form.

Aug. 14. Fri. Hot and dry. The Pines a hot-air box. The Reg.
goes out in a body to clear its new camp-ground, just across the road
northward, perhaps one eighth of a mile. A large patch of potatoes and
an acre or two of growing corn, all come up by the roots. Some of the
corn pulled up is twelve feet tall, the ears on it just fit for roasting. Every
eatable thing is carefully saved by the darkeys for their camp near by.
Lieut. Thompson of E has charge of the men and teams to-day in clear-
ing this new camping ground ; and Lieut. Forbush of the men who are
digging the ditches and grading the streets. The two equal parties com-
prise all the men In the Thirteenth who are able to work.

Aug. 15. Sat. Veiy warm. No slashing. In averaging expenses
to-day, it appears that in the line officers' messes, the cost of living is
about $4 per week ; and surely all live well. The want, that pinches
the most, is of ice, of which very little can be obtained.

Aug. 16. Sun. Very warm. Usual Sunday exercises. Numerous
boxes come to camp for the officers and men of the Regiment. Lieut. R.
R. Thompson of H, a civil engineer by profession, is detailed for service
as Lieutenant in the Engineer Corps. Hospital Steward Prescott makes
his first medical visit to the contraband camps this morning.

Aug. 17. Mon. Pleasant, cooler. Reg. at work on the new camp-
grounds. A furious wind storm blows down hundreds of tents and shan-
ties. All boxes sent here to officers and soldiers are opened and searched
at Norfolk, and all contraband articles are confiscated or destroyed. In-
toxicating liquors are the things chiefly under ban. This causes disappoint-
ment in camp and many emphatic comments. A Lieutenant in the 13th
sent to Boston and purchased a lot of liquors, at an expense of $45. A
part of the lot was three gallons of brandy at $8 per gallon. The Pro-
vost at Norfolk examined the shipment, confiscated the liquor as contra-
band, and this morning the Lieutenant opens an empty box ! The Pro-
vost kindly forwarded the box — which of course was not contraband.

Aug. 18. Tues. Cool, fine day. Reg. at work on new camp-
gi'ounds. Lieut. Klttredge leaves camp for a visit home.

Aug. 19. Wed. Pleasant. Reg. inspected by staff officer Capt.
Button. And now, for a change, we are in the 18th Army Corps. A
soldier is murdered by a comrade at Fort Rodman, by a bayonet stab in
the mouth. Neither are of the 13th.

Hospital Steward R. B. Prescott, on August 16th, was placed in charge
of the sick at the contraband camps ; one of them two miles distant from
the Tblrteenth containing about 200 able-bodied men employed on the
Government works, another nearer containing 300 or 400 able-bodied
men so employed, and both camps containing a host of old men, women

1863 CAMP BOWERS. 195

and children besides. He goes on his rounds to these camps at 9.30
a. m. every day- His ' horse ' is one o£ the three mules — ' the Doc's
mules * — captured at Hanover, on the Blackberry Eaid, and he is at
times utterly intractable and balky. His favorite method of worrying his
rider is to rush suddenly close past a fence or tree ; and when whipped,
to walk backwards rapidly, darting in every direction for a long time,
then halt and suddenly bolt ahead. A most exasperating mule.


Aug. 20. Thurs. Pleasant, very. Reg. moves to new camp, on
which all of its available men have been employed for nearly four days,
removing growing crops and grading. This is by far the best camp we
have ever had, and is laid out strictly in accordance with the Army
Regulations and under the personal supervision of Gen. Getty, who has
himself located every camp along this line. " Reg. moved into the field
— a military necessity." LuEY.

