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 42 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 42 of 81)
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which we charged upon and captured. Turning to the left and proceed-
ing southwest up this road, towards Mr. Allerson's house, we soon come
to a ravine, and in it a culvert, across the road, over a brook running
from a small pond lying some fifty yards to the left of the road, and
known as the "Old-Still" pond — a distillery having once been located
near here. The only brook, culvert and pond in this vicinity. At the
southwest side of this brook and pond is a steep bluff, 30 to 40 feet high,
and with a slope of about 50 yards, running along the ravine in a south-
eastward course for several hundred yards. If the crest of this bluff be
taken for the handle of a huge sickle, with the end of the handle resting
at the Allerson road, north ; a line of woods and a rail fence, sweeping
first southeastward and a little to the rear, and then southwestward far
to the front, and bordering the east and southeast sides of the field into
which we charged, will rather roughly represent the blade — the point of
the sickle falling near where the Confederates had a powerful redoubt, in
an open field, near a mile to the southwest of the bluff. Here were the
cannon that played upon us from the left, during our charge.

On the afternoon of the charge, the 13th came into this ravine from
the southeast, marching by the right flank ; halted, faced to the left in
line of battle, swung around a little, and marched up the slope among
large pine-trees, between the Old-Still pond and the bluff west of it, and
made the final formation, for the charge, in line of battle, near the crest
of the bluff, and facing southwest. The 13th here formed a rod or two
in rear of a rail fence, and waited for the order to charge, while the
Union skirmishers, a part of them of the 40th Mass., were behind the
fence hotly engaging the Confederates in rifle-pits 300 yards to the front


— upon whom we were to charge — and being badly cut up. When the
order to charge was given the right of the Thirteenth rested nearly in
front of the centre of the Old-Still pond, 150 yards from the road, paced
southeast along the crest of the bluff, and 100 yards from the culvert,
paced south across the ravine and up the slope, and about 50 feet in rear
of the highest i)art of the crest ; the 13th thus occupying the central part
of the handle of the sickle. Lt. Col. Smith paced these distances in
May 1885. The 13th charged nearly due west, swinging a little to the
southwest, and almost directly toward the spot Avhere Mr. Edward Jen-
kins' house now stands, away over on the farther side of the field toward
the left. The charge was for almost exactly 300 yards (the distance
measured by a tajje line. May 1885) and done as rapidly as the aver-
age man can run that distance. The captured rifle-pits have since been
leveled, but their line is easily made out from the color of the subsoil
thrown up, as the vi^hole is now, 1885, a plowed field.

After halting in the charge, and lying down for about an hour, we
moved by the left flank, to the rear and left, about 75 or 100 yards, to
the edge of the pines, and into some Confederate rifle-pits among them,
and remained there until near morning, the 118th N. Y. on our front.
There was a scramble on the part of some of the men when we went into
these rifle-pits, and in endeavoring to preserve better order in the sudden
rush, after we reached the pits and were ordered into them, the writer
had a heavy gold ring pulled off from his finger and lost. It was a
present and loose. Bearing upon the crest of the bluff, and upon the
whole level field of our charge, with no trees of consequence or other ob-
struction to their fire, were two rebel batteries at least ; one to the right,
about one half mile to the northwest of the 13th, and near where IMr.
AUerson's house now stands, and the other to the left, about three fourths
of a mile southwest of the 13th and a little to the south of where Mr.
Jenkins' house now stands. Besides these, and running wide across the
field in our front, was a strong system of two lines of rebel rifle-trenches,
flanked by similar trenches to the right and left, all occupied by a heavy
rebel skirmish and picket line. The charge of the 13th, and of our Bri-
gade, was into a sort of broad inverted y ; the Reg. entering at the point,
the bar and arms to right and left rifle-trenches, on each end of the arms
a battery, and the enemy's gunners and riflemen well manning all. The
banks along AUerson's road were also heavily manned by rebels.

