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 25 of 81)
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whiskey to two officers of the picket, and this stood in proof of her having
it in possession. One day she passed the line with her wagon to town,
and upon her usual permit, while a negro girl of hers passed the line at
another point, joining her mistress later on. Upon Jennie Reb's return
to her home in her wagon, Capt. Julian arrested her, and while doing so


accused lier of having canteens secreted in her clothing. There was no
woman about to make an examination, so she was led to her house — the
canteens banging about her legs as she walked, and the men of the picket
running near to see the fun. She was at once placed in a room by her-
self alone, a sort of loft, and was ordered to pass out those canteens, while
Capt. Julian and others stood outside waiting. There was now no possi-
ble escape for her, and presently she began to pass out canteens through
the slightly opened door ; and soon Capt. Julian had a string of sixteen
canteens, which she had managed to fasten and carry upon her person,
and all of them brimming fuU of the best brand of whiskey. As a final
result she was fined $75, and imprisoned for six weeks.

Sept. 13. Sun. Rainy afternoon. Col. Steere, 4th R. I., buries
his little daughter, seven years old, here to-day. She died of diphtheria
here in camp. Of the thirty line officers, eleven are jsresent for duty ;
of the eight field and staff, four are present for duty ; the rest of the
officers are sick or detached.

Inspection, at 9 a. m., by Capt. Julian, of each Company in its own
street. Arms pronounced in bad condition, by the Inspector, the whole
Regiment thoroughly angry, and ' camp language ' comes to the front —
a language more emphatic than elegant. We are a happy regimental
family for one rainy Sunday, and the inspection is to be repeated. In
the pressure of work, arms, clothing and equipments have been too much
neglected. The Inspector finds grievous fault to the Colonel, and he goes
for his staff with severity ; they pitch into the Captains ; they scold the
Lieutenants ; they blaze away at the First Sergeants ; they harrow up
the feelings of the Sergeants of squads ; they bury the Corporals in
billingsgate ; they come down unmercifully upon the Privates ; and they
with no human object under them upon whom to pour their wrath, kick
the first cracker-box or barrel they come to, clear across the camp, rip
their shoes, break their toes — and then sit down on a stump and curse
the niggers for bringing on this war !

Sept. 14. Mon. Clear. Company inspection forenoon ; regimental
inspection afternoon. Last Sunday's inspection not satisfactory and had
to be repeated. Capt. Julian, Acting Assistant Inspector General on the
Brigade staff is exceedingly particular ; the ramrods must ring clear in
the clean gun-barrels and all the brasses shine. To-day he goes over to
inspect Companies B and D at Fort Tillinghast.

Sept. 15. Tues. Fair. A fine looking gentleman visits our outpost
at the 9th mile-stone on the S. & R. Railroad in the swamp, plays check-
ers and cards with the reserve nearly all day, enjoys a good dinner, and
makes himself agreeable. He knows little or nothing about the war, or
about either army, pretends to be a native of the swamp, but his speech
denies it ; and finally he takes a walk down along the railroad to Gen.
Getty's Hdqrs., in charge of one of Dodge's mounted riflemen, marching
ahead of the rifleman's horse, and covered by the rifleman's revolver.
His woful ignorance is too suspicious. After examination as a spy, he
was detained for a while, and then allowed to depart.

1863 CAMP GILMORE. 205

This swamp may indeed be called Dismal in the early part of the
night. Thousands of frogs, owls, wild dogs, tame cats run wild, wild
cats, coons, bears, and innumerable animals, birds and creatures of every
voice, small and large, pipe, trill, boom, bark, howl, growl, caterwaul, yell
and scream, until the vile medley grows unendurable ; and then atop of all
the vocal din, the trees, leaning every way and against each other, when
the wind blows will creak, and groan, and grate, and rub, and rustle, till
your nerves go mad.

