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 41 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 41 of 81)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

on the ground is truly marvelous. On the way we file around the burn-
ing ruins of a building, said to be Beulah church, near D. Woody's, on the
Bethesda church road.

Soon we enter thick brush close by the roadside, and move along by the
right flank — by fours — into a depression in the ground, a shoal ravine.


halt, and form close column by divisions, right in front. Here we ex-
pect to rest, but soon comes the quick order, given direct by an aide of
Gen. Burnham's : " Load ! " — a sudden, unexpected and startling order,
making eyes to open and nerves to quiver. The order is repeated all
along our Brigade, by the regimental and company commanders, and just
as we are loading our muskets and calling the roll, and the men are an-
swering firmly : " Hei'e ! " " Here ! " '" Here ! " in reply to the call of
their names — in many cases their last Roll-call on earth I — a sudden burst
of heavy musketry firing rolls in from the near distance and reverberates
through the woods ; a most belligerent, threatening and suggestive sound,
especially when we know by experience just what that sound practically
means. There is no flinching, however, the Thirteenth is very ready to
take its chances and to go in, never more so than now ; and one man of
the Thirteenth coolly remarks : " Now that we have loaded, we will give
them some more of that ! " — the quiet remark provoking an approving
smile among his comrades.

The order to load is quickly obeyed Jlnd we march on by fours again,
by the right flank, into a deep ravine filled with pine-trees, face to the
left in line of battle — with a bog-hole or pond and a very wet swamp
just behind us, scattered about which are many bodies of dead soldiers,
Union and Confederate together — and with the skirmishei's from our
Reg. preceding us we move forward up a very steep hill or bluff among
the trees, and halt at 4.30 p. m., the men being directed to lie down and
secure cover for themselves, from the enemy's fire, among the standing
and fallen trees. We have been within range of the enemy's shot and
shell for a long time, but now we are near his infantry lines, and hun-
dreds of his bullets whistle and whack among the trees about us ; wliile
the rebel shells burst over our heads, and the pieces come down among
us, or else rip and tear through the trees, favoring us with the falling
branches. One large ])ine-tree is cut clean off, twenty or thirty feet
above the ground, and the great branchy top crashes down, and comes
near burying or killing Gen. Burnham, who has bai'ely time to escape it.

As we move a little farther up the hill, we see near, before us, a regi-
ment, or a long heavy skirmish line — a part of it at least composed of
the men of the 40th Mass — lying along a ' Virginia ' rail fence, and hotly
engaged ; every instant some of them are being killed or wounded, and
one officer springs up and dashes back, down among us of the Thirteenth.
Gen. Burnham, who is near by, stops him, and orders him back again, as
he is unhurt. The officer refuses to go back, when the General raises
his sword as if to strike him. At this he turns to go back, and the Gen-
eral follows him up, striking him several times with the flat of the sword,
following him through our line, and until he takes his proper place again.
TVe do not know to what Regiment he belongs.

Cai)t. Goss is struck in his ear by a IniUet, and brushes his ear with his
hand as if a bee had stung him ; and does not discover what the matter
is until he sees the blood upon his hand. He finds time to have the ear


bound up before we charge. It is now 5 p. m. or a little later, and we
keep our position, advancing but little, for nearly an hour, catching
glimpses of the enemy here and there across the open field on our front ;
whence a heavy, long cloud of battle-smoke rolls up and moves towards
us, the nauseous and choking compound soon settling over and among us
in the dense pine timber and brush.

While we are here and waiting the order to charge. Col. Stevens calls
Lieut. Thompson of E to him, and, to use his own words, orders him :
"To act as Adjutant in rear of the left wing of the Regiment, in helping
to keep the men up m place, as the charge is made." He moves at once
to the position indicated, and during the charge he happens to be near to
Capt. Farr of D, the eighth Company from the right and third from the
left of the 13th, when Capt. Farr is shot. Capt. Farr spins around
several times when the l)ullet strikes him, hitting Lieut. Thompson as he
does so ; but soon steadying himself he asks Lieut. Thompson to take
command of Company D, which he cannot do because of Col. Stevens'
order for him to act as Adjutant. Capt. Farr at once disappears — the
whole matter is the work of ten seconds — and Lieut. Thompson as
quickly as possible runs along the line of Company D, and teUs the men
to ' stick to their First Sergeant, or whoever shall properly succeed Capt.
Farr.' This is done while the Thirteenth is under fire, advancing in the
charge, and before any halt is made. Lieut. Staniels until he is wounded
serves, in his regular capacity, as Acting Adjutant, in rear of the right
wing of the Regiment ; Col. Stevens desiring that the Thirteenth shall
remain compact, and unbroken in line during the charge, and therefore
taking these extra precautions.

