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 31 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 31 of 81)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


placed entirely in the hands of Royal B. Prescott, wliile he served as
Hospital Steward ; the accounts were carefully audited by the Surgeon,
and the Hospital of the Thirteenth was among the best furnished and
best provided for in the Brigade or Division.

April 22. Fri. Warm, fair. Reg. in camp ; no drill. Lieut.
Hall assigned to the command of Company F. Many men foot-sore from
marching through the mud and over rough roads. Virginia clay when
wet is about as sticky as glue in solution ; when dry about as hard as
glue in cakes and chunks.

Col. W. H. P. Steere, of the 4th R. I., leaves camp to-night, and is
succeeded in the command of our Brigade by Brig. Gen. Hiram Burn-
ham, from the Sixth Corps, and formerly Colonel of the 6th Maine.
Our Brigade is now the 2d Brig. 1st Div. 18th Army Corps ; and con-
sists of the 10th and 13th N. H., the 8th Conn, and the 118th N. Y.
The 18th Corps is commanded by Maj. Gen. W. F. Smith — ' Baldy ; '
and the 1st Division by Maj. Gen. W. H. F. Brooks. Gen. Burnham
received his commission April 15, 1864, and is assigned to the command
of our Brigade by special request of Gen. Smith. The 2d N. H. moves
to Williamsburg, where there is a large Union force.

April 23. Sat. Pleasant. Reg. in camp ; no drill. Lieut. Stan-
iels commences acting as Adjutant of the Thirteenth. We have a Bri-
gade Dress-parade — the first one for more than a year. We are en-
camped within the largest fort the Confederates had near Yorktown, and
the left wing of the 13th rests upon the graveyard of the rebel dead.
The boys say that ' neither party now cares to disturb the repose of the
other ; and they prefer to sleeji on the top side of a bed like this ! ' The
ground is liberally strewn with old army -iron — j)ieces of shell, parts of
gun-carriages, and a few huge bursted cannon, with varied and abundant
rebel camp-gear ; a very fine camp and drill ground, however, and reason-
ably clean and dry.

April 24. Sun. Pleasant, showery. Reg. in camp. Inspection
by Col. Smith of the 8th Conn., and a Brigade Dress-parade. Now
comes another reduction in the baggage of the Thirteenth, and the general
equipment is cut down to the lightest possible light marching order —
one suit, and one change of under-clothing. Extras are packed for stor-
age at Norfolk, and must be sent off within five days. The men are
writing many letters home to-day ; lying flat on the ground and using
their kna])sacks for desks. During a march many an order and memo-
randum is written on a soldier's knapsack, while it is sti-apped upon his
back and as he stoops for a moment and rests upon one knee. One soldier
of the 13th writing home to-day hits this expedition exactly, with : " Inspec-
tion — all day. It has been Inspection and Dress-parade ever since we
came to this camp."

April 25. Mon. Fair, warm. Company and Battalion drill. The
way to knock at a soldier's door is to scratch the cloth of his tent. When



1864 CAMP AT YORKTOWN. 253

drawn taut the cloth will respond with a coarse drum-like sound, anything
but agreeable to hear, and sure to elicit a response from tlie party within.

Gen. Burnham writes and distributes a volume of orders. An order
compelling officers to wear better clothes would be most acceptable. Too
many officers are slouching about in blouse and light-blue pants — a pri-
vate's uniform. Several officers of the Thirteenth, in disgust, sent their
measures and orders to Boston tailors in March last for full dress-suits
of dark-blue yacht-cloth. The coats made without lining. No officers
in our Brigade are now so neatly and well dressed, for this summer's
cam^jaign, as they of the Thirteenth.

April 26. Tues. Fair. Company drill a. m.. Brigade drill p. m.
Gen. Burnhani sits on his horse, mounted upon some convenient knoll,
and makes his tremendous voice heard clearly by our entire Brigade of
four regiments. We have heard no such power of voice before in the
army, and the General understands his business thoroughly. The Bri-
gade is handled as easily as a single regiment. The drill is made very
spirited ; is relieved of that too common air of drudgery pertaining to
such business ; every officer and man does his best, and the General fre-
quently compliments his command. Brigade review this afternoon.

It is not the purpose of the writer to go beyond the martial array of
the Thirteenth, excepting so far as may seem to him necessary in order
to furnish a general framework, within and upon which to jilace a rea-
sonably clear tableau of that one Regiment — the subject of our story.

