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 26 of 81)
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The Brigade commander inquiring the cause of this delay, and being in-
formed, orders the teamsters to bring the material at once. This is also
the smallest of the officers' houses — 10 feet by 16 on the ground, of one
story and of one room. It has two glass windows, a brick chimney and
a large fireplace. All the houses are made of logs, partly hewn, chinked
with mud, and the most have chimneys of brick — all standing outside.
Southern fashion — and wide, open fireplaces. There is any quantity of
good dry wood, and great roaring fires give welcome cheer. When a
gum-tree has died standing and is thoroughly dried, it makes a fire not
surpassed by the best hickory. Half the houses are papered with Har-
pers, and other pictorial papers, and maps and pictures of all sorts, tacked
on all over the inside of walls and roofs.


Oct. 18. Sun. Warm. Companies C, G and H leave camp at 8
a. m. for one week's picketing on the Portsmouth road, a sort of provost-
guard. The rebel mail-carrier is the bugbear — and the standing joke —
on this whole picket line. Not long since he crossed Scott's Creek in a
folding rubber-boat, right under a picket's nose, and was not caught. He
could have punched the stupid jiicket with his pole, he passed so near.
Some of the men seem to believe that he is the very Satan, he is so sly
and so quick ; and they are about as much afraid of a hand-to-hand tussle
with him as they would be with that old fellow himself.

Oct. 19. Mon. Very hot, clear. Reg. improving the defenses.
The work done by the contrabands is of the poorest sort, and is all done
at the snail's pace. They are regularly paid, but their labor does not
amount to one third as much as that of the soldiers, man for man.
They say : " Dat 's de way we work for ole massa ; 'i-golly ! "

Oct. 20. Tues. Very fine day. Reg. improving defenses ; and try-
ing to improve the Subs.

After all is still at night — about 9.30 or 10 p. m. — and the calls of
the various regiments around us have been sounded, and even the big bass-
drum of the 16th Conn, is at rest ; a single bugle, of clear and excellent
tone, and in the hands of a skillful player in the N. Y. Heavy Artillery
regiment stationed near our camp and to the northward of it, sends wide
and full, all through the encampment, its last call of the day. And many
a weary soldier of us, just turned in, drops off to sleep, and to dreams of
home, while that bugle, in a master hand, rings a hundred changes on
that most beautiful, musical and welcome call heard in any army — an-
nouncing that the busy day is now done, inviting to sleep, and giving
assurance that the camp rests in peace and security.

Oct. 21. "Wed. Pleasant. Reg. at work on the defenses. Orders
received to be ready to march to-morrow morning at daybreak, with sixty
rounds of amnuinition ; all the troops in light marching order, and with
three days' cooked rations in haversacks, and seven days' su])ply in
wagons. Soon countermanded.

Oct. 22. Thurs. Pleasant. Reg. improving the defenses. One
Dr. Wiight of Portsmouth, Va., is to be hanged for killing Lieutenant
Sanborn of the Union army ; deliberately shot the Lieutenant while he
was drilling negro troops in front of this Doctor's office.

Oct. 23. Fri. Very pleasant. The Reg. is again at work upon Ft.
Rodman ; the parapets being raised very high to afford a wider range.

Oct. 24. Sat. Rainy, very cold, with a higli wind. Reg. resting
in camp. To-night some of the officers take the shivering camp-guards
in, give them a thorough warming before their big fires — and a glass
from the sly canteen. Hot, strong coffee is better.

Oct. 25. Sun. Rainy, cold. Reg. divides picket duties with the
10th N. H. The old soldiers most disgusted of all with the vicious Subs
are the volunteer Irishmen. A good Sub is well received, but the bad
characters find little mercy at the hands of the Irish Veteran.

1863 CAMP GILMORE. 213

Oct. 26. Mon. Cold. Reg. in camp. Drilling talked of; has
been very limited in these many months of pick, and axe, and shovel.
Lisping patient at Surgeon's call. Surgeon : '' Well, young man, what is
the matter with you ? " Patient : "' I have a thick headache — awful
thick ! " Surgeon : " I know it, I know it, you will die with it ; I can
only relieve you a little — give him a double-scraper, Steward."

Oct. 27. Tues. Very cold. Reg. in camp. " At the funeral of
Lieut. Sanborn, who was shot by Dr. Wright, all the negro troops in the
department were in line. They could not get enough of the marching and
the music, and our Thirteenth Band played the ' Dead March in Saul '
through nineteen times consecutively." Chas. W. Washburkt, Band.

