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 40 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 40 of 81)
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" The position of the Thirteenth in August and September, 1864, was
at the left of the advanced redoubt — McConihe." Lt. Col. Smith.


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


visions to the front ; tlie divisions then proceed independently, threading
tlieir way through the timber and brush, all the divisions marching side
by side and by the right flank — in columns of twos. Gen. Burnham
rides back, looks the movement over, and is furious. He orders the
change corrected instanter, and the Reg. is re-formed as rapidly as the
men and officers can run, and set marching by the right flank as before,
and amid a storm and war of hard words. The marching by divisions
was by far the easiest method — but the General had not ordered it.
The members of the Thirteenth probably never laughed over a move-
ment, and the breaking up of it with a whisk and a gale, so much as over
this one, during their whole term of service. Capt. Dodge happened to
be on horseback at the time, and declares that his men ran forward, into
the colunm again, faster than his horse could gallop.

At 2 p. m. we move again, and bivouac about sundown nearer Ber-
muda Hundred, a jerky series of short marches. Gen. Kautz's whole Divi-
sion of cavalry comes in. A rougher, more torn and battered collection of
men, horses and equipments, we have never seen ; but the men are jovial,
joking and merry, and appear to enjoy thoroughly the staring by our in-
fantry as they pass. Rough riders they. Gen. Butler rides along our
lines, but is not so popular as he was a month ago — what a month for
the Army of the James !

On the night of May 5th we could have marched straight into Peters-
burg, and then turning north, have given Richmond itself — only about
22 miles distant — a severe trial, if not at once have captured it. Instead
of that, we played at pitch and toss with a rebel skirmish line until Gen.
Beauregard organized an army, and thrashed Butler's army out of its
boots and baggage, in the four to six foggy morning hours of May 16th,
and drove it mto that Bermuda Hundred corner, and has held it there
ever since. Gen. Butler's losses since May 5th are put at 4.000 men.
Gen. Beaureguard's at 3,000 men.

At Bermuda Hundred the advanced forts on the line, from the right, are
Carpenter, McConihe, and Dutton. Our first camp after May 16th was
to the left and a little to the rear of Ft. Dutton, facing southwest. On
the 18th we fell back and towards the right, behind a long line of rifle-pits
facing nearly north. This move brought us to the right of Ft. Dutton,
but still that fort was very nearly in our front. This change of camp brought
the line of the 13th upon a steep, sharp conical hill or bluff in deep woods.
It is not very important, perhaps, but our place of operations was within
the less than half a mile of space between Forts Carpenter and Dutton,
where Gen. Butler's lines swing farthest towards the front, and near the
centre of his position. The ravine referred to under May 21st and 22d
was said to be the steepest, and deepest, and worst one, on Gen. Butler's
whole line between the two rivers, and it then lay at the front and left
of the Thirteenth ; the left of the line of the Reg. running along it for
two or three rods only, the centre of the Reg. being near the head of the


ravine. Company E was directly in the sharp angle where the front and
main line of rifle-trenches turned to run toward the rear and left along
this ravine. This camp of the 13th has been about one mile — along the
main line of entrenchments — north of the spot where Col. Button was


May 28 to June 15, 1864.

May 28. Sat. AYarm, fair clay, cool, rainy niglit. Thirteenth
called at early daylight, and has an inspection in the forenoon. At noon
is ordered to have two days' cooked rations i)repared and distributed
before 4 p. m. Dress-parade at march. Breaks camp at 5.30 p. m. and
marches to Bermuda Hundred Landing ; where we arrive a little after
8 p. m. near a cluster of old houses, and ' bunk down ' — camp language
for a bad bivouac — in the rain, and in the mud vile and knee-deep.
We are already as wet and muddy as the mud itself, and the soft mud
makes an easy lying bed ; but there is no such thing as getting dry
again, or gaining much sleep, for our shelter tents pitched in the dark
are about as good cover from the rain as so many old cotton umbrellas
with the staffs and half the ribs broken. We have a most ridiculous
night of it. This is the fifth rainy night in succession. On three fourths
of the days in the last two months we have had rain, either in showers or
storms. A rumor runs current to-night that we are retreating again, and
curses and grumblings are savage and deep. Our army feels that there
has been no need of the predicament we have been in, here at Bermuda
Hundred, and the men are neither slow nor mild in their expressions of
opinion and feeling concerning the vexatious situation. Later on, to
quiet the grumbling and disaffection, the word is passed that we are bent
upon a secret expedition and are marching under sealed orders. A lively
curiosity is thus awakened concerning our exact destination, but the secret
of it is well kept.

