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 34 of 81)
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right flank to a place of greater safety. The shell that killed Harmon
burst when just a little past the writer, who stood as high up on the
bank as he could get, watching for the result of Boutwell's visit to the
guns. Several men were knocked over by the concussions ; which feel
like big sledge-hammers striking both of one's ears at once. Ui^on these
shots, back comes Boutwell, his stallion screaming ^ and running at the
top of his speed, and the shells flying over his head. The advance skir-
mish line — not of the 1.3th — breaking here and there, are to blame for
much of this. The two guns soon disappear by a side path. Adjutant
Boutwell is thus the first man in Burnham's Brigade to cross Proctor's
Creek in to-day's advance.

Our advance to-day is now in the turnpike, now alongside of it, now
off to the left, straight, diagonal, zig-zag, in line, and out of line : and so
we spend the day, skirmishing, wading, and plunging through brush and
mud. Finally, after a hard day's work, in the interminable mud. and
rain, and racket, the Reg. bivouacs on high ground, and in line of battle

^ Literally screaming'. He was the most noisy horse in the whole Brisrade. If
separated from the other horses of the Res', for a little time, lie would commence
calling for company — as a lonesome boy whistles to keep his spirits and courage up.



in the woods not far from the spot where we were shelled and where
Harmon was killed. More courage is required for this bushwhacking than
for a regular battle. It is full of surprises and tricks of the enemy ; as
witness their two guns to-day set pointing towards Richmond, then wait-
ino- until we are a target at close range — and then instantly whirled
around and fired directly into our faces. Besides, there is a pervading
feeling all the time that ' The woods are full of them.'

The 10th N. H. made a gallant charge to-day. Fretting under the
slowness — it has seemed a double-slow advance for a week past — the
10th suddenly sprang out of the main line of battle like an arrow shot
from a bow, and sent a heavy body of the rebels whirling back a long
distance, in a hurry. It was very difficult to stop these spirited Irishmen
after they were once on the chai'ge ; they believed they could cut their
way to Richmond. Capt. Betton, on the skirmish line in their vicinity
at the time, says their officers had to run before them and beat them back
with their swords in order to stoj) their mad rush.

This morning a division of Confederate troops had j^receded us on the
turnpike by only about four hours, coming from the south. They left
the road heavily marked and tramped as they went along; many of
them — or else their negro camp-followers — leaving bare-foot tracks in
the mud and sand.

To-night our main line — Gen. Smith's corps on the right, and Gen. Gil-
more's corps on the left — bivouacs near Proctor's Creek on the south side.
The Confederates fall back beyond Proctor's Creek to the north side.

This advance on Richmond is made by Gen. Smith's 18tli Corps on the
right, extending from the James River westward to and somewhat be-
yond the Richmond and Petersburg Turnpike. The Thii'teenth, in the
18th Corps, is so situated in the general line of battle as to move along
the left side of the turnpike, our right resting nearly on that road. The
10th Corps, under Gen. Gilmore, forming the left of Gen. Butler's line,
moves along the railroad, from one to two miles west of the turnpike.
The connection between the two corps is faulty, and largely so because of
the rough, woody, swampy, jungly, vile country through which the long
line mu3t move.

May 13. Fri. Showery. The second day of the battle of Kings-
land Creek (which should have been called the battle of Proctor's Creek)
oj^ens very rainy and cold. The Reg. is near the edge of open ground,
near the turnpike (on the left hand side), and surrounded by woods.
Gen. Smith's corps crosses Proctor's Creek early this morning, the enemy
retiring before his advance. Comj^anies D, C and A are placed upon the
skirmish line ; the 13th in support, cooperating with the 10th N. H.,
also in line of battle, in rear of its skirmishers. We have now advanced
within ten miles of Richmond. The firing scarcely ceased all last night,
and now, at daylight, it is very heavy on our front. A large lot of the
enemy's muster-rolls and camp-paraphernalia is now in our hands. The
rolls indicate that these good Southern fighters — and they are good fight-


ers, if they cannot write their names — have enlisted " for life or the
war ; " and about seven out of every ten of them all sign their names as
the rebel battle-flags are made — with a rude cross in the centre.

