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 30 of 81)
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proved in health, appearance and weight, showing clearly the difference
in effect between the Northern climate and good food and shelter, and
these army rations, half housings, army life and exposures, and this soft
climate and flat, enervating, tide water, stagnant water region of pestifer-
ous forests and generally pervading rot ; all together engendering dis-
eases that kill and destroy faster than all the rebel bullets and shells.

From the high tone of bravado and defiance that early characterized
much of the Southern war-poetry it has dropped to bitterness and the
tone of a desperate and almost hojjeless struggle, and to pathos, religion
and epitaph strangely mingled. That much of the Southern war-poetry
is wonderfully brilliant none can deny.


Of the thousands of Northern war-poems, many of them from the most
gifted pens, and marches and songs, not one in a hundred finds a respon-
sive echo in our army, and is sung, repeatedly read or committed to
memory. The poetry of a people perhaps exhibits the spirit of the times
more clearly and deeply than their prose ; but the Northern army needs
no stirring up, no special incitement to great deeds, and the poetry
written with that end in view falls a dead, flat failure. The patriotism of
this army exceeds the patriotism at home, average for average.

March 25. Fri. Pleasant, quite warm, too much snow and mud
for drill. Every brigade in the Confederate army has a special corps of
sharp-shooters, about 200 men, armed with Whitworth and Enfield rifles.
They are the first in an advance, the last in a retreat. Practically a band
of robbers ; taking all that is of value from every Union soldier whom
they kfll or capture, and are systematically encouraged in the privilege —
guerillas in action, if not in name.

March 26. Sat. Rainy last night, and a cold, windy, disagreeable
day to-day. The camp a world of mud, snow and slush.

This is a dull sort of a day in camp, and we may as well tell what
happened to a pair of horses — as we hear the tale. Two mounted offi-
cers in a near department had spirited and valuable horses ; and as
they are too smart to stand second anywhere, they want their horses to
be in the warmest place on a certain steamer, and so take them well up
forward, tie them securely, feed them and leave them. Next in the
rear of these two horses come the Government mules. In the morning
— by the bright light — when these two fine horses are taken ofP the
steamer, it is discovered that the mules have, during the night, gnawed
the hair entirely off the tails of both of them, leaving an ungainly whitish
caudal prod sticking straight out behind, not good as against the flies — or
for anything at all. Everybody knows that when the spurs are struck to
a horse, the first thing he does is to elevate his tail ; so these two army
horses do duty for one day at least, with their tails working jerky -like,
up and down, like a pair of stubby, white pump-handles. Now a horse
with a perfectly hairless tail is not a thing of especial beauty, or a joy
forever, to any man, on high gi"and parade in close conjunction with him-
self a brilliant staff officer — such a bald-headed tail on his horse utterly
spoils the generally elegant, bold, centaural effect. There is no way out
of it now but a wig, or peeling the entire hide off both horses. Two
dead horses' tails are sought, made into rear chignons, or wigs — a false
hair show anyhow — are tied on, and so worn until the new hair grows
out. But at first the whole camp smiled aloud.

March 27. Siin. Cold. Usual Sunday duties. Lieut. Oliver re-
turns to camp from home : bringing with him a 2d Lieutenant's Com-
mission for Commissai'v Sergt. George H. Taggard. Capt. Smith returns
to the Reg. from New Hampshire.

March 28. Mon. Fair. Squad and Company drill. Three Lieu-
tenants and above 100 men, from the 13th, have been detached as a

1864 CAMP GILMORE. 245

Provost-guard in and about the city of Portsmouth. Hardly men enough
left in camp to properly guard it. Details called for in every direction.

March 29. Tues. Cloudy morning and rainy night. Cold. Reg.
in camp. '' Worst rain storm of the season ; everything flooded ; chim-
neys blown down ; roofs and walls of our houses are like sieves," writes
a man of the Thirteenth.

March 30. Wed. Cold, windy and wet. Reg. in camp. Company
drill. The 13th furnishes men for an interior picket line, at the junction
of the Dee]} Creek and Gosport roads, two miles from camp and half a
mile fi'om Gosport. Capt. Dodge has had much to do on this line, and
knows every resident within a wide circuit ; and is an authority upon their
moral, mental and secessional conditions.