At whose door lies the faultiness in the recent campaign, broad history
must determine — it is not our purpose, and here we leave it. Un-
doubtedly Gen. Butler did the best he could, as he was known to be
thox'oughly in earnest to put down the rebellion. The failure appears to
have been caused by a lack of celerity ; and a want of unity in action, in
his army, after the successful attack, in the early morning of May 16th,
upon Gen. Heckman. The criticism most common in the Army of the
James at this time is : " The two Corps did not work well together."

May 29. Sun. Very warm, drizzly, cloudy, windy. The Thir-
teenth is called at daylight as usual. Breakfast is hurriedly eaten ; then
we march down to the shore, and immediately embark, at Bermuda
Hundred Landing, on the propeller ' Starlight,' with the 10th N. H., and


move out into the stream about 8 a. m. At 10.45 a. m. we move down
the James River, and arrive off Fortress Monroe at sundown. The
propeller is crowded to excess, and is very filthy from long use in trans-
porting horses, mules, war materiel and men. We have in tow an old,
leaky barge on board of which is a portion of the men of the 8th Conn.,
who are in a rage because of their bad accommodations. This barge
causes much trouble, as night comes on, when we are near Fortress
Monroe. The wind raises quite a sea. About 11 p. m. the propeller
runs aground on a sand bar ; the tide and wind drive the barge against
the propeller with several hard thumps ; the hawser fouls the propeller's
wheel and threatens serious mischief ; so the hawser is cut, and the barge
drifts away with its unhappy, noisy crew, to be picked up later by a tug,
hauled alongside and again made fast. The remarks of a heavy profane
type heard in that barge, as it moved away in the darkness, made us be-
lieve that calling Connecticut the " land of steady habits " was no compli-
ment. The men between decks on the propeller, however, fall into a
sound sleep, when all at once, as the boat careens, a long line of the
overcrowded bunks breaks down, and spills the sleejnng men all out
sprawling on the deck, and thinking the world has come to an end — for
them. They rush up the gang-ways, and almost a panic ensues, but soon
quiet is restored below.

A large collection of the officers of the 13tli, including the writer, have
taken up their quarters and spend the night lying flat on the upper deck,
all out of doors. We have sought fresh air, and get a plenty of it, with
an occasional dash of salt spray. Sleep is impossible. We laugh at the
multitude of mishaps till we cry ; the situation is even more ridiculous
than the one we were in last night. As the propeller pitches from side
to side we roll to right and left, and sing all the songs in the army hymn
and tune book — keep it up for hours. It is cold on the bay, a wild,
wild night, and inky black much of the time. After tossing, banging
and grating on the sand bar for four or five hours, the incoming tide lifts
our little propeller, we move on, and enter the York River about sunrise,
the sea now very rough.

May 30. Mon. Very warm, clear. The Thirteenth sails again at
daylight — at which time, we can hear a heavy, distant cannonading —
reaches West Point about 12 noon, thence moves up the Pamunkey. ar-
rives at White House Landing at 7 ]). m., debarks at 8 p. m., and bivouacs
on high, clean, dry ground about 9 p. m. The ti-ansports have run
aground many times to-day, in river mud, but no serious accidents have
occurred, so far as we know. Boats seem to be constantly sailing down
past us, as we sail up the river, as river bend runs by bend to parallel
streams. The name ' Pamunkey ' must have been suggested by the in-
numerable curves, bends, doubles and twists possible to tlie tail of a pre-
hensile-tailed monkey — though for crookedness the river beats the
monkey tail altogether.

The Sanitary Commission have a gorgeous steamer here at the wharf,


loaded with supplies — every package tied up in much red tape. See
June 12th. Our men cheer the Commission to the echo as they pass the
steamer. It is said to be moored to the very bit of shore where Gen.
Washington moored his lover's-barge, when he visited here the fair
widow, Martha Custis, who became his wife, Martha Washington.

They tell us that our camp to-night is on Confederate Gen. Fitz-Hugh
Lee's farm. Fine camping ground ! The men find an old black man in
a hut near by, who claims to be 113 years old — and he looks twice that
age. He also claims to have been chosen to serve Gen. Washington as
his special body servant, when he visited this same White House. The
impression is gaining ground that no man in the United States ever had
so many colored servants as Gen. Washington ; and serving him seems to
have had a very salutary effect upon their longevity.