We are all cokl, wet and muddy this morning, and in bad temper. We
form line to advance about 7 a. m. ; and move forward about 9 a. m. and
conmience the fight in the rain — rain — rain. Ammunition gets wet,
and the men make ' ponchos ' of their rubber blankets, wrapping them
about their shoulders, and fastening them at the waist with strings and
belts. The writer and several other officers limit their entire outfit for
this whole summer's campaign to a long rubber overcoat; generally
discarding tent and blanket, wearing the coat on rainy days, and sleeping
in it on all nights. The whole command is half amphibious. There are
jokes about sailing the gunboats up the turnpike. The boys keep calling
out : " Where 's Kingsland Creek ? " And others answer : " Here 's
Kingsland Creek," as they splash and wade through the innumerable
laddies. The country is all creek, above ground and below. The battle
line of the Thirteenth halts about noon. The skirmish line — including
Lieut. Taggai'd — moves forward near to Mr. Charles Friend's house,
which the lebel skirmishers occupy.

Detachments from the 13th are skirmishing all daj' long. The lines
are very close, the musketry firing severe, and the artillery hammers away
unceasingly. Our lines are advanced about a mile and a half, and to a
point within sight of the enemy's earth-works, and his strong line of skir-
mishers behind them, six to eight hundred yards distant. Our men take
every possible cover, but the shells are pretty sure to hunt them out, while
the bullets seem to drop down out of the sky. The dead and wounded,
both Union and Confederate, are very numerous along our lines. The
advance is even less rapid than yesterday, but the skirmishers cover
every inch of the ground as they move forward. The rebel artiUery send
their shells crashing through the woods ; our own equally busy ; an im-
mense amount of noise. Companies D, C and A are kept at the front aU
day, and Company A, at least, all of to-night. Sergt. Nathaniel F. Meserve
of A is killed ; Sergt. Charles W. Batchellor, Corp. John E. Prescott and
John McCarty of D and Corp. William D. Carr of G are wounded.

In a letter written from Hammond Hospital, Point Lookout, Md., Sergt.
Batchellor states : " Company D was thrown out as skii-misliers to the ex-
treme front on Friday, May 13th. In the afternoon the enemy charged
and drove us back, then we forced them back again. About 4 p. ni. I
stepped back to speak with Lieut. Sherman, the rebel sharp-shooters got
range of me, and shot me in the arm, while my gun was in my hand. The
bullet broke my arm between the shoulder and the elbow. Surgeons
Richardson and Small operated on the arm, taking out several pieces of
bone. They then sent me to Point of Rocks (Corps Hospital) and from
there here." Sergt. Charles W. Batchellor.

From this wound he never recovered, but died on July 2d from the
effects of it. He was a good soldier, brave, efficient and conscientious in


performing all his duties, and a universal favorite in the Regiment,
which lost in him one of its very best men.

To-night we bivouac on the battle-field ; our men lying down without
any tents or cover, save their rubber blankets and now and then a poorly-
set piece of shelter tent. We have a wet night of it. We are in a little
open field, on the west side of the turnpike, on high ground, near to and
southwestward of Mr. Charles Friend's house. There is a hard-wood
grove on our front and left ; and on our right and front near the turn-
pike is Mr. Friend's. The ground is very wet, but the men are ordered
to sleep in the little hollows for protection, for many bullets, and now
and then a shell, skims clear across the field just over our heads. A cold
rain in the night fills these hollows, and the men have to roll out on higher
ground, and so are more and more exposed to the hissing bullets. One
man dreams that he is sailing in a boat, the boat capsizes, he is just on the
point of sinking, and falls to screaming for help — when he wakes to find
himself half buried in water near a foot in depth, and coming up about
his ears. Till then the slowly rising water seemed like nice bed-clotliing,
and in no way disturbed his sleeping.

While the enemy was shelling us in the woods to-day Capt. Julian re-
ceived a blow on the side, quite a heavy blow but doing him no particular
injury. Looking for the cause, he found that a piece of shell weighing
several ounces had cut through the side of his haversack and lodged among
his rations, mixing them quite thoroughly, grinding the hard bread into
crumbs too fine for convenience, and the meat into sausage stuffing.

