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 33 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 33 of 81)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


pickets had kept out of his house, it probably would not have suffered anv
damage. Our men found an unfinished letter in the house, written by
Miss Shipi)en, in which she speaks of the Union men as " The Yankee
Vandals." A batch of papers is found in the ditch by the men of the
Thirteenth, from which we learn that Mr. Shippen's place is called
" Arrow Field," and the bank of Swift Creek, where his house stands, is
" Violet Bank." Blue violets are very plenty about there just now, rather
of a lead color, however, and hurt — the soldiers do not care to pick any
of them. The papers were evidently taken from the house by the
enemy's pickets, who had fired from the house, and also damaged it be-
fore the Union troops got possession of it ; probably to make a point
against the ' Yankee Vandals.'

We remain in position in the ojien field, without shelter or cover save
this little ridge, until 10 a. m., when we move toward the rear. About
noon we move farther back, and near mid-afternoon move off the field
into dense woods. As we move off the field, northward, in line of battle
faced to the rear, the enemy shells us ; many of his shells bursting over,
behind, and beyond us, none of us are hurt, however, by these shells.
Nearer the railroad several casualties occur from the enemy's musketry
fire, our troops there being more exposed than we are ; though a man of
Co. H (13th) is struck by a rebel bullet, while we are retiring. The
ground near the railroad is clear and level, the ground crossed by the
]3th, two hundred yards farther east, is more broken and brushy. We
retire so slowly, frequently halting and facing about, that it is fully 4 p. m.
before we are out of range of the enemy's sharp-shooters, and our camp
is but a little beyond the range of his shells. We reach our camp-gTound
at n p. m. While withdrawing to-day, our Brigade — Gen. Burnham's
— 2d Brig. 1st Div. I8th Corps — covers the movement as rear-guard,
and the last line of skirmishers suffer severely from the enemy's fire.
Tbe enemy shells the woods through which we pass, but om- position in
them is to him so very uncertain, that he can do us but little damage.
Before retiring, our troops destroy several miles of the R. & P. Railroad.
Besides lying under a dangerous fire, and destroying the railroad, the
13th has had to-day but little to do.

While passing through the brush yesterday and to-day we find the



18G4 BATTLE OF SWIFT CREEK. 269

"bodies of several Union soldiers stripped, mutilated and lying stark and
white on the ground. This mischief was done on May 7th and 8th, and
it is said by the Tennesseeans. In one instance a Union soldier's body
lay on its back, strii)ped, and with a bayonet driven down through the
mouth and neck, and down into the hard clay beneath. The hands and
feet were badly torn and bloody, and the surface of the ground was
deeply scratched and broken up within their reach ; it being evident that
the man had been so pinned down, or impaled, while alive, and had died
while struggling to free himself. There were bullet wounds in the legs,
and a Union soldier's set of equipments, cut off, and rifled of ca})s and
cartridges, lay near by the body. The scene was unsjjeakably horrible.
The writer and others went some distance from the line of the Thir-
teenth and saw this case — else he would not record it. The body lay
near the railroad a few rods east from the position of the 18th mile-stone.
Rumor has it that when the burial party reported these cases of nuitilation,
the Union organization to which the sufferers belonged swore terrible
oaths that they would take no prisoners from the rebel organization to
which the perpetrators belonged. See May 16th.

Yesterday and to-day our Brigade has marched about fifteen miles,
chiefly in timber and brush, and sometimes in swamps so densely wooded,
we could not see clearly fifty yards in any direction. We fought all day
yesterday, were under arms all of last night, under fire at least thirty-six
hours continuously, and this in weather so hot, much of the time, that
sunstrokes have been frequent, therefore to-night rest is welcome. The
13th were not brought to a fire in line of battle, but were engaged in much
severe skirmishing on the front lines. Charles Heath of H and James
L. Glenville of D are wounded to-day. Many of our men have been
struck by spent bullets in these last few days of fighting, but though
bruised were not sufficiently hurt to be reported as wounded. The
enemy's line has been long and stubborn, but evidently thin.

Capt. Clax'k, Adjt. General on Gen. Burnham's staff, conducts the
withdrawal of our Brigade from the front to-day ; moving back one regi-
ment at a time, a short distance, assigning its position in line of battle
faced toward the enemy, and then halting it until the other regiments in
the Brigade move past and take position in regular order. The general
opinion among our troops is that we might have gone straight into Peters-
burg, in fair marching time, sweeping everything before us, at any time
in these last four days, Swift Creek being fordable in many places.
There is one gravelly ford a short distance east of Mr. Shippen's house
that has been much used by the Confederates. Gen. Kautz arrives at
City Point having damaged the Weldon Railroad to some extent, burn-
ing several bridges, and seriously delaying the arrival of Gen. Beaure-
gard's troops. Our forces to-day, on this line, have completed the de-
struction of the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad from Swift Creek, on
the south, to Chester Station, on the north — a distance of nearly six
miles. The railroad bridge over the creek is high and long.