The Thirteenth is now poorly supplied with camp equipage and tents,
and some borrowincj is the result. Since our regimental bao-jrao-e was
presented to Gen. Beauregard, on May 16th, we have been deprived of
many comforts and conveniences, the officers suffering worst of all. There
is no buncombe splurge and show about this trip, it has, instead of that,
a business air which, however trying, inspires confidence.

" While coming up here we have been crowded together, on this nasty
steamer, with nothing fit to drink and little to eat, and a broiling sun
over our heads. We got on shore about 8 p. m. to-night, and the first
thing I did after landing was to drink about a quart of brook water, and
it tasted perfectly delicious." Prescott.

This is the experience of many thousand men on this hasty and hurried
expedition. The rations served out on May 28th ran short, and coffee
could not be made on the steamer.

May 31. Tues. Very warm, clear. Thirteenth up at 4 a. m., and
has breakfast at once — hurried. At 5 a. m. a large detail, about 100
men, from the 13th, goes to work upon a bridge over the Pamunkey
river ; works hard until 3 p. m. and then returns to camp. Three days'
rations are drawn, cooked and served during the day. Col. Stevens in
command of the Regiment.

At 4.15 p. m., after having been ready to march for about an hour,
the Thirteenth leaves camp and starts inland ; marches rapidly until
11 p. m., along roads and through fields, pastures and brush, a terribly
rough march in the darkness. We halt near New Castle, on Washing-
ton Bassett's farm near Old Church, and as soon as the column is halted
at 11 p. m. our whole Reg. is at once marched to the front of it and placed
on picket ; Headquarters of the Reg. and reserve of the picket are settled
in bivouac about midnight.

The writer is on the picket line at a road bridge over a run a short
distance beyond Bassett's, and is awake the most of the night. We can
hear the distant cannonade at times all through the night ; the demands
of our picket work, in the prospect of a dash by rebel cavalry, allow of
little or no rest or sleep for the most of the Reg., while we anticipate a


severe battle on the morrow. The reader should experience the situation
and witness the scenes in an army on the eve before a battle, in order to
properly judge of them, or even imagine them clearly. We are told that
we are now only twelve miles from AVhite House, and that we missed the
road, and have actually marched more than twenty miles to reach this
point. The road has been lined with the bodies of dead horses and
mules, relics of recent cavalry encounters and used-up teams.

As the night passes here, in these deep, silent woods and quiet fields,
there steals over every one of us the awful sense of coming danger for all,
of wounds for many, and of certain death for some. The question comes
quick and unbidden, dead home : " Am I to be shot to-morrow ? " Then
we contemi^late the better side of affairs ; or turn over to dream the
brooding nightmare question out of mind — and generally succeed quite
soon in doing so. We know now little or nothing of our sudden detach-
ment from the Army of the James and swift expedition here ; but sin-
cerely hope it means a stout and winning fight, and much honor to the
Thirteenth — and we are ready to try our fortunes and go in. True
courage realizes danger but hesitates not to face it.


June 1. "Wed. Clear and very warm — very hot about noon, the air •
dry, dusty, smoky. Maj. Gen. W. F. Smith started from Bermuda Hun-
dred on May 28th, with Gen. Brooks' 1st Division of the 18th Corps, and
Gen. Devens* 2d, and Gen. Ames' 3d Divisions of the 10th Corps, a
total of about 16,000 men and 16 guns, taking steamers to White House
Landing on the Pamunkey River. He left Gen. Ames at the Landing
with about 2,500 men, and pushed on, on the night of May 31st, with the
rest of his force to join Gen. Meade's army, and arrived at Cold Harbor
with above 10,000 men and 16 guns. Gen. Butler's Army of the James
thus re-enforces Gen. Meade's Ai'my of the Potomac. The whole force
under the supreme direction of Lieut. Gen. Grant.

Gen. Smith marched until 11 ji. m. of May 31st, and then halted on
Mr. Washington Bassett's farm near Old Church, where he remained
until 6 a. m. to-day. By an error in the wording of an order, sent to him
this morning by Gen. Grant, New Castle Ferry — ten or twelve miles up
the Pamunkey, northwest — was given as the objective point of his
march, instead of New Cold Harbor — or Cold Harbor — nearly west.
He followed the course indicated by the order, until he discovered the
mistake. The error necessitated a long countermarch southward during
the forenoon of June 1st, caused a delay of four or five hours, and an ex-
tra and rapid march of about ten miles ; making on the whole a march of
full thirty-five miles, from White House to our field of battle at Cold Har-
bor. The roads a mass of dust which every puff of wind and the march-
ing troops raised in clouds, and the weather sweltering hot.