The force now organizing here is called the Army of the James ; and
consists of the 18th Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. W. F. Smith,
encamped at Yorktown ; and the 10th Corps, lately come up from
Charleston, S. C, commanded by Maj. Gen. Q. A. Gilmore, encamped
at Gloucester Point. This army numbers, Infantry, 31,872 ; Artillery,
2,126; Cavalry, colored, 1,800; and a small body of white Cavalry;
also another body of Cavalry — about 2,900 — now operating about Suf-
folk and the Weldon Railroad, under Col. A. V. Kautz. Making a total
of about 38,000 officers and men of all arms, supplied with 130 cannon.

The objective point of the Army of the James, under Maj. Gen. B. F.
Butler, operating from City Point and Bermuda Hundred, is Richmond,
by way of the south bank of the James River, and also Petersburg. The
orders are very clear to move rapidly and capture Richmond.

The objective of the Army of the Potomac, 100,000 strong, now en-
camped along the north bank of the Rapidan River, under Maj. Gen.
George G. Meade, is the Army of Northern Virginia — 62,000 strong —
encamped along the south bank of that river, under Confederate General
Robert E. Lee, whose earth-works extend to Richmond and beyond.

Both these Union armies will co-operate under the supreme direction
of Lieut. Gen. U. S. Grant. He received his commission March 9, 1864,
visited the Army of the Potomac March 10th — Gen. Meade's Hdqrs.
being at Brandy Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, about
70 miles from Washington — and established his Hdqrs. with that army
at Culpeper Court House, and near those of Gen. Meade.



254 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1864

The Army of the Potomac will move down towards Richmond and the
James River, by a perpetual extension of the left flank, and unite with
the Army of the James either north or south of Richmond, as the results
of the cami)aign may determine.

In this perpetual extension of the Army of the Potomac hy the left, as
occasion may require or admit, corps after corps will leave its position
on the right of the army, march along the rear of the army, and take a
new position on the left ; whenever possible forcing in Gen. Lee's lines,
wherever these left-swinging corps may strike them. This series of
movements by the left, is very clearly described by Gen. Lee, as " Gen.
Grant's crab-motion."

It will be seen at a glance that no comparison can be drawn between
the positions of Gen. Lee and Gen. Grant. It is all contrast. Gen. Lee
is entrenched ; Gen. Grant is in the field. Gen. Lee commands a line
of a few score of miles in extent in the State of Virginia. Gen. Grant
commands not only the troops on the line confronting Gen. Lee at all
points, but also the entire armies of the United States, now regarded
as one line ; the Southwestern army the right wing, the Army of the
Potomac the centre, the Army of the James the left wing — the whole
vast host stretching wide across the region, of plains, mountain chains and
a thousand rivers, in the whole broad land from Mexico to Maryland.

April 27. Wed. Fair. Brigade Drill. The 10th Corps is at
Gloucester Point and said to be 18,000 strong. Their camp looks
grandly from the Yorktown bluffs-
Gen. Burnham is not always choice in his language. A member of the
13th mistook an order on drill, and the General called him a " leather-
head." The member had been a shoemaker. A certain jocular Lieuten-
ant in the Thirteenth could not resist the temptation, the next time he
met the member, to inquire of him : " How it was that Gen. Burnham
could know, at sight, that the member, an entire stranger to the General,
was a shoemaker by profession."

April 28. Thurs. Fair ; warm noon, cold night. Brigade driU.
As a second instance, Capt. Grantman is relieved from court martial
duty, at Portsmoutli and Norfolk, and rejoins the Reg. at Yorktown.
Lieut. Wilson and Sergeant Wheeler return to camp from Concord.

Cooks, and all detached men, are to be fully armed and equipjjed and
to take their turn at drill — that is, are called upon to do double duty.
The absurdity of it will be equaled only when all aides serve in their
regiments, and at Hdqrs. too. It is the subject of interminable joke, for
none can joke like our Army of the James — or " Army of the Games,"
as the penny-anti fellows call it.

April 29. Fri. Pleasant. Our Division reviewed this forenoon by
Gen. Smith, ' Baldy,' on the plain just out from Fort Yorktown, a
mile from our cam]). A vast cloud of dust rises and hangs over the
review-ground, and blue uniforms turn to whitey-gray on all the troops.
W^e look like an army of millers. A three hours" job. Reviews are a



18G4 CAMP AT YORKTOWN. 255

nuisance to the private soldier. The attempt at " splendid marching and
wheeling " is exceeding hard work ; and the standing with a musket at
a shoulder for one or two hours, as frequently occurs, seems like slowly
pulling one's arm off. Men have been known to drop their guns, from
sheer exhaustion of the muscles of the arm and hand.

