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 38 of 81)
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John H. Harvey killed, and Owen McMann taken prisoner. Capture
three prisoners.

F, Lieut. Dustin commanding, with Lieut. Taggard, no casualties.

G, Capt. Stoodley commanding, with Lieut. Oliver, no casualties.

H, Capt. Smith commanding, with Lieut. R. R. Thompson, have Cor-
poral J. C. Walker killed, and Lieut. R. R. Thompson wounded.

I, Capt. Goss commanding, have Corporal W. B. Lewis wounded.
Capture thirteen prisoners.

K, Capt. Betton commanding, no casualties. Capture eight prisoners.

Total : killed two, taken prisoner one, severely wounded five ; prison-
ers captured forty-nine.^

Gen. Humphreys — pages 151 - 156 — drawing from Confederate
sources, states concei'ning affairs near the turnpike, " that the fog sud-
denly fell, upon a moonUt night, just before day, so dense that a horse-
man could not be seen at the distance of fifteen paces." The fog cleared
away about nine o'clock. He continues : At a quarter before five o'clock
a. m. Gen. Ransom advanced in the dense fog, and completely surprised
Gen. Heckman's brigade. Gen. Beauregard says that at 10 a. m. his right
was still heavily engaged. Gen. Hoke with Johnson's and Haygood's
brigades had been hotly engaged on the turnpike. They it was who cap-
tured the five guns there. (The affair mentioned on page 297 as witnessed
by the Thirteenth.) Johnson's Brigade lost heavily — one fourth of its
numbers. Then Clingman and Corse were thrown forward, but both
were obliged to draw back. At about 10 a. m. the fighting in front of
Haygood and Johnson was stubborn and prolonged. The enemy (Union
troops) slowly retiring from Johnson's right, took a strong position on
the ridge in front of Proctor's Creek, massing near the turnpike, and
occupying advantageous ground at Charles Friend's; and Gen. Hum-
phreys adds in a footnote : " This was the position to which Smith and
Gilmore fell back." At 1.15 p. m. Gen. Beauregard telegraphed to
Richmond : " We occupy the outer lines ; the enemy is still in our front
with open ground between us. Some of the Brigades (Confederate) are
much cut up."

1 The account of prisoners captured exhibits an error on the face of it, and cannot
possibly be correct — it is much too small. — S. M. T.


Gen. Beauregard's force, engaged in this battle, was about 20,000 men
— and his losses are put at 2,184.

Gen. Butler's force, actually engaged in the advance, was about
20,000 men also — his losses about 3,500.

"When Gen. Butler's troops landed at Bermuda Hundred, on the night
of May 5th, the force of the enemy was so weak about Petersburg that
he might have swept everything before him, captured Petersburg, and
moved to the very gates of Richmond, and may be entered and held the
city. That was possible for several days ; but by the time Butler was
ready to advance upon Richmond, Gen. Beauregard had collected an
army of hard upon 30,000 men, all told. Many thousands of Beaure-
gard's troops came up from the south, passing by the railroad and turn-
pike, directly in front of Butler's lines, and but a mile or two distant ;
which avenues should have been closed — and might have been — before
night of May 6th by one tliird of Butler's force.

The writer of ' New Hampshire in the Rebellion ' states that the enemy
charged upon the 10th and 13th three successive times in columns three
lines deep (six ranks) ; and that each successive wave broke at the line
of the telegraph wire, at the edge of the sunken road. Also refers to the
rebel battery silenced by the 10th, while trying to shell us out ; and re-
lates the incident where Lt. Col. Coughlin of the lOtli halts, faces about,
and aligns his regiment while on the retreat from the enemy's works.

The foregoing account was written chiefly before the winter visited the
field in May 1885, with Lt. Col. Smith. The outer line of Confederate
earth-works runs to the left southwestwardly where it crosses the R. & P.
turnpike ; it crosses here about one mile south of Kingsland Creek, about
350 yards north of Mr. Friend's House (now Mr. Barney's) and about half
way between the 9th and 10th mile-stones from Richmond. In this line,
on the turnpike, is a redoubt for two or three guns. The first trench in
this line of works runs from the left of this redoubt, that is from the west
side of the turnpike, nearly west, about one fourth of a mile to, and a
few yards across, a lane running parallel with the turnpike, and opened
since the war. The second trench is about fifty yards long, a mere south-
ward deflection of the line. At the west end of this trench stood a lone
apple-tree, at the second angle. The third trench is about 275 yards


A. Railroad. B. Turnpike.

C. Proctor's Creek. D. Mr. Jordan's house.

E. Half-way House. I. Mr. Hatcher.

F. Mr. Charles Friend's house. G. Dr. Woolridge.

H. Clark. M. Fort Stevens — IG guns.

K. Position of Thirteenth May 14, 15, and 16, on Confederate works.
L. Sunken road, along which telegraph wire was stretched.
N. Drury's Bluff, or Fort Darling, system of defenses.
P. Kingsland Creek. R. James River.