Fort Rodman — the first earth-work west of Getty's Station, and dis-
tant from it and our old Pines camp about one half mile, see May 18,
1863, is located close to the south side of the railroad, where the old
Suffolk road and the railroad run nearly alongside of each other. The
fort is flanked on the left, south, side by a line of rifle-trenches running a
short distance to the swamp. The whole line facing westward. At the
swamp trenches could not be dug, and log breast- works were thrown up
instead. The position of the 13th in case of an attack was assigned, by
Gen. Naglee, at the junction of the rifle-trench and these log breast-
works — the most of the Reg. having the logs and tvro or three companies
only, on the right, having the breast-works of earth. On the right, north,
side the fort is flanked by rifle-trenches crossing the railroad and Suffolk
road and running to a little redoubt for two guns, about 125 yards dis-
tant. From near this redoubt, on the north side, a log stockade ran
northward to Brace's Creek. The gate of the stockade was 300 or 400
yards north of Ft. Rodman, and near where the new road now crosses
the line. A military road ran from north to south along in rear of the
stockade, rifle-trenches and Ft. Rodman. The general course of the line
of defenses is north and south facing westward, and the railroad and
Suffolk road run nearly east and west. Two hundred and fifty yards
east and in rear of Ft. Rodman a new road now runs from the old road
northwest to Suffolk. This new road leaves the old stockade gate a little
to the left of where it crosses the line of defenses. A guide-board at the
junction of these roads gives the distances as three miles to Portsmouth,
eighteen miles to Suffolk. Five hundred yards down the old road east
from Ft. Rodman, a lane with hedges now runs to the north about 400
yards to Mr. J. C. Taylor's house, built since the war upon the old maga-
zine cellar. This lane cuts through the site of Camp Gilmore, so as to
leave the ground of the two left companies of the Thirteenth to the east
of it, and the other eight companies to the west. The camp faced nearly


south, and was about 300 yards north of the road, and west of Mr.
Edward T. Bunting's house. " The camp of the Thirteenth," said Mr.
Bunting, " was about 100 yards west of my house, and their Hospital
stood at the same distance from the Suffolk road as my house, 50 yards
due west from it and almost exactly on a line with the quarters of the
field and staff officers."

Aug. 21. Fri. Very warm. Reg. at work on new camp. The
writer with a party of about half a dozen men recently rowed out to the
sunken rebel ram ' Merrimac' A little flag, on a pole stuck into a hole
in the roof, marks her position. The iron roof is about two feet under
water at low tide. She lies in the murky water, a huge, black, indistinct
mass, of which the form can scarcely be made out — an uncanny morgue.

Aug. 22. Sat. Very hot. Diphtheria increasing all through the
command. The forts near Suffolk dismantled, the railroad tracks torn
up for many miles, thousands of trees felled across the roads and railroad,
the country devastated, and troops of refugees, both black and white, are
pouring into our camp from the region well up towards Richmond.

Aug. 23. Sun. Very hot. Reg. all turned out to fell trees along


A. Road from Portsmouth to Suffolk, with branch K, built since the

war — the ' shell road.'

B. Railroad with Getty's Station platforms D, built since the war on

the Old Quay road C

E. Pines Camp, Thirteenth. The space between the railroad and road

is 250 yards — narrowed in plat.

F. Lane to Mr. Edward T. Bunting's house, about 300 yards from

road, with our regimental Hospital — I — fifty yards due west of
house. Next south of hospital was Lieut. Taggard's commissary
tent, next the theatre, next the sutler's tent near the road.

G. Camp Gilmore, Thirteenth, about 600 yards northeast of Ft.

H. Mr. J. C. Taylor's house, built since the war on the cellar of the

old magazine, about 400 yards from the road.
M. Marsh, an impassable slough though small, the mud very deep.
L. Stockade gate, fronting marsh M — a spur of the Dismal Swamp

— and leaving only a narrow roadway between.
N. Fort Rodman, enclosing about two acres and having platforms for

six guns, and a magazine near the entrance in the rear.
P. Position assigned the Thirteenth, behind the earth-works and log

breast-works, by Gen. Naglee on Sept. Gth, and always held

when we manned the works.
R. Military road along the works, and to Ft. Tillinghast — ' Fort Till.'
S. Position of Col. Steere's Hdqrs. pointed out by a citizen as at 50

yards east of the eastern platform, D, as it now stands.

Getty's Station, 1863-4.

From a sketch made by the writer in May 1885.

1863 CAMP GILMORE. 199

the railroad near our camp — the enemy threatening again. The world
goes wrong all the time in the region of Bowers Hill four or five miles
west ; the guards up there are always in trouhle, always calling for help,
and every few days a force is rushed from our lines here, at a furious
speed, for Bowers Hill, to do nothing at all when they get there. One
picket post of the 13th at Bowers Hill is at David's mill, a tide-mill, on
the creek near Suffolk road. A large body of Union cavalry moves past
our camp towards the front.

Aug. 24. Mon. Rainy. Reg. in camp. The dust on all bare and
tramped over ground has been at least three inches deep for the last two
weeks ; rising in cjouds with every breeze — enough to choke a horse.