Brigade drill in the afternoon. Gen. Burnham is fond of drilling in
double-quick time ; especially when forming hollow squares, and dropping
into the position of '' Guard against cavalry." It has been so quickly
done on several occasions as to shut the General out of the squares. He
usually smiles at such times and says, "■ Well done I " Rough and harsh
as he sometimes is, he is generally very popular in our Brigade.

April 30. Sat. Fair, fine. At 8 a. m. the 13th is mustered for
pay by Col. A. F. Stevens. Our Brigade has the only Band in our Divi-
sion — the Band of the Thirteenth. At 4 p. m. a Grand Review of the
whole force here, by Gen. Butler. While moving, the troops raise the
dust in perfect clouds, obscuring the lines, and when the review is over

— a three hours' job — the men look like an array of millers — the same
as we did on yesterday. The review-ground is near Fort Yorktown, a
mile from our camp ; and on returning this evening Col. Stevens causes
numerous rapid evolutions to be made by the Reg. and the comjjanies
get mixed up almost inextricably. On ai'riving at the regimental parade-
ground, he dismisses the Regiment by commanding the Captains to take
their Companies to quarters. Which order some obey by as many orders,
as many ' face abouts,' as much noise, loud voice, and racket as possible

— all pretty angiy. The trivial affair provokes a hot discussion. The
puzzle, however, of how-we-got-there, is solved in peace after a day or
two, and ends in good nature all round ; clear memories reproducing
the large number of evolutions with kernels of corn and pebbles.

May 1. Sun. Quite warm day, showery, cold night. Reg. in camp.
No inspection or parade. Masonic Relief Association of the 13th meets
and reorganizes. Capt. Stoodley succeeds Col. Stevens as President.
Lieut. Wilson, returned to the Reg. from recruiting service on April 28th,
and to-day is detailed for duty in the 1st Division Ambulance Corps. At
5 p. m. the Reg. is ordered to have four days' cooked rations, and 100
rounds of ammunition per man. Baggage is again ordered reduced, to
one valise for each two officers. On account of the company records the
Captains fare much the best in these reductions, reasonably claiming the
most of the space ; while the Lieutenants, unless they carry a knapsack,
are situated about the same as the enlisted men. The 1st Brigade of our
Division leaves camp.

May 2. Mon. Fair. Reg. in camp, and has the day for personal
affairs. Deserter from the 10th N. H. drummed out of camp. Seven
New Hampshire Regiments near here — 2d, 3d, 4th, 7th, 10th, 12thi
13th. The sick of the Thirteenth — five in all — sent to General Hos-
pital. Since we have been in this camp the Thirteenth has drilled every
day, unless the weather was very bad indeed. More attention than ever
before being given to skirmish drill.



256 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1864

May 3. Tues. Fair, warm. Skirmish and Brigade drill. The
number of teams is now reduced to one for each regiment — and this
makes over-loaded pack-horses of the men. Tliirteenth ordered to turn
in its camp equipage at 6 a. m. to-morrow. Medical stores placed on
barge ' C. A. Darnfield,' in the river.

A negress at Yorktown happened to see her boy — as black as a boot
— playing with some white children, and called to him : " Here, you
William Henry Harrison, you ; come out o' dar. Git 'way fro' dem
white chillen — or you '11 git bad all froo'." Soon he disappears within
her cabin amid numerous claps of spanking thunder, and solemn voices
from the deep. McH.

May 4. Wed. Pleasant. Reg. breaks camp early in the morning.
At 4 p. m. embarks on the steamer ' S. R. Spaulding ' with the 10th N.
H. While the troops are embarking, each vessel, as soon as loaded,
moves up the stream — as if that were the intended direction — and an-
chors. The whole 10th and 18th Army Corps are hurrying aboard as
rapidly as possible. At 9 p. m. we proceed down the river towards
Fortress Monroe, where we arrive at midnight, and remain until morning.

Wilde's Brigade of colored troops moves up the James in advance of
the main army, and lands at Ft. Powhatan. Gen. Hinks lands with a
body of colored troops at City Point. Kautz moves against the Weldon
Railroad. The Ai'my of the Potomac plunges into the Wilderness. The
spring campaign opens with vigor all along the line.