DRURY'S BLUFF, May 14-16, 1864.

Tracing of Official Map. Scale, one and one half inches to one mile.


long, running nearly east and west, and terminating at a gun-way on the
left, provided with a curtain and traverse. The fourth trench is about
fifty yards long, sweeping southward, to the left of which the line zig-zags
for a quarter of a mile or so until lost to sight in the woods.

During the fight, the right of the 10th N. H. rested near where the new
lane cuts through the first trench, and about one fourth of a mile from
the turnpike. Their line covered the short second trench and sweeping
around to the left occupied about one third of the third trench ; hence
their effective cross fire. The 13th occupied the left two thirds of the
third trench, the left of the Reg. coming to the gun-way between the
third and fourth trenches — the only gun-way there is. As this third
trench runs nearly east and west, the 13th faced nearly due north during
the fight. The apple-tree which stood near the second angle, at the right
of the 13th, has been cut down. Traces of the old rebel barracks still
remain, near the turnpike, in front of the trench occupied by the 13th.

To the front — north — about three fourths of a mile distant, is a
Confederate redoubt for three or four guns, located on a hill to the east of
the turnpike. One or two hundred yards to the east of this redoubt, on
very high, bold ground, stands the Confederate Fort Stevens, with plat-
forms for sixteen guns. This large fort is about three fourths of a mile
northeast from the position of the 13th, and is in the midst of a net-
work of rifle-trenches connected with the famous Drury's Bluff system of

There were no Union works. The Union army had turned a portion
of the captured Confederate entrenchments, near the turnpike, between
M., Fort Stevens, and G., Dr. Woolridge's house, and occupied the reverse
or south side of them. See map.

Lt. Col. Smith states that we were attacked at daylight, when we could
not see 100 feet for the fog. The first we knew of a general engagement
the enemy struck Gen. Heckman's brigade, on the right, with yells. H.
B. Gilkey of H fired 84 shots, and the Thirteenth, nearly 500 men, is
said to have fired more than 30,000 rounds. The enemy about 40 or 50
rods distant, coming nearer of course, as his charges broke at the tele-
graph wire stretched along our front. We held the trenches for nearly
three hours after the fog began to rise, the enemy on both flanks. We
retired al)0ut 9 o'clock. While crossing the field in retiring. Col. Abbott
of the 7th N. H. — in the 10th Corps — marched his regiment by the
flank at a right angle with the Thirteenth in line of battle. As soon as
the 13th was halted in the woods Capt. Smith and Maj. Grantman went to
the edge of the woods and looked back over the broad field then cleared
of troops ; while they were here the rebels began to come out over their
works and commenced pillaging among our baggage. They had on blue
coats, and Capt. Smith thought they were our own troops ; but Gen.
Read, Gen. Smith's Adjutant General, then standing near by, pronounced
them to be rebel soldiers.

The Thirteenth is especially indebted to Lt. Col. Smith for his time.


team, intense interest in this liistory, and information given during these
visits to its battle-fields. We may add that this visit to Drury's Bluff was
made in the midst of a heavy May rain-storm — one of the real old sort
— and in the usual superabundance of Virginia mud. During this visit,
the writer asked a boy living near Fort Stevens — which is on his father's
farm — if he could tell us where we could find some old bullets ; he re-
plied : " They 're pretty well picked up now — but down by that old
road, there used to be just thousands of them ! " As he said this he
pointed to the sunken road in front of the position occupied during the
battle by the 10th and 13th N. H.

To return again to the narrative of the day :

Capt. Stoodley, ever on the lookout for Company G, had succeeded in


. A. Turnpike. F. Position of Thirteenth in the battle of May 16th.
B. Confederate line of trenches : starting from a small redoubt on the
turnpike, and running west nearly one fourth of a mile straight
to C, which is a lane cut through the line of works since the war ;
thence continuing on as indicated, the distances given in yards.