There are teasing boys in all camps. The north-country men — from
the upper part of the State — are fond of jokes that will set the south-
country men to some disadvantage. The sparring and banter goes on all
the time. For one instance : Whenever it is possible to use the name,
Nashua is spelled ' Gnash-away,' and in return, Coos appears as ' Coose.*

The men of Company H on Aug. 8th presented to Lieut. R. R.
Thompson of H a sword, sash and belt as a testimonial of their esteem.
The same thing has been done in whole or part by each Company whose
First Sergeant has recently been promoted to Second Lieutenant, except-
ing in the case of Lieut. S. Millett Thompson of E. The money to pur-
chase a similar present for him had been nearly all raised and pledged,
but as soon as he learned of it, he stated his preference to purchase for
himself, and the money went back to the kindly contributors. Besides,
when his brother, John Ed. Thompson, Adjutant 20th Illinois Infantry,
was killed at Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., April 6, 1862, and his sword
was sent home, he vowed he would wear it in this war — and is now
doing so.

After a few months he purchased for himself a sword with steel scab-
bard, at Norfolk, and sent his brother's sword home again.

Aug. 25. Tues. Rainy. Reg. in camp. In spite of all precau-
tions a regular mail passes from Norfolk to the rebel army, and our pro-
vost-guard lines are being drawn more strictly, all around city and camp.
A heavy wind in the afternoon, striking suddenly during a severe shower,
blows down the guard tent of the 13th, and does a great deal of damage
throughout the camp.

Aug. 26. Wed. Fair. Reg. in camp. Capt. Forbush's wife ar-
rives in camp. Officers at work on Pay-rolls for July and August. Awn-
ings of green brush are being put up in front of tents for shade — not a
tree in camp. Charles A. Ames, of G promoted to Quarter-master Ser-
geant ; a most excellent appointment.

Aug. 27. Thurs. Rainy. Reg. in camp all day. Lieut. Young,
Lieut. Murray and many of the men are sick at Balfour Hospital, Ports-
mouth. Weather cooler, the nights very chilly. Salutes being fired to-
day all up and down our lines. The men of B and D at Fort Tillinghast
find many friends in the 8th Conn, encamped within half a mile of that


fort. There are now some nine or ten forts here in line, between the
east and west branches of the river, all well armed and manned.

Aug. 28. Fri. Pleasant. Reg. slashing again. A native remarks
to-day, and it is a common sentiment among the people hereabout : " As
for your Northern copperheads, we, of course, like to have their sympa-
thy — but the sympathy of cowards does not amount to much." A raid
is expected from the enemy, extra pickets are sent out, and there is a
little fever of excitement — good for our blood.

Aug. 29. Sat. Heavy showers. Reg. out slashing ; caught in the
rain, and all are drenched. Two men die of diphtheria. Camp hospitals
being cleared of the very sick, all of whom are sent to Balfour Hospital,
Portsmouth. Gen. Spear's cavalry has been out to find the enemy's
raiders — but they had all withdrawn. A darkey says : '' Reck'n he
done got mad, 'un goned off ! "

Aug. 30. Sun. Cooler. Company inspections, and nothing more.
Fort Tillinghast, which Companies B and D are garrisoning, receives
some new guns — three 18-pounders and three 12-pounders. Every
available man in the Reg. is at work on the entrenchments and digging
rifle-pits on all week days, excepting during heavy storms.

Aug. 31. Mon. Drizzling, cold rain. Reg. mustered for two
months' pay at 7 p. m. by Col. A. F. Stevens. Mrs. Col. Stevens is mak-
ing a collection of Dismal Swamp butterflies and other insects and curios-
ities, and the men of the Regiment, at work deep in the swamp, gladly
send into camp many specimens for her collection. She is exceedingly
popular in the Thirteenth ; and — we say it without disparaging her
husband in any degree — she can have the Colonelcy at any time by
unanimous vote of the Regiment.

Sept. 1. Tues. Cold, stormy. Reg. at work on rifle-pits, and build-
ing a lieavy log breast-work along the military road, running southward
from camp through the swamp, where the Reg. has been slashing. The
soil of the swamp cannot be made use of, hence the logs. The swamp
stratum is one compact inextricable mass of tangled roots, rotting sticks
and logs — peat in process of formation — from two to twenty feet deep.
There is so much combustible stuff here above ground on the part of the
line held by the 13th, that the enemy can quickly drive us out merely by
lighting a fire.