After Lieut. Staniels, Acting Adjutant since April 23d, is wounded in
the charge, Lieut. Thompson of E is appointed Acting Adjutant of the
Thirteenth, at first on the field immediately after the halt in the charge
is made and before moving to the left into the point of pines, and after-
wards formally about midnight — Col. Stevens then writing the order in a
few words in pencil on a scrap of paper torn from a letter which he takes
from his pocket — and he serves in that capacity during all our stay at
Cold Harbor, and until relieved by the return to duty of Adjutant Bout-
well, at White House on June 13th. These are the simple facts of a
little vexed dispute, and they in no way or degree disparage any member
of the Thirteenth.

Two Divisions — the 2d Division, Devens', of the 10th Corps, on the
left, and the 1st Division, Brooks', of the 18th Corps, on the right —
now form the front line of the assaulting column ; the 3d Division, Mar-
tindale's, of the 10th Corps, in reserve to the right and rear of Brooks.
Our Second Brigade, Burnham's, has the right of the 18th Corps ; the
Thii'teenth has the right of the front line. This gives the Thirteenth the
right of the front line of the Brigade, Division and Corps, and conse-
quently in the charge that follows brings us under both a flank and a front
fire from the enemy, as the right surges somewhat forward of the main
line. See pages 347 and 350.


"While we stand here waiting the ordei' to charge. Gen. Oilman Mars-
ton's brigade passes our rear towards the swamp to our right. He finds
the swamp nearly impenetrable, and personally leads his men into posi-
tion in small bodies of a few companies at a time, for no large organ-
ization can be safely and readily handled in the dense brush. He finds
on advancing tliat AUerson's road is crossed by several rows of heavy
stakes di'iven deep, standing at a low incline towards the Union lines,
and all hewn to a very sharp jjoint. To his right in the field rises a huge
rebel earth-work and long rifle trenches.

The artiUery fire increases, the skirmishing rattles louder and louder,
the smoke rolls towards us heavier and heavier in volume until the sun is
obscured, and at six o'clock p. m., and already dusky in the dense pines,
we are ordered to charge ; and in a minute more we spring out of the
pines into the clearer light of open ground, and plunge headlong into the
terrible scene of carnage, amid tlie deafening roar of musketry and ar-
tillery — opening the battle of Cold Harbor with the first infantry charge.

Our part of this work is done in less than five minutes — reliable per-
sons have said, in less than three minutes — but in this little turn of time
the Thirteenth loses sixty-seven men killed and wounded. We leave our
grove of pines, at the crest of the bluff, and dash on the run three hun-
dred yards, across an open field, to a little ridge in the field, and upon
our approach the enemy hastily withdraws from his rifle-pits dug near
this ridge. Here we are halted, and ordered to he down and do so, while
troops form in our rear, the most of them coming up into the open field
in excellent order. We do not here enter the enemy's pits, but take posi-
tion under cover of the low little ridge, and the scattered piles of sand,
thrown out by the enemy when he dug his rifle-pits. It may be well to
say here, that the nearest regiment in our rear, when we halt and lie
down, is the 40th Mass., forming from their skirmish line and approach-
ing, but not yet so far into the field as the little apple-tree (mentioned
below), that is, they are at least 200 yards behind us. Lt. Col. Smith
thinks that the 13th charged alone, or else it had no support. The writer
is sure that no support has followed us so near as a support should follow
on such an occasion. The 40th Mass. could not possibly re-form from the
skirmish line, and keep pace with our charge.