270 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1864

Lossing states that in the movements of May 9th, Gen. Gilmore com-
mands the right of tlie advance, Gen. Smith the left ; and that Gen.
Weitzel, moving directly uijon Petersburg, encounters a heavy Confeder-
ate force at Swift Creek, three miles from Petersburg.

The foregoing account was written in the main before the writer's visit
to the battle-field in May 1885. The best view of the position of the
13th on the battle-field of Swift Creek, as well as of the field generally,
is to be had from the north side of a little ridge, or swell, of land, rising
a few feet only (6 to 10) above the general level in Mr. Thomas L. Ship-
pen's field, now, 1885, owned by Mr. D. E. Wood of Philadelphia, about
500 or 600 yards north of his house, and running nearly east and west,
across the field, from the R. & P. Railroad on the right, to the timber, in
the swamps of Swift Creek, on the left. This ridge was the fine of the
13th on the afternoon and night of May 9th and on the morning of May
10th ; and they advanced to it, from the timber near the 18th mile-stone,
down the left — east — side of the railroad, across the wide, level field.
They advanced due south to the ridge, their right resting on the railroad
for the first part of the way. As you stand here — about mid-way of this
ridge — and face south, towards Petersburg, you will have, about 100
yards behind you, a ditch — then deep, now nearly filled up with earth —

DESCKIPTION OF PLAT.

A. Richmond and Petersburg Turnpike, with old mill on the Creek,
and a Confederate Battery C, on a hill, about one mile from Mr.
Shippen's house.

B. Railroad — here east of the turnpike. D. Swift Creek.

E. 19th mile-stone from Richmond, one fourth of a mile south of Mr.
Shippen's house.

F. First culvert, on the railroad, north of Swift Creek — and house —
and about half way between 19th and 18th mile-stones.

G. Ditch leading from this first culvert. Thirteenth placed just south
of it on the morning of May 10th.

H. Position of 13th on the night of May 9th, under cover of a little
ridge about 100 yards south of the ditch G. The 10th N. H. 150
yards in front of 13th at I.

K. Where Lt. Col. Coughlin sat in a chair for a time, reading a news-
paper, on the morning of May 10th.

L. Mr. Thomas L. Ship})en's house, 75 yards east from the railroad,
and aliout 400 yards in front of the 10th N. H.

M. Mr. Dunlop's house.

N. Edge of timber bordering ' Arrow Field ' on the east.

P. First swampy ground near bank of creek and near a gravelly ford.

S. Wood-road on north bank of creek running from fords to turnpike.
Bodge and Staples of B were wounded in this wood-road, a few
yards to the right of the edge of the woods.




SWIFT CREEK, Mat 9 and 10, 1864.
From a sketch made by the writer ia May 1885.



18G4 BATTLE OF SWIFT CREEK. 273

running east from the fii-st culvert on the raih'oad north of Swift Creek.
During- the forenoon of May 10th, it was found necessary to withdraw
the 13th Hne to a position beneath the ridge just south of this ditch for
better cover from the enemy's shells and cross-fire of bullets. Mem-
bers of the Regiment will remember the big fire, of dry wood and
fencing stuff, they built on this culvert, and the limp and twisted con-
dition of a pile of railroad rails, after having been suitably roasted in
that fire. They wiU also remember the rails, heated in the ■ middle, and
wh?n thus annealed, looped around the trees along the railroad — and
also remember how the young trees steamed, smoked and hissed as the
sap ran out under the hot hug of the iron.

The 13th were stationed on tliis ridge, about mid-way the field and
200 or 300 yards east of the railroad, and about half way between the
18th and lOtli mile-stones, for nearly 24 hours. On the right — west —
of us was the railroad, running nearly north and south, and to the left —
east — of us was dense timber — the field of our position and action be-
ing nearly one quarter of a mile wide east and Avest. To the front —
south — about 150 yards, is a similar ridge, which was the line of the 10th
N. H., and on the crest of it Lt. Col. Coughlin sat in a chnir on the morn-
ing of May 10th, and read a newspaper for an hour or so — to show his regi-
ment how little danger there was and to keep them steady — while the
enemy's bullets frequently struck the plowed ground about him, knock-
ing up little puffs of sand and dust, and the rebel shells screamed and
cracked over his head. Lt. Col. John Coughlin, 10th N. H. Vols., had a
good head, and heart, as well as great courage — and ought to have worn
the Star of a Brigadier Genei'al.

