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 44 of 81)
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shooting through holes made under logs laid along on the top of the para-
pet. Many men are thus killed or wounded on the lines. Troops can
move from front to rear, or return, only at night. The covert way now
is a deep trench covered with logs and earth for protection while going
back and forth. Our trench is about five feet deep and more than that
in width. The main earth-work about eight feet high, and ten or twelve
feet thick. One third of the Reg. is constantly on duty. At night the
men sleep on their arms, practically in line of battle, and with their
clothing all on — ready at a moment's call to spring up and fire.

j\Iuddy Run, on the right of the Reg. is not fortified excepting by a
few logs, and to pass up or down the line there requires much care.
Jeremiah JVIurphy of E tries to approach the trench to-day from that




direction, and is fatally wounded. Col. Stevens tries to cross Muddy Run
to the Reg., and is cornered by the rebels, when half way across, and
takes shelter behind a tree smaller in girth than himself. He draws the
enemy's fire by exposing his hat — and then runs to cover in safety. He
and Lieut. Thompson of E are also brought under fire of the enemy while
too-ether in the woods at some distance to the rear of the front line, and
engaged in writing a report, and in assorting the mail ; they have to draw
the sharp-shooters' fire, and then escape.

Asst. Surgeon Sullivan came up to the front, wearing a straw hat. The
rebel sharp-shooters took it for a target, and Sullivan removed it — and
not a moment too soon.

A log was laid on the top of the works, and little holes made under it
in the sand, to shoot through. A man fired through one of these holes,
then looked through it to see the effect of his shot, when a bullet came
from the enemy straight through the little hole, killing the man instantly.

A very noisy fight occurred about midnight last night, between the
enemy and troops of the 9th Corps, at some distance to our right. We
were cautioned to be ready to fall in, but were not called into line. It
was an attack by the enemy, and was handsomely repulsed.

One of the men behind the works has just loaded his gun, and raised it
above the parapet — perhaps a little higher than usual. The gun catches
a random Confederate bullet fired at close range, about midway the bar-
rel ; it flies out of the soldier's hands, leaving them seriously benumbed,
and assumes the shape of the gun that shoots around the corner. It is
bent perceptibly, spoiled, and the bullet that struck it falls to the ground,
flattened like a silver half dollar, with a rough thick edge. The soldier
pockets the relic ; and goes, with his spoiled gun, to procure a new one.
This caused an order never to hold a gun higher than the works. All
shooting being done through holes made in the top of the sand under
the logs. At dark the Reg. returns to its old position in the rear

In reference to the Union wounded Gen. Humphreys states, page 192 :
" At the close of the day on the 3d of June, there were many of our
wounded lying between the lines, and very near the enemy's entrench-
ments, completely covered by the fire of his pickets and sharp-shooters.
Few of these wounded were left, but many dead were unburied, and Gen.
Grant proposed an arrangement with Gen. Lee for bringing in the
wounded and burying the dead, on the afternoon of June 5th, but no
cessation of hostilities for the purpose took place until the afternoon of
June 7th, when a truce was agreed upon from six to eight in the evening.
Very few wounded were collected. Of those not brought in at night by
their comrades the greater number had died of wounds and exposure." ^

1 There was a flag of truce on both June (ith and 7th ; but all accounts, diaries and
letters which the writer has seen, including' his own, place the burial of the Cold Har-
bor dead, which were lying on the immediate front of the Thirteenth, on the evening
of June Otli — probably the result of a limited aud special truce consented to by the


Gen. Grant's Memoirs, Vol. II. page 273, state that the burial of the
dead took i)lace 48 hours after Gen. Grant had written to Gen. Lee re-
questing a truce for that purpose. Gen. Grant first addressed Gen. Lee
upon the subject of the burial of the dead and succor of the wounded on
June 5th ; but delays for which neither Gen. Grant nor any Union officer
was responsible covered forty-eight hours, and brought the time of bury-
ing the dead to June 7th, on some parts of the line.