D. Old Confederate barracks near turnpike, in front of 10th and 13th.

E. Position of 10th N. H. in the battle of May 16th.

G. Position of Massachusetts troops when fired upon by the rebels from
nearer the turnpike, as they re-occupied their works.

H. Wide, clear field in rear of 10th and 13th, where ten Union field
pieces were placed, engaging Fort Stevens — T — during all of
Saturday afternoon. May 14th.

I. Position of Co. E, on the picket Une after the battle, and until dark
on May 16th.

K. Mr. Charles Friend's house, 300 to 500 yards south of the works.

L. Place of Thirteenth's bivouac on the night of May 13th, in a little
field south of the line of woods.

M. M. Line of woods where telegraph wire was stretched along, just
north of the sunken road Y. (Only a part of the road was sunken,
the rest a mere track, now, 1885, very difficult to follow in the
dense timber grown up since the battle ; the ground was then
open between the works and the road.)

N. 10th mile-stone from Richmond. P. 9th mile-stone.

R. Kingsland Creek, nearly one mile north of the trenches held by the
13th, on May 16th.

U. Columns of rebel infantry, six ranks deep, in woods assaulting.
The arrows indicate the advance of the enemy to re-occupy the
works — on both sides at once — after the 10th and 13th regi-
ments had retired to the woods L. The arrow V shows the
course taken by their careless heavy column of infantry ; the
other arrow of their extremely cautious skirmishers.

DRURY'S BLUFF, Mat 14-16, 1864.

From a sketch made by the writer in May 1885i


raising money enough to purchase an extra nest of three iron camp-kettles.
These were used exckisively for making coffee, and when the Thirteenth
retired, this morning, from the works, these kettles were left full of it.
Several years after the war closed, a Confederate officer was lecturing at
Reading, Mass., and related, as an incident, the capture here of sundry
kettles full of most excellent Yankee coffee. On comparing notes it was
made clear and cei'tain that this Confederate officer, and his friends, had
enjoyed this morning the coffee made for Company G — and appro-
priated their kettles. It is, no douht, very satisfactory to Co. G to know
what became of their coffee and kettles on this occasion. The Major
adds facetiously concerning this : " Our coffee was on boiling when the
rebels came on, and we left it to them, as they were having a hard time
— it is not best to be too selfish in this world."

A word here condensed from letters written from the Hospital De-
partment of the 13th : '•• May 14th. We captured the enemy's out-works
within nine miles of Richmond and two of Ft. Darling. We shelled a
large fort about three fourths of a mile distant all this afternoon, cut
down the flag staff, and silenced the fort, and our troops were expected
to storm it. Gen. Butler's Hdqrs. were at Mr. Charles Friend's house.
Asst. Surgeon Morrill and I were with the Thirteenth. Surgeons Rich-
ardson and Sullivan were at the General Hospital on the field. May
15th. Our artillery shelled the rebel fort and lines. Our baggage and
camp equipage was brought up to the front this evening. May 16th.
A dense fog prevailed at 2 a. m. About 5 a. m. the enemy massed in
large numbers, and with most hideous yells charged upon our troops
(Heckman's). Our Brigade, on the extreme left, was not exposed for some
time. Our men could see but a few feet ahead. Artillery could not be
used with accuracy. The rebels came ujion our Brigade, lying safe and
silent in the rifle-pits waiting for them, and approached within a few rods,
when an awful volley sprang from the Brigade, and as the smoke lifted
the rebels lay in windrows ; their columns broke and ran. Volley after
volley followed. The fog lifted about 8 a. m. Gen. Burnham sent re-
peated orders for our Regiment to fall back, but the orders were disre-
garded until a peremptory order came to ' fall back immediately,' which
was obeyed. We lost all our personal and regimental property.

" A rebel soldier states — verified by others — that Gen. Beauregard was
re-enforced by ten Brigades from Gen. Lee's army on Sunday, 15th, and
they were double-quicked six miles on Monday morning. IGth. Whis-
key mixed with gunpowder was freely supplied them, rendering them per-
fectly reckless. I dressed this rebel soldier's wounds. All the rebels I
saw were pleased beyond measure to get within our lines as prisoners. I
have never seen an instance where a rebel prisoner — well or wounded —
was not treated with kindness ; while the rebels rob our wounded, and
strip and mutilate our dead, as I know from personal observation.