The purpose of this movement, as we learn fully this morning, is to


continue the extension of Gen. Meade's army by the left ; to seize and
hold about one mile of the Bethesda Church road running north from
Cold Harbor ; also the very important system of roads immediately about
Cold Harbor ; anil to force the passage of the Chickahominy River a few
miles south — the 18th and 10th Corps to co-operate with the 6th Corps.

The 6th Corps had come down from the right of Gen. Meade's army,
and, during this forenoon, had taken position near Old Cold Harbor. On
the arrival of the 6th Corps, Gen. Sheridan's cavalry, in the advance here,
moved southward down near the Chickahominy, covering the left of the
entire army. The 6th Corps was all up by 2 p. m.

Gen. Smith, with his 18th and 10th Corps Divisions, arriving at Cold
Harbor not far from noon (June 1st) passed over, and near 4 p. m., formed
on the right of the 6th Corps, getting well into jjosition and ready to ad-
vance at near 6 p. m., and is placed under command of Gen. Meade.

To oppose this extension to the left by the 6th, 10th, and 18th Corps,
Confederate Gen. Beauregard, retaining upon Gen. Butler's front at Ber-
muda Hundred about 9,000 infantry, besides artillery and cavalry, sent
the rest of his troops, about eight or ten brigades, under Generals Pickett
and Hoke, to Gen. Lee at Cold Harbor, while Gen. Longstreet's Corps
moves down from Gen. Lee's left wing. A portion of Gen Beauregard's
troops, however, were sent here before the 18th Corps left Bermuda Hun-
dred — the portion not required to oppose our army thei'e.

The Confederate line of entrenchments crosses the road from Old to
New Cold Harbor, at a right angle, about one half mile west of Old Cold
Harbor, thence running southward towards the Chickahominy, and north-
ward towards Bethesda church — a line eight or ten miles in length.
The Confederate troops are disposed along this line, near this road, and
facing east, with Gen. Hoke on the right, on the road, then Gen. Kershaw,
then Gen. Pickett, with Gen. Field on the left, near and beyond the vi-
cinity of Beulah church.

Confronting these troops of the Confederates are Gen. Wright's 6th
Corps, on the left, south, the right of the 6th Corps being at the road
leading from Old to New Cold Harbor ; then Gen. Devens' Division,
north of the road, his left connecting with the right of the 6th Corps ;
next to the right of Gen. Devens' is Gen. Brooks' Division of the 18tli
Corps, in which is the Thirteenth ; while Gen. Martindale is at the right
and rear in reserve. That is to say the Confederate line, facing east, is :
Right — Hoke. Kershaw. Pickett. Field. —Left.

Left — Sixth Corps. Devens. Brooks. — Right.

Martindale — in reserve ;
for the Union line, facing west. The right of the 18th Corps, Brooks',
crosses the Bethesda church road a little to the front of Mr. Daniel
Woody's house near Beulah church, which is about one mile north of Cold
Harbor. Being thus in position, our troops merely await the order to
open the Battle of Cold Harbor with the first infantry charge upon the


enemy's lines of entrenchments, all within a near view across the irregular
tracts of field and brush.

At 6 p. m. the whole Union line — the 6th Corps, and Gen. Smith's
10th and 18th Corps — almost simultaneously, advances to the charge, a
dash by more than 25,000 men, breaking in the Confederate line, and cap-
turing their outer line of entrenchments ; and the 6th Corps succeeds in
securing a portion of the enemy's main line near the Cold Harbor road.
The noise, roar and crash of the musketry and artillery firing is tremen-
dous ; but words are not worth using in the description of such scenes.
The whole rush is over in fifteen minutes ; the distance covered in the
charge varying from three hundred yards to a thousand yards on some
parts of the line, chiefly across open and clear ground.

Gen. Smith's leading brigade, on the extreme right. Gen. Burnham's
— in which the Thirteenth — of Gen. Brooks' Division, moves up a hill
wooded with pines, pushes across an open field on their front, into a thin
strip of wood, and then into another strip of wood more dense, captur-
ing the enemy's outer line of rifle-jnts, and driving the Confederates be-
fore them, until they come upon the enemy's main line of trenches where
they receive such a severe fire that they are compelled to halt, and move
into pine woods to the left for cover. See pages 344 and 348.