May 5. Thtirs. Warm, very fine day. Reg. passes Fortress Mon-
roe at 1 a. m. Boat lays to for a short time, moves again at 6 a m.,
and at 7 a. m. enters the James River. The long line of steamers, and
the hundreds of vessels in view — transports, gunboats, tugs, sailing craft,
dispatch boats, monitors, frigates, iron-clads — make a grand disjjlay.
Our line stretches for miles, consisting of five armored ships and a large
number of gunboats, from Rear Admiral S. P. Lee's North Atlantic
Squadron, moving as a convoy in advance to ojien the way, and protect
our transports following in a long pi'ocession. As this large fleet, or line,
of vessels passes along, among the many ships at anchor, or moving hither
and thither, sailors man the rigging and cheer, flags and banners wave,
bands play, salutes ring out — and there is glory enough for two days
crowded into an hour — a grand holiday excursion, a magnificent gala
day. Too much show, theatre, splurge, no touch of war at all. Gen.
Butler's steamer passes the whole fleet towards the head, and he is cheered
by the men on each transport, as his boat rushes past.

Tlie bay and river are very calm, the shores green and fragrant. As
the day wears away, and the river banks approach nearer as the river
narrows, batteries begin to appear, and towards night we frequently hear
the boom of a distant gun. Squads of cavalry appear, and disappear, on
the high ground, and we witness on the right bank what appears to be a
sharp cavalry skirmish. We pass Fort Powhatan at 4 p. m., and City
Point about dark — between 5 and 6 p. m. — proceed up the James



1864 YORKTOWN TO BERMUDA HUNDRED. 257

River, and anchor off Bermuda Hundred. As the darkness increases,
many of the men turn in, being advised to sleep while they may.

The Reg. debarks about 10 p. m., at Bermuda Hundred, four miles
above City Point, and bivouacs near by a little before midnight. This
from the writer's memoranda. There are many things requiruig atten-
tion, and it is long past midnight before the camp is quiet.

Prescott states that we debarked at 12.30 a. m. May 6th. Lieut.
Taggard with Co. F states that we arrived at City Point just at night,
and landed two miles above there at midnight. Lieut. StanieLs writes
that we landed at 2.30 a. m. The differences in hours given are probably
caused by the divisions made in the Regiment at the time of debarking.

A foraging party from the Thirteenth discover a nice pig to-night, and
a rap on his head quiets all squealing. He is killed and divided, and the
men are just preparing to cook a portion, when the order comes to fall in.
The meat is instantly cut up in small pieces, convenient to carry, and goes
to the front rolled up in paper, pieces of shelter tent, or whatever comes
handy in the haste. It is said that the most of it utterly spoiled before
an opportunity was found to cook any. A little soldier-scene at a dark
night's halt in the woods.

BERMUDA HUNDRED.

May 6. Fri. Very hot and sultry. A reconnaissance in force by
our Brigade with other troops. The Thirteenth has this morning scarcely
got fairly settled in bivouac, when at 6 a. m. we are ordered to fall in ;
and we at once proceed in light marching order and rapidly about six
miles up into the country to a point from which Petersburg can be seen,
and apparently about three or four miles distant ; here we halt for a short
rest. Soon we move again, and without seeming to approach any nearer
to the city make a longer halt a little after noon. Petersburg is now in
full view, also the Appomattox river and our gunboats. The men are
tired, and fall asleep anywhere and anyhow. Detachments from the force
commence work on the entrenchments about noon. In the afternoon heavy
firing is heard and regular volleys of musketry, showing that the advance
has found the enemy in force. We form line of battle at 2 p. m., and
moving slowly come under fire about 5 p. m., the bullets quite plenty.
The afternoon wears away amid much noise and smoke, but without any
special incident in our Regiment ; but at 8 p. m. our Brigade is suddenly
ordered to the front, by an aide riding up at a furious pace and apparently
in great excitement. This makes our blood tingle a bit, and we hope at
last that something is to be done ; but the order is soon countermanded,
and we turn aside and bivouac for the night, in thick woods, by divisions
closed in mass. Col. Stevens has been in command of the 13th about
half the time to-day. There has been a great deal of noise at the front
aU the afternoon, and our sleep is not much aided by what is threatened
for the morrow — especially if to-morrow shall prove as vexatious as



258 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1864

to-day ; but we take as much rest as veteran soldiers will and can under
any circumstances. Our bivouac to-night is about three miles from Port
Walthall on the right hand side of the main road from Bermuda Hmidred
to that place. We are said to be six miles up the Appomattox river, and
three miles from the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad. Gen. Charles
A. Heckman's Brigade is reported to have had a severe collision with the
enemy close down upon the shore of the river.