The general results of the day are an advance along our whole line ;
Gen. Smith crosses Proctor's Creek, and advances along the turnpike,
with Gen. Brooks (our Division) on the west side, and Gen. Weitzel on
the east side. Gen. Gilmore has attacked and carried the enemy's works
on Woolridge's Hill, about one mile west of the turnpike, near the head
of Proctor's Creek. The enemy here repulsed an attack made by Gen.
Gilmore, then abandoned his line. Gen. Gilmore captured about one
mile of the works, and pressed the enemy back towards Drury's Bluff.
Gen. Smith's main line to-night is up within a few hundred yards of the
enemy's works on the turnpike, with his pickets at Mr. Charles Friend's
house. These pickets are Lieut. Churchill's men of the Thirteenth.

One member of the Thirteenth wi'ites : " Glorious news from the Army
of the Potomac to-night — our boys cheer tremendously."


May 14. Sat. Cool, and very rainy most of the day. In order to
make the story of this battle as clear as possible, it is necessary to divide it,
and give to each part of the i-egimental organization an account by itself.
The Thirteenth — all excepting Company A and a few pickets — is
assembled on our place of bivouac about daylight ; quite early, for the
writer is obliged to make use of a candle in order to read the names of a
detachment of men. Our position is on the left, west side, of the turn-
pike, and on the left of our Brigade. Our line of advance is nearly in
the rear of our skirmishers — Company A commanded by Lieut. Churchill.
We move forward in support of the skirmish line a little before 6 a. m. ;
and then hold position in line of battle for a while protected somewhat by
the trees from the enemy's numerous shells and bullets.

Leaving the Thirteenth here in line of battle, we turn to Lieut. Church-
ill's own account of the work of his line of pickets and skirmishers ; the
following having been furnished to the writer by him a few months before
the accident occurred, from the effects of which he died on March 19,
1885 :

" On Friday, May 13, 1864, about 11 a. m., Company A. Capt. Hall,
with Lieut. Churchill as Lieutenant, and Company C, Capt. Durell, were
sent forward on the advance picket^ with orders to drive back the enemy's
pickets — who had still earlier in the morning driven our line back — and
retake the line. Tljis Companies A and C did, retaking the line near the
Rev. Mr. Friend's stable (he of the brick house) and held the ground there
until dark. About dark Companies A and C made a charge, with the
whole line, and drove the rebels beyond a rail fence, and held the line of
the fence. Previous to this charge, Sergt. Nathaniel F. Meserve of A
while lying behind a log near the rail fence and the edge of the woods,
raised his head to look over, was shot, and instantly killed. In the even-
ing pioneers were sent for, who came and threw up a little line of breast-
works near the rail fence ; soon after this, about 9 p. m., Capt. Durell,
who was sick, was relieved by Lieut. Oliver of G. No officer was sent
to relieve Lieut. Churchill, and he remained all night alone with Co. A.
Early in the night, by some chance, Lieut. Churchill found himself in
command of Co. A, and Co. C in command of Sergt. Geo. Burns of C ;
and they alone remained in charge of these two Companies throughout the
night. Lieut. Churchill was tired out, but rallied after a little rest. Hav-
ing no orders, he established a line of vedettes along the front of Com-
panies A and C ; Edwin H. Glidden of A, a boy about 17 years old, being
one of them, and having his post in Mr. Friend's pig-yard — a secure


place — from which he reported, promi^tly and in good order, the three
charges made by the enemy's pickets daring the night, so that the picket
line of Companies A and C were ready and repulsed each charge, and
held their ground until the morning.

" The rebels were in Mr. Friend's house engaging Lieut. Churchill's
pickets, and INIajor Jesse F. Angell, 10th N. H., commanding the whole
picket line, came along at near 11 p. m. (Friday) and told Lieut. Church-
ill to ' cease firing on the house, for it was occupied by our own men.'
But Churchill held that they were the enemy. Major AngeU then took off
his sword so as to make no noise, but forgot to remove his spurs, and
crept toward the house. Soon he was heard to shout vociferously. He
was a large man, a rebel bullet from the house struck him, and running
round his side under the skin, made a wound about fourteen inches long

— this convinced hiin that the enemy occupied that house. The firm
position of Companies A and C, with two Companies of the 10th N. H.
on their right, caused the enemy to leave Mr. Friend's house during the
night, and about daylight Companies A and C seized the house, when
recruit John Burns of A captured a rebel soldier — a man of the G9th
Tennessee. Company C was relieved early Saturday morning (May 14th),
but Company A Avas not relieved. The night was rainy and chilly, and
by morning Lieut. Churchill and his men were very wet and exceedingly
angry at not being relieved as they should have been.

