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 35 of 81)
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enemy's bullets, and are called into line by Sergt. W. G. Burnham of L^
This is the only tree near the i)art of the works occupied by the Regi-
ment. After being deployed as skirmishers, Co. I springs quickly for-
ward over the works into the open space in front, charging towards the
turnpike, the timber and the old rebel barracks. Previous to this time
the rebels had abandoned their line of earth-works, and had taken position
among trees, and in and among these old log barracks, near the turnpike.
As soon as over the works, Co. I charges directly upon these skirmishers
of the enemy, and drives them back from the trees and old barracks,
across the turnpike and into the brush beyond ; coming upon them so
closely that when Capt. Goss's men enter the doors on one side of the
barracks, the rebels run out of the doors, and climb out of the windows,
on the other side. A few of the enemy are cajjtured. The firing during
the charge of Co. I is very sharp on the part of the enemy's pickets, Co.
I firing also, skirmishers to the right and left joining in, while a few of
the enemy's shells add their noise and danger to the general rush, hubbub,
bedlam and excitement, a part of the men — both Union and Confederate
— having a stand-up fight in open ground, and a part sharply engaged
among the stumps, trees and barracks. Lively I Company A, wlio had
been on this line, and were swinging to the left, are soon out of sight in
brush and timber, and Co. I with a few men from other Companies under
Goss and Thompson are holding the whole front of the Regiment. Un-
der the circumstances, there is, of coarse, but a limited opportunity to
^ In this I am corroborated by Sergt. Burnham liimsalf , 1885. — S. M. T.



take note of time, or of the order of action by detachments other than
our own.

Capt. Goss's line, after this sharp bit of skirmishing, is soon posted
along the turnpike, in the trees beyond, and to the left of the old rebel
barracks. The enemy now shelling these old log-houses makes them of
no use to our men as a means of protection, but on the contrary a source
of danger from the flying timbers and splinters. The logs of which they
are made are small. Besides, the enemy's skirmishers are so near, and
so stubbornly contest the ground, that our men are greatly exposed until
dark. The enemy fires wild and high, how^ever — in fact we have never
seen his men acting more excitedly ; but the pickets under Capt. Goss
are constantly exposed to a triple danger : the fire of the enemy's skir-
mishers, his shells from Fort Stevens, and the shells of our own artillery
bursting short.

A Union field-battery of ten guns is drawn up during the afternoon in
the field, close up in the rear of the Thirteenth and the line of captured
earth-works, while a portion of the men of the Thirteenth are moved to
right and left to escape the fearful concussions caused by these guns
posted about three rods in their rear. The Second Wisconsin Battery
furnishes six three-inch Parrott guns for a part of tliis business. Twenty
pieces of Union artillery, in all, are soon playing on Fort Stevens, which
replies for a long time with apparently twelve or fifteen guns, and then
is silenced by the Union fire. We have seen their flag fall twice
during this engagement. It is intensely interesting to vpitness such a
cannonade, though all of our pickets are directly in line between the two
fires, and a little over a quarter of a mile from each, and are half deaf-
ened by the cannon and the incessant screaming of the shells flying just
above our heads. A rumor goes around that this fort is to be stormed ;
in which case we will advance as skirmishers to a point as near to the
fort as we can gain, and work upon the enemy's gunners.

Fury itself is let loose during all the afternoon, and any number of
shells, and worse still, the multitudes of pieces, fly over our heads in all
directions, smash against the trees and plow up the ground. The
stumps and trees, however, afford very fair protection for the most, and
we take advantage of every species of cover, and are firing continuously
ourselves. The last time the rebel flag falls the halliards only appear to
have been cut, the new staff standing uninjured. In place of the flag
cut down the rebels run up a new and larger one, bright and almost bril-
liant in color, which floats throughout the fight of to-day — and was still
floating when the sun went down on INIay 16th. as Company E could
plainly see from its position on the picket line. Two or three of the old
barracks are blown up and knocked to pieces by the enemy's shells ; giv-
ing out great clouds of dust, the logs being chinked with clay now dry as
flour. Several of our men are in one of them when it is struck near one
corner of the foundation by a shell and knocked into a pile of rubbish ;
and the men crawl out of the debris looking like millers — and scared


most desirably, for they Had been ordered to keep away from those build-
ings. All are bruised but none seriously hurt. They run I — one of
them, bereft of the ampler part of his trousers, exhibiting sufficient invol-
untary flag of truce to draw from our pickets a glorious roar of laughter.
Responsive, the rebels shout derisively, " Ho ! " " Ho ! "