It seems to us as if we have been all day long on the tail end — the
wig-wag end — of a badly managed reconnaissance. While the dense
underbrush thick with dead and dry laurel bushes has been tearing our
clothing like hooks of iron, and the bushes have switched our faces and
hands to bleeding, we have marched and countermarched ; moved to the
left, and moved to the right ; advanced with a jerk, ' fetched up sudden,'
and retreated in haste ; up hill, and down hill ; in woods, in briers, in
vines, in dry reeds, in clear ground ; in mud, in sand, in plowed field, in
garden, in small grain ; sent out skirmishers, and called them in ; have
run, and have crept slowly ; been called into line, rushed at a double-quick
for a minute or two, then halted — as if we had struck a snag ; nobody
knew where we were, nobody knew where we were going — and nobody
seemed to care a pewter sixpence ; heavy firing sprang up in the distance,
and then all was as still as death ; ordered to advance along the whole line,
and then ordered to lie down before we had moved three rods ; and so on
all day long — jerked, shunted, bobbed and walloped about until every-
body became angry all through and through, tired out, and cared not a
fig what turned up next. As one Thirteen puts it : " They worked us
like a big pickerel-bait."



BATTLE OF PORT WALTHALL.

May 7. Sat. An exceeding hot day. Reg. breaks camp at day-
light ; at 8.30 a. m. starts off in light marching order, and moves about
two miles, then deploys in line of battle, and proceeds very slowly through
a densely wooded swamp. Col. Stevens in command of Reg. The 8th
Conn, have the advance of our Brigade as skirmishers ; the 13th on the
right of the line at first and acting as their support. By 10 a. m. the
enemy's pickets are hotly engaged, and when we are about four miles dis-
tant from our last night's camp ; and the firing continues, along the whole
line, from this hour, throughout the day and evening — at times very
severe, the 8th Conn, losing heavily, their wounded coming back among
us in considerable numbers. AVe are very close up to their skirmish line,
and receive the enemy's over-shot bullets and shells in great plenty. The
whole Brigade sweeps across in line of battle, on the right of the main
road. A few men from the 13th commence firing upon the enemy's men,
as they are seen springing up, and running back, from cover to cover,
under the steady advance of the 8th Conn, skirmishers. The action of
the day is an advance fi'om our bivouac along the main road from Ber-
muda Hundred to Port Walthall.

The 13th, as a whole, is not brought to a fire, but men were never more
desirous to shoot, or charge, or something else with life in it. The men
and officers are exasperated by being mere targets, and jerked about
among the brush, up hill and down, through bramble, mire and swamp,
among spent bullets and bursting shells, among the dead and wounded,
all the day long ; when the enemy might, by one sudden dash, be utterly
routed in three minutes, captured to a man, or bs driven flying off the
field. To-day is a repetition of yesterday, only worse if anything. The
Railroad — AValthall Branch — appears to be the objective point. Be-
yond some very sharp skirmishing, the 13th do but little excepting to
move hither and thither, to suffer and to fret. It seems to some of us a
long drawn day of ' dawdling damphoolishness,' to employ an expression
used upon the spot — but we are still quite young.

The 118th N. Y. later in the day reach the railroad, and tear up and
destroy a long line of the track. Some of the 13th also take a hand. A
huge pile of the iron rails, and dry fencing stuff, is gathered on a bridge,
said to be over Swift Creek or a branch of it, and all burned together, the
rails warped, twisted and bent in the heat. The enemy set the woods on
fire, and many of the dead are Ijurned up — the wounded having been re-
moved and cared for. The fire compelled the Reg. to change position,
bringing it out upon more open ground, and under greater exposure to the
rebel sharp-shooters ; but no reply to them from our line is allowed.



260 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1864

The most nervous incident of the thiy is the bursting of a large rebel
shell high above our heads ; every man for a moment expects to catch
a piece, or one of the little balls, as they rattle down among the dry leaves
— no one hit. About one third of this shell, in one piece, comes down,
and strikes the ground with a loud noise, about ten feet to the rear of our
colors. The piece falls very near a Lieutenant in the 13th (Lieut.
Churchill, the writer believes), and he drops to the ground as if struck
dead, but is unhurt. It will not do to laugh at the stories about the
' wind ' of a cannon ball ; it causes a very disagreeable concussion and
enervating shock when passing very near a person, exjjerienced, too, be-
fore any sense of danger is realized.

The fight was first opened about 7 a. m. by a body of the enemy who
ambushed our advance guard of cavalry in a dense swamp. The cavalry
fell back in confusion and haste upon the infantiy skirmishers, and
the work of the day with them at once began. Later on the 8th Conn,
were put in. The 8tli Conn, lost 74 men, killed and wounded, having
met the enemy in line of battle along the railroad — it was reported on
the field that their loss was 105 men ; and in the afternoon, when that
regiment returned fi'om the front, they were heartily cheered by the



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 31 of 81)