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

. (page 27 of 81)
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 27 of 81)
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There is a family named Wood living near our picket post on Deep
Creek, consisting of a father, mother, a couple of boys, and several girls
nearly grown to womanhood, who spend their winter evenings sitting
around their fire, and all smoking together. If one of our pickets gives
them a call, it is in good form for one of the girls to take the pipe from
her own sweet mouth, and pass it to the guest to smoke, while she pro-
ceeds to light another pipe for herself. Dismal Swamp etiquette. Not
one of this family can either read or write.

Nov. 30, Mon. Pleasant, cool. Reg. drilling. The guerillas are


exceedingly troublesome on the outer lines of this Department. One
regiment is almost wholly employed in fighting them. They drive in the
outposts repeatedly, and we are all the time under orders to be ready for
an instant move. Their style of warfare is diabolical nuirder.

Dec. 1. Tues. Sudden cold snap ; nuich ice about camp. Reg.
drilling. ' Comfort Bags ' filled with needles, thread, pins and numerous
other little conveniences, now invade our camp in large numbers. They
are made by the pretty girls in New Hampshire, and usually contain a
letter signed by the maker. Many correspondences are thus begun —
with more or less fun, foolishness or mischief.

Dec. 2. "Wed. Warmer. Company drill forenoon. Battalion drill
afternoon. Capt. Smith writes : " Active service in the army makes
strange bed-fellows." Asst. Surgeon Sullivan goes home on leave,
granted upon a medical certificate that it is necessary for him to leave
the front in order to save his life.

Dec. 3. Thurs. Fair. Reg. drilling ; Battalion drill in afternoon
with Capt. Dodge for drill-master. Officers' school, in tactics, for three
evenings in the week. A canvass reveals the fact that all the officers in
the Thirteenth, excepting four, have visited home on leave.

Dec. 4 Fri. Fair. Brigade drill — Col. Steere commanding.

A soldier, very drunk, is seen plodding along the dusty road near our
camp, reeling from side to side, and cheering with all his might. Sundry
troops, half a mile away, are cheering loudly also. Some one asked him
why he was cheering, when he drew himself up as if his dignity was
insulted by such a question, and replied : " Hanged if I know. Heard
them. Sir, and I, Sir, cheered. Sir — as a 'zample (hie) of discipline.
Sir." Swung his caj), cheered again, and reeled along conscious of hav-
ing done his whole duty. He emphasized ' Sir ' most heavily.

Dec 5. Sat. Pleasant, quite cool. Reg. marches out about a mile
and practices at target-shooting, at the usual place, on right hand of
road, west of camp, just beyond the stockade gateway. There are 250
guns, and the men fire 20 rounds per gun — 5,000 shots — and the irrev-
erent affirm that the vicinity of the target is the safest place to be found
within a circuit of half a mile. The Sub and cockney. Reed of E, wants
to show the Regiment, " 'Ow they fire bin the Hold Hinglish Harmy."
He steps to the front, holds his gun at arm's length, fires — and doubles
up like an old jackknife, a rod back in the brush. The boys have given
him a kicking gun. He takes his place in the rear rank again, and at
the next fire singes his file-leader's hair and whiskers, and nearly breaks
his head. Col. Stevens sends him off to camp ; and we turn him into a
mess-cook, a good one too, the best in camp. He used to be a cook on a
French man-of-war.

Dec. 6. Sun. Fair, very cold. Usual Sunday duties. Company
H has a genius by name Blank, a Sub and white-headed war-eagle about
eighteen years old. What he does not know he cannot learn — and
there is no gainsaying it. The Colonel, between Reed and Blank, could

1863 CAMP GILMORE. 221

but lose his temper and gravity together yesterday, and was forced to
laugh at their mistakes. These with others were put into the awkward
squad and drilled in firing ; and it' all had been drilled for a month at
acting the fool, they could not have succeeded better in that role. They
were honest enough ; they cannot learn the manual of arms. Every
reo-iment has a few of these irreclaimable ' awkwards.'

Dec. 7. Mon. Fair, windy. Capt. Stoodley starts for home on a
twenty days' leave. Reg. drilled five hours a day every day of last week,
and is at it again to-day. Drill now is full martinet. The officers
have to study very hard ; and, besides, have to drill on extra hours in
the Italian bayonet exercise. An Italian, said to be one of Garibaldi's
men, is their tutor. The officers are expected to learn the whole exercise
in two weeks, and then to drill their companies in it.