First Sergeant Edwin A. Tilton, of K, promoted to Second Lieutenant
in the Invalid Corps. He is ordered to report for duty to Col. Oscar A.
Mack, U. S. A., at Concord, N. H., where he is appointed Post Adju-
tant. He also serves as Department Quarter-master, Ordnance Officer,
and Recruiting Officer ; commander of the Provost-guard of a detach-
ment of recruits, and of the 168th Company Veteran Reserve Corps.
He was subsequently attached to Company G., 11th V. R. C, and as-
signed to duty at Head-quarters, in Albany, N. Y.

Sept. 2. Wed. Reg. slashing. A large detail at work on rifle-pits.
The Officers of the Reg. have purchased and received a library of about

1863 CAMP GILMORE. 201

100 volumes — chiefly novels of the better sort. Surgeon Richardson
detailed for duty at Brigade Hdqrs.

Sept. 3. Thurs. Very warm. Reg. at work all day on rifle-pits
and breast-woi"ks. Sundays excepted, nine hours' woi-k are done every
day — from 7 a. m. to 12 noon, and from 2 to 6 p. m. The whole
force are engaged on the works, and all as busy as beavers. Officers of
every grade, from Brigadier down, are overseeing the work, and many of
them take a tui'n at the axe or shovel.

Sept. 4. Fri. Fair. Whole Reg. at work on the defenses, and
driving the work as rapidly as jjossible.

He was of the no name series — or for convenience' sake he had too
many names. A big, slouching, sullen, morose, slovenly old ' Stony
Lonesome,' as the boys called liim, and regarded as the meanest man in
the Thirteenth Regiment. He robbed several men in our Brigade. He
tried to kill a tent mate who exposed his crimes. He was caught in the
night, attempting to pull the shoes and stockings off the feet of a dead
man of the 13th, laid out for burial. He was brought out, after convic-
tion of several crimes — one of them was robbing our wounded men at
Fredericksburg — the contents of his knapsack dumped upon the ground,
and a small bundle of necessary articles made and given him, and a blan-
ket ; all the rest were buried, for they were extremely filthy. Rations
were given him. His buttons (U. S. military buttons) were all cut off,
and his clothing tied on him with coarse strings, the ends dangling ; and
he was then drummed through the camp, and out of it, to the tune of ' The
Rogue's March,' disappearing forever, so far as we wei;e concerned, in
the distance, amid the hoots, jeers, and yells of a thousand or two of men.
A dead beat, sham, bummer, and beastly criminal.

Sept. 5. Sat. Very warm. Reg. assigned position in the defenses
in case of an attack. The enemy reported advancing in force on our
lines. Everybody on the qui vive. The Thirteenth is now in excellent
fighting condition, and a sharp fight would be quite accejitable.

Sept. 6. Sun. Very warm. Inspection, or review, or drill, or all
together — or what .'' by Gen. Naglee and staff at 10 a. m. ; and a more
formal affair at 12 noon, in the rifle-pits and log breast-works tlirown up
by the Regiment. A sham preparation for a real fight, with many ver-
bal instructions how to do it — the whole Regiment lectured indiscrimi-
nately like an omnibus class by a school visitor. The position assigned to
the 13th in the defenses, is to the south of the Seaboard and Roanoke
Railroad, a little to the left of Ft. Rodman, at the edge of the swamp,
where the line of earth-work trenches ceases and the log breast-works com-
mence. The most of the Regiment have the logs, on low, wet ground, a
bad piece of line, a few right companies only have the earth-works to pro-
tect them in case of an attack.

Sept. 7. Mon. Very warm, rainy in afternoon ; Reg. slashing in
forenoon. The camp full of rumors about an expected attack. Lieut.
Saunders has over 500 negroes under his charge, at work upon the forti-


fications. A drunken private staggering along on the railroad past the
contraband camj) excuses his gait by saying : " Million niggers make it
so dark — real shober man like me car'nt walk straight (liic), ' thout a
lantern in each hand and a head-light on his breast-shtumach — (hie)
when the sun shines."

Sept. 8. Tues. Very warm, a thunder storm. Reg. slashing all
day, and suffering much from the heat. The 8th Conn, has been increased
by about 200 substitutes and conscripts — a bad lot. Many of them
aire in mischief as soon as they arrive in camp. The common term for all
comers, not regular volunteers is, for short, "Subs." "Detail of 48 men
from the 13th escorts conscripts (from Connecticut) from Portsmouth to
camp." LuEY.

Sept. 9. Wed. Very hot. Reg. at work — so much as we can.
Five deserters come in from the region about Suffolk. They say they
are members of the Louisiana Zouaves ; that they enlisted at the com-
mencement of the war, and that their regiment is now reduced to only
nine men of the original organization.

