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 37 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 37 of 81)
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another, on their right, until the whole woi'ks are manned by them so far
as we can see. Now the enemy begins to examine the Thirteenth's bag-
gage, to roll up our blankets, to eat our breakfast, to drink our coffee, to
put on our clothes, to handle sundry papers and fling them away ; one
fellow coolly sits down, throws off his shoes, and hauls on a pair of our
boots — and last, to rob our dead. One of them having just appropriated
Capt. Julian's overcoat, proceeds to rifle the pockets, and to strip the cloth-
ing from the body of John H. Harvey of E, which we were obliged to
abandon lying near the lone apple-tree, at the second angle, near where
the right of the 13th rested in the morning. This is a little too much for
Sergt. Charles F. Chapman of E, who puts the powder of two cartridges
into his gim, rams home a bullet, runs forward a rod or two to the edge of
the brush, rests his gun in the fork of a little tree, and fires ; the pilfering
rebel lies down and never once moves again — dead or badly wounded.
The range is full 500 yards.

By 2 p. m. we have in Co. E an average of less than two cartridges per
man. Capt. Julian sends men back twice for more ammunition ; but the


men are abused by some Colonel, they say, who thinks they are stragglers,
and orders them back to us agam. The contest over by the river, now to
our right, grows very noisy — there is one tremendous burst of artillery
near the turnpike — the enemy's skirmishers are beginning to advance
into the field on our front, our position is isolated, the most of our men
have but one cartridge left, and that in their guns ; and so Capt. Julian
resolves to swing his little line around and retire to the next line of our
jjickets a long distance in our rear, before it is all too late — for it is sheer
suicide to remain here without ammunition — and we thus move back a few
rods. Capt. Julian soon has a sharp colloquy with an officer, and Lt. Col.
Coughlin of the 10th N. H. comes up to see what the matter is. Capt.
Julian says that he and his men are perfectly willing to return to liis
former position, if he is first sui)plied reasonably with ammunition ; but de-
clares : " I will not go back without the ammunition — of which there is
a plenty about here." The result is that we get a part of two boxes of the
Tenth's ammunition ; and then we return rapidly to our former position,
distributing the ammunition as we go. We indeed advance our line a
little, to better cover, among larger trees ; and here we remain until dark,
and until after all the rest of the troops on the line have retired.

Our position now is practically an isolated outpost picket. The right
front of Co. E looks into nearly clear ground, the left front into a lot of
dense small pines and underbrush. Just at dusk a single rebel scout ap-
pears about 200 yards to our right in the field, and Sergt. Charles F. Chap-
man returns him to his friends — wounding him in the arm apparently.
Soon a line of men are seen close up on our front, within about two hun-
dred feet, approaching us from the rebel side, all walking backwards, like
skirmishers retreating, and firing towards the rebel lines as they back up
towards us. We can see that they are dressed in very dark stuff — not
gray. They get very close upon the left squads of our line before they
are seen ; they do not seem to have fired much down there in the brush.
Before we can make out what they are, as they come up nearer ; suddenly
a little rebel field-battery, over near the turnpike, puffs out smoke and
fire, and instantly two shells scream and crash through the trees over our
heads, and a third shell lodges, and without bursting, in a huge black-
walnut tree, under which Cajit. Julian and Lieut. Thompson are, and about
ten feet overhead, jai'ring the tree to its roots. Capt. Julian exclaims :
" That 's direction — they 're going to charge on us " — and orders a re-
treat ; also directs Lieut. Thompson to run down to the left, and to swing
the left squads of Co. E around so as to serve as flankers — all to fight as
we retire. Lieut. Thompson starts on the run down the line, and just as
he is between the two last squads, and within hailing distance of the last
squad, on the left and orders them to fall back, that line of dark-coated
fellows, now very close, suddenly faces about, and charges with the bayo-
net on the men of Co. E and fires a few shots. They are the enemy in
blue coats stolen from our dead, and more than three to one of us — but
are just a little too late for their sharp back-action game. Kno^ving our


isolated position, they had i)lanned to surprise and capture us all ; and
come within a moment of doing it — the closest sort of a shave.