A word from the Hospital Dept. of the Thirteenth is in order here :

" May 31st. We marched until midnight, and then the Thirteenth
went on picket until morning. June 1st. We marched to Cold Harbor.
The road was one complete bed of dust as dry as ashes, the atmosphere
like that of an oven, and every breath of wind seemed like the blast from
a furnace. We were white with dust. We had had little or no sleep for
three nights, rations ran short, and when we arrived in the midst of Gen.
Grant's army, we were greatly exhausted, but were immediately pushed
forward into the terrible battle of Cold Harbor, and the Thirteenth lost
seventy men, in killed, wounded and missing, before it was dark.^ In
the darkness to-night, while looking for our wounded between the lines of
the two armies, I got lost in the woods with Asst. Surgeon Sullivan and
Lieut. Gafney, and finally slept about an hour under a tree, where I was
very cold in the chilly air.

"June 3d. Rainy. A terrible battle. Thousands killed and wounded,
horrid scenes. June 4th. Our army has suffered terribly, as they have
to fight the enemy in entrenchments altogether. I have seen more than
a thousand of our men, within the past twenty-four hours, torn, mangled,
smashed, disemboweled — every conceivable wound you can imagine —
lying about our 18th Corps Hospital, exposed to the rain without shelter,
a scene of awful suffering. The 2d and 6th Corps are near us ; the 9th
Corps two miles to our right. The 2d Corps passed from right to left
this afternoon. June 6th. Warm. There was a flag of truce to bury
the dead this afternoon, during which the rebels planted a battery so as
to shell our rear. We of the Hospital Dept. got shelled out of our posi-
tion in the woods, and fell back to the rifle-pits. June 7th. The picket
line (main, front trench occupied by the 13th) is almost within a stone's
throw of the rebels. A flag of truce went out this evening. The rebels,
and our boys mounted their breast-works, and advanced out upon the
plain between the lines." Prescott.

" I have it in my record : A flag of truce out both days, 6th and 7th."

Asst. Surgeon Sullivax.

June 8. Wed. Fair. Reg. returns and remains in its trenches at

Confederate General commanding on our immediate front. The dead lying' on the
front near the Thirteenth were buried on June Oth between five and eight o'clock in
the afternoon ; the last bodies being put in and the trench being filled as we moved
past at eight o'clock while going from the rear to our front trenches. — S. M. T.

1 The number lost during the charge proper on June 1 st was sixty-seven officers
and men killed and wounded. — S. M. T., then Actg. Adjutant.



the rear, last night, to-day, and to-night. The firing is less severe now,
than for the first few days. The duel is kept up chiefly by the i)ickets
and the artillery. As we lie here, close to the south side of the main path
to the rear, the stretchers — two poles with canvas nailed across them —
are constantly coming back from the front with their ghastly freight of
dead or wounded. During a battle there is a regular procession of
them — then of course bearing only the wounded.

The writer is coming back from the front to-day, and sees a man,
carrying two camp-kettles, approaching the rear lines, from the vicinity of
the stables — a ravine farther to the rear, where the horses are kept.
(The first ravine to the right and rear of the Thirteenth's rear line of
works.) The man is coming down hill. Suddenly a random shell, from
the enemy, screams over the writer's head, plunges straight through the
chest of the man with the kettles, and flying beyond him bursts among the
trees in the distance. The man sinks down between his kettles, and then
falls over backwards. The contents of one kettle spilled, of the other
not. It seems as if there could be no easier death. The kettles and their
dead owner remain where they fall all day untouched.

About seventy officers and men of the old Second New Hampshire, on
our right, reach the end of their term of service and start for home.

Our work at the front is irregular. "We have to furnish special pickets
almost every night, besides the regular picket service of the whole Reg. at
the front ; three fifths of the 13th are awake all night.

A few officers receive a good dinner, and go back out of the front
trenches, among the trees, to eat it. They make a fine spread on the
ground, using the immense bass-wood leaves and pieces of bark for dishes.
As they sit on the ground together eating, one of them reaches out his
hand for a large piece of bai'k lying on the ground near this inviting
spread, raises it and turns it over — hair, blood, brains, a piece of skull,
maggots ! The bark is carefully turned back, with merely the remark :
" They 're at dinner, too ! " — and the officers finish their dinner, without
moving. Thus does soldiering make the stomachs of men imperturable.

Again, last night, the enemy attacked our troops on the right most
savagely, raising a fearful din, and rousing everybody ; but, like all his
night attacks, it is a failure.