Oct. 28. Wed. Fair, cold, windy. Reg. in camp. " The negroes
at the contraband camp are suffering severely from the cold. Scarcely
any can be found who have a change of clothing of any sort, and a blan-
ket is a rarity among them. The men build large fires out of doors, and
sit or lie about them all night to keep warm. They live on bacon and
corn meal, and bad meal at that, of which they bake bread after a barbar-
ous fashion. They get rye coffee, and eight pounds of sugar per day
for 100 men." Prescott.

Oct. 29. Thurs. Fair. Reg. in camp. Company E and others
on outjjost picket in the swamp. A party of men of the 13th went into
the swamp for wood, and as they were walking along, one of them sud-
denly disappeared dovvn below. He was fished out with poles. Wonder-
ing why a well should be in such a place the men made an investigation.
A large pine-tree had died standing, and all but the bark had rotted.
During the many years required for its destruction, the brush and peat
had accumulated about it to the depth of several feet, so that the bark,
remaining in form, made a quite perfect well eight or ten feet deep, and
nearly three feet across.

Oct. 30. Fri. Pleasant, warm. Reg. in camp. Pay-rolls being
made. The rolls of Company E are made out at the house of a Mr.
Bright, a tar-maker, in the swamp. He has a peculiar fancy for naming
his children with the names of the Southern States. His eldest — a girl,
Louisiana — is about sixteen years old, the youngest a babe ; but his
family has well-nigh confiscated the entire rebel Confederacy ! His house
has no glass windows. Square holes are cut, and cotton cloth stretched
across to admit the light. All can be closed with heavy board, shutters :
" To keep the wild-cats from stealing the children," as he says. On the
fluid of a sort of thick, ' boiled-dinner ' soup, which they had for dinner one
day, clear bacon-fat floated to the de^ith of more than one eighth of an
inch — utterly incompatible with the Northern appetite.

During one dinner here — as we ' boarded ' — a large pig came in and
nosed around familiarly among the children, dogs and chickens on the
floor. Soon piggy smelled a large hoe-cake all baking hot in the ashes of
the fireplace. Before he could be stopped, his hoof had raked the cake
out ; and then plunging his nose deep into the scalding hot mass, he gave


one hoggish bite, one awful shake of his head, one shower of dough, one
most unearthly squeal, one tremendous leap for the door — Uie gay curl of
his tail gone out straight as a candle — and we never saw him more. A
sad case of misplaced confidence. The family was sorry to lose the hoe-
cake, but seemed to regard the affair as nothing particularly unusual in
their dining-room.

Oct. 31. Sat. Very warm, the warmest day this month. Reg.
mustered for two months' pay at 10 a. m. by Col. Chas. L. Upham of the
15th Conn. Orders received for the Reg. to drill six hours a day. Co.
E numbers 76 men, a fair average.

All the citizens, as well as all the soldiers, in this part of Dixie have to
procure passes from the General commanding, in ordei to move from
place to place. How would Northern farmers like to be stopped at every
road-crossing and oftener, by a soldier, with : " Your pass, sir, — if you
please ! " No enlisted man can go beyond the regimental guard-line with-
out a pass imm some officer. No officer can leave camp without permis-
sion ; and to visit the city, three miles distant, a pass is required signed
by the Brigade commander, and stating the purpose of the visit. So
arbitrarily circumscribed is our soldier life here.

Nov. 1. Sun. Very fine day, cool. Inspection, parade and religious
services. It is not probable that one fourth of the Thirteenth have been
accustomed at their homes to any form of tlie Eipiscopal Church service.
This makes its use now quite unpopular among the men. There is no
gainsaying that unfortunate fact. Our Chaplain modifies the service
somewhat, still many of the men go unsatisfied away, and long for an
old-fashioned up-country meeting. Independent religious meetings are
frequently held.

This is the way a small society in the Thirteenth came to early grief :
It was formed of a few men only, and not with that open and frank inde-
pendence that should characterize all good endeavoi-s. In tiying to avoid
'talk,' they of course invited it. They were called Sons of Temperance.
Now the initial letters of those three words ai'e most unfortunate, and soon
the sons wei'e dubbed sots — and never heard the last of it. The ridicu-
lous designation practically broke up tire little society.

Nov. 2. Mon. Fair. Now comes a griping spasm of drill — squad,
company, battalion and brigade; even marching Companies B and 1) over
from Fort Tillinghast to join in the drill, thus adding to their day's labor
at drill, a march of over three miles. " The Regiment (to-day) began to
drill."' LuEY.

Nov. 3. Tues. Fair. Reg. drilling ; Maj. Grantman drill-master.
Details sent far into the swamp on ])ioket.