" About 5 a. m. — Saturday — Capt. Reed of Gen. Brooks' staff came
along, and said to Lieut. Churchill : ' Captain, who is in command here ? '
Lieut. Churchill answered : ' I am no Captain, only a Second Lieutenant,
and I have not seen any other commissioned officer at all since eleven
o'clock last iiight,' and told him about tlie wounding of Major Angell at
that time. Capt. Reed replied that he would see if he could find any
other officer, and went away. Soon he returned without finding any one,
and ordered Lieut. Churchill to advance. Lieut. Churchill at this time
had Company A and stragglers enough from other companies — with two
men from some other regiment — to make his skirmish line up to fifty-
four men, with Sergt. George E. Goldsmith of Co. A second in command.
Lieut. Churchill at once moved forward, marched his men down around
Mr. Friend's house, into the orchard, deployed them again as skirmishers

— this time on the left side of the turnpike — and charged ; not stopping
until they had reached the enemy's earth-works, afterwards occupied by
the Thirteenth.

" Company A under Lieut. Churchill reached the line of earth-works at
6 a. m. — Saturday — and then at once formed on the right flank of the
rebels a little beyond the first angle in the works to the left of the turn-
pike ; taking the cover formed by the reverse of the works, and con-
tinued firing on the rebels off to their right and on their front. In other
words, made a breach in the enemy's entrenched picket line and occupied
it. Soon Co. A passed over the works, the enemy retiring, and were dis-
posed around and within the rebel barracks ^vithia the works. The enemy


and our artillery kept up a severe cannonade over their heads^ While
within one of these barracks, a solid shot, from the enemy's guns on
Drury's Bluff — or the large fort on the hill — went through the barrack
and knocked down Lieut. Churchill and four of his men ; all within the
barrack, a log-house, were cut more or less by the splinters, but none
severely hurt. Lieut. Churchill soon found it necessary to swing his left
around clear of these barracks ; later, about noon, a new officer — a Major
— now in charge of the picket line, came up, and directed him to fall
back under cover of the edge of the woods, near by to the left, and take
some rest — which he did, and his men lay down. At near 4 p. m.,
Lieut. Churchill with Co. A was relieved by Co. I under Capt. Goss of I
and Lieut. Thompson of E — all of whom, previous to this, had been skir-
mishing nearly all day among the barracks and in the brush. This made
about thirty hours' uninterrupted advance picket and skirmish duty for
Lieut. Churchill and Company A, without relief, rest, or anything to eat,
excepting the contents of their haversacks — chiefly hard bread. Lieut.
Churchill, half sick, had nothing which he could eat. Sergt. Josiah C.
Flanders of A was so pressed by thirst, when no water could be obtained,
that he was seen sucking out what moisture he could find in handfuls of
mud taken from the road-side ditch." Lieut. Churchill.

It is related of Lieut. Churchill, when his men complained to him this
morning and said they ought to be relieved, that he answered them with :
"Well, boys, if they will not reheve us, we will relieve ourselves — by
clearing out those rebels yonder." And they did I There was good
metal in Lieut. Churchill. Had his health been good, he would have
made a large mark. He was brave, prompt, faithful and thorough as a
soldier ; genial, companionable, quick-witted, and honest to a fault.

Again returning to the Regiment, wliich enters upon the battle of the
day soon after sunrise : Moving in line of battle, straight forward, from
our position on the left side of the turnpike, and under a severe fire from
the enemy's artillery, we are soon mixed up with a small detachment
from some other regiment. As the 13th advances it narrows its front,
and passes into the timber bordering on the north the field of our last
night's bivouac. Soon passing through this timber, we come out upon
lower gi'ound rather rough and broken and having a few stumps and
trees, among them large, tall pines. These furnish the men with a little
cover. The large fort of the enemy's on the hill — Fort Stevens — is
visible during much of our advance, and shells us vigorously, but the
rebel aim is bad and little damage is done. They use both shell and
grape, and another rebel contrivance that pours out two or three quarts
of bullets with a terrible whizz. One large shell cuts off two trees near
our line before it bursts. Directly in front of the 13th are the lines of
the enemy's earth-works — a long succession of trenches for riflemen —
at close range, held in part by our own picket line — Lieut. Churchill's
men — and the rest well manned by the rebel skirmishers, who are all
firing rapidly. Our own artillery, in our rear, now opens more vigor-



ously ; and we spring up and run forward a few yards, then drop on the
ground. This manceuvre is repeated over and over again, cover being
secured, as best we may, among the little hillocks and stumps. Before
the charge is half over our men are firing from the line of battle, over
the heads of our skirmishers, at the enemy's pickets wherever seen.