" Charles McGaffrey of I carried the National colors through the
charge unhurt, and Malachi W. Richardson of G the State colors, and
was killed. McGaffrey shook the colors out, and waved them to the
front, just as we came upon the crest of the bluff, among the dead and
wounded lying along the rail fence. Three of the eight men of our Color-
gtiard were killed. The total loss in the 13th in less than five minutes,
during the charge, was seventy in killed, wounded and missing. We
moved to the place of our charge by the road that runs from Old Cold
Harbor via New Cold Harbor to Gaines' Mill about two miles west ;


stopped to load and called the i-oU in, or near, the road, and straight
across, about one half a mile to a mile, from the crest. AVe next moved
along the road a short distance, left it, moved to the right, towards the
north, passed around the recent ruins of a building — said to be Beulah
church — into a ravine and brush to the right, thence over much rough
ground co the position on the crest from which we charged. The 40th
Massachusetts were skirmishing on the crest in front of the Thirteenth
just before, and at the time of our charge, and Capt. Goss secured nearly-
enough of Spencer rifles thrown away, or lost, by them, to arm his Com-
pany, I, hut they were taken away from him by order of the Coi-ps Pro-
vost Marshal." Lt. Col. Smith.

The State-color bearer Ricliardson was struck during the charge, and
was found shot through the hij)s, lying with the colors on the field. He
was assisted off the field by Corporal Charles Powell of K, a Swede,
who took the colors. As Richardson did not recover from his wound,
the colors were placed in Powell's hands as a complimentary reward for
rescuing them, and he carried that flag through the rest of the battle.

Lieut. Taggard states that when we fell back after the charge, to the
little strip of pines, and went into the rebel rifle-pits, a little to the rear
and left of our line of charge and place of halting, Sergt. Van Duzee
of E was left in sight, lying on the field. A man of Co. E seeing him
there, rose up, reversed his gun, sticking the bayonet into the ground —
to indicate that he was bent on a peaceful mission — and advanced to-
wards the rebel line, and towards Van Duzee. The enemy, howevei*,
fired at him, and he was obliged to return, leaving Van Duzee on the

A rebel prisoner, taken later, so described a man, whom he helped to
properly bury, that we believe it must have been Van Duzee.

Asst. Surgeon Sullivan remembers that the Reg. fell back after the
charge, and at some hour in the night, to the slope between the little pond
and the crest of the bluff, and that night, and the next day, the men ob-
tained water from a spring near the south end of the pond ; so that we
must have been, during the latter part of the night of June 1st and on
June 2d, very near the point whence we charged. As the Reg. passed
to the charge he saw quite a number of Union soldiers standing and ly-
ing, half sunk in the mud and water of the pond — dead ; all having
been shot while attempting to cross to the skirmish line, before the 13th
came up.

Under date of June 3d Charles W. Washburn of G, a member of the
Thirteenth's Band, temporarily employed at the Hospital, writes home :
" Thousands were wounded June 1st. We had poor accommodations.
The wounded were brought back to the rear, a mile or so, on stretchers,
and laid on the gTound in a field, and we put uji bushes, the next day, to
keep the sun off a little. The Surgeons worked night and day, cutting
off legs and arms, and extracting bullets and pieces of shells, from every
part of the men's bodies. All had to lie on the ground, both before and


after the o])erations upon them. It rained the night of June 2(1, and
many of the wounded had httle cover, and some of them no cover at all.
On the morning of June 3d the ambulances commenced carrying the
wounded to White House Landing."

June 2. Thurs. Pleasant, with light showers, hard rain in the
afternoon. Last night the enemy made desperate attempts to recapture
his works and lost ground, but in vain. The dead of the 13th buried.
The Reg. in line of battle and entrenching — along the crest near the
j)oint over which we charged, but a little to the left — with bayonets and
dippers and now and then a spade, and under a dangerous fire all day.
Severe fighting going on to the right and left, in spurts, all night and all
day, but no general engagement. We occupy a portion of the crest
about 200 yards to th^ left of Allerson's road, and are fronting a little
south of west. The 18th Corps holds the ground which it captured.

Last night Asst. Surgeon Sullivan, and Hosp. Steward Prescott, of the
13th, went out between the lines, looking for the wounded. A man ap-
pears on horseback, and demands their business ; and they, Yankee like,
demand his. And there tlie interview ends ; each parting from the other


A. Road leading from Mr. Albert Allerson's house H, eastward to
Mr. D. Woody's house and Beulah church ; with culvert N over
the brook from the Old-Still pond B.
C. C. Crest of bluff rising about 40 feet, all along the west side of a deep
ravine D, heavily wooded and containing a spring M and pond
B. A strong zig-zag rail fence, V, ran along this crest for sev-
eral hundred yards.