Nov. 4. Wed. Fair. Reg. drilling. Lieut. Thompson of E, with
30 or 40 men, some fi-om each Company, takes a week of Provost-guai'd
duty near Portsmouth — north of Portsmouth road and along Scott's Creek.

Nov. 5. Thurs. Fair. Reg. drilling. Another simple, impressive,
soldiers' buriid of the dead.


Nov. 6. Fri. Fair, very dusty. Eeg. drilling. An officer in the
13th, given to joking, purchases a yard or two of bright colored calico at
Norfolk, hangs it up in his nice log-house, and labels it : " Hands off."
He is evidently lonesome.

Nov. 7. Sat. Fair. Rifle practice by the Regiment. Most of the
bullets hit the ground — in course of time ; a new newspaper covered target
will be required about once in three months. We have some fine marks-
men, however — " but they 're mostly all off on picket duty to-day."

Nov. 8. Sun. Fair. Usual Sunday duties. At Dress-parade —
at 5 p. m. — a snow-squall comes up from the rear ; and from a handful
to a pint of coarse, snowy hail rolls down the back of every man's neck.
The loose fitting coat-collars make admirable gutter spouts.

Nov. 9. Mon. Cold, clear ; snowy last night. Company drill in
forenoon. Battalion drill in afternoon. Lieut. Saunders of D has com-
mand of the contraband camp — as the camp of the liberated slaves is
called — liis Hdqrs. being located within a few yards of the quarters of
Co. D at Fort Tillinghast, and Sergt. Batchellor is acting as commissary-
sergeant of the contraband camp.

Two deserters are shot to-day near Fort Reno and about a mile from
Fort Tillinghast. Sergeant Batchellor of D thus describes the affair,
which he witnessed : '' The two desei'ters were members of the 8th Conn.
They were shot at 10 a. m. for their fourth desertion. They had pre-
viously been members of the 8th Conn, and at their last re-enlistment
were unwittingly assigned to the 8th Conn, again, under their new as-
sumed names — and caught. The Brigade was formed in a hollow
square. The deserters rode in a wagon behind their coffins. In the rear
of the wagon came their executioners — ten soldiers from the 15th Conn,
(one of their guns being loaded with a blank cartridge). When the
deserters had arrived in the hollow square, which was open on one side,
the coffins were put down and they knelt beside them. The priests per-
formed the Roman Catholic rites. When all was ready, white bandages
were tied over the deserters' eyes and their hands were bound. They
were then faced toward the men who were to shoot them, and knelt with
their backs to their coffins. When shot one of them made no motion, the
other moved a little — then all was still. After the surgeons had pro-
nounced them dead they were placed in their coffins with their shackles
on their feet."

Nov. 10. Tues. Fair, Major Grantman in command of the Regi-
ment ; which is now at work on the rifle-pits near camp. A stupid Sub
threatens to shoot Sergt. Chas. F. Chapman of E, while he is making the
grand rounds of his guard late at night.

This was the cockney, Reed of E. He was so full of blunders that
he had to l)e placed on some unimportant guard post, and with an empty
gun. As Chapman was going the rounds in the night, he came upon
Reed, who called out : " Stop," instead of halt, and demanded the coun-
tersign. Chapman could not give it at so great a distance, and continued


to approach. At every step Reed grew more and more angry, swore,
threatened and yelled himself hoarse, and acted more like a mad monkey
than like a man. Chapman came within a few feet, when Reed clubbed
his musket and broke out with a perfect torrent of profanity ; winding up
with : " AVliat do you want, anyhow ? " Chapman raised his voice to the
loudest pitch, and answered : " I want to know if you are awake."
Poor Reed fairly danced a pirouette with rage. It was too bad to tease
the man ; but the scene was very funny.

Nov. 11. Wed. Fair, very cold — coldest day of the season.
Regular monthly inspection of the Reg. by Capt. Julian, A. A. I. G. of
our Brigade. Asst. Surgeon John Sullivan is now very sick, and is not
expected to survive. Has been quite seriously ill for some time past. In
general, however, the health of the Reg. has not been so good as it now
is, since we were at Newport News last spring. Good food is plenty
and cheap. Officers' mess board costs about ^3.00 per week.

Nov. 12. Thurs. Pleasant. Reg. improving defenses. Gen.
Getty — so the story goes — meets a party of shovelers on their way
from work to camp, and asks : " Well, boys, which do you prefer, the
axe, the shovel or the gun ? " They reply : " Neither — we want to go
home." He answers : " Very good ; you can go now, two at a time from
each company." And that is the order from Division Hdqrs. Maj.
Gen. B. F. Butler succeeds Maj. Gen. Foster, in command of this De-
partment of Virginia and North Carolina.