Pine timber borders the field of our charge on the left side, but the
Thirteenth gains no cover in it at all, our position throughout the charge,
and when halted, being in the open field and to the right of all the pines.
When the halt in the charge is made, the writer is near the extreme left
of the Thirteenth, and would say positively that the whole Regiment halts
in open ground ; the nearest grove of trees, into which we are afterwards
moved, being at some distance to our left. At our left the assaulting
line, during the charge, strikes the little grove of pines referred to in the
official accounts, where they are halted, and whence they are afterwards
moved to the left, to give room for the right of the line, including the
Thirteenth, to secure cover from the enemy's fire, coming upon our front



and right. The enemy's rifle-pits, two lines o£ them, run clear across the
field from Allerson's road on our right, to and along the pines on our left.
The course taken by the Thirteenth in tlie charge formed a slight curve
to the front and left ; all the way in a clear, bare, open field.

Gapt. Durell, then Lieutenant, furnishes the writer with the following :
" Soon after our halt in the charge June 1st and while lying in line of
battle on the bare field, the rebel bullets flying over us and their shells
cracking about, the rebels just having vacated their rifle-pits, Col. Henry
of the 40th Mass., on Gen. Brooks' Staff, rode up to near the left of the
Thirteenth, and happening to meet me first, spoke to me, asking where
Col. Stevens was. I replied that he was at the right of the Regiment.
Col. Henry then directed me to go to the right of the 13th, and ask Col.
Stevens to come to the left ; remarking that the order was to advance.
I passed along the line until I found Col. Stevens, and delivered to him
Col. Henry's order, telling him about the contemplated advance. The
firing was very severe through which I passed, and I could see the enemy,
and the general situation clearly, and I told Col. Stevens that ' to ad-
vance two rods into that field meant annihilation for the Thirteenth,' and
Col. Stevens agreed with me on that point. At Col. Stevens' direction,
therefore, I returned to the left, along the line, and explained the situa-
tion to Col. Henry. He directed that Col. Stevens hold his ground, word
was passed up the line to that effect, and then he rode away to confer
with Gen. Brooks. In about twenty minutes Col. Henry retvirned, and
directed that Col. Stevens should move the Thirteenth by the left flank,
into the pines near by, to the left and rear, which was done. The word
was passed along the line, and to avoid unnecessary exposure the officers
maintained their proper positions, as there was no need of doing other-
wise. We were lying on the field — the open, bare field — for nearly an
hour, during which the firing was continuous." Capt. Durell.

To walk twice the length of the battle line of the Thirteenth, several
hundred yards, through and across such a rebel fire as then was going on,
was extremely hazardous, and Durell may well be thankful that he was
not perforated with a dozen rebel bullets, or blown into minced meat by
the shells ; but he saved many men of the Thirteenth by the act.

" June 1st. Up at 5.45 a. m. Call in the pickets at 6 a. m. March
at 7 a. m. Warm and dusty. Arrive at the front at 4 p. m., halt and
rest. Form column by divisions and load. Form line of battle and ad-
vance through woods to open field, and ordered to charge across open
field at 6 p. m. As we are charging across the field I am pretty severely
wounded by a musket ball in my right shoulder. Carried to the Corps
Hospital, and wound dressed by Asst. Surgeons Small and Morrill."

Diary of Lieut. Staniels.

Extract from a letter :

" At the battle of Cold Harbor I acted, until wounded, as Adjutant
of the Thirteenth ; and when our Regiment was deployed in line of battle
skirmishers were thrown out, and Col. Stevens directed me to advance


with the sldnnishevs, to see that theiv line was not broken and assist in
the movement ; the Thirteenth followed in line of battle, and we thus ad-
vanced through the woods until we came to the open field, where the men
laid down. Soon the order was given to fix bayonets and to charo-e
across the open field in front. When the line first advanced in the charge
Col. .Stevens was near the Regiment's colors, close in rear of the line, and
I was a little to his right. As we advanced I worked farther to the right,
and was in the rear of the third or fourth Company from the right when
I was hit.

" AVe had advanced fifteen or twenty rods from the woods into the
open field, and many of the poor boys had already fallen, when I received
a shock from a missile which seemed to me heavy enough to be a ten-
pound shot, it struck me so heavily. It brought me down to the ground,
and I realized that I was wounded. My first thought was to avoid being
taken a prisoner by the enemy, and I began creeping toward the woods ;
using my left hand, as my right hand and arm had become useless. I
worked gradually toward the woods, and was then helped back to some-
where near the point where the skirmish line was formed, and there Asst.
Surgeon Sullivan cut off my coat and vest, examined and probed the
wound. He suggested that he had better take my money, watch, papers,
and the address of my friends, and said he would telegraph to my friends.
I let him have my valuables for safe-keeping, but told him not to tele-
graph without my consent.