The right of Co. E gets ofE safely, but the two squads on the left escape
only by clubbing their muskets. Of these seven men, four in the left
squad have a hand-to-hand fight. Sergt. John Pinkham breaks his mus-
ket over a rebel's head. John Riley — a sturdy Irishman — is seized by
two rebels, gets clear, runs, is pursued, cannot get time to load, seizes his
musket by the muzzle, swings it around, and lets it fly ; the butt strikes
one pursuing rebel in his chest and doubles him up like a jack-knife, the
other stops and fires, but without effect, and Riley escapes.^ Owen Mc-
Mann, a small Irishman, is the only one they capture, or seriously hurt.
McMann died in the rebel murder-pen, Andersonville.) Lieut. Thomp-
son, near, and a witness to the most of the scrimmage, expects they wiU
rush upon him, but is merely fired at ; and soon sees the escape of all but
McMann, whom none could assist without capture.

The first duty is to get all the Company safely out of the scrape and
together. Notwithstanding the very close quarters, Co. E soon forms
and moves steadily back through the trees, firing with all their might.
The enemy fires also briskly, but hits no one — not light enough to take
good aim. Company E is now sure that it has for a long time been en-
tirely alone on this advanced line — a nice little arrangement for the regu-
lar line of Union pickets ; the 10th and 13th are gone, pickets and all, no
one in sight. The picket line, of which we formed a part early in the day,
has been withdrawn, all excepting ourselves, to a new line nearly or quite
half a mile farther back. We have been practically abandoned, or left
for capture to draw the rebels on into a trap, and we have no orders !

To say that we are angry, or even furiously mad, is to say nothing at
all. The enemy, in a strong line, now presses closer, as Co. E retires,
but firing less. Sergt. Pinkham and Riley join the Company, having
made a wide ddtour in the brush, but minus their muskets ; and for
safety we leave the field in open order as a close line of skirmishers, fir-
ing occasionally. As we come into clear ground, some Union men off to
our left toward the turnpike fire a few shots at us, all going wild over our
heads, and we shout to them to stop. The enemy follows us until he
reaches the edge of the brush, and then he halts ; we cross a wide level
space — a part of the field where the 13th bivouacked on the night of
May 13th — pass through a double line of dismounted cavalry acting as
vedettes, and then a line of pickets, and form beyond them — the field
we have just crossed being soon swept by the bullets of the contending
pickets ; and then we march out of range amid spent bullets coming over,
join the confused, retreating mass of infantry, artillery and cavalry, com-
posed of the 10th Corps, and plunge along the turnpike in the mud and
sand, it seems to us about five or six miles, and finally after making
numerous inquiries about the way we join the Regiment at Bermuda
Hundred between ten and eleven o'clock at night. The first salutation
^ See battles of Battery Five and Fort Harrison.


we receive on arriving in camp is : " Why — you here ! We thought
you had all gone to Libby." The report having preceded us, that we
had all been captured. One account states that we arrived at Bermuda
Hundred camp at 11 p. m., and joined the Regiment ; which had already
been in camp for several hours.

Company E thus remained on advanced outpost picket from about 9.30
or 10 a. m. until after dark, most of the time short of ammunition, with
out orders and without a single word of communication with the rest of
the Thirteenth, no one so far as we know having made any attemjit to
recall or relieve us. If we were left as a bait to invite the rebels, after
capturing us, to advance, there was a chance to exchange us for more than
three times our number of the enemy, who by advancing would come
upon a double line of dismounted cavalrymen armed with the ' Seven-
shooters ' — Spencer's carbines. In such a ruse we learn something about
the experiences of live bait, when one goes a-fishing. The men of the
10th N. H. were all gone before Co. E retired ; all firing along their line
had already ceased, and we passed over a part of their abandoned ground
seeing none of them. Their historian states that they continued to hold
the enemy in check until nearly surrounded, then fell back. Before Co.
E retired the enemy's skirmishers had advanced across the field from the
line of earth-works to the woods, to the i-ight of Co. E, where vSergt.
Chapman of Co. E shot one of them very near by ; and on the left of Co.
E they had come so near as to capture one man, and to have a hand-to-
hand fight with others, who escaped only by clubbing their muskets. But
for the darkness the Confederates had not stolen so closely upon us, and
but for the darkness, as matters were, they had easily shot half of us.
Companies rarely get into a worse place, and then get safely out again.
When we first leave our position, there is not a Union soldier within a
quarter of a mile of us ; for we had advanced, after getting ammunition,
to the spur of the ridge or knoll overlooking the field more clearly, and
with more safety to ourselves, than our position earlier in the day. Com-
pany E retired to Bermuda Hundred with troops of the 10th Corps, not
seeing any troops of the 18th Corps. The 18th Corps had gone many
hours before, and with our Brigade — Gen. Burnham's — among them.