The enemy's pickets make several attempts to dislodge Capt. Goss's
men, but they hold their gi'ound. Capt. Goss is noted in the Kegiment
as a cool, self-possessed and clear-headed officer when in the face of dan-
ger ; a man not to be easily driven. As night comes on our pickets have
a little opportunity for rest, but scarcely any for sleep, and nearly every
man is awake all night. Under direction of Capt. Goss, Lieut. Thomp-
son and several of the men engage in a considerable scouting during the
night, and find that the most of the whole slope, from the turnpike up to
Fort Stevens, is coveied with a tangled mass of undei'brush and slashing.
Just after dark two or three of the enemy's most pushing and adventur-
ous men are captured. (For which, by the way, neither Co. I nor the
Reg. ever got any credit. The writer now, 1887, has some of the am-
munition which he took from one of their cartridge-boxes at that time,
and pocketed as a relic ; English make or pattern of bullets having a lit-
tle, well-greased '' expander," a box-wood plug, in a conical depression in
the base — a murderous little missile, capable of boring, straight through
a man, a hole an inch wide. The prisoners are sent to the rear in the
darkness, and may have gone to the 10th N. H. or elsewhere. They
were armed with heavy English rifles.)

While we are on the picket line, late in the night, when all is still, the
bells of Richmond are heard ringing — we can just hear them. They
are either striking time — a great deal of it — or an alarm ; a Long-roll
with bells for drums.

On the whole the night is reasonably quiet for an outpost picket line.
There are one or two spurts of distant firing, but it merely serves to
make the pickets on our line here still more watchful. Capt. Goss has
exercised the utmost care, all the time, that the men should protect them-
selves with the numerous trees and stumps, and as a result only two or
three serious wounds are received, among many slight ones. On the
whole a fortunate day ; the enemy firing hastily and high — making a
great deal of noise, but doing very little execution. A gi-eat many bul-
lets may fly, but a man is a small thing on an acre of ground.

A few of the staff of the Thirteenth were directed to avoid exposure
to the enemy's fire by keeping back in the rear. Quarter-master Morrison,
however, not very easily scared, followed the Regiment in, and with some
other member of it came up to the front, the bullets from the rebel
sharp-shootei's hitting the trees all about them as they came along. On
arriving at the line of the Thirteenth then under fire, some one asks him
if the rebels fired at him. Morrison replies : " I don't know — Ave were
not hit. The rebels kept firing at the trees where we were as we came
along — but we could n't see any sense in that."


Six men in the Regiment are wounded to-day, all severely : Geo. "W.
Hutchlns of A ; Eli Huntoon, Austin Gilman and Henry Lynch of D ;
Jerry Morrow of H ; and Joseph F. Lampson of I.

Brev. Maj. Gen. A. A. Humijhreys, in his ' Virginia Campaign of 1864
and 1865,' page 147, states : "On the morning of May 14th, Gen.
Brooks's Division (in which was the 13th) of Gen. Smith's 18th Corps
occupied a part of the enemy's entrenchments on the left of the turnpike.
Gen. Gilmore's two Divisions, of the 10th Corps, occupied them on
Smith's left. About two and a half miles of the enemy's outer line was
thus held by our troops. The Confederates occupied their second line,
the right of which was well refused."

May 15. Sun. Rainy last night, and half pleasant to-day. Reg.
called at 3.30 a. m. Comparatively quiet on our immediate front-; very
noisy on the right towards the river. We of the 13th who are on picket,
last night and to-day, in the brush beyond the turnpike — that is to the
east of it — have ample evidence that the enemy is strengthening his
lines in the rear of his pickets. Staff officers are continually visiting
our picket line ; especially about the time when the bells are ringing at
Richmond, and just heard for the distance.

No one of us got any rest last night that was worth the name. Toward
this morning the enemy try twice, at intervals when all is stillest, to force
our pickets back, or to capture them, but are repulsed.