" I was then carried back to the field hospital, and was laid upon the
grass in the line of the wounded being brought in. Asst. Surgeon H. N.
Small was told that I was there, and he came and spoke to me, saying
that I should come upon his operating table, as soon as he was through
with Capt. George Farr, whose wound was then being dressed. Soon
afterwards I was placed upon the table, and Asst. Surgeon Small — a
noble and true friend, and a skillful surgeon — took me in charge, and
persevered until he had removed the minie bullet ; which he kept for me,
and which I now, 1887, have in my possession. The bullet struck my
right clavicle, shattering it, and then taking a downward course lodged
in the lower part of my right lung. Asst. Surgeon Small told me at the
time that it was one of the most difficult cases of wounds that he ever had
to operate upon ; the bullet going so deep, and lodging finally where it
did, was very hard to find, and when found his instruments were not long
enough to take hold of it without much effort.

'• While charging upon the rebel rifle-pits we advanced upon the double-
quick, and would naturally be leaning forward, which position I presume
accounts in part for the bullet taking a downward course ; striking the
clavicle first at a certain angle may also have caused it to change its
course somewhat." ^ Capt. Staniels.

' Personal accounts like this one given by Capt. Staniela — then a Lieutenant —
are of vital interest in a history like this ; and I doubt not many will regret not hav-
ing furnished tlieni when I urged them to do so. — S. M. T.



In coming across the field in the charge, the Thirteenth first receives
the fire of the enemy's pickets, in a strong line in rifle-pits in a strip of
l)ines a little to our left, and also directly in our front, from his pickets in
rifle-pits just behind the crest of the little ridge on which we are finally
halted — on the aj^proach of our Brigade these pickets either withdraw
or are captured. Before the charge is over, we also receive an oblique
fire from a long line of battle, off to our front and right, where the enemy
have sprung to their feet, bolt upright, and are standing in line and firing
— members of the Thirteenth will recall the blaze and glare of this rebel
line of muskets — and also shell and grape from the enemy's batteries,
one to the right and one to the left.

Just before the end of the charge, when the rebel bullets were the
thickest, Capt. Stoodley's voice was heard above the din, shouting:
" Sing, ' Rally Round the Flag,' boys ! " A few men, almost breathless
from the running and shouting, strike up a note or two — but the song
is at once cut short by the order to halt and lie down. Capt. Stoodley,
active, quick and enthusiastic, has no fear except that some of the Regi-
ment may break under this terrible fire — but they do not.

We have gained the ground which we started for, and hold it ; lying
down on our faces, with guns to the front and bayonets fixed, ready to
rejjel a charge if the enemy attempts one, and receiving the fire from a
strong line of his men behind another ridge and in other rifle-pits, in the
field, still farther to our front and right. A few of our men commence
firing upon these, but are ordered to stop. The enemy had two lines of
rifle-pits running across this field, and we have captured one of them ; but
it is harder for us to lie here inactive than it was to dash in upon the
charge. While thus lying on the ground under the protection of the little
ridge mentioned above, the sheet of bullets flying over our bodies — we
would rather be firing, men do not like to lie down and be shot at — sev-
eral lines of troops form in our rear at some distance, in excellent order
and very rapidly, then march into the field in successive lines of battle,
halt and lie down. They are much exposed also, and as they lie upon
the ground we can see the frequent sudden start, shudder, and struggle,
of a man here and there among them, indicating wounds and death. A
great number of these inactive men, while lying altogether unprotected
in the open field, are killed and wounded. Probably there is no way of
avoiding these casualties.

