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 39 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 39 of 81)
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innumerable and almost interminable tree roots. About six o'clock a. m.,
100 men, with a shovel in one hand and a gun in the other — the shovel
the brighter metal — are sent from the Thirteenth under Capt. Stoodley,
with Lieutenants Sherman and Taggard, to the outer picket line, upon
some especially dangerous work on the entrenchments. The Reg. worked
all last night shoveling and slashing, works all day to-day, and all of this
night, without a cessation long enough to call a rest ; while the picket firing
and shelling is very heavy, and scarcely ceases for a minute day or night.
Guns are kept always at hand in momentary expectation of a battle. The
Reg. removes a short distance this forenoon towards the right. We are
encamped in a wheatfield ; and the wheat is getting thoroughly threshed
before it is ripe — like the Army of the James. One soldier of the 13th
writes home to-day: "We moved camp to-day up on a hill in the woods."

(May 1885 : Bei-muda Hundred lines not visited by the writer. Neither
he nor Lt. Col. Smith could recall any landmark there to point out our
cainp, excepting a ravine at the left and front of the Thirteenth that was
spoken of at the time — May 21, 22, 1864 — as the deepest, worst and
least passable from the enemy's side, of all the ravines on the whole line ;
and that the Union line ran over a very sharp, conical hill near the ra-
vine, the Thirteenth being for a part of the time located on this hill.
Lieut. Prescott thinks that we camped, on the night of May 16th, to the
left and slightly to the rear of where, Fort Dutton now is ; moving on the
18th to the right of that fort, a short distance onlj"-, and taking position
behind a long line of rifle-pits, facing nearly north.)

May 19. Thurs. Misty, cloudy, chilly, rainy, muddy, nasty — in-
tolerably nasty. Thirteenth roused at 3 a. m. and posted in the rifle-pits,
and from that hour we are hard at work on the entrenchments all the
forenoon. In the afternoon we move towards the left, a few rods only, to
a new position on the line, and encamp close up under cover of the rifle-
trenches. Heavy firing in every direction, the rebels shelling our camp
and lines continually all the day. Near us we hear the incessant pounding
of heavy guns — big Parrotts ; part of the siege train of about one hun-
dred guns, from 100 lb. Parrotts down, and from 10 inch mortars to field-
howitzers, requiring twelve schooners to float it, sixty artillery wagons to
transport its odds and ends, and 1,700 artillerymen to man it — all
under the command of Col. Henry L. Abbott, of the 1st Conn. Artillery.


One angle of the line now occupied by the 13th faces southwestwardly,
and looks straight down into a deep and densely wooded ravine, which
no troops but infantry or dismounted men can possibly cross to us. Our
camp is close to the right and east side of this ravine, in a level wheat-
field. About midnight to-night the enemy attacks in force, and an hour's
sharp fight ensues both by infantry and artillery — noisy, furious.

The rank and file of this army feel anything but agreeable at the sum-
mary defeat at Drury's BlufF, and the humiliating present situation here.
The fact cannot be passed. Our soldiers are so inexpressibly angry and
disgusted, that they have ceased swearing about the defeat ; and they
would fight like mad furies if let loose upon the enemy now.

Adjutant Boutwell and Quarter-master Morrison sent to the Hospital,
both very sick. The members of the 13th generally have absorbed so
much of yellow Virginia mud into the pores of their skin, and have drunk
in so much also together with malarial poison in the execrable fluid found
hereabout and called water, that their blood appears clogged, and one
half of them are sick with tlie ' yallers,' as the natives call jaundice.
There is a mine of yellow ochre not far away, and the faces of many of
the men look as if stained with it. The mud is terrible, clay mud mixed
with gravel, a thick gruel, yellow mud, ochre mud, infamous mud ; muci-
lage, gum, pitch, glue, cement are all nothing and nowhere compared
with this huge Virginia gritty viscous gulf of geological gob and gumbo.
May 20. Fri. Fine day. Reg. at work on the entrenchments ;
their guns all stacked within reach and ready for instant use. Last night
the Reg. was called into line, and prepared for action four times, the
enemy attacking each time ; Reg. not engaged. Some very severe fight-
ing to-day, and near enough for us to hear the firing and shouting, and to
catch a goodly number of the overshot shells and bullets. The Reg. not
engaged to-day excepting with shovels, and picks, and in keeping aU our
heads as low as the work will permit. The chief trouble to-day is on the
right near the James River, where the enemy have been attacking all
along the line — this forenoon — making three furious charges, but each
time repulsed. The Confederate General, W. S. Walker, in command
is captured. The 97th Penn. is said to have been badly cut up. Gen.
Butler and staff i)ass along our lines.