March 31.^ Thurs. Fair. Reg. in camp. Squad and Company
drill — bad. Lieut. Charles H. Curtis of C has been serving for a couple
of long terms as Judge Advocate of courts martial ; first, in the last part
of the summer of 1863, at Portsmouth, Va., followed by a leave of ab-
sence to visit home in the fall ; second, upon his return from leave, by
special order of Gen. Butler, in the winter of 1863-4, at Norfolk, Va.
Because of long residence, and extensive acquaintance, in these cities,
and eminent fitness for the position, he is placed in command of a Pro-
vost-guard, at Portsmouth, consisting of two Lieutenants — Dustin and
Sherman of the 13th, excellent men for the place — and one hundred
picked men, all of the 13th. The Reg. furnished this detail on March
20th ; all the Companies being equally represented in it, after the ranks
of the Reg. had been filled by the return of Companies B and D from
Fort Tillinghast on March 22d. For an account of the steamship disas-
ter to this detachment, see May 11, 1864.

April 1. Fri. Chilly, foggy, rainy, misty, windy, muddy, slopjiy and
in general a ' foolish ' sort of day. Reg. in camp. No drill. Col.
Stevens returns to the Reg. this p. m. ; has been absent at Concord, Hil-
ton Head and New Orleans since December, engaged in re-enlisting the
3(1, 4th and other New Hampshire regiments. Mrs. Stevens accompanies
him to camp. Gen. Grant comes to Norfolk by boat, but does not land.

April 2. Sat. Very rainy. Reg. in camp. No drill. Lieut.
Durell returns to the Reg. Has been absent since December ; now re-
turns a married man.

April 3. Sun. Cold, raw, cloudy. Morning inspection, and at

^ It may be well to note some of the rapid changes in this month : February 29th
Congress revived the grade of Lieutenant General ; March 3d this official title was
conferred upon Maj. Gen. U. S. Grant, then at Nashville, Tenn., in command of the
Army of the Tennessee. March 0th he arrived in Washington, was duly invested,
and on March 11th returned to Nashville, where he assumed command of the Armies
of the United States, relieving Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck. March 19th Lieut. Gen-
eral Grant leaves Nashville, after reorganizing the Western and Southern Armies ;
and on arriving East, on March 24th he reorganized the Army of the Potomac, Maj.
Gen. Geo. G. Meade retaining command. Henceforth Lieut. General Grant is chief in
command, next the Presidentj of all the armies of the United States.


evening a Dress-])ara(le. Col. Stevens assumes command of the Regi-
ment. One Captain in the 13th writes : " Two of my ' Subs ' are going
into the navy, two are in jail, one is locked up wearing a ball and chain,
and one is in the small-pox pest-house." This is the sort of timber that
represents sundry men in New Hampshire who have more money than
courage ; and therefore do not volunteer, and when diafted hire this
material for substitutes. Not an unfair representation, perhaps.

April 4. Mon. Cold, cloudy. Reg. in camp. Nothing doing.
Twenty-four men go to Fortress ]\Ionroe for examination — to be trans-
ferred to the navy ; mostly Subs of the uneasiest kind.

April 5. Tues. Heavy thunder showers. Reg. in camp. Nothing
doing. All along here, as usual, regular details go on picket, in the
swamp, near Portsmouth, at Deep Creek, Scott's Creek, etc. We have a
severe April thunder storm. A part of the pickets near the Gosport road
take refuge from the storm in the buildings of one Mr. Ivy. He has one
son at least in the rebel army, and a spirited daughter of pronounced
secesh opinions, but with a pretty face and name — Nettie Ivy. The
Southern people of every station, exhibit great taste in the selection of
names for their children.

April 6. Wed. Bad weather. The pickets are having a rough
time of it. Not one warm, agreeable, sunny day for a fortnight or more ;
everything drenched.

April 7. Thurs. Fair. In the Reg. now, turns of special duty
come every fifth day — officer of the day, officer of the guard, etc. — all
well mingled with jaunts on picket. There is no pleasure in being kejit
awake all of one night in every four or five, and tramping half the night
in the wet and brush and mud.

April 8. Fri. Fair. Fifteen hundred men are being selected from
this Department for transfer to the navy. They are allowed to volunteer.
The call enlists some of our worst Subs, and a few unhandy volunteers,
for whom army life is too tame.

April 9. Sat. Rainy. Reg. in camp. Burwell, photographer,
Norfolk, makes a specialty of taking pictures of soldiers for their sweet-
hearts at home, and thrives on the business. Proving Tennyson's line :
" In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love."

On hundreds of passes the line is written, " requests a pass to visit

the ])hotogj'apher's in Norfolk ; " and that is just now a fashionable cover
for all errands to the city.