It is an hour or two past midnight, and exceeding dark and cloudy.
We arrested to-day and sent to lidqrs. one suspicious visitor to our out-
post ; a genuine native of the swamp has also been sent in under guard.
At intervals since sundown the rebels have been sending up numerous
rocket-signals seen above the trees. Lieut. Thompson of E, in charge of
the outpost, does not dare to go to sleep ; his trusty right-hand man is
Sergt. John P. Haines of C, and both keep awake the entire night.
Our cavalry vedettes have reported rebel guerilla parties a short dis-
tance to the front. We are five miles from the main line at Getty's
Station, in the dense forest of the swamp, and realize that we cannot be
too careful and w^ary. The guard has just changed reliefs, the animals
of the swamp are neai-ly all silent, and all about is quite still. A sentry
is a little way up the railroad from the hut which is used as a Hdqrs.,
another is a little way down the railroad, and two others are among the
timber on the side of us towards Suffolk. Suddenly, a few rods to the
north of the railroad, a twig is heard to snai?. Then all is still. Then
the dry leaves on a sapling are heai'd to rustle, and another snap, and
then all is still for a long time. Men are surely lurking about the out-
post. The first snap was heard by all the sentries, and all the relief who
were awake. The sentries drop on one knee in the brush to be out of
sight, and in order to see any ajjproaching person against the sky. Af-
ter a little time Sergt. Haines and another man are sent out to recon-
noitre, and they noiselessly penetrate the timber three or four rods, and
drop on the knee behind a well known log. They have been there but a
few minutes when two shadowy heads pass a few feet to the front of
them and between them and the patch of sky they can see ; for it is too
dark to see any one passing a rod distant, against the black back-ground
of the forest. Haines and his man cock their pieces, and are aiming to
fire — for they think these two are part of an approaching squad of
guerillas and in such case it would be right to fire, — when Lieut.
Thompson, hearing the clicks of their gun-locks, shouts : " Hold ! " The
two intruders surrender, and come in, each with a bayonet and loaded
musket at his back ; and prove to be two Union scouts, cleverly disguised
as rebels and armed to the teeth, who, having no countersign, were trying
to steal, unperceived, through our lines.

That word ' Hold ' saved the two men's lives, and possibly rousing half
the camp ; for two shots heard in the swamp at night might herald an
attack, and would be investigated instanter. It was a nervous little inci-


dent, and we note it only as an actual occurrence illustrating the thou-
sands of similar, and worse, incidents common to the extreme outposts of
an army. Both Sergeant Haines and his companion (name not remem-
bered) were very quick, determined and courageous men, and no one
would have found it safe to come prowling around an outpost they were
guarding, or attempting to steal past their sentry post. These men are
disarmed, and as a measure of surety sent under guard into camp. They
tried at first to pass as men out of camp without leave on a foraging
expedition, but later gave their true errand.

Sept. 16. Wed. Very hot, showery. Reg. slashing all day. Gov.
Andrew of Mass., Gov. Morton of Indiana, Generals Foster, Naglee, and
Getty, and a large staff and cavalry escort, ride through camp just at
night. An informal visit.

While contemi:)lating the Dismal Swamp in one feature, just imagine
yourself walking in a path, and meeting a snake at every few rods, cop-
perheads, moccasins, greens, water-blacks, etc. ; with now and then a
tawny half-wild dog, which lies in the path, growling as you approach,
and will not move for you until you charge upon him with a cudgel,
sword or gun ; or a large wild pig or two — no matter how long or talL
never over six inches thick — which turn aside and hurry away looking
by no means amiable ; jiossibly a jack-rabbit, all legs and ears, crosses
your path like a shot, or a little reddish black bear snuffs at you once or
twice at a safe distance, and then skittles off into the brush. Then
imagine all around you for many miles a forest of large trees with tops
densely interlacing ; mingle with them liberally small trees and under-
brush, fill every space with cane-brake — a stiff grass with stalks as large
as your fingers and ten feet tall — then twist, and tie, and tangle thorny
brambles, and vines of a dozen kinds, over and through all up to thirty
or fifty feet in the air ; put on the luxuriant twigs and branches mosqui-
toes, spiders, caterpillars and huge worms grown to a hundred fantastic
shapes, sizes and colors ; and still you will not compass half the inter-
esting things to be seen here in mid-summer. Take an axe or hatchet,
and slash your best, and there are places where you will be able to cut
a straight foot-path for yourself but a few rods in all day. Thex'e are
hundreds of low, little islets, divided by an intricate maze of water-
course, pool and bog ; in the wet season the swamp is penetrable only
upon floating logs and fallen trees, and in the dry season many of the
depressed areas are a vast carpet of tall, dense luxuriant moss.

Sept. 17. Thurs. Fair. Reg. slashing in the forenoon ; in camp
in the afternoon. Pay-rolls being made and signed. Regimental Hos-
pital moved over to our new camp-ground. Salutes being fired all along
the lines in honor of Gov. Andrew of Mass., who is cheered to the echo
wherever he goes. A magnificent man in most respects. As if to point
the sharpest possible contrast to his grand, high patriotism, the execu-
tion of a deserter occurs during his visit to this Department — not wit-
nessed, however, by him.