Chaplain Jones, of the 13th, takes the position of Chaplain of the De-
partment Hospital, City Point, under Surgeon H. B. Fowler, of the 12th
N. H. The 13th loses a good friend — a much better friend than they
think. Chaplain Jones deserves a good word at parting. He has always
been kindly to a fault. He lias cared for the regimental mail with more
faithfulness than any regular Post-master. He has written letters home
for the men who could not write for themselves. His visits to the sick
have been as regular as the day. He has written a full and heartily com-
plimentary history of the Regiment, which was lost at Drury's Bluff. His
letters to home newspapers have greatly benefited the Thirteenth, by call-
ing attention to the needs of the men. The chief obstacle to a proper ap-


preciation by the men of his vakiable services has been his use of a formal
relif ious written service. Fifty ott-hand hearty words, extemporaneously
spoken, go farther with them, than fifty pages of set prayers, no matter
how well read. Chaplain Jones was greatly missed in the Regiment after
his departure ; and in the General Hospital, he and the men of the Thir-
teenth, taken there, at once mutually sought each other.

A soldier of the 13th writes home : " Moved our camp again to-day.
Fell into the rifle-pits at 8 p. m., and again at 11 p. m."

Irreverent camp talk: " Say, Tom, I've got a conundrum for you."
" Well, Bill, out with it ; no gags now." " Why is our General like a
Major General ? " " Oh — that 's easy enough ! He has — he has — ;
Oh fudge — I give it up ; ask me something easier than that ! "

May 21. Sat. Fine day. Last night the Union gunboats in the
James shelled the enemy nearly all night ; destroying the sleep of two
armies, and sending the frogs to mud — and we guess that is about the
full effect of all the firing. The Thirteenth is called before we can clearly
see, and sets at work on the entrenchments. The boys say that " early
daylight means dark daylight down here in this hole in the mud." Sharjj
picket firing all the day. To-night, about 10.30 p. m., the enemy sud-
denly opens a masked battery on our immediate front, a battery that must
have been planted very stealthily, and commences a furious shelling, firing
with the utmost rapidity, while his pickets, strongly supj^orted, attack our
lines Avith vigoi", about one third of a mile to our right, yelling, firing, and
raising a general din. Our infantry there replies. Gen. Butler telegraphs
orders to give them a drubbing, and our whole line of artillery opens with
all its power, and there follows a regular roar of artillery and musketry,
continuing for a full half hour, the sky ablaze with brilliant and incessant
flashes of fire. The Thirteenth rush out of quarters and man the works,
and remain in the front trenches all night.

The contest in all continues for nearly an hour, when the explosion of a
magazine, or of an ammunition wagon, near the enemy's battery, silences
it, and the general firing soon ceases. The enemy is repulsed, and leaves
his numerous dead on the field. The explosion sends the enemy's shells
far up into the air, above the top of the tallest trees ; exploding there into
magnificent fire-works, and a shower of fragments, and giving us a fine
opportunity to cheer. The most of the fragments and missiles rain down
upon the enemy's own head ; but next morning — 22d — many grape
shot are picked up in our camp, and kept as souvenirs of the explosion.
A prisoner states that the enemy had his infantry massed for a night at-
tack, but our "■ big guns gave their battery such a terrible pelting," they
were forced to give over the purposed attempt.

The line of the entrenchments, now held by the Thirteenth, forms a
sharp angle towards the front — or a salient — at the head of a deep ra-
vine, and then trends to the left and rear along the edge of the ravine.
During this night melee, the writer is directed to mount the parapet of
the works, near the angle, and watch for the inter-line pickets, or vedettes,


if they are driven out of the ravine. Taking the position designated, on
the parapet, behind a small jjine-tree left standing in the works, he be-
comes a witness to the whole affair. A fight with artillery, in the night,
is very grand to see ; but a little pine-tree is small defense agamst shells.