Dec. 8. Tues. Fair. Company drill forenoon. Battalion drill af-
ternoon, followed by an hour of bayonet drill — • bayonet exercise ' — for
the whole command ; the Thirteenth alone requiring a field of many
acres. The space occupied by each man at this drill is necessarily as
broad as the man can reach with his gun and bayonet in every direc-
tion. A body of men drilling with the bayonet look in the distance like
a line of beings made up about equally of the frog, the sand-hill crane, the
sentinel crab and the grasshopper ; all of them rapidly jumping, thrust-
ing, swinging, striking, jei'king, every way, and all gone stark mad.

Dec. 9. "Wed. Cold, damp, chilly. The sutler has a lot of handsome
apples, red cheeked russets, which taste like a mixture of sweet geranium,
allspice and lard. They sell readily. Every purchaser protests that they
are spoiled. The sutler says : " They are very nice — but I guess that
suthin has kinder got onto um." Pud Long smashes one against the
head of the sutler's boy, and then visits the guard-house for a few hours ;
when some one goes and pays over the two cents — the price of the
apple — and gets him excused. Those pretty apples, several barrels full
of them, nearly raise a mutiny in camp.

Dec. 10. Thurs. Cold. Afternoon drill omitted. Our line of
works are highly praised. They demand no labor now excepting for
occasional repairs. In front of them a strip of timber, in many places
dense and valuable, has been leveled — to rot or burn — nearly a mile
wide and three or four miles long. Whei'e'the army goes, there goes
destruction — the South is being fearfully punished.

Dec. 11. Fri. Clear. Reg. drilling ; Capt. Bradley drill-master.
It is intended that each Captain in turn shall drill the Regiment.

A couple of soldiers took a walk in the swamp, and finding an unex-
ploded shell, thought to have a little fun in exploding the thing. They
built a fire, threw in the shell — a large one — and took position behind
convenient trees for protection. The shell was a long time in getting
hot enough to burst. One of the men, whose tree was not too large,
growing impatient leaned forward, and took a side glance at the shell, on
the very instant when it burst. He had in bending, incautiously exposed


himself to danger in the rear, and a piece of the shell made away with
a considerahle slice of his pantaloons, and a piece of himself in addition.
He was for several weeks fitted only for election to some standing-com-
mittee — the sliell chipped him,

Dec. 12. Sat. First Sergeant James M. Hodgdon of B is pro-
moted to Sergeant Major of the Thirteenth — a most excellent appoint-
ment. He is six feet tall, straight as an arrow, lean as a rail, popular,
thoroughly posted in his duties, sharp, active, quick, prompt, and per-
fectly cool when under fire. Col. Stevens makes a speech to the Reg.
while on Dress-parade. He, his wife and other ladies wlio have been
visiting the Reg. here in camp, are to go North to-morrow.

Dec. 13. Sun. A violent thunder storm to-niglit ; wind, rain, hail,
and lightning all at once, and very much of them all. Tents are blown
down, chimneys upset, log-houses unroofed, and the earth-work defenses
badly washed and gullied. Col. Stevens leaves camp this morning for
the recruiting service at Concord. Lt. Col. Storer starts for home on
leave ; Capt. Dodge succeeding him in command of Ft. Tillinghast.
Adjutant Boutwell and wife, and their little boy, also Assist. Surgeon
Small, of the 10th N. H., and his wife arrive in camp about 6 p. m.

Dec. 14. Mon. Rainy forenoon. Corripany drill in afternoon.
Capt. Julian of E returns to his company ; Adjutant Boutwell returns
to duty and relieves Lieut. Durell. who has acted as Adjutant for a long
term, and who is now very sick. All this relieves Lieut. Thompson of E
from the command of that company, which he has held for about four
months. A Lieutenant in command of a company receives 810 per
month extra pay for that service — and far more kicks than coppers at
that. Lt. Col. Storer is badly hurt, by an accident, in New York city
to-day, as we learn by telegraph.
Dec. 15. Tues. Warm, windy.
Dec. 16. "Wed. Very chilly, clear. Reg. drilling.
Dec. 17. Thurs. Pleasant; showers. Reg. drilling.
Dec. 18. Fri. Fair, cool. Reg. drilling.