" A man went out of camp of an errand. He returned at night, and
throwing down a canvas bag upon my tent floor, went his way without
saying a word. Examination revealed a thirty-pound pig. Another man
disappeared at early evening, and returned with a jteck of new potatoes,
combined result : several good dinners. The picket was ordered to al-
low no one ingress or egress. A hog and two nice pigs appeared to take
egress ; the hog passed the line — the })igs did not. Result : dinners as
before." (Item from a Thirteenth officer's letter.)

Sept. 10. Thurs. Cool, cloudy. Reg. slashing all day. Lieut.
Thompson of P^ and twelve men are sent to-day, for a sojourn of a week,
up in the Dismal Swamp at the 9th mile-post from Portsmouth on the
Seaboard and Roanoke Raili'oad. Here a small area of the forest is
felled, and the trees left lying every way. Details from the 13tli guard
this outpost continually, seconded by a small detachment of cavalry ve-
dettes from Dodge's Mounted Rifles — commonly but most unfairly called
" The mounted robbers." These men are frequently, if not generally,
armed with a sabre, a repeating rifle and two navy revolvers.

To-night the ' rebels ' attempt to surprise this post. It is pitchy dark,
and one of them comes creejiing along on all fours, apparently bent on
capturing Warren S. French of E. French is safely ensconced behind a
stump and waits the rebel's near ai)proach, determined to give him the
bayonet. As soon as the rebel comes near enough, French springs for-
ward and gives him a lunge with his bayonet, when the rebel fetches a
most uneartldy yelp, and skittles off like a shot — a little black bear !
Both lie and French are about equally surprised. The incident serves to
l)ring the watchful guard all up standing. French's jiosition was at some
distance, and it was reasonable to suppose that some one was trying to
get near enough to kill or stun him by a blow, and make too little noise
to rouse the rest of the pickets.

1863 CAMP GILMORE. 203

The most hideous sound we hear in the Dismal Swamp, and about the
worst in point of unutterable viciousness any man ever heard, is saiil to
j^roceed from a harmless animal called the North Carolina coon — an in-
describable screech as if of mingled torture, scorn and defiance. Once
heard, however, it occasions little further notice.

Sept. 11. Fri. Cool, pleasant. Reg. slashing all day. Several more
deserters come into our lines claiming to have been members of the regi-
ment of Louisiana Zouaves. The natives of the Dismal Swamp assert
that the animals here — bears, coons, wild dogs, opossums, wild pigs,
deer and jack-rabbits — all turn out to eat at flood tide ! These same log-
cabined natives, tar-makei's, negro-hunters, and poor white trash generally,
do not appear as if they ever eat at all ; a poor, ragged, patched, faded,
sallow, slouchy, lean, lank, dark-eyed, snake-eyed race of vagabonds,
more like gypsies than any other people. They look treachery and cut-
throat. The term ' poor whites ' designates a class who do not own slaves
but appear to have a little land and some local standing in the community ;
while the ' poor white trash ' are a class having neither slaves, land, stand-
ing or anything else scarcely worth having. Many of these on being
asked who their ancestors were, reply : " They war sent over — er'ekn."
That means of course that they descended from men who had been de-
ported by England to the colonies, with no credit to either.

Sept. 12. Sat. Clear, very warm. Regimental court martial meets
— austere, profound, majestic tribunal! Later on this (sometimes) farci-
cal court is succeeded by a Trial Justice. We must not fail to mention
the barrel-coat, which unhandy and sinful men are occasionally sentenced
to wear and march in for two or four hours. One head of a barrel is re-
moved, a hole large enough for the culprit's cranium to protrude through
is cut in the other head ; the remainder of this head rests upon his slioul-
ders, as the barrel is raised and brought down over him. While wearing
the barrel-coat the culprit's head rises above the top head of the barrel
like a small knob on the top of a huge gate-post, and if the man is short,
liis legs look queerly enough paddling along beneath, with very short
steps. With a few of these well-clad men walking about, and as many
more sitting astraddle on a long pole raised ten feet or so above the
ground, and called the ' guardhouse mule,' each labeled with his special
misdemeanor — many regiments advertise the material they are made of.
Their choice refrain is : " O why did I go for a military man ? "

Capt. Julian and Lieut. Carter learned from many evidences that some
one was smuggling whiskey through the Bowers Hill picket line, and also
supplying the men on the line. They suspected a woman living near,
and whose name we will call Jennie Reb. She soon unwisely sold some

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 24 of 81)