This evening the Band of the Thirteenth goes into the trenches at the
front, and indulges in a ' competition concert ' with a band that is playing
over across in the enemy's trenches. The enemy's Band renders Dixie,
Bonnie Blue Flag, My Maryland, and other airs dear to the Southerner's
heart. Our Band replies with America, Star Spangled Banner, Old John
Brown, etc. After a little time, the enemy's band introduces another class
of music ; only to be joined almost instantly by our Band with the same
tune. All at once the band over there stops, and a rebel battery opens
with grape. Very few of our men are exposed, so the enemy wastes his
ammunition ; while our Band continues its playing, all the more earnestly
until all their shelling is over.


The Band of the Thirteenth becomes very proficient in its long term of
service, and enlivens many a dreary and dragging hour with its cheering
music, as our Regiment kills its weary time in camp or trenches, or plods
along on its muddy, tiresome marches. " And then the Band played —
and then the Thirteenth cheered," is the closing complimentary remark
in many a story of camp, and march, and field. A good Band. In a
battle the men of the bands and drum-corps are exj)ected to help take
care of the wounded, and our Band and young drum-cor2)s are very effi-
cient in that delicate and dangerous work.

June 9. Thurs. Very warm ; windy, and the fine dust is flying in
huge, dense clouds. Thirteenth remains in the rear through the day, and
at dark returns to its entrenchments at the front. There is much firing
to-night, and by the light of his numerous fires, the enemy can be seen
moving long lines of his infantry towards our right. They are at long
rifle-shot from our lines, and cross the open spaces at a double-quick.
Occasionally we can see one of them stumble and fall — struck by a bul-
let from our sharp-shooters it may be. Now and then one of our cannon
gives them a shell. They seem carelessly exposed so near our lines.

This afternoon a couple of sutlers, in an open buggy, drove towards the
front througli our lines, peddling tobacco. They have gone through three
or four lines of our entrenchments, winding in and out, in a zig-zag fash-
ion, through the o^^enings covered by curtains, when the rebel bullets
wound the horse and kill one of the men. The other man turns to drive
back, having his dead companion with him in the buggy. The horse,
frantic with pain, stai'ts upon the run, utterly unmanageable, rushes high
up over the bank of one of the entrenchments ; and dead man, live man,
horse, buggy, tobacco and all, come piling into the ditch in a heap to-
gether. The soldiers near there make a rush and scramble for the to-
bacco — after getting that, they lift out the living and the dead. The
horse has to be killed, he is so badly Avounded, the buggy is ruined, and
the pedler comes back across the wide field alone, carrying the harness
on his arm, a poorer and a less careless man.

A man of the 13th comes into the trenches laughing immoderately, and
after he is able to speak explains : " That he and this other man with him,
had just crossed a bit of ground covered by the rebel fire, when suddenly
the man fell to the ground, rolled over, groaned, swore, prayed, and
tuned his old organ-pipe a rod above high-C ; but he was n't hurt a bit
— a spent bullet had tossed a little gravel in his face, and he thought he
was killed, dead sure for sartin." Again he went off in a gale of laugh-
ter, while the imaginative sufferer sat by silent, demure, cheap, and un-
able to see anything amusing whatever.

June 10. Fri. Pleasant. Reg. busy in the front trenches all last
night and to-day, and returns to the rear to-night at dark. As this day
comes on the enemy's pickets, sharp-shooters and artillery become more
and more troublesome ; the changes which he made last night cause in-
creased watchfulness on our part, and there is severe firing all day long.


Some unusual thing struck our Pine to-day, and many men near by
are stung by the little splinters ; and a dozen or more all at once take to
scratching themselves. Examination reveals ground glass on the pine, in
a circular depression, and fine bits of glass are found also in the men's
clothing and skin. It was a wine bottle from the enemy — and empty,
the rascals !

Our Pine is now a shattered monument of war's doings, a mere stub
about 30 feet high. The top is a mass of splinters standing out every
way — a brush broom. On the sides toward the enemy the bark is gone
for two thirds around the tree, knocked off by his front and cross-fire,
and the wood is splintered all up and down into a coarse, white fur, full
of bullet holes three to six inches deep. A fine mark for the enemy, and
they have used it well, burying in it hundreds of bullets.