April 10. Sun. Pleasant, showers. Forenoon inspection, after-
noon parade. "These insj)ections are an invention of the Adversary, to
cause good men to swear on Sunday." So one soldier writes. Our Bri-
gade is now detached, and doing about all the i)icket, guard, garrison and
provost duty in the entire circuit of this post and camp. Other troops are
drilling and preparing for active service. To-day Mrs. Capt. Dodge,
Adjt. Boutwell, Musician Critchley and Chaplain Jones make up our
' Theatre Church ' choir ; so called because the theatre building is occupied
by a religious meeting on Sundays.



As the spring advances the prospect of severe contests rises clearer
before us, and the Union Army is ready for them. The great will of the
North has resolved that the Union shall be restored in peace, that slavery
shall utterly cease and be gone ; and tliat the battle shall stay on these
alone. The soldiers are in full sympathy and accord with that will, and
of course must do the necessary work, hence a stern determination united
with enthusiasm pervades the Union Army. The fearful experiences of
the Fredericksburg battle and camp are overlooked or out of mind, as
well as minor disagreeables ; and practical and effective patriotism rules
the hour, with strong wills and physiques to back it.

April 11. Mon. Warm. Reg. in camp. Signs of an immediate
move. The mail service here is abominable. Three days ought to bring
our mail from Boston here ; but letters come along anywhere from four to
twelve days late — any time that best suits the careless, lazy mail, or the
mail-censor at Norfolk.

Nothing can exceed, or describe, the pathetic scenes connected w ith the
soldiers' mail. A letter is opened by a man, and gives the news of his
child's, wife's, or near relative's death, sudden and unexpected. He in-
stantly seems to shrink w^ithin himself ; and goes to his tent in silent,
hopeless sorrow, as a man in chains, and mourns for many days. He is
not soon, if ever again, the man he was. Another suddenly learns that
his wife has been unfaithful to him. He crushes the letter in a nervous
grasp, and almost seems to sink into the ground. In a few days he has
turned into a dullard or a brute ; and he is never again the man he was.

April 12. Tues. Pleasant. Reg. in camp. Quarter-master Mor-
rison returns to camp from home. Our Brigade moves out to the drill
ground, west of camp, to drill ; but we are driven in by a shower. Just
about the time when the Thirteenth is quietly settled down for the night,
between 10 and 11 p. m., the ' Long-roll ' resounds throughout the camp.
In less than half an hour — one says in less than twenty minutes — the
13th is formed in line and arrives at the railroad station, a quarter of a
mile distant. A regular rush, but all in perfect order. We go by rail to
near Magnolia Springs, there leave the cars and march to near Suffolk,
and there lie on our arms all the rest of the night.

To those who do not know what the Long-roll is, we will say that on
every drum in camp, great and small, an incessant roll is beaten, as loudly
as the drums will bear, and continuing until the troops are all roused and
in line. While pouring all through a large camp at dead of night, it
would rouse the fabled Seven Sleepers themselves. It is the night call to
arms and battle, and the wildest sound known to an army.

April 13. Wed. Fair, warm. The Thirteenth marches early this
morning to its old camp-ground near Suffolk — had in March and April
1863 — now looking forlorn enough, and remains there during the day
and to-night. Pickets are posted on old familiar ground, but no enemy
appears as then. We miss the stir and noise of the siege. Capt. Gi'ant-
man, on court martial duty at Portsmouth, rode up with our mail last


night, and overtook the Reg. on the road heyond Magnolia Station — a
long, hard ride. The Thirteenth has never been so healthy as now. The
regiriiental Hospital is almost empty, and the Surgeon's-call is but little

April 14. Thurs. Warm, clear. The 13th breaks camp at Suffolk,
at daylight, and in comjiany with the 23d and 27th Mass., and the 8th
Conn., all in light marching order, and about 1,700 cavalry, marches up
through Suffolk, and 11 miles beyond ; then turns to the right tow^ard the
Isansemond and moves down until noon ; and then returns at night to its
old camp of May 1863, near Jericho Creek, two or three miles below Suf-
folk. A march of about 30 miles. The men endure the long march very
weU indeed, though in one spurt we march 15 miles in four hours. IMany
fall out of the ranks. The whole coast, full of inlets, rivers and bays, is
infested by smugglers and guerillas, and especially about Smithfield and
Chuckatuck ; and a combined naval and military exj^edition is now made
to break up their combinations. The outposts report seeing a body of rebel
cavaliy and infantry, estimated to number some five or ten thousand men,
but not near enough to bring about a collision with our immediate force,
and we of the Thu'teenth serve merely as a support. The 118th N. Y.,
Col. Keyes, crosses the Nansemond at Halloway's Point.