" We have rested but three days in the last ten. Everybody seems tired
to death. There has been a great deal of rain. We have had to march



through it, fight in it, and sleep on the hare ground under it. As we
retreated from the front to-day I assisted in gathering muskets, picking
them up hy the armful, piling them up against some tree and setting them
on fire, to prevent their falling into the enemy's hands. In the afternoon
we turned from the road into a field on the east side of the turnpike, lay
down flat upon our faces, just on the rear slope of a knoll, while a section
or two of a field battery took position behind us. Soon a rebel line ap-
peared emerging from the woods, and when within a few rods they were
met with a withering fire which effectually checked their further advance.
Then we arose and continued our retreat. I think the Thirteenth covered
the retreat from the front. The loss in the 13th (during the recent en-
gagements) has been 5 killed, 19 wounded, 2 missing." Prescott.

" Rev. Mr. Charles Friend in a conversation with me at his house, after
the fall of Richmond, stated that he was an original secessionist, and went
around making speeches in favor of secession. Now he knew he was in
the wrong, for had the South been in the right, God would have given
them the victor}'. At the beginning of the war he owned about forty
slaves, now only their children were left with him, and he asked me,
' "What was to become of them ? ' I replied that that question was not
for me to solve." Major Stoodlet.

During the advance Quarter-master Morrison and others rode beyond
the lines, and came to a house which had just been deserted by its
occupants and the enemy. The flight was evidently hasty, and the
house was found well supplied with dishes, cooking utensils, furniture,
etc. Fearing that all this would soon be destroyed, and thinking that
many things now in the house would be very serviceable at the Field
Hospital near the Half-way House, Morrison hurried back to Surgeon
Richardson, obtained an ambulance, proceeded with it to the house, loaded
it with beds, bedding, crockery, cooking utensils, etc., and conveyed them
to the Field Hospital, where they were used for the comfort of wounded
Federal and Confederate alike. On the retreat on May 16th. the most
of these things had to be abandoned, but they served an excellent purpose
while in our hands. Among the things he found abandoned at this house,
was a gray uniform dress-coat belonging to Col. E. C. Brabble of the 32d
North Carolina, which he preserved, and still, 1887, has in his possession.

" May 14th. Advance in line of battle at 6 a. m. Gain the enemy's
outer works at 8 a. m. Regiment remains on the outside of the works
all day and all night. Showery. 15th. Up at 3.30 a. m. Regiment
remains on outside of works all day and all night. 16th. Up at 4 a. m.
Rebels charge upon our lines at 4.30 a. m. ; and at 9 a. m. we fall back,
giving up the outer works. Fall back gradually, and at night arrive at
our old camp ; losing since leaving camp five men killed, nineteen wounded
and two missing. Lose all our Headquarters documents."

Diary of Lieut. Stakiels, Acting Adjutant.

The following extracts from letters, written May 17th-22d from
Hospital by Lieut. R. R. Thompson to his wife, are inserted as giving the


approximate hour when the first heavy cohimn of the rebel charge struck
the Thirteenth, as Lieut. Thompson was wounded at that time. One or
two other facts are corroborated also, and after narrating several inci-
dents already entered in this book he continues :

" Chesapeake General Hospital, Hampton, Va., May 22, 1864. On
Monday May 9th we went southward towards Petersburg, which was
about eight or nine miles distant from our camp. We approached to
within two miles of the city and there remained till the next day. We
had some fighting, and lost a few men. During the night we lay on our
arms in line of battle. Early in the evening of the 9th the enemy at-
tempted to force us from our position ; but were repulsed by the 10th N.
H., with heavy loss to the rebels. On the morning of the 12th we started
on the main object of the expedition — for Riclmiond. We found the
enemy at noon, and drove him back about a mile. During the night the
rebels fell back about half a mile, and then seemed to make a stand. It
was rainy every day from the 12th to the 16th.

" On the morning of the 16th the enemy opened on us at daylight. The
fog was so thick that a man could not be distinguished at a distance of
more than ten yards — if so far. The right of the Union line fell back
first. The action was very sharp for a while. I was wounded in my
left side about six or seven o'clock. The ball just grazed my ribs, nearly
opposite the pit of my stomach. When I left the field our forces were
retiring.^ From May 6th to 16th we were under fire more or less every
day excepting two, and at night lay on our arms. My wound is not dan-
gerous, though very sore, and I am feeling pretty well. I arrived at this
Hospital May 17th." Lieut. R. R. Thompson.