When men have once been detached from their regiment, they run the
risk of falling into the hands of persons who care little what becomes of
them. The writer regrets to say so much about Company E, but excuses
himself on the plea that it is a matter of history, if not all of a general
interest, and, coupled with what Company A had to put up with, shows
a proof of reprehensible irregularity somewhere ; besides he is writing
■what he knows about this Thirteenth Regiment. Co. E was probably in
charge of the officer of the picket, whoever he may have been, and the
space between the pickets on the left of the 10th N. H. and those of Co.
E he may have regarded as the space between the pickets of the two

" I arrived with my Company in the old camp at Bermuda Hundred



at 10.30 p. m. on the evening of May 16th. We had no rations, and
were very hungry, and much exhausted by the long and hard day's work
of nearly twenty hours. I succeeded in obtaining two boxes of hard-bread
for the men of Company E, about thirty in number, and then Col. Stevens
furnished me with a supper. Many in the Reguuent supposed that we
had been captured by the enemy, and were quite surprised on learning
that we had come into camp. When we ai'rived the Regiment were in
bivouac and asleep." Capt. Julian*.

We now turn again to the general account of the day : During the
morning hundreds of rebel bullets were beating against our regimental
baggage, lying in the open field behind us ; demonstrating the dangers
of a retreat across that broad field all completely swept by the enemy's
shells and bullets. The prisoners came in in large squads, at one time
constantly passing through our lines to the rear. Many gave themselves
up voluntarily. There must be credited to the Tliirteenth many more
than 59 — chiefly belonging to the 44th Tennessee — as given in the
official reports. Possibly some of our prisoners have been accredited to
other regiments. Among others the Adjt. General of Gen. Bushrod
Johnson was captured by the Thirteenth. One rebel Lieutenant, who
was captured, said that his company had already lost sixty men before
he was taken, and that most of the companies in his regiment had suffered
in about the same i^roportion. The 44th Tennessee was almost entirely
annihilated by the fire of the 10th and 13th, and by prisoners taken.
The writer knows for a certainty that Company E of the 13th fired, in
the trenches this morning, and before the retreat, nearly eighty rounds
per man, besides an extra supply that its provident Captain brought in
early from among the Regiment's baggage. The 10th and 13th, together
about 1,000 men, must have fired more than 50,000 rounds of ball-car-
tridge while fighting in the morning behind the earth-works.

Our retreat from the earth-works was made just in the nick of time,
when the enemy was preparing, out of range, for his fourth charge upon
us ; consequently while retiring we receive only the fire of a few of his
pickets or skirmishers. The Thirteenth loses all of its baggage, and the
most of the officers all of their personal effects. The records, even, of
but two or three of the Comjianies are saved. Company K's records are
carried in Lieut. Thompson's valise. During the fight, about 7 a. m., a
bullet fills the well eye — he has but one — of James W. Folsom of E
with sand, and nearly blinds him. He must go to the rear, and so is
directed to take this valise to Bermuda Hundred. He shoulders the
valise, placing it on the shoulder towards the enemy to protect his head,
joins the escort of a squad of prisoners, and marches off across the field
in the rear of the 13th- He succeeds in reaching camp with the valise,
and unharmed. Lieut. Staniels, Acting Adjutant of the Tliirteenth, also
succeeds in saving his valise by furnishing a man, who had to go, with a
pass and sending him to the rear carrying the valise with him.

" As the Regiment in retreating passes through its abandoned baggage,


Sergt. Ira A. Spofford of Co. G thrusts his gun through the strap of the
valise containing Co. G's records, and Lieut. L. C. Oliver takes hold of
one end of the gun to help carry the valise. Lieut. Oliver is not so tall
as Sei"gt. Spofford, and the valise does not ride well between them — giv-
ing so much trouble, that they drop it when about half way across the field.
When the Reg. is finally halted, Capt. Stoodley inquires about the miss-
ing valise. Sergt. Spofford exjjlains ; but being a little touched, turns on
his heel, marches straight back into the perfectly open field, picks up the
valise, and brings it in in safety, amid the cheers of the Regiment. The
enemy fire numerous shots at him, but he comes off unharmed. Capt.
Stoodley has five dollars and a few cents in his pocket, and gives Sergt.
Spofford the five dollars on the spot. The Reg. has fui-nished few in-
stances of more marked bravery than this act of Sergt. Spofford's. He
was always a very brave man." Major Stoodley.