1863 CAMP GILMORE. 207

Sept. 18. Pri. Very rainy. Reg. in camp all day, — dull, nothing
doing-. At P^t. Tillinghast Companies B and D drill with artillery from
7 to 8 a. m. ; chop or shovel from 8 to 12 noon ; fire in artillery practice
from 12 to 1 p. m., then have dinner ; again chop or shovel from 2 to
5 p. m. Drill again from 5 to 6 p. m. This is working very hard. To-
day is followed by a cold, rainy, windy night — almost a gale.

Sept. 19. Sat. Very severe rain storm for the past twenty-four
hours. Reg. in camp. Half a dozen of us have to tramp to Portsmouth
and back — six or eight miles — in a furious rain storm, to attend as wit-
nesses upon a court martial convened there. We have to walk on the
railroad, the highroad a mass of mud — an abominable tramp.

Sept. 20. Sun. Very cool. Rain ceases — followed by a high
wind. Tents go down all over camp. One member of the 13tli writes :
" We live well here now ; a part of the time on our expectations of what
we will have next week, and the rest of the time on sweet potatoes and
cold watei-." Another writes: "Breakfast — baked beans, bread and
coffee. Dinner — boiled fresh beef, salt beef, cold beans, bread, coffee.
Supper — tea or coffee, cold meat, bread. To-morrow we shall have the
same — only have it a little differently."

Sept. 21. Mon. Fair, cold. Reg. at Avork on the defenses in the
forenoon ; a part of the Reg. paid off in the afternoon. Lieut. Wilson,
Lieut. Staniels, Sergt. Wheeler and others, arrive in camp with 166 re-
cruits — " Subs " — for the 10th N. H.

Sept. 22. Tues. Very cold. Balance of the Reg. paid off in the
forenoon ; all at work with axes in th3 afternoon.

Sept. 23. Wed. Cool. Reg. slashing all day. Capt. Julian of
E is acting Asst. Inspector General of our Brigade ; Lieut. Durell acting
Adjutant of the Thirteenth ; Lieut. Murray is at Brigade Headquarters ;
and Lieut. Thompson in command of Company E. Lieut. W^ilson and his
guard start for New Hampshire again to-day, to bring forward recruits.

Sept. 24. Thurs. Very cool. Reg. slashing all day. The weather
has been very chilling for a week past. Whiskey rations are being served
daily to some of our men who are the most exposed to the cold. Strong
hot coffee is better.

Sept. 25. Fri. Fair. Reg. slashing all day. The 16th Conn,
(said to be) has a fancy custom of striking the " Taps " — the last drum-
call of the day, signifying that lights must be put out in the men's quar-
ters. After the little drums have rattled out their Taps, in all the regi-
ments hereabout, there rolls down through camp the tremendous " Bum
— bum — bum of that big bass-drum."

Sept. 26. Sat. Cold. Reg. slashing all day — working nine hours
a day. One of the most amusing scenes — at the same time one of the
most pitiable — that we ever witnessed, is the coming in of bodies of negro
refugees, at our stockade gate. They will appear in the edge of the brush
half a mile or so distant, looking back over their shoulders as if expecting
pursuit and recapture even there, and vithin our picket lines. They will


also approach the gate with the utmost caution ; hnt once inside, away
go their bundles, and all fear and caution at the same time, while they
improvise a little jubilee, jumping up and down, and exclaiming : " O
bress de Lord — I'se free, Ise free ! " Some parties of them just
emerged from the brush, in full sight of the gate and perfectly safe, will
be seized with a sudden panic, drop their bundles, leave their little chil-
dren behind, and make a simultaneous rush for the gate, giving every ex-
pression of the utmost fear, and running as if Satan himself was at their
heels. It is often difficult to induce them to return for their bundles or
children without being accompanied by a soldier with his gun.

Sept. 27. Sun. Pleasant. Usual Sunday duties. A Dismal
Swamp native, having been asked to give information concerning another
native suspected of rebel mail carrying, replies : " He be'nt thar ; right
smart chance shet o' that "ar place, er'ekn."

Sept. 28. Mon. Pleasant. Reg. slashing all day. Dr. Ezekiel
Morrill reports for duty as Asst. Surgeon of the Thirteenth. Dr. Morrill's
popularity was always great, and his excellent services in the Reg. were
always a matter of much credit to himself, and of especial advantage to
the personnel of the Thirteenth.

Sept. 29. Tues. Pleasant. Reg. slashing all day.

The rule to joke when you please, provided that you please when you
joke, is a very good one. The following toast, drank at a convivial gather-
ing of officers not long since, was not gauged by that rule : '■ Here 's to

your courage, and very good health, . Here 's hoping that you

will go in next time like a man. If you survive, all right. If you are
wounded, we will see that your limbs are pi'omptly and neatly cut off ; and
if you are killed, w^e will bury you well and deep." The toast was re-
ceived by the whole party with the silence that was golden, but with
minds that were busy ; the laugh came in later — when there w-ere not
so many round.