Lieut. Taggard christened his new shoulder straps by going on his first
duty, as officer of the camp-guard, on the morning of April 12th, and re-
maining in charge of camp during the absence of the Regiment, until this
morning — 48 hours.

April 15. Fri. Warm, fair. Tliirteenth called at one o'clock a. m.
We take cars and return to Camp Gilmore, arriving about 5 a. m. ; all
pretty well tired out by the long hurried march, and the loss of sleep.
The recent expedition might be called a reconnaissance in force by cavalry,
supported by infantry ; the latter expected to keep up with the horses,
and to halt for a rest only when the men on horseback get tired.

'' April 12th ; called out at 10 p. m.. take cars for ' Horse Hospital,'
where we laid down for the remainder of the night. 13th ; we go up to
the old camp-ground and stop over night. 14th ; we fall in at 5 a. m.,
start upon a reconnaissance at 5.30, cross the creek at 7.30, and proceed
tow-ards Smithfield. Halt at 11 a. m. for dinner. Start upon return at
12.30 p. m. Arrive at Jericho Creek at 6 \). m., and encamp. 15th ; ar-
rive in camp at Getty's Station at 5 a. m." Lieut. Stanikls.

" Thirteenth was called by the Long-roll at 10 p. m. April 12th, a
dark and stormy night. The Regiment was in line in ten minutes after
the alarm was given. Took 60 rounds per man of ball-cartridge. Went
aboard open platform cars at Getty's Station. Got off about midnight.
Arrived at Magnolia Springs (6 miles east of Suffolk) at 2.30 a. m.
Ground very wet. Marched about 7 a. m. — April 13th — to Jericho
Creek (li miles east of Suffolk). Here the 13th loaded their muskets.
We crossed Jericho bridge and went up the hill into Main street, Suffolk,
now a deserted town. Passed the night of April 13th on our camp-ground

1864 CAMP GILMORE. 249

of a year ago. April 14th went out on the Cross Keys road, crossed
Miller's Creek, and marched to within half a mile of Chuckatuck Creek.
Passed the quarters of many thousands of Gen. Longstreet's men, of a
year ago. Arrived back at Suffolk at night, moved down and camped
at Jericho Creek. Men much used up. In a couple of hours or so the
bugle sounded : ' Fall in.' We marched to the railroad, mounted open
platform cars again, and coming back slowly, with frequent stops, arrived
at Getty's Station about daylight. A cold night, following a hot day."


April 16. Sat. Some sunshine and much rain. Thii'teenth in
camp. Inspected by Lieut. George A. Bruce. Paid off to Feb. 29th by
Major Greene. More recruits arrive for the Reg. Asst. Surgeon John
Sullivan evidently thinks that the business of the Surgeon is to cure men.
He has reduced the sick list in the 13th to a shorter measure here than it
ever came before. The sick have been so few, and those few so far con-
valescent, that our regimental Hospital has been twice cleared this winter,
without danger or harm to the patients, and the Hospital used for mili-
tary balls, at which the Band of the 13th has furnished the music.

April 17. Sun. Showery, cloudy, murky, warmish. Insijection.
Religious services in the forenoon. Articles of War read to the Reg. by
Adjt. Boutwell at 2 p. m. Dress-parade at sundown. Orders received
to march to-morrow morning, with three days' cooked rations. The
pioneer-corps of the Reg. has been doubled in number, and provided with
axes, shovels and picks. Shelter tents are being issued to-day. Officers
are required by order to limit their baggage to a single valise for each
officer. Preliminaries to an active spring campaign.

April 18. Mon. Pleasant. Reg. in camp. Orders again arrive
this afternoon for the 13th .to break camp to-morrow morning at daylight,
and to march with three days' cooked rations, and to take all its camp
equipage. Rumor has it that we are going to Yorktown. The women
visiting in camp prepare to leave for their homes to-morrow. The theatre
closed with a stabbing affray, a Spaniard in Company H importing the
pleasantries of his native land.


April 19 to May 11, 1864.

April 19. Tues. Very pleasant day. Many officers and men
worked hard aU. last night. Much labor is required in breaking up a
camp occupied for so long a time as the Thirteenth has been in this one.
Reg. packs and sends away all its surplus baggage, takes down its tents
at 6 a. m., and bi'eaks up housekeeping in all respects. The most of the
log-houses remain intact, and are to be occupied by the negroes, or by
troops coming in upon this line of defenses. Good-bye, Camp Gilmore,
winter homes, and neighbors, gentle and ungentle.

