S. Millet Thompson.

Thirteenth regiment of New Hampshire volunteer infantry in the war of the rebellion, 1861-1865: a diary covering three years and a day online

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Online LibraryS. Millet ThompsonThirteenth regiment of New Hampshire volunteer infantry in the war of the rebellion, 1861-1865: a diary covering three years and a day → online text (page 43 of 81)
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ness, post haste, to find a path for the Reg. to move in, an old wood-road
a short distance to the rear. Before going two rods his foot is tangled in
a vine, and he falls flat upon the ground. While getting up he feels cloth
upon the ground — an overcoat with a dead body in it. A few steps
farther on he runs into a pile of abandoned knapsacks, catching liis foot
in the straps of one of them by way of introduction to the lot. The
owners, a dozen or more, can just be made out, lying in bivouac near a
large tree — the bivouac of the dead. The wood-road is soon found, and
traced back to the nearest point to the Reg. To travel such a wood-road
among the dead, once, is enough for a lifetime. A glimpse of the pass-
ing hour. The Reg. retires a short distance to rest near this wood-road,
and before daylight again moves to another point on the line — still to the
left — and soon relieves a line of our skirmishers who had spent a part of
the night here ; this position we take between 2 and 3 a. m., and hold it
during our stay at Cold Harbor, daylight on the morning of June 4th ex-
posing us unprepared to a severe front and enfilade fire from the enemy's
near rifle-trenches, and from his batteries located about one fourth of a
mile to our right front.

The night of June 3d is exceeding dark ; against its blackness there
frequently flashes the fire-fly of a picket shot. The picket, possibly see-
ing against the sky the top of a weed waving in the breeze, imagines it to
be one of the enemy, and fires. The weed stops waving ; therefore he
knows that he has killed his man, or sent him wounded back to his lines.
Brave man. He is a hero next day. Next night the weed wiggles for
another shot — and makes another hero. War is a terrible thing in more
ways than one.

Lossing states that the Nationals charged upon the Confederate lines
at 4.30 a. m., all along the line, and within twenty minutes 10,000 men
lay dead and wounded on the field. The battle ended about 1 p. m.

So far as the 18th Corps is concerned in this morning's assault, Gen.
Martindale's Division moved down a ravine near the centre of the 18th
Corps front ; Gen. Brooks' Division moved in on the left of Martindale,

^ Gen. Grant writes, 1884-5, that no troops under his command ever refused to obey
an order given by him. Still the troops may have refused to obey some General on
this day ; and the writer will let the report stand as he heard it on the field, not an
hour before we moved out of column massed for the charge, as it in no way disputes
Gen. Grant's statement. See Greeley's American Conflict, Vol. II. page 582.



connecting wltli the right of the 6th Corps ; Gen. Devens' Division was
held in position, on the extreme right, to protect that flank. The assault
drove in the enemy's skirmishers, and captured a large portion of liis first
line of works ; hut the 18th Corps charged into an angle similar to the
one it entered on the evening of June 1st, and was badly cut up, losing a
thousand men. The field on our front, into which the 18th Corps plunges,
is open, quite level, affords scarcely any cover, and in general is the most
exposed piece of ground crossed this morning by the Union troops. From
our position in the 13th we can see about half of this field at a glance,
and the Union troops rushing, falling or returning, all under a most fear-
ful rebel fire. But the 18th Corps is only a small part of this grand as-
sault. The Tenth, Second and Sixth Corps are in it as well, while along
the whole line almost the entire Army of the Potomac takes a hand, the
assaulting columns passing forward upon the charge amid the deafening
roar of artillery and musketry, and the terrible pelting of thousands of
missiles, falling as hail falls in a storm.

Language cannot describe the fearful picture of these assaulting col-
umns, seen here and there — and especially upon the long, open field on
our front — rushing in the mad plunge of a battle charge, with muskets
in hand and gleaming bayonets fixed, thousands of swords flashing, hun-
dreds of battle-flags waving, many hundreds of officers shouting loud their
words of command, and the men screaming and yelling their battle-cries,
all mingled with the shrieks of the poor men who are struck down in their
wild career — here in ten short minutes ten thousand of them, a thou-
sand men falling in every minute ; while along the dense battle lines of
more than four miles, huge clouds of gunj^owder smoke roll up above the
fields and forests, and in addition to the concentrated fire of hundreds
of Union cannon and thousands of Union muskets, there roars, bellows,
howls, crashes and thunders the awful and tremendous rebel artillery
fire and musketry fire that together can stop, short, — and hurl back at
once this almost invincible host of Eighty Thousand trained, disciplined
Northern soldiers. To witness the scene were well worth rounding the
whole world — still may we never see such a scene again. Confederate
Gen. Pickett's charge at Gettysburg, most brave and gallant as was that,
was small boys' play to this charge all along the whole Union line at
Cold Harbor.