The general situation of the Army of the James, at Bermuda Hundred,
is well down in the crotch formed by the forks of a huge letter Y, formed
here by the Appomattox emptying into the James at City Point. The
lower part of the Y, is the lower James. The left fork is the Appomat-
tox, with Petersburg at the apex. The right fork is the upper James,
with Richmond at the apex. Gen. Butler's line of works crosses the
country between the forks, from points on each fork about half way its
height ; that is from Port Walthall on the left, to Trent's Reach on the
right, a line four or five miles in length. Gen. Beauregard's line crosses
a little farther up, and only a few rods in front of Gen. Butler's line ;
and he has both the railroad and the turnpike in his rear, just about near
enough for a convenient distribution of supplies along his line. Gen.
Beauregard admits that we gave his army a fearful drubbing on May
16th, and he is reported as declaring his success a barren victory.

May 22. Sun. Warm, fair day, rainy at evening. The enemy
is pretty quiet to-day, excepting his unending shelling of our lines and
camp. This morning while the Reg. is being formed for inspection, Gen.
Hiram Burnham commanding our Brigade comes along, and not pleased
with the line made by the 13th, the ground being very uneven, draws his
sword, and attempts to dress the Reg. up to line. The fault is with the
position of one of the markers — too far to the front — which causes the
right -of the Reg. to stand in the ditch in rear of the works. The
General waves his sword several times, motioning the marker back, but
the marker does not stir. The General calls to him, but the marker takes
no heed ; then the General rounds out his big voice — to be heard half a
mile : " Marker ! Are you real estate ? " The marker replies in a lower
voice, " No, Sir." " Then," says the General, " if you are not real estate
— why don't you move ? " He straightens the line to suit him. Soon
he turns to the officer of the picket, Lieut. Thompson of E, standing near
by in the trench, and demands pretty roughly, why he does not turn out
the camp-guard for a General. Lieut. Thompson explains that these men
are the pickets, a special line, not a camp-guard ; the camp of the 13th
being placed close to the earth-works for necessary pi-otection from the
enemy's continuous fire. The General, upon this, promptly begs pardon
for his demand, looks at every man along the picket Hue, and passes on.
This illustrates the man, severity and gentleness strangely combined.
As it Is the hour of inspection, the General quickly approaches a man of
this little i)icket line, brusquely and sharply demands the ])Icket's gun, and
extends his hand to receive it. The picket Instantly drops his gun to a
'charge bayonet,' and positively refuses to part A\'ith it. The General
leaves him, and then tries another man a little farther down the line. This
man's gun comes down to a charge with a quick determined snap, and


the General receives another refusal, even more emphatic than the previ-
ous one. The men of the picket line, this morning, are not generous with
their guns ; but Gen. Burnham appears greatly pleased. He passes on
without examining any guns — but wears a very pleasant smile on his
face. Any sentinel while on duty in presence of the enemy will risk less
by refusing to part with Iiis musket, no matter who demands it, than by
giving it up to any one.

The enemy sends in a flag" of truce, desiring permission to bury his
dead. Granted. The flag approaches through the deep ravine near the
13th. We are ordered to move up and remain, night and day, as near as
possible to the rear of our front trenches ; the wide field we are in being
continually swept by shell, grape and bullets from the enemy.

" There was a very deep ravine or gulch, in front of a fort, on the
Union main line, commanded by Lieut. Day — name of fort not now
known — and this fort was built in that part of the wheatfield which
the Thirteenth occupied after the return from Drury's Bluff."

Capt. Durell,

May 23. Mon. Warm, clear. Thirteenth at work on the fortifica-
tions. Very quiet along the lines, save for an occasional shot. The
whole army here is in shelter tents with a few old walls and A's, and
every day men are seen patching or sewing up the holes made by the rebel
bullets, grape shot and pieces of shell.

A little after midnight last night, Lieut. Thompson of E is recalled
from the special picket line, after more than twenty-four hours of service
there, and put at the head of thirty-eight picked men of the 13th,
of whom several are volunteers, among them Sergt. Charles F. Chap-
man, and sent under a guide to Gen. Butler's Hdqrs. On the way
other detachments, from other regiments, join on, until the expedition
numbers about 500 men. The directions were to select * brave and reli-
able men,' and ' officers brave, cool and efficient ; ' and with this pretty
send-off we leave camp in a drizzling rain, and in pitchy darkness, ex-
pecting never to return alive. On our arrival at his Hdqrs., Gen. Butler
appears, receives us cordially, and thanking the little army for their
' commendable patriotism and zeal,' tells them that the enterprise is too
hazardous, and orders us to rejoin our regiments. The men give the
General three rousing cheers ; and then stumble back to their camps,
through the rain, the Egyptian darkness, the pools of water, the mud, the
brush and stumps. The expedition was a sort of forlorn hope ; to go on
a gunboat and attack a strong rebel outpost on the Appomattox River.
It afterwards came out that nearly a whole rebel brigade were near this
outpost ; our attacking it would jiretty surely have resulted in death or
Libby — possibly both.