To the front, 500 or 600 yards south of the Thirteenth's ridge, is Mr.
Shippen's house — now Mr. Wood's — standing about 75 yards east of the
railroad. Gen. Butler had his Hdqrs. at this house during a part of the
battle. About half a mile from the ridge, still farther south. Swift Creek
crosses the railroad, a little south of the 19th mile-stone, and running east ;
but soon after crossing the railroad bends wide to the north near Mr.
Shippen's house. Still farther south, a short distance beyond the Creek,
is Mr. Dunlop's house, standing about 150 yards east from the railroad.
Here Gen. Lee is said to have had his Hdqrs. during a part of the battle.
There was a Union battery in Mr. Shippen's front yard, supported by the
10th N. H. ; there was a rebel battery in Mr. Dunlop's front yard, sup-
ported also by infantry ; and when these two batteries played, the houses
were interesting places to live in. Westward of Mr. Dunlop's and a mile
or so southwest of the 13th, the rebels had another battery, on a hill, in an
earth-work built on the turnpike, south of an ?)ld mill. Both of these
rebel batteries played severely upon the lines of the 10th and 13th, the
most of their shells, however, going over ; we thought it all rather bad
gunnery practice. A few rods east of Mr, Shippen's house, a wood-road
runs down along the high north bank of Swift Creek. Here it was that
Companies E and B charged the rebel skirmishers, and drove them from



274 TIIIllTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1864

their cover under the hank, across the creek, south, and out of a level field
beyond ; and were relieved on the picket line, at night, ])y Companies G
and F. It was in this wood-road, where it runs along on the highest part
of the bank, that Bodge and Staples were wounded.^

" May 9th the Regiment went out at 4 a. m. I was too sick to march
and was left in charge of the camp. A very hot day — 102° in the shade.
May 10th, 98° in the shade." Lip;ut. Taggakd.

May 11. Wed. Very warm. Reg. in camj) in thick woods, three
miles from Port Walthall, and resting. The woods, chiefly of \nne, are
so dense that wo can see scarcely fifty yards in any direction. It is said
to he fully seven miles, by the most direct route, from our camp here
to the battle-field of Swift Creek ; the I'oad or path winding among
imi^assable swamps. A large mail arrives, and many letters are read and
written. The mails for this command have been shamefully irregular for
many weeks past ; rarely arriving on time, anywhere from one to six days
late, and sometimes, like an army Pay-master, never arriving at aU.

The Pay-master, as a rule, waits for months, four or six of them, for the
army to be ready for a march or a battle. On the eve of the army's de-
parture, he appears and pays off the men. The mail-carrier, as a rule,
waits until the niarcli or the battle is over, and all is safe, when he appears,
with a nice batch of letters from their homes for the poor men — who
have been killed. About the first impulse, and reasonable too, of a sol-
dier, at his resurrection, will doubtless be to grumble about the Pay-master
or the mail, — that is if a forced habit can possibly bridge the grave.

Yesterday the writer picked uj) on the field, near a C S. A. abandoned
knapsack, a New Testament containing the name of Sergeant J. H.
Prickett, 25th Eutaw Regiment South Carolina Volunteers. This Testa-
ment the writer kept with him, during the rest of his stay in the army,
and in the hospital, and brought it home. That was in 1864. On look-

DESCRIPTION OF MAP.

A. Swift Creek. B. Appomattox at rebel Fort Clifton.

C. R. & P. Railroad D. Walthall Branch Railroad.

E. Turnpike. F. Bisby. G. Boyton.

H. Arrow Field church, badly riddled in the fight, to the right of the

Thirteenth, on May 9th and lOth.
K. ' Arrow Field ; ' position of Thirteenth, fronting Mr. Shippen's house

L, and the wood-road along the north side of the creek to ford at T.
M. Dunlop. N. Confederate batteries on hill.

P. Johnson. Arrow on railroad, D, to Port Walthall. All the earth-

*
works south of the creek are Confederate.

W. W. Confederate earth-works. No Union works near Arrow Field.

^ Even a little repetition is risked, rather than that any person visiting the field
with this hook in hand should fail to find the exact localities. An attempt is made
to furnish a guide for the future, as well as a record of the past. This explanation
is made not only for this, but for all similar descriptions. — !S. M. T.