Gen. Grant in his Memoirs. Vol. II. page 271, and preceding, refers to
us of the 18th Corps, as arriving at Cold Harbor on the afternoon of June
1st. tired and worn out from our long and dusty march ; and refers to tliis
field, into which the 18th Corps charged on this morning of June 3d, as
an open plain swept by both a direct and a cross fire, and as the most
exposed ground of any over which charges were made on this morning.

" June 3, 1864. The Thirteenth up at 3 o'clock a. m. At 5 a. m.
started on the advance. Charged across an open field, under fire, into
the woods, and rebel rifle-pits. Lay there two or three hours ; then
moved to the left, and into another wood, and lay on our faces. The


order came to uncap pieces and fix bayonets. Moved to the right, and
lay down under direct fire ; here bullets flew straight over us in great
numbers. One tree just behind me had more than forty holes in it.
About two o'clock (2 p. m.) the rebels put a bullet through the fleshy part
of my right leg above the knee. I left the field, and Surgeon Morrill
dressed the wound, which is not at all dangerous. June 4th. I got into
an ambulance at noon, passed Gen. Grant's Hdqrs. at 2 p. m., arrived at
White House about 1 or 2 a. m. on June 5th. A hard ride. It hurt me,
and niust have been awful for those severely wounded. A rainy night."

Lieut. Taggard.

" June 3d. While the Thirteenth was massed by divisions in the col-
umn for assault, in the afternoon, a bullet wounded me across the throat,
not severely though it was a very narrow escape. When the column was
dismissed this afternoon, the Thirteenth moved to the right and occu-
pied some earth-works, relieving Col. Marston's brigade. When tlie Thir-
teenth moved from there, or from that vicinity, on the morning of June
4th, a Union battery took that place, and commenced firing at once. The
rebel battery replied, and the trees were cut and torn in pieces, over our
heads, as we moved away." Capt. Durell.

June 4. Sat. Very warm ; afternoon rainy. This morning be-
tween 2 and 3 a. m. the Thirteenth moves to the left to a new position
on the line, as mentioned under June 3d, and as daylight comes on it re-
veals the enemy's works directly on our front and very neai', apparently
not more than 500 feet distant — Lt. Col. Smith makes it 30 rods. We
should have been in this position and entrenched several hours earlier
but for an error in directing our Brigade so as to close the line, and the
extreme darkness of last night. The skirmishers and pickets who pre-
ceded us on this line, holding it after the charge of yesterday, June 3d,
had seized it, had made little pits, but no regular entrenchments except-
ing a short trench near the left of the Thirteenth. Our men add to these
with tin dippers and bayonets ; and it is astonishing to see how much earth
can be thrown up in this way in an hour. The bodies of the rebel dead
lying about, and the bodies of some Union men also, are piled up for a
barricade, but separately, also a few logs, and sand thrown upon the
whole — anything to keep the rebel bullets back. A rebel shell burying
and bursting in one of these horrid heaps makes a scene better imagined
than described ; the barricade is speedily re-arranged, however. The en-
emy enfilades a portion of our line as well as attacks the front, and the
right of the Regiment is almost wholly unprotected ; and in manoeuvring,
before entrenchments can be improvised, we lose several men.

During this manoeuvring and occupation of the ground before com-
mencing to entrench, a piece containing three gilt stars is cut out of our
badly tattered flag by the rebel shells and bullets. Capt. Julian, Lieut.
Thompson of E and one of the men, as the piece comes fluttering down
near them, make a simultaneous rush for it ; possession is difficult to de-
termine, all three seizing it at once, and in the moment of waiting before


another move is made a jack-knife decides the matter as umpire, hy cut-
ting out one star for each claimant. The writer still, 1887, has one of
these stars, Cajit. Julian has another.