Nov. 13. Fri. Cold. This afternoon the Reg. is suddenly called
out under arms, and marches to Bowers Hill veiy rapidly — distance
near five miles — arrives about sunset, and bivouacs near the fort as a
support for the cavalry and pickets. The whole line is under arms all
day and night, which is very damp and cold. All quiet where we are,
but a rebel force of cavalry is hovering near, said to be 1,800 strong.

Nov. 14. Sat. Cold, rainy last night. Reg. returns to camp to-
day about noon, cold, wet and tired. Glad to get away from that front.
The Reg. takes a regular fight with some degree of relish, but guerilla
warfare is an abomination. One whole regiment is constantly employed
in fighting guerillas, on our front lines. At South Mills recently a Lieu-
tenant, riding beyond the lines on a scout, had his horse shot under him
and riddled with bullets ; while the Lieutenant received nine bullets in
his clothing and body, but managed to escape without assistance, and will
recover. He came within range of a guerilla band of about fifty men,
and they gave him one volley.

Nov. 15. Sun. Pleasant. Reg. in camp. Captain Stoodley takes
a detail of about one hundred officers and men for a turn of picket at
Bowers Hill. Dress-parade, and particular inspection of arms.

Nov. 16. Mon. Fair. Reg. in camp. The people — natives —
in the vicinity of Bowers Hill, are a very peculiar, mixed race, as if the
Indian, the white, and the negro were fused together. Some are very
handsome, but the most are distant, taciturn, forbidding and repulsive.

1863 CAMP GILMORE. 217

Nov. 17. Tues. Fair. Reg. at work on the defenses. The Subs
are exceedingly troublesome. They get drunk, fight, distui'b the camp,
break heads, steal, lie, fall asleep at their posts, desert the guard, and
serve the evil one generally. The old soldiers are getting angry with
them, all through and through. There have been numerous rumors of
late that the Subs are planning a mutiny. Many of the regiments have
them ; and their plan is for all to suddenly join together, and go over
into the Confederacy in an armed body. There will be music when they
try it I A search found many navy revolvers among them.

Nov. 18. "Wed. Fair. The dust about camp is terrible ; when the
wind blows, clouds of it shut out all views, blinding and choking every-
body and filling the tents and houses. You can write your name in the
dust on every coat, cot and table in camp. The country here is sandy,
the sand is very fine and filled with the almost impalpable dust of de-'
cayed organic matter, light as dry flour.

The swamp natives j^ractice the nastiest custom yet invented — ' dip-
ping.' They pass round a plate filled with snuff, and provided with one
or two little brushes. As the dish of snuff goes round, each one present,
both young and old, takes the brush, covers it with snuff, and with it
slowly swabs the inside of his or her mouth and gums ! Read this after
dinner ; it is worse than using a family tooth brush — in a boarding-

Nov. 19. Thurs. Fair. A portion of the Reg., including Com-
pany E, are on the Portsmouth road on picket ; we have any quantity
of genuine Norfolk oysters, and cook them in every possible style. We
guard sundry oyster beds, and take high pay in kind. The creek where
they are found is called Scott's Creek.

At Fort Rodman near our camp an ingenious Lieutenant emptied a
long Parrott shell of its powder, as he thought, and used the shell for an
andiron in the fireplace of his log-cabin. About ten o'clock at night
the shell exploded, demolishing the cabin, lifting the roof, knocking the
chimney and fireplace all into flinders, hurting the Lieutenant badly and
leaving him sprawling on the middle of his cabin floor all out of doors,
under the stars, and scared half out of his wits. The explosion was
taken in camp to be a signal gun, announcing an attack by the enemy.
It roused the whole force, which sprang to arms — an army roused at
dead of night. Guns were manned in short order ; regiments got i*eady
to fall into line ; bugle blasts started cavalry and field artillery to ' boots
and saddles ; ' the whole camp was all up and coming — and the camp
followers gathered their effects for a characteristic skedaddle to the rear.
But orderlies soon began to fly about, and to explain the cause of the
disturbance. Quiet was then quickly restored, and the men turned in
again. Never use loaded Parrott shells for andirons.

Nov. 20. Fri. Clear ; extremely windy. This plain — of our
camp — a few months ago was a nearly empty field, now there are
several hundreds of lai-ge houses and buildings, besides all the tents of


the men. Quite a city — the snug winter quarters of a lively little army.
The Reg. is now all settled in winter quarters, and the duties of guard
and picket are quite regular. Regimental court martial convenes, hav-
ing several hard cases on its list ; Lieut. Thompson of E acting as Judge

Nov. 21. Sat. Fair ; a few showers. Tlie part of the line on our
front is now held by a company of cavalry, about six miles from our
camp : about one mile this side of them are posted two guns and a small
garrison near Bowers Hill — where the pickets going out from the Thir-
teenth are stationed — the Ca2)tain of the picket having command of the
whole post. A numerous patrol are moving continually between these
posts and our camp, and sundry special picket posts at points in the
swamp. No firing allowed now on the picket lines, though the outer
cavalry vedettes have an occasional brush with guerillas.