Dec. 19. Sat. Cool. These Saturdays, at noon, are the regular
days for target practice — artillery, infantry, cavalry, all together. The
big guns make a great deal of noise. The infantry firing is done chiefly
in volleys. Frequently it is done about like this : " Fire by battalion ;
Battalion, ready, Aim — Fire 1 " Thrrrip-rrip-rip-ip ; follows the volley.
Next Monday morning the last seven men and a ' half ' are drilled at
firing, in the awkward squad ; and forget all they learn before Saturday
comes again. There was one volley well given yesterday by seven regi-
ments ; and 2,500 or 3,000 muskets all fired at once reminds us of the
opening volley which we I'eceived at the hands of the rebels in the night
assault on Marye's Heights, Dec. 13, 1862 — a crash.

Dec. 20. Sun. Fair, very cold. Usual Sunday duties. New Hos-
pital of the 13th finished and occupied to-day-
How to bake army beans : Dig a hole in Virginia clay two feet wide.



six feet long, and three feet deep, and keep It full of burning wood for
several hours. At night — Saturday — put in the camp-kettles full of
beans prepared as for an oven, and cover the hole. Sunday morning
serve hot. Warranted equal to the best ' Boston-baked ' — especially
when the whole matter is managed by Andrew Hanou.

Dec. 21. Mon. Fair, very cold. " A SI, 000 negro astride a $150
horse makes a colored cavalryman." (Lt. Col. Smith.) As things
have changed, however, in Dixie land, the horse will fetch the most
money. Reg. at work on military road in rear of forts and trenches.

Dec. 22. Tues. Cold, windy. While the Band is playing at guard-
mounting this morning, the valves in the instruments keep freezing, and
Ihe music is very bad indeed — a compound of squeaks, yelps and blares.
After a little, a small dog — a homely small dog — appears and coolly
takes a seat on the ground, a little way to the front of the Band, looks
the players full in the face, screws his own face into a most comical, droll
and pitiful expression, and begins to whine and howl. He proceeds with
his accompaniment all the time while the Band is playing. The scene is
a severe strain upon military discijiline, nearly causing both Band and
guard to break ujj in laughter. Inasmuch, however, as no one has been
specially detailed to kick that particular dog. Army Regulations cannot
permit any interference. Later, by special order, this dog is excluded
from parades.

Dec. 23. "Wed. Snowy, windy, freezing day. Report now has it
that we are to visit the south Mississippi country for a campaign this win-
ter. " Lt. Col. Storer was hurt (in New York) — his shoulder broken."

Capt. Julian".

Dec. 24. Thurs. Cold, clear. The men at Fort Rodman dig an
opossum out of his hole. He feigns death — plays 'possum — most
admirably. He is subjected to very severe handling, almost torture, but
cannot be made to exhibit even a sign of life. At last he is laid out on
his back on a board, in the sunsliine, and we hide behind a pile of lum-
ber to watch him, Presently he opens one eye, then the other — and
then in a twinkling there is a streak of opossum a hundred feet long in
the midst of a long line of dust. He disappears as if upon the wings of
the wind.

No soldier in the army ever hangs up his stocking for the favors of
Santa Clans ; the holes in heel and toe so generally comprise the most of
that garment, that the leakage would be in excess. One only piece of
folly could equal it : that of the Admiral who had his fleet of vessels
provided with numerous large casks filled with water, so that if the ves-
sels should run aground, the water could be poured overboard — and lift
them oif.

Dec. 25. Fri. Fair. Christmas. The 4th R. I. boys celebrate the
day with games, races, a banquet and other festivities. The Brigade
Band furnishes some excellent music for the occasion. The natives here
and the negroes make very much of Christmas ; and they collect in large
numbers, and witness to-day's celebration with evident great pleasure.


Dec. 26. Sat. Cold. Sergeant Batchellor of D writes from his
coniinissary tent at the contraband canijj : " Darkeys being- paid off make
a finer show than any circus in the land ; you should see the ivory come
in sight as they receive the greenbacks ! Two thirds of them do not
know a one from a five dollar bill."