" When we were ordered to move, in pursuance of orders I procured
entrenching tools at Gen. Burnham's Hdqrs., and had them readv about
dark on June 3d. Later in the night I was directed to turn these tools
over to Col. Stedman of the 11th Conn. ; hence all the danger, trouble
and loss when we appeared on the advanced line this morning, without
the means of protecting ourselves against the fire of the enemy posted in
force behind their earth-works, and not 200 yards distant."

Lt. Col. Smith.

A little later in the day too, while we are entrenching, the enemy sud-
denly opens upon us with several field-pieces located off to our right —
thus enfilading our line with cannon as well as with musketry — and two
Companies ^ of the Thirteenth are extricated only with great difficulty.
However, in a few hours our entrenchments are in excellent condition for
defense — the most of the bodies of the rebel dead being well covered
with high banks of sand, and never removed ; and this point, angle, cor-
ner is held by the Thirteenth as its advanced line — advanced, too, be-
yond the general line — until the end of the battle, June 12th, and a red-
hot corner it is too !

The right of the Regiment here rests very near a muddy and very wet
bit of swamp, called Muddy Run by the natives ; a bit of swamj) two
or three rods wide which is unprotected excepting by a few trees. The
centre and left of the Reg. rises and entrenches on a small knoll but quite
high — on the whole a very prominent and salient point ; the ground in
our rear rising still higher than along the line where our works are built,
and higher than the parapet of our works at any time while here.

Our entrenchments bend around a large pine-tree standing near the
highest point of the knoll, giving room for the trench between the angle
of the eai'th-work in front, and the tree in the rear — possibly it stands
fifteen feet in rear of the parapet. This tree is about 75 feet high and
2 J feet in diameter, and the boys of the 13th call it '" Our Pine," because
we had such a severe fight, to-day, to gain and hold the little knoll on
which the tree stands. The colors are to the right of Company E and
almost dead in front — a little to the right — of the pine. This jjine, so
near our angle in the works, is struck by hundreds of bullets, and is the
special target for every rebel gunner in this part of the Confederacy.
To burst a shell in it, or against it, is esteemed by them a higher distinc-
tion than to receive a Colonel's commission — that is, judging from their

^ The writer can vouch for the clang'eroiis and vexatious position of these two Com-
panies, for he was sent post liaste down the line with an order for the Companies to
remove from the enfiladed trench ; and after reaching them was ohliged to assist in
their removal hecanse of the absence of one Company's commander ; the trench at
that hour being- not more than one or two feet deep, and almost useless as a jjrotec-
tion against the numerous rebel shells. It was a full half hour before the rebel field-
pieces were silenced by one of the Union batteries.


constant endeavors. The enemy commands the ground in the rear of our
trench, a covert way is needed to approach the front line, and is built a
few feet to the left of the pine, a cut eight feet deep, and about as wide.
Between our angle and the rebel entrenchments is a clear, open field,
with a slight valley running across it. The line of the Reg. curves
toward the front, but we face nearly west. Before night we render two
of the enemy's guns of no use to him, our sharp-shooters allowing no man
to approach them ; they are quaker-guns for the rest of the day.
Muddy Run at our right opens a gaj), diagonally to the right, for the ene-
my's fire and we run traverses across the ditch of our entrenchments for
every few men to prevent his enfilading any part of the curving line of
our trench. It is very difficult to cross this run, and communications are
thrown across tied to sticks and stones.

After our flag is planted on the works this morning it is shot down re-
peatedly, and the staff split, smashed and splintered so that it will not
sustain the flag. Finally, after a very spirited fusillade, it tumbles down,
with the staff in a much battered condition. Sergt. David W. Bodge, the
color-bearer, ties up the staff with strings, and straps from his knapsack,
and mounts the sand to plant it. Just as he strikes the staff into the
sand, it is again struck by a rebel bullet, and both flag and bearer come
down from the works together. Sergt. Bodge's hand and arm are so
much benumbed that he can do no more for some time, and another man
volunteers to plant the flag. \Yatching his ojjportunity, he rushes up
on the sand, and stands the flag up, leaning the staff against some little
tree tops rising above the sand in the centre of the embankment, where
it cannot again be dislodged. The enemy fires at it a long time, but
finally lets it alone. After this affair our tattered colors are less exposed.
The fact is, the enemy does his utmost to prevent our occupation of this
bold little knoll, sending us bullets and shells in plenty. See the colors
in frontispiece.