To-day a large party from the Thirteenth is cutting down trees in front
of the fortifications, and another party is in line of battle near by to pro-
tect the choppers in case they are attacked. The job uses up neai'ly all
the forenoon, a very dangerous piece of work.


A Pennsylvania Lieutenant sought peace of mind far in the rear during
the Drury's Bluff light, and the charge against him is as follows : " On

or about May 16, 1864:, he, the said First Lieutenant and Adjutant of

the Penn. regiment, did abandon his post at the first fire, and did run

back to the entrenchments — a distance of nine miles more or less." (See
June 19, 1864.)

May 24. Tues. Heavy thunder shower with a high wind this
morning — the water covering all level surfaces, filling the ditches and
paths and turning the earth into gruel. After the water had loosened the
pegs and slackened the linen canvas and hemp tent-ropes, the sudden,
sharp gusts of wind sent many of the tents flapping and flying, and soon
collapsing into tangled heaps of slimy ropes and muddy, wet canvas ;
the occupants of the tents left sitting with baggage and arms on the tent
sites in a pouring rain. Use cotton ropes and canvas when you go tenting.
Afternoon sunny, steamy, very hot. Last night the Reg., and whole camp,
was roused by a sudden rattle of noisy picket firing. Quiet all along the
lines to-day. The 13th has its tents close up to the front trenches, and the
rebel bullets frequently come ripping through the cloth. Boards, logs,
barrels and cracker boxes filled with earth, and fence rails or poles are
set up on the reb-ward side as a protection.

The enemy for a number of days past has had trains running on the
R. & P. Railroad, and sounds the engine whistles merrily as a train runs
safely by. Some of our siege guns fire at the rumble of the trains, one or
two miles distant. Rations are now somewhat deficient, and one soldier
of the 13th writes home : " I have eaten so much pork of late that I
expect to speak in grunts."

Many soldiers just previous to a fight, or a dangerous piece of work,
fall to praying and talking piety, and — we are obliged to record it —
these are not our best soldiers, nor our best men in any place. It is as-
tounding what transparent hypocrites men will sometimes make of them-
selves by religious pretense, ceremony and sanctimoniousness ; still there
are other shams, for instance : " A certain regiment of cavalry has a very
prudent Dutchman for one of its captains. Finding himself in a tight
place one day, he called a squad of his men to precede him in the dan-
gerous movement, saying to them as he sent them in aliead of himself :
' Go in there, poys — go in sbry ; petter ten men pe killed than me ! ' "


Let us record the fact right here — of which we have had ample proof
in this campaign, as well as previously : Negro slaves of both sexes and
of all ages have herded together, occupying quarters promiscuously like
pigs, sheep and cattle — a regular Africa in America — and the more
rapidly they multiply the more their owners are pleased ; they cultivate
the farms and raise produce for the rebel army ; they work in the rebel
arsenals, they shovel upon the rebel earth-works ; as soon as the battle is
passed they care for the rebel wounded ; none are much risked, and they
are not armed, because that means a personal bounty or free contribution


by their owners of so much valuable property — a much higher bounty
or free contribution than the people of the North have been called upon
to give. Relying upon the generally inoffensive and kindly disposition
characteristic of the negro, the slave owners leave their families to the
care of their slaves, and the safety and peace of the families is almost
universally assured. The strangest features, however, of the whole slave
affair are the many cases of voluntary devotion of these slaves to their
masters, and masters' families now bending all their energies through
the aims and issues of this war to rivet upon these very slaves the chains
of a perpetual and hopeless bondage.