E. Position of Thirteenth, close under the top of the crest, awaiting

the order to charge. The right of the Reg. 150 yards from the
road, paced along the crest, and 100 yards from culvert N, and
almost exactly in front of the centre of the pond B.

F. Thirteenth halted ; after the enemy retired from his long outer line

of rifle-pits Z. The Thirteenth charged 300 yards. After the

charge and halt we moved about 100 yards to the left and rear

into rebel rifle-jiits in the point of pines at G.
I. Mr. Edward Jenkins's house built since the war. P. Edge of

K. Confederate battery to the right, distant about one third of a mile

from the crest.
L. Confederate battery to the left, distant about three fourths of a mile

from the crest.
T. Apple-tree where Major INIarshall rallied the 40th Mass., about 100

or 150 yards in rear of the Thirteenth when halted and lying

down after the charge.
Y. A second line, main line of rifle-trenches, running across the field,
and occupied by rebel infantry.

COLD HARBOR, June 1, 1864.

From a sketch made by the writer in May 1885.


full of the suspicion, natural to such an incident, that they had met one
of the enemy. As the darkness increased, Sullivan and Prescott were
puzzled, and did not know which lines to enter ; and remained on the field
between the lines until there was enough of daylight to enable them to
decide. Both men are courageous, but such an experience no man would
care to repeat.

An errand early to-day took tlie writer about half a mile through the
woods to the left, and a more terrible picture of war can scarcely be im-
agined. The dead are lying everywhere. The bodies show but little
evidence of suffering, but the limbs ai-e stretched out stiff and at almost
every possible angle. Many bodies are bent backwards, as if the spine
were trying to touch ends that way. One body is thus arched up, and is
resting upon the shoulders and heels. The coat-capes are turned up over
many faces, other faces are bare, others hidden, tlie bodies lying face
down ; but the most lie as they fell, and are badly torn — it is a walk of
sickening and unutterable horrors. Along the line of a fence, near the
ridge, or crest of the bluff over which we charged, one could walk several
I'ods upon the bodies almost covering the ground, lying in every conceiva-
ble position, and piled one upon another. Among these are some sitting
bolt upright, gun in hand, in a posture almost as natural as life, and
appearing as if they had not moved a muscle after being shot. One lies
attentively examining the lock of his musket, his head to the" foe, and a
bullet hole through the lower part of his face. Many bodies of horses,
too, are lying among the men.

The scene of our charge presents this morning a strange sight. A
man a little apart by himself on the crest, but one of the skirmish line
through which we advanced to the charge, had his gun about half way
between the position of ' ready ' and ' aim,' when he was instantly killed ;
and there he is this morning, scarcely changed in position, but resting
quite firmly and naturally on one knee, his left shoulder against a stump,
while he holds his gun raised and cocked, his head leaning a little to one
side, peering around the stump as if about to find a good mark among
the enemy and to shoot. Those who have occasion to pass in front of
his gun, before he is removed, instinctively start, and step quickly out of
line of the aim of the dead man's gun. It does not seem possible that
any man when dead could retain a position so life-like. But this is not
the only case of similar fixed rigidity of muscles after instant death.

The field of our charge bears a little to the right this morning, and con-
tains many bodies of the Union dead lying in full view. The 13th are so
badly cut up, that they are not called upon for much duty to-day ; are
ordered to preserve silence, not to fire a shot, and to remain hidden under
the ridge or crest and the trees as much as possible, and avoid betraying
their position. Generals Grant and Meade visit our part of the line.
About mid-afternoon Gen. ' Baldy ' Smith comes up to our line, and see-
ing the Confederates %vithin close musket range, asks for a gun, and is
about to fire, when Lieut. Taggard requests him not to do so ; explaining


that very strict orders had been given not to fire unless we were attacked.
Gen. Smith thereupon quietly returns the gun to its owner without firing

— a Major General obeying a Lieutenant's request, and possibly one of his
own orders.