SWIFT CREEK, Mat 9 and 10, 1864.
Tracing of Official Map. Scale, one and one tialf inches to one mile.



1864 BATTLE OF SWIFT CREEK. 277

ing over sundry packages in 1884, while preparing this Diary, the Testa-
ment was found, and the writer decided to find the original owner or his
family, and to that end advertised in the Charleston, S. C. News. The
advertisement was successful, and the Testament was returned to Sergeant
Prickett's father, Rev. I. D. Prickett, Orangeburg, S. C, Dec. 1, 1884.
Mr. Prickett lost both his sons in the war ; Sergeant Prickett, above, died
while a prisoner of war at Elmira, N. Y., the other son was killed in
battle. This Testament was all that returned to the father.

The Thirteenth are feeling uncomfortable to-day, because they have
done several days of hard work, and much fighting, where they felt and
knew that the possibilities were immense — and there is plaguey little to
show for any and all of it. So we paint the day as no bright one for
them. The day closes with a severe thunder shower about 6 p. m. ; and
we have wet ground to sleep on with our heads full of the order : "■ Must
be ready to march to-morrow at day-break, with two days' cooked rations."
That means more slow fighting — " on coffee and hard- tack, salt-horse
and brown sugar, chickory-juice and puddle-water." We would like to
rush in, have no more dawdling, but one tremendous battle, all along the
line from Maryland to Mexico, and close this war. That is the sentiment
of this army to-night. The Army of the James is not contented.

Lieut. Charles H. Curtis furnishes the following concerning himself
and his men :

" When the Thirteenth moved to Yorktown, April 19, 1864, some
twenty-five men of the Reg., who had been detailed as teamsters, and on
other duties, were ordered to report for duty to Lieut. Curtis, then in
command of the Provost-guard at Portsmouth, Va. See March 31, 1864.
Lieut. Curtis with Lieutenants Sherman and Dustin and the (now) 125 men
of the 13th, were relieved as Provost-guard there, and not knowing of Gen.
Butler's movement upon Bermuda Hundred, left Portsmouth for York-
town on May 4th, about 11 a. m., and that night, near the mouth of the
York River, passed Gen. Butler's fleet moving towards Bermuda Hun-
dred ; arriving at Yorktown on tlie morning of INIay 5th, to find that the
13th had gone. On May 6th, about noon, Lieut. Curtis and his detach-
ment embarked, at Yorktown, on the steamer ' Fannie,' for Bermuda
Hundred, and while approaching the Guard-ship in Hampton Roads,
about 8 o'clock that evening, were run into by the steamer ' Cambria,'
and cut to the water's edge. Capt. Bradley of the 13th, and Col. Rust
of the 8th Maine, who had been left sick at Yorktown, with several other
officers and men, were also on board the ' Fannie.' The ' Cambria's ' bob-
chains catching in the ' Fannie's ' broken timbers, held the vessels together
until most all had left the ' Fannie.' Some men, who, with their wives,
were on board the ' Fannie,' in the excitement of the moment, left their
wives on board — escaping themselves. A huge Sergeant of the 13th,
however, went to their rescue, and soon appearing, with a woman under
either arm, strode over the bow of the ' Cambria ; ' and dropping one of
the women into the arms of her husband, who was sitting with bowed



278 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1864

head bewailing his loss, exclaimed : '' Now, blank you, see if you can take
care of her." The other woman was also placed in safety by the Ser-
geant. As the two steamers swung apart, the officer of the deck of the
' Cambria ' was informed that men were still on board the ' Fannie.'
But no effort having been made to save them, Lieut. Curtis called for
volunteers, and without asking permission, lowered one of the ' Cambria's '
boats, assisted by the men of Company K — 13th — who responded, and
rescued Col. Rust, who was too ill to help himself. He with others filled
the boat ; obliging Lieut. Curtis with Mr. Grant, who had been in charge
of the calcium light on Morris Island, S. C, to remain on the Fannie un-
til rescued by a boat, sent to his aid, from the water-boat plying in the
bay. On arriving at Bermuda Hundred, on another steamer, having
lost everything, excepting the clothing they had on them, at the time of
the disaster, the detachment formed a rendezvous camp, and Lieut. Cur-
tis was placed in command of it. This was located at Bermuda Hun-
dred, some three or four miles from the Regiment. While here Lieut.
Curtis made a requisition for arms, and drew them for the parts of the
ten Companies of the 13th which formed the detachment. The detach-
ment was taken to the Thirteenth to-day, May 11th, by Capt. Dodge,
after having worked for two or three days at the wharf in unloading ves-
sels, and Lieut. Curtis remains at Bermuda Himdred as Post Quarter-
master on the staff of Col. Pond of Ohio. No men were lost with the
steamer ' Fannie,' but several were badly hurt." Lieut. Curtis.