The fight occurred near Palmer's Creek, about 8 miles from Richmond,
on the farm of the Rev. Mr. Charles Friend — owner of the brick house
— a secesh of the secesh. His house is more or less battered by shells,
but he and his family moved out before we came up.

During the fiercest of tlie fight, to the east of the turnpike, some rebels
boasted that they were of the regiment that mutilated the Union soldiers
near Port Walthall. The answer to that boast was : no prisoners from
that regiment went to the rear on that side of the turnpike, though quite
a number were taken. This is common report.

The battle of Drury's Bluff has been a long, straggling, thin affair,
though exceedingly lively in spots ; and it is no great honor to Gen.
Beauregard to have forced this long and almost single rank of Union men
back to Bermuda Hundred. But so the battle has ended, in one of the
darkest nights we have ever known, and in a retreat that comes wofully
near to a rout. The turnpike is full of troops of every arm, and teams,
ambulances, cannon and horses. The troops are very tired, dispirited,
beaten, suUen, angry, ugly, silent.

The men of the Thirteenth, many of whom have not slept for the past
thirty-six hours, have been constantly under fire, night and day — saving
now and then for a few hours of rest — since the morning of May 7th,
nearly ten days ; have had scarcely enough of fair weather to get their
clothing and blankets dry, even for once, during that time ; have lost
many of their best comrades, and all their regimental records and bag-
gage are in the hands of the enemy. We may properly quote : " We
have met the enemy — and all we had is his'n." The losses in these
ten days are thirty-one, in killed, wounded and prisoners, the strain has
been very severe upon all the Regiment, and many of the men are ren-
dered unfit for immediate service both by exhaustion and slight wounds.

Gen. Humphreys states that from 4.30 a. m. until about 11 a. m. the
roar of battle was fearful ; no sooner dying down at one ])()Int than rising
at another. In great successive waves of sound ; that the fog cleared
about 9 a. m., so that objects could be seen at a considerable distance.



Maj. Stoodley, in a letter written to his wife on May 17, 18G4, states
that the Thirteenth fired very rapidly from 5 a. ni. until 9 a. m., and then
retired. The sun commenced shining clear at 8 a. m. Our Brigade —
after having retired from the works to the woods — was advanced again
ahout 3 p. m., but not engaged ; being sent in merely to cover the retreat
of the other forces on the right of the turnpike, that is to the east of it.
Everything has been wet for a week, and we lay every night where night
happened to find us.

The differences in time, concerning the fog, may be explained by the
fact that it was a ground-fog ; appearing quite dense when viewed from
a low point horizontally, even while the rays of the sun broke clearly
through its rifts here and there.

The trench which we occupied was about eight feet wide, and nearly
six feet deep, almost a moat, and now containing a considerable amount
of water. The trench was on the south or outer side of the works, the
eai'th taken from it having been thrown up to the north — toward Rich-
mond — to form the parapet ; showing conclusively that these works
were built by men when not under fire — and they were locally reported
to have been the work of slaves.

The attack by the enemy in the morning, just as breakfast was pre-
pared, was so sudden that many officers and men of the 13th could get
no breakfast at all, excepting what they could snatch in their hands.
One mess breakfast was spread upon the baggage boxes, but could not be
approached after the firing began. A huge coffee-pot, full of coffee,
stood there also, and presently a rebel bullet went straight through it
near the bottom, followed by two streams of hot coffee — steaming down
to the grass. This coffee-pot is said to have been found in the Halfway
House, apparently an old hotel.

Company B took 26 prisoners, and about the time when they were
passing along behind the Thirteenth to the rear, one of the captured
jH'isoners received a rebel bullet straight through both cheeks, tearing his
face to pieces, and smashing and plowing out half of his teeth. He jogged
along to the rear, clearing his mouth of blood and teeth, and — so much
as he could — cursing his own careless troops in a perfect rage.

Gen. Burnhara had two horses shot under him in to-day's battle.