The loth has been practically separated from the rest of our Brigade
to-day. After dark orders are received to move farther to the left. This
necessitates a hunt for the path through the brush ; and the writer, and
one or two other officers, can never forget that hunt — stumbling over
stumps, fallen trees and brush, and the numerous bodies of the now offen-
sive dead, everything drenched and soaked in the rain. We move about
9 p. m. in pitchy dai'kness, towards the left, along behind the same rail
fence, or what is left of it, abandoning the little defenses thrown u]i In the
twenty-four hours or so since the charge. This move takes us altogether
away from the crest, over which we charged — the handle of the sickle

— across the short bend in the blade to the rear and left, and along up to-
wards the centre of the blade, as we cross the rail fence, bordering the
field, and face more to the northward towards Mr. AUerson's road.

While crossing this fence and moving considerably nearer to the rebel
lines, some of the men — probably remembering the fearful experience
we had soon after crossing it on the evening of June 1st — hesitated and
lay down, or crouched behind the fence. Upon this Lieut. Taggard was
obliged to use some quite vigorous measures, to cause these men to con-
tinue the advance over the fence, wliich were witnessed by Maj. Grant-
man ; and the incident may have been the reason for the detail of Lieut.
Taggard to the command of Company D, a little later — about midnight.
After crossing the fence we take position about one fourth of a mile from
the crest, left, in the edge of the woods, and still fronting a portion of the
same large, open field into which we charged June 1st. We remain
here until nearly daylight on the morning of June 3d, when we move a
second time and still farther to the left, across a portion of the open field,
without casualty, and among numerous dead, and halt for a short time.
While executing this last movement we pass within, apparently, two hun-
dred yards of the enemy's lines, near which are a large busy corjjs of
rebel gray men cutting down trees ; swinging their axes as if dear life de-
pended upon their taking down half a dozen trees at every stroke. Our
backwoodsmen laugh at the spitefully rapid chip, chip, chip. As it hap-
pened they were preparing to cut down 10,000 blue men, two hours later,
in ten minutes — the awful Union charge, all along the line, at 4.30 a. m.,
June 3d. In which charge, however, the 13th do not directly engage.

To-night a ratthng musketry fire commences on the line far off to our
left — pop, pop, pop — just far enough away to be distinctly heard at
first, and then gradually growing louder, as it api)roaches nearer running
along the lines, but without increasing in volume, comes up to the line of
the Thirteenth, and there suddenly stops short. The men of the Reg., not
seeing anything worth firing at, maintain silence, but with every g^n in
the line leveled, and held ready for instant use. An affair chiefly of the


pickets. We can now,- after more than twenty-three years, almost see
again in the half-darkness our long, grim line of men, with muskets in
hand, all ready and peering from behind trees, over logs and little hil-
locks of sand, and straining their eyes to catch the first sight of the rebel
line — if it dare dash out from yonder works.

Many of the disturbances of last night, to-day, and to-night, are occa-
sioned by changes made in the position of the corps of the Union army.
Especially as Gen. Warren's corps appears, to unite with Gen. Smith's
corps on the right near Woody's ; a mile or two down on the left also,
where it is said that Gen. Hancock's corps is forming on the left of Gen.
Wright's corps. We have been momentarily expecting to move, to one
scene or the other, but I'emain undisturbed otherwise than by listening to
the din in the near distance. Troops have been moving past our rear for
the last eighteen hours, mainly going towards the left, where there is
scarcely a minute's cessation of the noise of the fii'ing either in day or
night. Gen. Grant is carrying out what Gen. Lee calls '* Grant's crab
movement " — the perpetual extension of the Union left.

The whole Union line is under orders to attack the Confederate lines of
works, rifle-trenches and forts, to-morrow morning, June 3d, at half past
four o'clock — a grand charge all along the whole line. The Thirteenth
is so much cut up that we will not be put in, unless the situation impera-
tively demands it, but will form a part of the reserve and support ; and
remain in the front line of it, ready for instant advance — a quick reserve.
The country all about us, excepting the narrow field, nearly half a mile
long, which lies between us and the enemy's entrenchments, is a muddy,
thickly wooded, swampy jungle, extending apparently for two or thi'ee
miles in its worst features toward our right.