Extracts from the 10th Corps army correspondence, referring to the
battle of May 16th, and the troops of the 18th Corps : " In general the
fighting here has been bushwhacking rather than that of pitched battles.
The woods have hidden everything not in immediate proximity. The
fight of Monday 16th is represented as one of almost unexampled fierce-
ness. Telegraph wire was stretched along the front of Burnham's and
Wistar's Brigades, and the rebel prisoners agree in saying they were
greatly confused by it. The fog occasioned many mistakes. A rebel
Captain went straight in among our pickets while looking for his own
men. Rebel soldiers walked into the trenches of the 13th N. H., and
were then in an agony of fear lest they should be shot down, A rebel
Brigadier it is said, addressed a Union regiment as the 23d Virginia, and
requested them not to fire upon their friends. Burnham's brigade lost
339 men. In retiring the Union line went backward from right to left,
regiment by regiment, as the bark is peeled from a tree."

While we are thus ringing the door-bell of Richmond, and then run-
ning for dear life, leaving our ' May Basket ' hanging on the door-knob
and filled with all our best camp gear — as children play at the game
with flowers ; Gen. Sheridan with his cavalry has made the entire cir-
1 He refers here to our troops to the right of the 10th and 13th. — S. M. T.


cuit of Gen. Lee's army, sweeping around, between the rebel host and
Richmond. I£ Gen. Sheridan had commanded these 30,000 and more
men of us here, since May 4th, we had swept tliis entire region clean of
the enemy, from Petersburg below to Richmond above, and bagged that
lively brace of towns besides. For a number of days — precious days —
we were five to one, at least, of all the men the rebels could muster.
This is the way we look at the affair.

Gen. Gilman Marston relates, 1887, that some time after the war he
met a North Carolinian, who said that he was in one of the regiments
which charged upon the Union troops at Drury's Bluff ; and the General
asked him if he remembered meeting with any telegraph wire during the
charge. The North Carolinian replied : " Yes, I remember that wire.
It cut my legs." Then he continued with many words, expressive, but
not for ears polite ; his earnest language and manner giving evidence
that he made a very intimate jDersonal acquaintance with that wire.


May 17. Tues. Misty, cloudy, chilly, some rain. The Thirteenth
is called at daylight, is moved about a little until a camping ground is
selected, and then a large detail is at once set at work on the entrench-
ments. Earth-works rise up all along the line, more as if they grew than
as if they are being made. The pickets are firing briskly all along the
line, and artillery is also busy. Many spent bullets come over among us,
and now and then a shell. War's music, however, plays loudest far over
on the right. Gen. Butler's forces here are being "bottled-up" in
very truth — and the cork well driven. The enemy on our front is in
very strong force. But see the Thirteenth ! The men look as if they
had not slept for a week, or washed for a month ; their caps are helmets
of unburnt brick, their jackets muddy cross-roads, their trousers cylinders
of clay, and their feet land's end.

When we approached this line in our magnificent holiday excursion,
on May 5th, victory promised us wonderful successes ; now she has
moved — bag and baggage — across to Gen. Beauregard, who flaunts a
hundred rebel flags in our faces — and we cannot help it.

The enemy get the range of our field Hospital and shell it savagely.
One of their shells lodges in the ground under the bunk of a wounded
man. Expecting it to burst, the man closes his eyes and faints away ;
then rouses a little, quivers a moment, faints again, and expires — killed
by sheer fright. The shell does not burst. The worst dread that ever
comes upon a soldier is the fear of another wound, or of being shot to
death, after having received the shock of a severe wound and before re-
covering from that shock. The dread is nervous, when nerves are weak-
est, as well as mental — a double strain.

Notwithstanding the keenness of indignation and chagrin with which
this army feels the defeat of yesterday, it must be borne in mind that an


advance upon Richmond from this southern side was beset with numerous
and great difficulties. Above Trent's Reach the enemy controlled the
James, and re-enforcements could come to the enemy upon both flanks of
Gen. Butler's line and straight upon his front ; and if in strong force
could break through Butler's rear-guard, thrown out towards Petersbui'g,
and come upon his rear. The Army of the James was a mere loop of a
line thrust into the enemy's country from the James about Bermuda
Hundred and Point of Rocks ; extreme celerity of motion, before the
enemy could be re-enforced, was the only plan of success.

May 18. "Wed. Cool, showery. Every available man shoveling
muddy earth into long heaps, out of trenches filled with a network of

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 38 of 81)