To-day the Reg. prepares the reverse of the captured earth-works for
defense, digging a ledge or banquette along the outer (southern) face of
them for the men to stand upon, a part of the ditch being filled with
water. The final assignment of position is made this afternoon, the line
of tlie 13th stretching along about one man deep, something like a close
skirmish line.

Just in front of the 13th is a clear and level space less than two hun-
dred feet wide, and beyond its farther, or northern edge, runs a road with
a bank, on its farther side, from one to three feet high, like the bank of a
sunken road. On the top of this bank are numerous stumps and trees,
and beyond them thick woods. Gen. Burnham to-night stretches along
on the edge of this bank a long line of telegraph wire (which had been
captured), winding it around the stumps and trees about one or two feet
above the ground ; a most excellent contrivance for trijjj^ing an assaulting
column, and causing it to fall headlong over the bank. Special prepara-
tions are made for the night with vedettes, pickets and an extra watch
mounted on the top of the works. We are surprised, however, toward
evening, to see all the Regiment's baggage, camp and garrison equipage,
together with the officers' baggage. Adjutant's and Quarter-master's desks,
books and papers, brought up and placed on the grass in the wide, ojien
field in the rear of our line. We have come to stay — alas, too many in
a permanent camp !

To-day Jeff. Davis and a body of horsemen have been seen entering
and leaving the larofe fort on the bluff — Fort Stevens. Our batteries


opened u})on them, and they made off as fast as their horses could gal-
lop, while our shells were cracking ahout their heads. Capt. Goss, using
his field glass, described some of them as '' Uniformed as for a ball."

The worst feature of the day for our pickets in front of the works is
the shelling over their heads ; the fort engaging our field batteries and
many of the shells falling short and bursting near us. The concussions
caused by the guns, and shells bursting so near, disturb our heads severely,
and several of the men have to be sent for relief to a more distant part of
the line. The same thing occurs along the regimental line behind the
works. The shelling, however, to-day is of small consequence as com-
pared with that of yesterday. There is much talk to-night of our storm-
ing the enemy's works on the hill in front, on the morrow. Since the
capture of the Confederate works early on the morning of May 14th. the
main line of our troops have had little or nothing to do, the work of hold-
ing the ground gained, or advancing a little here and there, devolving
almost wholly upon the pickets and skirmish lines.

Capt. Goss, Company I, and Lieut. Thompson of E remain on the skir-
mish and picket line until late this afternoon — thus performing nearly
thirty-six continuous hours of severe and trying work — when they rejoin
the Reg., posted along the reverse of the captured rebel earth-works.
After returning to the Reg. they have barely time to cook and eat their
supper, along the edge of the ditch, before the sun goes down ; ^ then they
immediately bivouac to gain a little much needed sleep, while Companies
H and B guard the front, in their places, along the turnpike and beyond.
A shower during the afternoon makes the ground very uncomfortable for
bivouac, and the water accumulates in deep pools in the trenches.
Fences are torn down, and the water and mud in the trenches are
bridged over with rails and boards.

As an incident of the shelling on the afternoon of May 14th, over the
heads of Capt. Goss, Lieut. Thom})son of E. and the men of Co. I on the
picket line, the writer will add this : Rails and a plank were thrown across
a pool of water, lying among several large pine-trees close to the turnpike,
a little northward from the old rebel barracks, and we sat upon them, for
this was the best cover we could find while the artillery duel was going
on. While sitting here, during the worst of the shelling, a shell from our
own battery struck a large dead pine-tree, just above the heads of Goss,
Thompson and others, with a loud noise and lodged deep, but did not burst.
During the visit in May 1885 in company with Lt. Col. Smith, the ui-iter
procured a three-inch Parrott shell dug out of the little pile of decayed
wood where this very tree had stood. A fit memento of Capt. Goss, and
the battle of Drury's Bluff. The Second Wisconsin Battery then used
three-inch Parrott guns.

May 16. Mon. The principal day of the battle of Drury's Bluff.
On Sunday afternoon, May 15111. about three o'clock, Lieut. R. R. Thomj)-
son of H with Company H and Lieut. Gafney with Company B were
^ Sergt. W. G. BurnLam of Company I corroborates. — S. M. T.


sent to the picket line, relieving Company I. under Capt. Goss and Lieut.
Thompson of E, and have remained on the line until this morning.