Sept. 30. Wed. Pleasant. Reg. slashing all day. Mrs. A. F.
Stevens, Mrs. C. O. Bradley, Mrs. E. E. Dodge and Mrs G. A. Forbush,
wives of officers of the 13th noAv visiting in camp, have all been ill from
malarial causes. No Northern person escapes malaria here. It is sure to
visit one sooner or later in some form ; and it has as many open or sly
ways of attack as Col. Mosby's guerillas, and all as relentless. Officers'
log-houses are now being built. They are all of one story, are about
twelve feet by eighteen feet on the ground, and have small glass windows
and roomy brick fireplaces. Some of them look oddly enough, with their
long, narrow, horizontal windows, made of Mr. Bunting's hot-bed sash
loaned or sold for the jjurpose.

Oct. 1. Thurs. Pleasant. Reg. at work on rifle-pits, and the main
line of entrenchments, and much hurried. Capt. Smith departs from
camp on fifteen days' leave.

Oct. 2. Fri. Rainy forenoon. Reg. at work on the defenses in
the afternoon. Picks and shovels in great demand. The supply of these

1863 CAMP GILMORE. 209

tools is short, and a special search is made for hidden or misplaced ones,
all through the tents of the men. None are found secreted by the Thir-
teenth. Members of a neighboring regiment, growing tired, are said to
have buried several hundred shovels, axes and picks.

Oct. 3. Sat. Pleasant. Reg. slashes all day ; and then is called
out late in the afternoon for a long, close special inspection followed by a

Oct. 4. Sun. Pleasant. A jmrt of the Reg., about one hundred
men, sent on picket to Bowers Hill. One hundred and eighty-one recruits
arrive for the Thirteenth this afternoon. Only one drafted man in the
whole party. They ap])ear to be the ' tag, rag, bob-tail and siftings ' of all
creation ; now and then a good man, generally bad. They come for
money — and some of them, we trust, will get their money's worth. No
auction sale of a bankrupt stock ever palmed off such a lot of goods as
some of these ; many of them seem scarcely worth their ticket of leave
in powder and ball. The Companies receive them to equalize numbers
present ; Company E gets twenty, Comjjany B eight, and so on through
the Regiment. The 10th N. H. receives 169 recruits of the lot that ar-
rives to-day. They were all escorted together, from the wharf at Ports-
mouth to camp, by an armed guard with loaded rifles ; and as a precaution
the camp guard is largely increased, in both the Tenth and Thirteenth.

" Conscripts to the number of one hundred and eighty-one arrived to-
day, and are distributed so as to bring every company up to eighty-five
men, so that we now number eight hundred and fifty enlisted men present
and absent. The new-comers are to be treated in all respects exactly the
same as the volunteers in the Regiment. Only eleven of those coming
to-day are natives of New Hampshire ; the others are from almost every
nation on the globe." Capt. Julian.

Oct. 5. Mon. Veiy pleasant. Log-houses going up all over the
plain — hundreds of them — winter quarters. Last night the Subs were
exceedingly boisterous, and half the Reg. were needed to keep them in
camp, and to preserve the peace. The line officers remonstrate with Col.
Stevens against the using of old soldiers to guard the Subs, in addition to
all their regular duties ; and those Subs who will not behave take up
quarters in the guard-house. The 13th N. Y. Heavy Artillery arrived
here yesterday, and are encamped about one fourth of a mile north of our
camp. They have among their men fourteen Seneca Indians. One of
their men (white) is a giant above seven feet tall. He is employed in
mounting cannon and other heavy work. Nine tenths of his regiment
can walk erect under his outstretched arms.

Oct. 6. Tues. Pleasant. Reg. in camp. The roofs of our log-
houses are made of ' nigger shingles ; ' a sort of rough boards about five
feet long, half an inch thick, and six or eight inches wide, split off from
yellow-pine logs — peeled off with the grain like bark round and round
the log — and then piled up to be pressed into shape and to dry. A
capital roofing material. Some very pretty, quaint, chateau-like houses


are made wholly of them in other camps. Musicians from the Reg.
mustered into the 3d Brigade Band.

Oct. 7. Wed. Pleasant. Reg. at work on the defenses. Mid-days
now are very hot, nights veiy cold ; result many cases of chills and fever.
Furloughs are being granted quite freely.