The word is passed for a final rush in line of battle, and a grand
charge ensues all along our Brigade line, and by our troops farther to the
right and left ; quickly occupying the enemy's earth-works while a part
of the skirmishers of our Brigade have scarcely time to advance. The
enemy clings stubbornly to his works, and the men — Union and Confeder-
ate — for a little time fire at each other, at a few feet distance, across
the angles. The reverse of the works, however, is soon occupied by the
line of battle, and thousands of bullets are at once chasing the enemy's
men, now flying in every direction. The Thirteenth captures and occu-
pies its part of the works a little before eight a. m. The whole line is oc-
cupied, to right and left, so far as we can see, before nine o'clock a. m.
The 13th makes no farther advance, but remains along the reverse of the
captured line of earth-works. In the neighborhood of the turnpike, now
a little to our right, and beyond there, the firing is terrific — a roar.
Soon the enemy is pressed two or three hundred yards back into the
brush, followed by our skirmishers of A and I, and the line of the Reg.
is no longer in danger excepting from the enemy's shells and spent l>ullets.

As an incident of the charge this : The writer has in view a large
stump, a few yards to the front of the battle line of the 13th, as an ob-
jective point for himself in the next little rush. The time soon comes,
and just as he is taking cover behind it, a huge fellow, big as two of him,
hustles him to one side, seizes the stump for his own protection, and lies
flat on his face behind it, while the writer passes over behind another
stump perhaps a rod away. The writer's stump is small, but of oak, and
though a couple of bullets hit it, they are harmless to him. The big fel-
low's stump, however, is of pine and rotten — and soon a shell from the
enemy sends it flying. The big fellow hugs the ground, but whether hurt
or not the Avriter cannot say, as his attention is called by another incident
occurring an instant afterwards. He happens to be looking up, and wit-
nesses the unusual, though occasional, occurrence of two shells colliding
in mid-air. The larger, from the rebel fort, overbears the smaller, from
the Union battery, but they both burst almost simultaneously, and the
pieces rain down in the open field to the left of the turnpike, harmless
hut suggestive. The mid-air crash is very loud. There are no Union
troops in sight to the left of our Regiment, which advances as the ex-
treme left regiment of the 18th Corps ; and the infantry firing going on at
our left is at a considerable distance from us at this time.

To clear this account a little further it may be well to state that Lieut.
Churchill's 2:)ickets of last night advanced as skirmishers this morning, and
soon found themselves in a very dangerous position, being in compara-
tively open gi'ound and exposed to the fire of a heavy rebel skirmish line


posted behind the rebel eavth-works to the left of the turnpike. When
ordered to charge, Lieut. Churchill and his men rushed forward and got
into the ditch of the works before all the rebel skirmishers had retreated ;
actually forming on the right flank of a part of the rebel line, while an-
other part faced them on the other side of the ridge of sand that formed
the works. As Lieut. Cluu'chill describes the situation, " We and the
rebels stood there a few minutes, dodging each other like a lot of boys
snowballing over a stone wall." This was but for a short time, however,
for the rebels ran along on their side of the works towards the turnpike,
the old barracks and the brush, where they again took position. Mean-
while the Thirteenth charged up to the works in line of battle, and occu-
pied the reverse of them, and Capt. Goss with Co, I and Lieut. Thompson
of E were ordered forward over the works, and soon united with Lieut.
Churchill's line in a sharp skirmish w4th the enemy. To return :

Immediately upon the capture and occupation of the works by the battle
line of the Thirteenth, Capt. Goss is ordered to take his whole Company,
I, over the works, drive the enemy back, and establish an advance picket
line. Capt. Goss selects Lieut. Thompson of E as an assistant, and de-
ploys his company along the part of the works occupied later (May 15th
and 16th) by the Regiment ; the right of Co. I resting at the lone apple-
tree near the second angle in the works — at the west end of the second
trench — behind which tree several men of Co. I take cover from 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 34 of 81)