June 3. Fri. Warm ; a drizzling rain. The Thirteenth is called
at 3 a. m., and near 5 a. m., following close upon the charge, moves across
the field to the left, and in support, to an old line of rebel rifle-trenches.
Last night the enemy's troops were seen by us, about midnight, moving
and massing in rear of their pickets, far across the open field on our front,
an occasional distant camp-fire gleaming out upon them ; but nothing
comes of it, and the 13th with the Union line near about have a com-
paratively quiet night, excepting for our moving twice to the left and
front in the rear of our picket lines.

At 4.30 a. m., however, there is an earth-shaking roar, as of the united
burst of a hundred thunder storms — front, right, left, rear, everywhere ;
and then in a comparatively short time all is quite still again save for the
usual picket firing and the scattered cannon shots. The contest lasts for
about an hour, the noisest and fiercest part for ten or fifteen minutes —
the famous charge all along the line at Cold Harbor.

The Thirteenth follows the assaulting columns in, acting as a support,
at once occupying a line of rifle-trenches captured in the assault ; the rebel
fire still very severe, but ranging too high to seriously damage the sup-
port and rear lines.


"We remain in these trenches at the front until between 10 and 11 a. ra.
when we are again moved and formed for an assault, massed in close order
by divisions with a large body of infantry, composed in part of Gen,
Brooks' Division of the 18th Corps. The column is thirty-two ranks deep
where we are ; a solid body of men literally covering the ground. The
front line of our Brigade is composed of the 118th N. Y., left, and the 8th
Conn., right ; the 13th in the second line on the right ; while the 21st
Conn, is in line of battle in rear of our whole Brigade ; when deployed
in the charge, the 8th Conn, is to lead the column.

We remain thus massed, and lying in timber, and undergrowth with
wide, open spaces, from about 11 a. m. until after 4 p. m., when we move
back again toward the right, to find cover from the enemy's bullets, which
came to us, while massed, over the 6th Corps — a large part of that corj^s,
about 15,000 men, being similarly massed close on our left ; while many
rebel shells flew over us into the ranks of the 6th Corps — the enemy's
infantry being near on the left front of the 6th Corps, and his artillery
farther away on the right front of the 18th Corps. The whole body of
infantry lying here massed for an assault numbered between 20,000 and
25,000 men.

Capt. Stoodley, with Company G, is acting as provost-guard, on the
battle-field, to keep up stragglers, while we are massed for the charge.
Lt. Col. Smith thinks that Company I was also absent, not yet having
returned from picket duty on the right.

As we have said, we lie here for over four hours, in a lot of dense short
weeds and underbrush, and among scattering trees, in full view of the
rebel works, high parapets, to be assaulted, not over 350 yards distant,
on the other side of an open field strewn with dead men — nothing invit-
ing about that ! — and in a ravine, running through the field, we can see
the dead lying strewn thickest of all, away up to the rebel line. Caps
are removed from the muskets to prevent accidents, bayonets fixed, and
the men lie as low as possible upon their faces, in momentary expecta-
tion of hearing the order to charge. No order comes ; attack considered
too hazardous. "While thus Avaiting, two officers and eleven men in the
13th are struck by bullets from the rebel infantry. This is a trying or-
deal, but no man flinches.

Lieut. Taggard, now commanding Company D, is severely wounded in
the leg about 2 p. m., and Lieut. Durell is slightly wounded across his
throat. Lieut. Taggard and the writer are sitting side by side when he
is struck. Spending over four hours inactive, as part of such a target, is
enough to try the patience of any army of Jobs. Just after 4 p. m. we
move back to the right to find cover ; and bivouac until near daylight,
moving, however, twice during the night, a much disturbed bivouac. While
we are massed and waiting the order to charge, it is reported among us as
a fact, that some of Gen. Grant's troops flatly refused, to-day, to make
any further assaults upon the enemy's lines, when ordered so to do ; and


this is given on the field as one of the reasons why our column does not
charge this afternoon.^

This is the chief day of the battle of Cold Harbor ; the 13th is exposed
for many hours, in fact about all day, to a severe fire but not engaged.
The other two brigades of our Division were in the assaidt of this morn-
ing at 4.30 a. m. Our brigade was then in reserve, excepting the 10th
N. H., which charged at daylight — in front of two brigades, one of Avhich
was Col. Marston's — and lost 90 men in five minutes.

Again late to-night the writer is sent into the brush, in Egyptian dark-

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 42 of 81)