Oct. 8. Thurs. Pleasant. Reg. at work on the defenses. The
Lieutenants in command of companies receive $10 per month extra pay
— small pay for a great bother. " Had the honor of walking up arid down
the front street of our camp (as a guard) with a conscript — with a pole
on his back." Luey.

Oct. 9. Fri. Very warm. Reg. at work on rifle-pits west of our
camp. Nowadays Reveille sounds half an hour before sunrise ; Tattoo
at 8 p. m. ; Taps at 9 p. m., and the camp is quiet about 9.30 p. m.

Oct. 10. Sat. Pleasant. Reg. at work on the defenses. Batteiy
L, 4th Regulars, goes from our lines near Ft. Tillinghast to Yorktown.
Quarter-master Morrison departs for home on leave.

Oct. 11. Sun. Pleasant, cool. Usual Sunday duties. A. very par-
ticular inspection.

Some regimental officers of the day, with their diagonally worn sash —
from right shoulder to waist — and their polygonally worn tem])er, are
the tallest men in the army for their little day. They love to hear :
" Turn out the guai'd — Officer of the Day ! ! " and to receive their salute
of ' present arms.' It is difficult to divide the honors between them and
the little corporal with his guard. Every regiment has one, two, or more
samples. The boys of the relief waiting about the guard headquarters
greatly enjoy making good-natured sport of these pompous gentlemen, and
when they see one of them coming, they frequently reverse the above order,
and give notice of his approach to their officer, by shouting — " 0. T. D. ! !
Turn out the day — Officer of the guard."

Oct. 12. Mon. Warm. Reg. at work on log-houses and tents.
Reporters for Northern papers are tramping through the camp all the
time. They are supplied with a varied assortment of news by mischiev-
ous wags, and over and over again the packages are put up wrong, for the
fun of it. Their papers publish the stuff ; we read it in a few days, and
wonder at credulity. There is, however, a large class of soldiers who
manage to visit distant regiments and points in the night, gather reliable
information, and exchange it with their fellows. These " camp walkei's "
will spread any bit of news throughout the command with amazing rapid-
ity. The average soldier is well posted in affairs, as affairs really are ;
and no barometer ever noted the advance of a coming storm more quickly
and accurately than the common soldiers somehow, and almost intuitively,
gain the news of coming march or battle. Aggi'egate mentality is a
world of wonders.

Oct. 13. Tues. Pleasant. Reg. improving the defenses. Henry
C. Howard of Co. E is detailed as dentist for the Thirteenth — and proves
a success in that duty. Inspection by Capt. Julian.

1863 CAMP GILMORE. 211

Oct. 14. "Wed. Very warm. Reg. in camp. A detail sent as
provost-guard to near Portsmouth and on the bank of the creek above the
town. The writer, in charge of the provost-guard at Scott's Creek, near
Portsmouth, while on his rounds about one o'clock a. m., sees a light burn-
ing in a large house not far fi-om the picket line and to the north of
Hall's Corner, a house which he knows has no regular tenants. Hoping
to find the parties within engaged upon the rebel mail, and approaching
cautiously, he succeeds in climbing a high fence that is around the yard,
and in getting within a rod or two of the house ; when the light is sud-
denly put out, and two large brown and white dogs make a rush at him,
from a shed near by, howling and barking as watch-dogs will. The lar-
gest dog was cured by one broadside slash with the sword, and the smaller
one with a vigorous lunge, and both went back rehearsing a new tune ;
while the writer remounted the fence, and ' withdrew for a better position.'
He does not like too many dogs. The pickets, hearing the noise, came as
soon as possible, but ten or fifteen minutes had passed, and neither dogs
nor any other occupants could be found about the premises. It is sup-
posed that all had retreated to one of the underground hiding places,
with which this whole rebel region is well provided. And this shows
another phase of fighting down the rebellion.

Oct. 15. Thurs. Very warm. Reg. chopping. A detail also cut-
ting logs for our new guard-house ; the logs for this building are all to have
the bark taken off.

Oct. 16i Pri. Hot. Reg. chopping. Along here work is system-
atically divided — house-building, chopping, shoveling, etc., according to
the capabilities of the men.

Oct. 17. Sat. Pleasant. Officers beginning to be at home in their
log-houses. At first it was intended that all the houses should be made of
one uniform pattern, but soon that plan was departed from, and the camp
presents a pleasing variety of architecture. Colonel Stevens' house is
veiy spacious and well furnished. The line officers' houses are each large
enough for a family to reside in, excepting Lieut. Thompson's of Co. E.
Owing to his long absence on picket, and the importunate calls of ranking
officers upon the labor of the teams, his house is the last one built in camp.

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 25 of 81)