While we are lying here, the writer cannot resist the tem2)tation to
raise himself upon his elbow a little and look around, and witnesses the
40th Mass. enacting a most tragic scene. About 100 or 150 yards to the
right and rear of the 13th, as we lay, stands a small apple-tree, with two
little trunks, both together not one foot in diameter. On coming up into
the field the 40th Mass. approaches very near this tree — the writer
thinks their line of battle was divided by it — and just then the enemy
opens upon them a fearful musketry fire, from the same line of battle
that but a few minutes before had been practicing upon us, cutting down


many of them. The 40th swing aronnd towards the tree and many of
the men huddle together around it, and by so doing become a still
better target for the rebels, and they seem to fall by dozens. Their color-
bearer is shot down, and their colors lie on the ground ; when suddenly a
horseman, himself and horse all gray with dust, dashes at a full and furi-
ous gallop into the field from the left — Major George Marshall of Chel-
sea, and of the 40th — reaches down with his sword, and lifts the colors,
or attempts to do so. But at this very instant his horse is shot, and
plunges fearfully. The Major is unhorsed, or gets off, striking upon his
feet, seizes the colors, raises them, and makes most heroic exertions to rally
the men of the 40th — never was the action and bearing of a man under
fire more gallant than this. Meanwhile his horse turns and gallops off
the field, to the left, the way he came, straining every muscle in the
frenzy of pain, and going like the wind. He runs straight through and
over the line of one regiment of our troops lying on the ground, leaps a
high rail fence, and disappears in the distance, with reins, straps and
stirrups flying. This fence is the continuation to the left of the same
fence over which we charged, on the crest of the bluff, where the 40th
Mass. had been skirmishing. The officers of the 40th soon rally that
regiment, and bring it forward in line.

After some delay — the evening now quite dusky — the Thirteenth
moves off by the left flank, somewhat to the left and rear, out of the
ojien field, into some of the rebel rifle-jjits which the charge has captured,
and which are situated in a thin strip, or spur, of small pine-trees jutting
into the open field on the left side. "We have lain on the field nearly
an hour. From here men are sent at once to look after our wounded. A
rebel fort, or what appeared to be such as we came into the field, rising
black and high in a field about half a mile to the right and front of the
Thirteenth, fires an occasional shell during the night high over our heads
to the lighted bivouac of the Union troops somewhat to our left and rear.
We lie here in these rebel rifle-pits in the pines until some time in the
night, hour not definitely known, Lt. Col. Smith thinks until near day-
light, when we move nearly a quarter of a mile farther to the left and
rear, behind a rail fence, and thence turn towards the right and bivouac
in the same woods from which we charged and apparently about an ■
eio-hth of a mile to the left of the position on the crest from which we
charged. A portion of the 13th is thought to have re-occupied the same
ground. Here little defenses of sand are thrown up with bayonets and
tin dippers, a few logs piled up, and we literally bivouac among the dead
— they lie everywhere and in great numbers. More men are now sent
over the field to find, care for and bring off the wounded, and to bury
the dead, of our Regiment. Capt. Julian and a large detail fiom the
Thirteenth works all night upon the entrenchments near the scene of
our charge. Light lines of eartl>works rise all along our front.

The 18th Corps thus occupies and holds the ground it gained by the
assault, including all of the first line of Confederate rifle-pits ; merely



extending its lines to right and left to fill the space between the corps on
its right and on its left, and co-operating with the 10th Corps.

The foregoing account was written in the main before the writer's visit
to the field in May 1885. At that time Lt. Col. Smith went with the
writer, located the place of the charge, and the lines afterwards occupied
by the 13th. and measured, paced or estimated all the distances.

The National Cemetery is on the main road from Old to New Cold
Harbor, and about half way between those places. The first ravine
north-northeast of the Cemetery leads down direct to the rear line of
the works occupied by tbe 13th, which were in the ravine, crossing it, and
stretching out on the level to the left — westward — of the ravine. The
ravine points about southeast toward Old Cold Harbor, and about north-
west to our rear line of works. The 13th passed up this ravine on leav-
ing the field of Cold Harbor, noon of June 12th.

Now to find the place where the 13th charged on the evening of June
1st : continuing almost due north from the Cemetery towards Bethesda
church, at the distance of about one mile we come to a road, leading
from the Old Cold Harbor and Bethesda church road, and from near the
old Beulah church, southwest to Mr. Albert Allerson's house, which stood
nearly half a mile in the rear of the Confederate front line of rifle-pits

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 41 of 81)