Nov. 22. Sun. Fair. Dress-parade, inspection, prayers. The
picket returns from Bowers Hill to camp about 2 p. m., having been re-
lieved by the 16th Conn. Five officers of the Reg. are now absent on
leave. The officers in camp do the work of the absent officers for noth-
ing ; while the officers during absence from duty on leave draw half pay.
This is hardly a fair i:)roceeding.

Nov. 23. Mon. Rainy, cold. Reg- in camp. Francis Wild, a
nimble little Englishman, enlisted in Company E, and deserted soon after
our Regiment came into Virginia. Now he has the inestimable cheek to
write to one of his old comrades in Co. E that he has in all enlisted six
times, six times received his bounties, and has just got safely out of his
sixth desertion ! Where is the Regiment that can excel our own glorious
Thirteenth ?

Nov. 24. Tues. Fair. Capt. Dodge of B is sent away ujion some
War Department business. The secessionists are growling fearfully
about Maj. Gen. B. F. Butler now in command of this Department.
Well they may if they do not behave to suit him.

Nov. 25. "Wed. Pleasant. Reg. drilling. Orders now are that
we must drill in all suitable weather. The average soldier prefers to drill
when he is shoveling, and to shovel when he is drilling, and, for a change,
much prefers — neither.

Just west of our camp, a long stockade stretches straight across the
plain, from near Fort Rodman and the Suffolk road, north to Bruce's
Creek (so named for a resident landholder). The logs are large, many
of them a foot in diameter, they are set deep in the ground, stand exactly
vertical, and rise from eight to ten feet above the ground. A deep,
muddy swamp lies directly in front of the stockade nearly impassable
for infantry. The fortifications on this line are now regarded as com-
pleted, and the troops are congratulated in special orders. Fort Rod-
man is so named in honor of Lt. Col. Isaac P. Rodman, of the 4th R. I.,
who resigned some months since.

Nov. 26. Thurs. Fair and pleasant. Thanksgiving Day in camp

1863 CAMP GILMORE. 219

— observed as a holiday. There are all sorts of races ; horse-races, sack-
I'accs, foot-races, black-races (a black boy will run his legs off for a
dollar), white races and wheelbarrow-races. The latter are very funny.
About fifty men are in line blindfolded and each with a wheelbarrow.
Every nose is set jioint blank for a barrel a hundred yards distant.
At a signal all start at once running toward the barrel ; they collide,
mix up, tumble over, turn all sorts of curves and circles, some even com-
ing back near where they started — but only one hits the barrel. Almost
all of our men have a good dinner to day. The ' plums ' for a four quart
plum-pudding cost our mess $1.50 in Norfolk. Officers' board in general
costs now from $3.00 to $5.00 per week. A Dress-parade at sundown,
with religious services, fitly closes the day ; and in the evening there is
a regular jubilee over tlie news from Gen. Grant's army about Chat-
tanooga — the wliole command cheering.

Nov. 27. Fri. Cold, rainy. Squad drill. For a while this autumn
the Reg. is instructed in bayonet exercise by an Italian soldier. The
25th Mass. and 4th R. I. regiments are encamped near the 13th, and all
are very fraternal and friendly.

Nov. 28. Sat. Rainy — and our camp is a swamp with all its
ditches full of water. To-night one of the darkest nights that man ever
saw. The Reg. is ordered to be ready, on Monday next, to witness the
execution — by shooting — of three men of our Brigade, for desertion.
The whole Brigade is ordered out also. (The writer does not witness
this execution — nor any other.)

Copy of a Thirteenth soldier's application for furlough — sent direct
to the General commanding :

Nov the 1863 28
Camp Gilmore Near Portsmouth Va
13 Reg N H Vol

General Sir I Request a furlow of days to Visit my home in the

State of New Hampshire to arange some unseteled buisness also to make
some important famley arangments of Gi'ate impotance to myself and
famley Respectfuly Yours *****

(He had six children, more or less, the youngest a year old, and
' General Sir ' granted him a 'furlow ' immediately.)

Nov. 29. Sun. Severe rain storm. Reg. keeps close in its quar-
ters. No Sunday inspection, parade or services.

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 26 of 81)