The writer has been informed that shortly after the war a Government
commission cut off a ten-foot section of our Pine, intending to convey it
to Washington for the Army and Navy Museum, but the plan failed for
want of transportation. The commission estimated — from the average
number of bullet holes per square foot in the tree — that a sheet of lead
had come over to this knoll from the enemy, about two hundred feet long,
ten or fifteen feet wide, and over half an inch thick. This, not to men-
tion the multitude of shells. The 13th were here meanwhile for a period
of at least three full days, and three full nights ; June 4th day and night,
night of June 6th and day of June 7th, night of June 9th and day of
June 10th. The writer in 1878 cut several bullets out of this pine, shot
by the Confederates, and buried from four to six inches in the wood. A
section of the trunk about ten feet long had been cut off and rolled to
one side, and was much decayed.

Capt. Julian and Lieut. Thompson of E, having had little breakfast,
and no dinner until about 3 p. m. naturally begin to feel hungry. Soon
the cook a^jpears with nice steak, potatoes, green peas, bread and coffee.
He brings cups, saucers and plates of wdiite earthenware. To tantalize
some oificers whose cook is less enterprising, this appetizing spread is laid
on large leaves in the trench, and the banqueters fall to. About one
minute later, and before scarcely anything is eaten, a rebel shell is driven
deep into the parapet of the earth-works, behind and above this hungry
party, bursts and buries dishes, dinner and all under a cartload or more of
sand, sending some quarts of it down inside the coat and shirt collars of
the eaters. Instantly a hundred muskets are busy with those rebel canon-
eers, and their vexatious, dinner-burying cannon stands in full view until
dark, silenced, no rebel can ajiproach it. The dishes with what remains
of the uneaten repast are left beneath that sand in the trench. They are
about twenty feet to the left of where our Pine stood — and there they
will lie probably till the crack of doom.

June 11. Sat. Cool. The Reg. left our front trenches at our Pine
for the last time yesterday evening at dark, returned to our rear trenches,
remaining there through the night and to day. The cooks are busy


to-day preparing extra, cooked rations, and we are on the eve of another
march. The front is very noisy to-day at times.

For several nights past, about sunset and later, our bands have played
in the front trenches — the rebel bands replying. One man of the 13th
describes lying in the trenches to be : " digging holes in the ground from
three to six feet deep, and living, eating and sleeping in them all the time."

The enemy gets the range of a large heavy-artillery regiment crossing
the bare field in our rear, and higher up than we are, and shells it fear-
fully. Quite a number of the members of it are killed and wounded, and
the rest run for cover at the top of their speed, the shells plowing up
the ground, and crashing about them. The whole huge, red-trimmed
host — report says there are 1,400 of them — take to their heels spon-
taneously, and do not stop until they reach the timber.

Bullets come over frequently to our rear lines, after traveling nearly
or quite one third of a mile. The hum of a spent bullet is very peculiar,
often giving timely warning of its approach. The enemy's Coehorn mor-
tar shells, too. are very plentiful to-day. This is our first experience with
them, in any number, while we are within our rear trenches. The enemy
fires them high into the air whence they seem to come straight down into
the rear trenches, with their threatening " whistle-Avhistle " — " whistle-
whistle," and final crack and whirr of the pieces. Out of two or three
dozen, which have come down near us to-day, the one coming nearest
burst when about 25 feet above the line of the 13th, causing some dodg-
ing but no damage. A large piece of this one proves it to have been a
six-Inch shell. A great number have burst in the field in our rear. An
officer's bomb-proof quarters off to our right receives one of these Coe-
horns directly on the top ; where it instantly bursts, knocking the logs of
the roof about, and deluging the parties within with sand and gravel. No
one hurt beyond a few slight bruises. When the shell struck the roof of
their bomb-proof they, too sure of their safety, were singing the refrain :
" So let the big guns rattle as they will,
We '11 be gay and merry still."
— but the song stopped, short, right there and then.