Rehel pickets, captured last night, report that Gen. Beauregard has
30,000 men; and they threaten terrible things for Gen. Butler's army,
the main hne of which is here about five miles in length. About 2
o'clock this morning the rebel pickets are heavily re-enforced, the move-
ment being distinctly heard by oui' pickets.

The Thirteenth is in line ready for action before daylight, and is called
into the trenches for battle at 3.30 a. m. At which time Gen. Burnham,
Col. Stevens and other officers together pass along in rear of our Une,
giving minute directions for meeting the possible onslaught of the enemy
— matters having indicated some such movement on his part. Gen.
Burnham himself, or his aides, was on the outer picket line all last night,
so that a surprise of our Brigade is impossible.

Near 4 a. m., and still very foggy, the firing commences on the right.
Gen. Heckman's front near the James River, and rapidly approaches
along the line towards our front ; where long before 5 a. m., nearer 4.30,
our pickets are sustaining a hea%'y fire and replying briskly, and soon are
hotly engaged and holding ground and cover as best they may, against
double or treble their own number of the enemy.

At o a. m., the enemy's skirmish line, now practically a line of battle
in one close, heavy rank, charges, and our pickets, being largely outnum-
bered, fall back and come over the works into the line of the Thirteenth.
Gen. Burnham orders Lieut. R. R. Thompson of H, and the part of the
picket line that came in with him, out again into the open field, or space,
between the works we hold and the enemy ; and Lieut. Thompson, as
ordered, at once takes his men — the most of them from Company H, but
a number from Company B — straight over the works again, neither he
nor his men flinching or wavering in the least, deploys the line immedi-
ately upon passing the works, and advances with it upon the enemy —
practically a little skirmish line going out over open ground to engage a
rebel line of battle ! By rapidity, however, they succeed in securing a
position, the most of them among tlie trees that hold up the telegraph
wire ; the right of their line extending out among the stumps a few yards
to the right of the standing trees. Sergeant Thomas S. "NVentworth of B
is the last man on the right of Lieut. Thompson's skirmisli line ; and he
and the men near him find cover among the stumps, and at once com-
mence firing upon the enemy near the turnpike in and among the old
barracks, of which they again have full possession.

Soon afterwards Lieut. Thompson is wounded and falls, but succeeds
in returning to the Regiment. Not long after he is wounded, the left
wing of his skirmish line withdraws, leaving the right wing in position.
In a few minutes more the rebel line, now apparently a fuU and heavy
line of battle, fires one volley and charges. The right wing of the skir-
mish line, remaining in position, receives a portion of this volley ; and
after the rest of the volley — of bullets and buckshot — flies by, they


break cover and oome in over the works, into the Hne of the Reg., in ad-
vance of the charging enemy, and in a Ufe and death rush, every man for
himself. Sergt. Wentworth is wounded by the volley, receiving three
buckshot, one in his arm and two in his leg ; and Levi Capen of B is
killed. The survivors of the skirmish line, as soon as they are behind the
works again, instantly fall to and commence firing with might and main,
ujDon the enemy's skirmishers wherever seen.

The writer has this concerning Lieut. R. R. Thompson's pickets and
skirmish line, from Sergt. Wentworth of B ; who does not claim, how-
ever, to know positively whether it was Gen. Burnham who ordered Lieut.
Thompson again to the front upon the skirmish line. The writer, then
in the battle line of the 13th, was told at the time that it was Gen.
Burnham. Lt. Col. Smith thinks that Lieut. R. R. Thompson happened
to retire with his skirmishers to the line of the 10th N. II., and that
Lt. Col. Coughlin, commanding the 10th, ordered them out again ; but
there appears no way of definitely settling the question whether they
were sent out at this time by Gen. Burnham or Lt. Col. Coughlin.

Lieut. Gafney with his portion of the skirmish line was not again
ordered to the front until after the charge, when they made a very gallant
and successful sortie, capturing more prisonex"S than their own numbers.