Dec. 27. Sun. Pleasant, warm. A First Sergeant's duties on Sun-
day are a burden ; and if he ever finds any time for rest, it must be
when he is dead, too sick to move — or promoted to a commissioned
oflicer. A part of his Sunday duties are the following, which are the
same, and worse, in every infantry regiment in the service :

First. He must manage somehow to wake and get up in the morning
before any one else in his company, and before the Reveille sounds.

Second — daylight. Reveille and Roll-call. First Sergeant must call
the roll of his company, and find the whereabout of all absentees, no
matter where they are ; must notify each man in the company — 50 or
100 of them — as to all that the men are to do on this day ; must make
details for camp guard, and half a dozen various other jobs, and set the
rogues, under a Corporal, to sweeping and cleaning camp, police duty —
where there is no need of it. During this time the whole comjjany stands
shivering and grumbling.

Third — six o'clock a. m. Breakfast. First Sergeant must see to it
that the men have a good breakfast, whether rations are good or not ;
and also see that the men behave well while getting it, for the soldiers
are ' passed around ' to their victuals, every man his own waiter, and all
waiting too long. The men march in single file past the cook's tent, with
their plates and cups, get their ' divvy ' (portion), and then go eat it
where they can. Breakfast done, the men grumble half an hour.

Fourth — 7.25 a. m. Surgeon's call. Tune: ''Come and get yer
quinine, ye lame, sick and lazy." First Sergeant marches the ' sick '
men — often a sorry display of transparent, malingering deceits — up to
the Surgeon's tent, to be examined and dosed, and if it be to them possi-
ble, to be excused from all duty for 24 hours. Those thus excused are
expected to limp slowly back to their tents, close them, and then to stand
on their heads, dance a fancy jig, or turn somersaults for ten minutes.
First vSergeant in accordance with the Surgeon's order writes on his list
of three to a dozen names, what each of these sick men is to do during
the day — and he must see that they do it. The Surgeon excuses some
from all duty, designates others for light duty, orders some to be put on
double duty for shamming, doses several and damns the balance ; after
which the men grumble for about twenty minutes.

Fifth — 7.45 a. m. First Sergeant reports the number of men in his
company, fit for duty, to the Adjutant. The Adjutant calls all the First
Sergeants to his tent several times during every Sunday, by a peculiar
tap, made by the drummer. Certain men are wanted at each time, and
each First Sergeant must run all over camp to find them. He is now
tired, and just as he has parted his coat tails to sit down on a stump and



rest a little — the tenth vain attempt he has already made this morning
to gain a moment's vest — '' rap-tap-tap," sounds the drum for Guard-
mounting. Now he has another race all over camp ; his temper begins to
toss, and he makes a few remarks. Every company has one laggard at
least ; and in each, also, some men must be substituted for others a few
minutes after the last moment — fate and Sunday invariably conspire to
this end, and never fail to accomplish it. This causes serious grumbling.

Sixth — 8 a. m. Guard-mounting. First Sergeant has now a half
hour's job at this nonsensical show, in which something always goes
wrong on Sunday. The regimental Officer of the day can always give
sharp points to a Field Marshal of France, and on any Sunday would
drum him out of camp. After a time this most pompous and truly
' poppy-cock ' ceremony of all in the army is over and done, and the First
Sergeant hurries back to his company to prepare for inspection — which
is preceded by universal grumbling.

Seventh — 9 or 10 a. m. Regimental Inspection. First Sergeant
must get his company at once in line in the company street, or elsewhere,
and then he must carefully look all his men over from top to toe ; then
appears the Inspector ; and the men's arms, tents, clothing on and cloth-
ing otf, are examined, and comments made to most greatly annoy, or to
praise, individual cases. All not praised are insulted of course — and
ninety-nine out of every hundred commence grumbling.