The losses in the 6th Corps are 1,200 and in the 10th and 18th Coi'ps
1,000. They capture 600 prisoners. The result of the day is the com-
plete occupation of Cold Harbor.

The above appears to be about the gist of the various accounts, Avhich
differ somewhat in detail. Though the first rush occupied but a few
minutes, the battle continued very noisy until midnight. In the Conn.
Adjt. General's Reports, the order of Gen. Burnham's brigade at the
time of the charge is given as follows : on the left, the 118th N. Y., con-
necting with the right of the 10th Corps, next the 8th Conn., next the
10th N. H., next the 13th N. H., on the right of the brigade.

Having thus made a general statement of the situation, as near as may
be, let us return to the 13th, and accompany it through the battle :

The 13th is now in the 2d Brig. — Gen. Burnham ; 1st Div. — Gen.
Brooks; 18th Army Corps — Gen. Smith ; and consists of the 10th and
13th N. H., the 8th Conn, and 118th N. Y. regiments. To the 13th falls
the honor of being the extreme right regiment of the 18th Ai'my Corps,
in the front line of the infantry charge that opens the battle of Cold Har-
bor. Col. Stevens in command of Reg.

To appreciate the extreme severity of the work and battle of the Thir-
teenth to-day, we must first call to mind the fact that the Reg. was roused
at 4 a. m. Tuesday morning May 31st ; a large number of the men and
officers were kept at work on a bridge from 5 a. m. until 3 p. m. on that
day ; the rest of the Reg. also being kept busy all day about one thing or
another ; and at 4.15 p. m., all were assembled, and marched rapidly,
over rough ground, until lip. m., and then at once placed on picket.

By the following it appears that a portion of the 13th were kept mov-


ing for even a longer period : " May 31. Left White House at 3 p. m.,
marched till midnight, then went on picket. Very tired ; got a little
sleep." LuEY.

Very little rest could be had while on ])icket duty ; and at 4.30 this
morning — June 1st — the Reg. is ordered to assemble, hurries from dis-
tant jjicket posts into line, and about 6.30 is marched off without any
breakfast, excej^ting what the men can eat from their haversacks as they
march along. The weather is very hot, the men are suffering much from
it, and the actual marching time has been nearly twenty hours, between
leaving White House and the charge nuule to-day — much of the march
a series of jerks. The men consequently enter the battle much tired and
worn ; and with their clothing all gray from the deep, fine dust in the
roads, rising in clouds wherever the troops have moved.

When we assemble on Mr. Bassett's farm near New Castle at 4.30 this
morning, the noise of cannon is already heard in the distance, and as we
march the firing increases in volume and clearness with every mile of our
nearer approach, until long before noon there is a continuous roar, as of
dull distant thunder ; the work of cavalry, skirmishers and cannon. We
march by rapid, tiresome spurts, halting now and then for a few minutes
only ; and near one o'clock p. m. enter the Army of the Potomac in action,
and pass over a portion of the field, near the right of the 18th Corps line,
where the irregular fighting has already swept. Trees are broken, torn
off, blown in pieces, and the ground torn up, by shells, fragments of which
strew the ground ; while the bullet marks appear everywhere and on
everything, beyond numbering or estimating. The dead are lying all
about us, chiefly rebel dead ; and the wounded Union soldiers are coming
back from the front in great numbers, many of them borne on stretchers,
or assisted by other men. One General among the number. We ci*oss a
wide, open field, and halt among some little oak-trees. Here are quite a
number of the rebel dead, and a pile of their knapsacks. One C S. A.
knapsack here, being vigorously kicked, yields to the writer a new, blue
and gold, pocket edition of Scott's Lady of the Lake, that is afterwards read
by many, and read aloud for the entertainment of many more, in the Cold
Harbor trenches. The men of the Thirteenth at this little halt among the
oaks commence to lunch, but are moved on before they can finish. We
now pass through large bodies of waiting troops of the 6th Corps, who
look us over curiously, and several batteries of artillery ; a few rebel
prisoners pass us going toward the rear, all smiling and jocular, with the
air of men just relieved from duty ; mounted horsemen are flying in every
direction and at the top of their horses' speed — and the care with which
a swiftly running horse will avoid stejiping upon the body of a man lying

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 40 of 81)