May 25. "Wed. Very warm. Rainy afternoon. Reg. in camp in
the front trenches. Not much doing. Jaundice, chills and fever, and
diarrhoea have invaded our camp here in force within a day or two, and
a large number of our men and officers are sick. Capt. Normand Smith
is very sick indeed, far worse off than any other officer. Almost every
one who is sick turns to a saffron color. Rev. A. J. Patterson, of Ports-
mouth, agent of the Portsmouth Ladies' Soldiers' Aid Society, pays a wel-
come visit to our camp. The wounded are especially well cared for.
A strong picket leaves the 13th under Captains Julian and Goss ; and
are enjoined to ])repare for severe fightings

Unless actually engaged themselves, the men are now so thoroughly
tired out that they drop almost mechanically behind a protecting tree,
stum]} or little defense of sand thrown up, and go quietly to sleep, as if
altogether unmindful of the whirring, crashing, roaring, uneartlily din of
the firing going on all around them. The Thirteenth has been called out
every morning at 3 or 3.30 a. m., remaining under arms in the front
trenches until daylight, has engaged in chopping, shoveling, or fighting
during the daytime, and has been frequently called out under arms
during the nights — ten days of extremely hard work.

May 26. Thurs. Rainy. Reg. at work on the largest, and nearest,
fort in the forenoon. We think this fort was afterwards called Fort
Dutton. Move out in the forenoon about one mile along the earth-works
to the left, in support of a reconnaissance in force, under command of
Col. Arthur H. Dutton of the 21st Conn. While our Brigade is across
the deep ravine, near the Appomattox river, Col. Dutton rides forward
upon the skirmish line and is severely wounded. (He dies of this wound
June 5, 1864.) He was of the Regular Army. His conspicuous uniform
presented a too prominent mark for the enemy's sharp-shooters. We re-
turn to camp about 2 p. m. Very quiet along the lines during the day.
Last night the pickets kept u}) a continual fire, and many men, unable to
sleep soundly and safely in their tents, on account of the danger from the
enemy's overshot bullets, took their blankets and laid down in the ditch
of the entrenchments. Very sensible.

The 13th has one very nervous six-footer. He was fast asleep the other
night, when one of our own batteries near by opened with bang and
racket enough to waken the dead. Without stopping to learn that there


was no danger whatever, ' Nervy ' sprang up, seized his blankets in one
hand and his gun and some of his clothing in the other, and ran wiklly
and half-dressed for the rear. The camp-guard stopped him, and know-
ing the case, marched him back under guard at once as he was, a picture
of utter demoralization and despair. Once engaged he is brave and cool.

Signs of a move ; cooked rations ordered to be ready. Maj. Gen. Q.
A. Gilmore assumes command of the Bermuda Hundred line. The day
closes with a heavy rain storm.

May 27. Fri. A hot day. The Thirteenth is in line under arms
at early daylight. The officers and most of the men have gi-een peas
for breakfast. They are now quite plenty and cheap. An order comes
early from Brigade Hdqrs. that the sick will remain here to guard our
old camp in the absence of the command ! This promises no sport, with
the enemy in full force within easy rifle-shot ; and every man and officer,
who can stand upon his feet, resolves at once to march. The order looks
like one of Gen. Burnham's little jokes. Nothing cures malarial dis-
orders like a change in location, or the blood-stirring rush of a battle.
We break camp at 8 a. m., start at 11 a. m., march about two miles
down nearer the James and bivouac at noon, on a hill on a splendid
farm. With the exception of Ahis little march we lie about in the shade
of the trees until past noon. Here the rebel shells have plowed and
torn through everything, and many are lying about. Negroes have been
employed in gathering such of them as have not burst — ' live shells ' —
and throwing them into a brook to soak.

On the march through the dense woods and brush, the Thirteenth,
alone in the Brigade, from marching by the right flank, in column of fours,
on reaching a narrow strip of clear ground swings hurriedly forward into
line of battle, at a right angle with the line of march, then breaks by di-


A. Appomattox River at Point of Rocks, with ponton bridge.

B. Port Walthall and railroad. F. Battery Burpee.

C. Roads to Bermuda Hundred near Mr. Hatcher's.

D. Farrar's Island and James River.

E. Fort Zabriskie and Signal Station. G. Fort Wead.

H. Battery Walker. I. Fort Button. K. Battery Pruyn.

L. Battery Marshall. M. Battery Anderson. O. Battery Perry.

P. Fort Carpenter. R. Fort Drake. T. Battery Wilcox.

U. Battery Parsons. V. Battery Spofford.

S. Battery Sawyer (near). Y. Howletts and Confed. Bat. Dansler.

N. Redoubt McConihe ; where Company C. with Capt. Durell and
Lieut. Prescott served as garrison.

The Confederate lines generally face east, the names of their forts not
known ; the Union lines face north, west and south.

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 39 of 81)