The withdrawal of Gen. Gilmore's troops of the 10th Corps to near
the Halfway House by 12 noon, may in part account for the irregularities
on the front ])icket Une to the left of the position occupied by Company
E in the afternoon ; and for the terrible predicament of the small body
of Union troops — the Massachusetts men — on the parapets of the fourth
and fifth trenches, when the rebels came firing, and by file into line,
while re-occupying their works, from points near the turnpike.

During the fight in the morning, a rebel drum-corps, mere boys, came
into our lines as prisoners. The plucky little fellows threw down their
drums and stamped the heads in, and threw their fifes as far as they
could into the grass of the field in rear of the Thirteenth. The writer


went out and secured one fife, a German silver affair, which had been
thrown away hy one of the boys ; and still, 1887, preserves it as a sou-
venir of the battle. It belonged to the 44th Tennessee.

While Co. E is retiring late at night, Thomas Harrigan of E comes
to the writer, and remarks that he has two cartridges in his gun, that he
has fallen, gun and all, into a mud hole ; and if the charges remain in the
gun until morning, they will give him a great deal of trouble, and wants
to know what he shall do. The reply is : " Fire it off now." The gun
is instantly pointed into the air and the report breaks out upon the dark-
ness almost like the crack of a Parrott cannon ; the road is full of troops
and horsemen walking in silence on the soft sand and mud, and the start-
ling discharge makes the woods ring and echo, and almost every one near
by suddenly turns to learn the cause of it. The writer instantly sees that
he has committed an error, and tells Harrigan to take to the woods —
which he does as swift as the wind. But none too soon, for a general
officer, said then to be Gen. Gilmore himself, not a rod distant, turns
quickly in his saddle, calls for the arrest of the man who fired that gun,
and declares that he will have him shot. His orderlies soon come around
inquiring who fired the gun. Fortunately they cannot inquire of the
writer — he removes ! — others merely say they " don't know, the man
fired and then rushed into the woods." llarrigan is in camp when his
company arrives. A few shots like that would have given the enemy too
much information. We were at the time about half way down from the
front to Bermuda Hundred.

" Chaplain Jones, of the 13th, has written a full Diary of the Regi-
ment's affairs up to date, and it is left, with all his other effects, in the
ditch of the rebel earth-works, for the enemy to read. Chaplain Jones
stopped in one of Mr. Friend's buildings on Sunday night, and this morn-
ing, in the earliest part of the fight, the enemy rings him a call-bell with
shot and shell, and the front, where the Regiment's baggage is left, is
soon unapproachable." ChAPLAIN G. C. Jokes.

In the early morning Maj. Grantnian and Capt. Dodge are together
on our skirmish line, on the left of the Thirteenth, engaged in making
arrangements to send sundry prisoners to the rear. While they are talk-
ing together a Confederate officer rides up out of the fog, searching for
the Confederate skirmish line. Coming upon Grantman and Dodge, and
not recognizing the blue, he inquires of them : " Where is the skirmish
line ? " Quick as thought Capt. Dodge rephes : " The skirmish line is
right here, Captain ; you may as well get off that nag ! " The Con-
federate dismounts, and jjroves to be an Adjt. General on the staff of
Gen. Bushrod Johnson.

The honors and casualties of the day — omitting numerous slight
wounds — are officially given as follows : Col. Stevens commanding
the Regiment ; Major Grantman Acting Lt. Colonel ; Cai)t. Dodge Act-
ing Major ; Lieut. Staniels Acting Adjutant. Adjutant Bontwell present,
but sick and not on duty. Sergeant James M. Hodgdon Acting Sergt.


Major. Lieut. Morrison, Quarter-Master. Morrill, Surgeon. Jones,
Chaplain. Surgeons Richardson and Sullivan on the operating staff at
the 18th Corps Hospital on the field. Prescott, Hospital Steward.

Company A, Capt. Carter commanding, with Lieutenants Hall and
Churchill, have Andrew M. Dunsmore wounded. Capture one prisoner.

B, Lieut. Gafney commanding, with Lieut. Favor, have Sergeant
Nathaniel E. Dickey wounded. Capture twenty-six prisoners.

C, Capt. Durell commanding, no casualties.

D, Capt. Farr commanding, with Lieut. Sherman, have Corjjoral John
S. Cheney wounded.

E, Capt. Julian commanding, with Lieut. S. Millett Thompson, have

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 37 of 81)