" There came to-day an order for a minute Inspection of the Regiment.
So by Col. Stevens' orders we were formed in line down in the trenches,
several feet below the surface of the ground, where we would have been
very safe, as there were some seven or eight lines of earth-works be-
tween us and the enemy, a half mile in our front ; but the Colonel, for
some reason of his own, ordered us up out of these trenches upon the
ground in the rear, which brought about one half of our bodies up above
the trenches. The Colonel commenced his inspection at the right com-
pany of the Regiment, and when he got through with that company had
its officers join him and come down the line with him. This was con-
tinued to the end of the line, the Orderly Sergeants taking the companies
away as fast as they were inspected. When the Colonel was inspecting
about the second company on the right, a bullet came over from the


enemy and struck James Morris of E on the upper part of his breastbone
so hard that it was heard the whole length of the Regiment. Every one
heard it ; it startled many, and some turned pale. I do not think that
Morris himself fully realized who it was that had been hit, the shock of
the bullet probably partly paralyzed him. He went into the trenches,
however, when ordered to do so. He soon died. We buried him under
a tree near by, rolled in his blankets, with his name and company written
on a slip of paper and inclosed in a bottle." Capt. Julian.

" I remember this case perfectly. It was not two minutes after he
was shot before I was with him. He gasped once or twice, after I came.
The hole in his breastbone was large and ragged. A shot at closer
range would have made a smaller hole with smoother edges, and would
have gone through him." AssT. Sukgeox Sullivan.

No death in the Regiment ever gave the men a worse shock than this
one. It was in every respect a most blood-freezing affair. Morris was
a good soldier, and quite a favorite in the Regiment. Lieut. Thomj^son
of E, then Acting Adjutant, was at the time walking along in front of
the Regiment, and was nearly in front of Morris, when this bullet came
over from tlie enemy, hummed close by him, and struck Morris with a
loud blow. Morris walked into the trenches, some ten or fifteen feet, in
a dazed sort of way, but with his gun in his hand, half fell, and half sat
down, and soon died. Several other bullets came over before the in-
spection was completed, but no further damage was done. The bullet
that killed Morris ^ must have traveled nearly half a mile, and probably
came from some rebel sharp-shooter's double-charged gun.

The general plan at Cold Harbor has been for the Thirteenth to re-
main at the front for 24 hours, then to rest at the rear for 48 hours ; our
duties at the front allowing scarcely any rest at all day, or night. But
the enemy's shells have completely covered, and swept all the time, both
our front and rear trenches, and all the ground between. Besides, sev-
eral of our men have been killed or wounded, in our rear trenches, the
bullets coming over from the enemy's line — a distance of one third to
one half a mile. The rebels acting as sharp-shooters, two or three hun-
dred of them in every rebel brigade, double-charge their guns, so that if
they miss in their direct aim, the bullets may fly to a random shot among
our men in the rear trenches. These bullets come skimming and buzzing
over, all the time, at Cold Harbor.

" I was loading my ambulance one day at Cold Harbor with wounded
men to send to the Corps Hospital, when a bullet struck the near horse

^ While talking with this man, Morris, a few clays before his death, he stated to
me that no bodily harm could ever come to him because he wore an '' Agnus Dei."
Such a thing being new to me, I expressed a desire to see it. After a considerable
hesitation, he exhibited to me a leather-covered, heart-shaped affair, some two inches
across and half an inch thick, which he wore suspended by a cord upon his neck.
It looked like a neat little pin-cusliion. His faith in it was unbounded. The bul-
let that killed Morris struck the edge of that same " Agnus Dei." — S. M. T.


just back of the shoulder, and passed through the liorse, which instantly
fell dead, then entered the oft" horse in a like manner and lodged under
the skin on the off side ; this off horse stood a moment, then fell dead on
the near horse." AssT. Surgeon Sullivan.

Gen. Humphreys states : The 18th Corps — in which is the Thirteenth
— receives oi'ders to march as soon after dark as practicable on to-mor-
row evening, June 12th, by way of Parsley's Mill, Prospect Church,
Hopeville Church, and Tunstall's Station, having the right of way over
all otlier troops, to White House, and there to embark for Bermuda
Hundred. At Tunstall's our trains and ai'tillery will join the main trains
of the army. Gen. Wright with the 6th Corps, and Gen, Hancock with
the 2d Corps, with their troops in a new rear line of entrenchments buUt
since June 9th, and running from Elder Swamp on the southward, pass-
ing Cold Harbor, and on to Allen's Mill Pond on the north, will protect
our lines while we retire. It is expected that the entire Union army will
leave the vicinity of Cold Harbor within two days. The expedition of the

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 44 of 81)