The breaking up of this large camp is a sad scene. We have been on
this line eleven months. We know hundreds of comrades in neighboring
regiments, and nearly all the citizens far and near. We leave articles of
furniture, and household conveniences without numbei-. All must be left
or given away, scarcely anything can be sold. Friendly citizens are
freely remembered in the forced distribution. But confusion reigns : hun-
dreds of contrabands, all ages, are begging and pilfering, and carrying
off all they can hold in their ai'ms, or cram into their capacious bags and
pockets ; little teams, gathered here from the farms in the vicinity and
from Portsmouth suburbs, are aU about camp, driven by white natives,
and all being loaded with plunder gotten by stealing or begging ; many of
the soldiers are drunk ; bonfires are fed with numerous contrivances and
conveniences the men have made for themselves ; wives are parting from
husbands, while the hot tears fall — many of these partings are the last of
earth ; there are sweethearts here, too, not to be passed unmentioned ;
some of the houses, huts and tents are burning — and amid the bustle,
smoke and hot hurrying, the lines are formed, company by company, we
shoulder arms, turn our backs upon Camp Gilmore, give three rousing,
but not altogether spontaneous cheers, file through Mr. Bunting's well
trodden field into Portsmouth road, enter the woods, stumble over the
worn-out corduroy, and at 9 a. m. are away.

AVe arrive in Portsmouth, and embark on the steamer ' Escort,' at
noon. There is a great deal of delay with teams and baggage. At the
wharf, while trying to straighten out sundry irregular matters, Capt. For-
bush is pushed over])oard from the boat, has his lip and arm hurt, and is
obliged to return to camp for treatment. Lieut. Taggard succeeds to
the command of Company F. A man of the 13th, named Anderson, falls


into the dock and is badly hurt. Finally at 3 p. m. we are away again,
and at 5 p. m. land at Newport News. From there we march into the
country about three miles, and bivouac on the edge of the timber, in rear
of our old camp here of Febuary 18G3 in the barracks.

After all we are glad to be again upon the move. Of the 240 recruits
— substitutes and volunteers — received by the 13th last autumn and win-
ter, only about one half — and the best half — now remain with the Regi-
ment. A number of good men also have gone from among them — men
whose departure we have regretted.

April 20. Wed. Cool, clear, frosty, a little rain p. m. Last night
the water near our tents skimmed over with ice, and we had quite a cold
bivouac on the wet ground and in the little shelter tents open at one end.
We are called at 5 a. m., the day is clear and bright, and after a busy
morning we march at 9 a. m. in the direction of Yorktown, for ten or
twelve miles, and at 5 p. m. • encamp within the old rebel works at the
Run above Big Bethel and near Lee's Mills. Roads very muddy.

Some genius for averages has reached the conclusion, that the peoj^le
of the earth, in a savage state and out of contact with a higher civiliza-
tion, would have required six thousand years to reach the level of the re-
fined, educated and best class of the English and American people. This
century scale of sixty degrees of civilization — and the want of it — is
most convenient to use in judging of the events, the rabble, and the abomi-
nations of these last three days in this change of camps. Put the people in
their j^laces, when you estimate their graces. The black scion of slavery »
the denizen of the Dismal Swamp, the F. F. V., the Union volunteer, the
' Sub,' and the sublimely drunk have struck and mingled after a fasliion
of their own, and altogether too little resti'ained.

April 21. Thurs. Pleasant, but quite warm. Reg. called at 4 a.
m., marches at 6 a. m., arrives at Y'^orktown at 10 a. m., and encamps
at noon, on the plain about one mile from the town, and near where the
Hessians were buried. The roads are very muddy and rough and the
men have had to pick their way — for long distances — along Gen. Mc-
Clellan's ' miles of corduroy,' now badly rotted, broken and worn. A
storm of wind and rain comes up this afternoon, slackens our linen tents,
rips them off the poles, and scatters them and their contents all al>out the
camp. Papers were afterwards picked up on the plain, blown more than
a mile from camp.

The men who are in Hospital, either sick or wounded, are of course not
able to eat the coarse army rations. The Government therefore com-
mutes these rations, allowing for such men their full value in money. The
Brigade or Post Commissary pays this money to the Surgeon in charge,
whose duty it is to see that the money is judiciously expended for such
food or delicacies as the Inmates of the Hospital can eat. This is known
as the Hospital Fund ; and in the Thirteenth it sometimes amounted to
$150 per month, and all our men while in the regimental Hospital were
always fed with the best food that could be obtained for them.


The expeiidituies from tliis fund were made, and the whole affair was

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 30 of 81)