"■ The staff of the National colors of the Thirteenth was struck and split
just al)ove my hand as I was holding it on the morning of June 4th at
Cold Harbor, and would not sustain the flag ; I therefore took two pieces
of a barrel stave, or of a cracker box, for splints, and tied them to the staff
with a piece of rope. That, however, did not make the staff strong
enough, and I afterwards added a strap from my knapsack, which is still
upon the staff in the Capitol at Concord."

David "W. Bodge, Color-Sergeant.

(May 1885. The little tree-tops, mentioned above, of gum or some
other hard wood, are now quite large trees ; several of them growing to-
gether undisturbed in the parajiet of our old earth-works, about two rods
to the right of where our Pine then stood. The Pine is now a little heap
of rotting wood. While standing, a strip, four inches wide and eight
inches long, was cut out of the side toward the rebel lines and furnished
sixteen rebel bullets.)

To-day we have had one man killed, and six wounded. Capt. Julian


receives a bruise on his arm, from a rebel bullet. Aaron K. Blake, of A,
is shot through the upper part of liis head to-day, a rebel bullet entering
and exposing the brain. He is laid near the Pine at first, close to the
north side of it, and breathes almost all day. He is utterly unconscious,
making no sign when spoken to or touched — every effort being made to
revive liim — and can suffer no possible pain ; yet he is strangely nervous,
breathing more quickly when a shell strikes the tree, or near him, or the
noise of the firing increases. Later in the day he is moved to the covert
way, a few feet to the south of the Pine, where about 5 p. m. he quietly
ceases to breathe ; and dies without showing any sign of consciousness or
of suffering from the time when he was struck.

Regular siege operations are commenced to-day, to force Gen. Lee's
lines, and shovels, axes, picks and spades are called to the front. Capt.
Julian takes cover behind our Pine and acts as a sharp-shooter for several
hours, at times firing rapidly, and having a man or two to load the mus-
kets for him. The whole Reg. is hard at work all day either firing or
entrenching, and late at night is relieved by the 98th N. Y., and goes to
the rear, about one eighth of a mile, to obtain a little rest, moving to the
front again just before dawn of June 5th. By night the 8th Conn., the
next regiment on our right, also have quite a strong line of earth-woi'ks
thrown uj), and a log breast-work partly protects the line across Muddy
Run, lying between our Regiment and theirs.

We are so hard at work both day and night that when an opportunity
is given us to sleep, we sleep like logs. The writer completed his duties
of the day, as Acting Adjutant, last night — June 3d — about midnight,
and well tired out laid down, covered with his rubber overcoat, to take a
nap, Avith the Hdqrs. of the Reg. and with the Reg. in bivouac on the
ground in a long line of battle. The night was very dark. The next
thing the writer knew, he was waked by the loud raj) of a stray bullet
against a tree near by him. On looking about, no Hdqrs., no Reg., and
at first no person was to be seen. It was now just in the earliest gray of
dawn. Rising and looking around in the brush for another person, if
any, whom the Reg. departing in the darkness had failed to wake, he
finds a number of men lying about, but none will wake — all are dead.
Pretty soon, as it grows lighter, he moves out into more open ground,
and sees and hears, about 200 yards distant and off toward the rebel
lines, a body of men chopping fiercely — clip, clip, clip, go their spiteful
axes at the trees of what appears to be an orchard. On api)roaching
nearer them he finds that they are a party of the rebels, and he turns
back at once into deeper woods, where he soon comes upon a man on
horseback, sitting still and intently watching the rebel choppers. Before
the man can see the writer he slips behind a large tree. The horseman
is an officer of some sort, looks safe, and after a little the writer inquires
of him the whereabouts of Burnham's Brigade. The horseman with an
oath answers that he does not know — and his tone indicates no particu-
lar interest in Burnham's Brigade. The writer has but one recourse,



and without inquiring further, returns towards the rebel choppers, to the
place of the Regiment's bivouac, and hunts for a traiL The Union dead
are here very numerous, and the rebel dead are scattered among them.
Satisfying himself that no one of the 13th is here asleep, he follows the
broadest trail he can find, and finds the Reg. halted in the brush, and just
before it moves into the place held during our stay at Cold Harbor. The
Reo-. left the writer asleep in the pitchy darkness an hour or two before he
awoke to follow, but how the matter occurred he could never find out. His
position, when waken, was between the Union and rebel lines, the man
on horseback the only Union soldier he saw. During the first few nights
at Cold Harbor the front lines were constantly changing.