Eighth — 12 noon. Dinner. A Sunday dinner is the best to be had
— banquet is no name for it. First Sergeant marches the men up to
the company-cook's tent for their rations. No matter how good the din-
ner may be, the boys find it ' not half so good as their grandmother used
to cook,' and it is not satisfactory. A part of the cook's regular duties
is to stand up and be ' camp-lingoed ' by seventy -five men ; still he is in
despair on Sunday, and the more he explains, and the more badly he
feels, the worse they belabor him — and grumble. A noted grumbler in
the Thirteenth found a mule's shoe snugly tucked into the piece of boiled
beef given him for a Sunday dinner. The cook said by way of explana-
tion that ' ther Ijeef-critter must have swallud ther mule.' Still the man
grumbled about it! Su])per we omit to mention, for it is ten times
meaner than the breakfast or dinner — the hash of both re-hashed.
After dinner is over First Sergeant goes and writes a lively and cheerful
letter home ; telling his mother how contented he is, how happy, and
what delightful companions the men of his company are, how he is anx-
ious to meet the foe, spoiling for a fight, etc., etc., and stuffs his letter
plumb full of patriotism and piety.

Ninth — sunset. Dress-parade. First Sergeant has just had a nap in
which he takes a sleigh-ride with his sweetheart — in a dream interrupted
in the nicest phase by the malicious drum — and he wakes up, with both
eyes shut, and starts to get his company promptly in line. The parade is
formed. At the Adjutant's order : " First Sergeants to the front and cen-
tre — March ! " and when they get there, " Front — Face. Report ! " he


salutes and reports, with a wonderful elocution and marvelous distinctness,
" Coiuny JayalIi)resncounndfor ! " and returns to his place, proud of his
soldierly a])pearance, j^rowess and lofty rank. At Dress-jmrade religious
services are held — when thought necessary. The Thirteenth, however,
are all considered so very good, and exemplary, that such services are
frequently omitted — and not made very strong at any time. This is as
it should be, of course, but, nevertheless, the moment the men break i-anks,
they all fall again to grumbling.

Tenth — 9 p. m. Tattoo. Roll-call by the First Sergeant ; and a
few gentle words about the morrow. By this time the men are all sleejiy,
yawning and grumbling.

Eleventh — 9.30 or 10 p. m. Taps. Lights must be put out in the
company tents ; but there is no suiting anybody on Sunday. The men
want to read or write a little more — like a boy when it is time to go to
bed — and the First Sergeant, now three quarters dead, must go from
tent to tent, and see that the lights ai'e put out at once. You can hear
his persuasive voice shouting — with disgust and wrath — at twenty suc-
cessive tent doors : " Lights out here — do you hear ? " amid unpleasant
remarks, and much grumbling, made by the men within them.

Thus the Sundays w^ear by, turning one after another like the crank of
an old up-country cider-mill going slowly round' — screak, screak —
grumble, grumble — screak : and the First Sergeant falls late to sleep,
to dream of home and peace ; but to wake before to-morrow's Reveille (if
he can) and again hear — though he does the best he may — the daily
round of grumble, grumble, gTumble. True it is, his lot is not romantic
on a Sunday, but he himself never, never grumbles — he is utterly nau-
seated with it.

There is one other man in the Reg. who never grumbles — the Hos-
pital Steward. He has not had time since he rejjorted for that duty to
squeeze a gi*umble-word in edgewise, besides he is not a grumbling per-
son. He is an overworked man, and how he endures the strain is past
comprehension. His horse has been a balky mule, many of his patients
are negroes who never saw a physician before in their lives, his duties
all done in defiance of weather, while time, place and circumstance have
his interests in no regard. The next in order of men of all work, and of
unending work, are the Sergeant Major and Adjutant. But these, how-
ever harried and hurried, have less of drudgery to peiform. and deal more
with the few officers than with the many men. The ten First Sergeants
in a regiment do more work than any fifty of the other persons in it.

Dec. 28. Mon. Rainy all day. Capt. Stoodley returns to the Reg.

Dec. 29. Tues. Fair. Reg. in camp. The army hard bread —
made of flour, salt and water — though a trifle harder, probably more
nearly resembles the sunburnt bricks of Babylon than any other modern
contrivance. Men at lunch along the roadside, on a halt in their march,
or at a short rest in their work, break off small, irregular, jagged pieces
of this bread, put them into their mouths, and move their jaws over the

1863 CAMP GILMORE. 227

unyielding mass — looking for all the world like cattle eating flint corn
on the cob, or a lot of cows chewing jjieces of brick. Ask any sore-
toothed Veteran if this is not a true sketch. This is what is meant by
" gnawing hard-

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 27 of 81)