This morning. May 11, 1864, at half-past eight o'clock (8.30 a. m.)
Lieut. General U. S. Grant, telegraphs from near Spottsylvanla Court
House, to Maj. Gen. Halleck, Chief of Staff of the Army, at Washington,
these famous words :

" I PURPOSE TO FIGHT IT OUT ON THIS LINE IF IT TAKES ALL SUTVIMER.

U. S. Grant, Lieut. General."



VI.

May 12 to May 27, 1864.
ADVANCE ON RICHMOND — BATTLE OF KINGSLAND CREEK.

May 12. Thurs. Warm ; rainy all day, at times severe showers.
Now come several days of hard fighting, and hard work, the scenes
very much commingled.

The Reg. is up about daylight this morning, moves at 7 a. m. in light
marching order. Col. Stevens in command, and marches through swamp
and brush straight for the R. & P. Turnpike, finally striking it near the
11th mile-stone from Richmond, crosses it to the left — west — side,
and moves north towards Richmond. Companies H, Capt. Smith, and I,
Capt. Goss, are thrown out as skirmishers. We are here fired into, and
several men of a battery, near by, are wounded. The 13th deploys at
once in line of battle across a field. The skirmishers, however, clear the
way and no call to fire is yet made upon the Regiment. We wait here
in line of battle a short time and then advance through a swamp. The
* exceedingly wet and broken ground breaks up the skirmish line, or forces
the skirmishers to merge in the regimental line. Companies attempt to
pass through the tangled underbrush and swamp by breaking to the
right in files of two, but often before the worst places are crossed, the
companies are drawn out into a long zig-zag single file, then, on gaining
clear ground, run together again in line of battle. Several times the
Reg. comes out ahead of all the skirmishers — the Regiment plunging
through the bad places in the ground, the skirmishers sweeping around
them — and in one instance the Reg. while in line of battle, coming di-
rectly upon the enemy's pickets, ca2)tures four of them. This was about
4 p. m. In this case Capt. Julian, and several of his men together, puU
two Confederates out of a slough, into which they had sunk to their necks,
and were holding on to the roots of trees for dear life, and begging us
not to kill them — " Please don't kill us " — say they. Julian replies in
the language they can best understand : " Hold your tongues — you
fools I " They are jjulled out ; then say that they are hungry, and beg
for something to eat — why, they act like children ! Capt. Julian and his
men supply them with crackers, and coffee from their canteens, and they
pass munching to the rear ; we warrant, never so happy before. After
struggling through one especially bad place, and again coming up into
line of battle, the Reg. waits several hours in the edge of a field near the
west side of the turnpike, Co. K, Capt. Betton, acting as flankers to pro-



280 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 18G4

tect the left of the Reg. Company E skirmishes also a part of the day
on the left.

From this field the Reg. moves in line of battle through a lot of tangled
brush growing in water knee deep, half the companies worming through in
single lile then running hard to re-form the battle line, swings aroimd and
emerges, diagonally, on the turnpike, and halts for a moment in the
road, and among the trees on either side of it. This occurs about 3 p. m.
Many of the men mount a high bank on the left hand side of the road —
the crest of the first hill south of Proctor's Creek. Not a shot can be heard,
excepting away oE to the right, and w^e can see nearly half a mile up the
road — north. '* Capt. Smith shouts, '' Get behind the trees — men ; get
behind the trees." Colonel Stevens promptly sends out a special picket
from the loth, on the run, forward. In a minute, while we wait to see
what is next to be done, two small cannon take position on the hillside,
just north of Proctor's Creek, and about one quarter of a mile from us and
in the road, north — the guns pointing towards Richmond. A deep
hollow in the road, and a small bridge, intervenes between the Thirteenth
and the two cannon. The guns point right, it seems, and Adjutant Bout-
well, mounted on his little ' Kanuck ' stallion, volunteers to interview them
— or the gunners. He has galloped down into the hollow, across the
bridge, and about half way to the guns ; when they are both instantly
whirled about, and six shells come in rapid succession, over the Adju-
tant's head, and screaming and crashing among us in the Regiment and
among the trees around about — killing Geo. H. Harmon of A, on the
high bank beside the road, and wounding Robert Oliver of C, and James
Mooney of D, and also giving the Regiment a general stirring up, and
a fumigation with rebel gunpowder. The Reg. is at once moved 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 33 of 81)