June 6. Sun. Warm, rainy. We hear considerable firing to the
right and left to-day ; but little, however, on our front. The Reg. comes
from the front at 3 a. m. and after a little time goes to work on a rear
line of entrenchments. This rear hue looks west, and is on one side of a
belt of timber, in the edge of a wide, open field ; on the other side of the
belt of timber is our front line also looking west. Many lines of earth-
works before this time are built one in the rear of the other, as far as we
can see, all up and down the Union lines — right here there are five of
them. The enemy's lines, wherever we can see them, are equally well
provided. Our rear line is fully one thii'd of a mile from our front
trenches. It is said that the effective force of our Brigade has been cut
down by more than one half since May 4th — 1,900 rifles to 800.

To-night can be heard, in the distance, the noise and shouts attending
a charge upon the Union lines. First a sudden increase of rifle-shots
among the pickets, then the crash of artillery and the incessant roar of
musketry mingled with the rebel yell follow for a few minutes ; soon the
din ceases, and we can hear the hoarse hurrahs of thousands of Northern
men — then aU becomes quiet and still again. The story is told by the
cheers ! Almost every night attacks are made on one side or the other ;
often disturbing, and sometimes rousing both armies.

Gen. Gilman Marston relates the foUowing incident : '' I was passing
along the lines at Cold Harbor one day, and observed that a private had
built a fire against a large shell, and was cooking for himself a tin pot of
coffee, while he sat near watching it. I had moved on but a iew feet
when the shell burst with a discharge as loud as a cannon, and sending
its pieces, the fire and the gravel in every direction. I was unhurt, and
turning saw that the man was also unhurt. He had not moved, and did
not appear as if that explosion under his very nose had even caused him
to wink ; but his face bore an expression of unutterable disgust, as he re-
marked indignantly : ' There — that cussed thing has upset my coffee ! ' "

" June 1st. Warm and very dusty. We marched till 4 p. m. Or-
ders to load. At sundown made a charge ; Company H had three men
killed, and nine wounded including myself. June 4. Some rain. I left
the field hospital at 5 p. m., and rode about eiglit miles. O such roads !
Slept to-night under an ambulance. June 5. Arrived at White House


at 4 p. m. (Does not again return to the Thirteenth.) Dec. 2, 1864,
am assigned to Company E, 14th Regiment Veteran Reserve Corps."

LuEY, in Diary.

June 6. Mon. Warm, very. Reg. at the rear all clay, and at
8 p. m. resumes its former position, in the entrenchments, at the front,
and relieves the 21st Conn. Our front line, until to-night, has been al-
most unendurable ; some of the rebel dead vrhicli we used for a breast-work
have been but tliinly covered with earth, and had become extremely offen-
sive. Until to-day also, we could count 170 dead bodies — the most of
them of the 69th N. Y., of Smyth's 2d Brig., Barlow's 1st Div., Hancock's
2d Army Corps — lying unburied in the open field close in front of our
entrenchments, and which had lain there since June 3d ; some of them it
is said since June 1st, and we came here on the morning of June 4th.
There were living men among them then, and some of these were recov-
ered in the night from time to time, by the inter-line pickets ; but the
rebel commander on our front would not allow them to be visited or
helped in the daytime, nor recognize a flag of truce, and this, too, it is
said, in accordance with the orders of Gen. Lee himself. To-day how-
ever, a flag of truce is respected, and just at night, these dead near us are
removed and buried. It is evident that wounded men lived there two
or three days, on the hot sand, between the two lines, exposed to the
thousands of bullets and hundreds of shells that swept that veiy field of
hell — and lingering on, unhelped, day after day, fuiaUy died, and all
under conditions too horrible to imagine. One was taken in alive even
to-day, but soon died. The dead are buried in a long trench, in the belt
of timber, near and north of the path that runs up between our front and
rear lines, and we are told that the most of them can be identified by
their comrades. Many of the bodies would not hold together so as to be
moved in the usual manner, and were rolled upon old shelter tents, blan-
kets or canvas, and so carried to burial.

June 7. Tues. Rainy. Thirteenth came up to the front at 8 p. m.
last night, remaining at the front until evening of to-day. There is nmch
shelling and musketry firing. We cannot show our heads for an instant
without receiving rebel bullets ; and we keep the enemy down also, by

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 43 of 81)