Now we turn again to the work of the regimental line : This second,
main and last day of the battle of Drury's Bluff is, in the morning, ex-
tremely foggy, quite warm, and there is a slight fall of rain. The moon
shone brightly during a part of last night, but when towards morning, the
fog come up from the James River, rolling in thick and deep, the dark-
ness fell as black as ink ; so very dark that the pickets of friend and foe
mingled together, passed to and fro, and scouted promiscuously and at
will. At daylight the fog is so dense we cannot see distinctly thirty feet.
About an hour after sunrise the fog lifts somewhat, so that we can see the
enemy's picket lines. The day clears warm, becomes cloudy again at
night, Avhen it is again very dark

As this outer line of the enemy's earth-works runs westward across the
field to the left of the turnpike, trench after trench and angle after angle,
the Tiiirteenth occupies the third trench, that runs between the second
and third angles ; the right of the Reg. resting near the second angle,
where there is one small ajjple-tree, the left resting at the third angle,
where there is a wide gunway — or passage — through the line of en-
trenchments, protected by a curtain. This long line stretches the 13th out
until it forms a line of liattle only one rank deep. The right of the loth
connects with the left of the 10th N. H. ; the most of its men being posted
similarly along the second ti-ench, between the first and second angles,
and in a line curving with the trench, and in a general way forming an
obtuse angle with the line of the' Thirteenth. This arrangement affords
an opportunity for a cross-fire upon the level, open s])ace in front of the
two regiments. The 10th N. H. also forms a similar angle with the
118th N. Y., on its right nearer the turnpike. In front of that Regt. is


also a wide, open space. (The whole of this long, wide, open space on
our Brigade front is now, 1885, covered with a dense growth of young
pine-trees.) On the left of the 13th there appear to be no troops ex-
cepting pickets, forming the right of the 10th Corps, and but few of
them are near us.

Last night the Thirteenth slept, with accoutrements on and arms at
hand, in the open field near its baggage and along the reverse of the cap-
tured works ; preserving its battle line as nearly as possible, and all ready
for instant action upon call. About 4 a. m. the Union pickets in front of
the 13th commence fii-ing ; still earlier a few rebel bullets have come out
of the dense fog, and whizzed spitefully over the heads of the Reg. and
beaten noisily against the boxes of our baggage, piled on the grass five
or ten yards to our rear. The men of the 13th are just eating their
breakfast, and do not have time to finish. The officers' breakfast is
spread on the top of the baggage boxes, used as tables, and reniains there
scarcely touched. An extra watch is selected along the line of the 13th,
and mounted on the top of the sand that the works ai*e made of. Pretty
soon a large rebel shell plunges into the sand under one man of the
watch — Jacob Mehel a recruit of E — bursts, throws up the sand, and
nearly buries him, jarring him severely. He immediately rolls over into
the deep depression made by the displaced sand, and continues his watch
as quietly and coolly as if nothing unusual had occurred : and as a re-
ward he is at once appointed a Corporal. Later on he occupies this de-
pression to fire from, Capt. Julian loading muskets rapidly and passing
them up to him to fire. He was believed to be a German Jew.

The loud noise of heavy and rapid volleys of musketry now rolls up
from the right, nearer the James River. The picket firing in our front
rapidly increases, and every officer and man of the 13th takes position,
for action, on the earth-works. Dim and undefined lines of the enemy
can now and then be seen manoeuvring — preparing to assault our I'ight
and front. They look like shadows in the fog. Soon our pickets come
running in and tumbling over the works among us — some of the 10th
N. H. pickets in the party, the enemy's shells plunge, tear and crash all
around us, one of them bursting among the Regiment's baggage, while a
perfect sheet of bullets flies threatening, but harmless, over our heads.
The infernal rebel yell, instantly following the crashing noise of this
volley, bursts at once from hundreds of Confederate throats : " Hur-hur-
hur " — and a scream — all in a sharp falsetto, and seemingly not two
hundred feet distant in the fog, but probably at four times that distance.

AVe can now see nothing very clearly where they are, in the fog, but
instantly commence firing, every man, as fast as our guns can possibly be
loaded and fired, straight at the noisy but almost invisible enemy ; and
the grim business of the battle rages all up and down the lines of our
whole Brigade and Division with the fury of desperation and with in-
describable noise and excitement. At the same time the men are cool,
collected, determined, and do their work with extreme rapidity. The


roar of the thousands of musket shots per minute is deafening. We have
no support ; the enemy, soon coming into view in the edge of the woods,
and at very close range, outnumber us four to one — it is a life and
death contest. We have approached too near to Richmond. It is credi-
bly reported during the fight, that the enemy is shouting : " No quarter."

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 35 of 81)