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 45 of 81)
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18th Corps being secret, the orders to march are retained at its Hdqrs.

June 12. Sun. Clear, cool morning, hot day, warm night. Reg.
in its rear trenches, and called at daylight. Do nothing all the morning.
We are due, in regular order, at the front trenches to-night, and expect
to go there as usual. The writer, and several others, make a last visit
to our front trenches near ' Our Pine.' We see fewer troops than usual
on the way, but there is little change in affairs. Sharp-shooters and
pickets are as busy as ever. The Reg. soon receives orders to march,
and makes ready to move, but is not called into line until 10 a. m. Then
it rests on its arms for a while, on account of a delay caused by a mis-
understanding in reference to the officers' horses, kept in a ravine off to
the right, where there is a convenient and appetizing arrangement of
cook-tent and livery stable, both under the same tree.

The Reg. leaves its rear line of entrenchments, with Uie Brigade, about
one p. m. (Capt. Stoodley writes, 12.45 p. m.) and marches straight
across the wide field in the rear — following the ravine or depression,
and going nearly southeast towards Old Cold Harbor ; catching the last
glimpses of the battle-field about 1.30 p. m. As we leave the Cold Har-
bor trenches a large pile of damaged muskets, the muzzles all pointing
toward a bluff-side, with much army gear and combustible material, near
the right of our Brigade, is set on fire : and furnishes an irregular fusil-
lade heard so long as we are near enough to hear — about the last sound,
except an occasional cannon shot, that we hear as we move away in the
heat and dust.

A few miles back we pass a body of mounted staff officers and men,
by the road-side, headed by two Generals who are pointed out to us as
Generals Grant and INIeade. Dusty and ap])arently hard-working men,
looking us over intently as we march past them. About 5 p. m., while
we are on the march, heated, choked with the deep dust, and thirsty, a
boy appears from a little guard-camp by the road-side with a basket full


of lemons. The whole are at once purchased, distributed, and eaten
down like apples, peel and all — refreshing — good ! At TunstaU's we
march through the wagon-trains of the Ai-my of the Potomac, pai-ked in
a field : '• A hundred acres of wagons." After a hard, hot, dusty march
— rarely getting beyond the stench of the very numerous dead horses
and mules lying in the brush by the way — a part of the time marching
in roads, and a part of the time going straight across-lots, regardless of
hills or hollows, woods or waters, for about fifteen miles, we reach
White House at 7 p. m. Here the Reg. bivouacs about 9 p. m. on clean,
dry ground, free once more from danger and care.

This day ends a period of 35 days, passed by the Thirteenth, almost
continually under fire, and covering three terrible battles, and as many
more of lighter moment ; nine of the days to be inscribed on our flag —
when we get the new one, not space enough on the old ones. Between June
1st and June 12th, all at Cold Harbor, the Reg. has lost fourteen men
killed, six ofiicers and sixty -four men wounded and missing — total 84.

The Sanitary Commission representatives exemjjlified themselves to-
night by furnishing freely and liberally of its stores of canned goods, etc.,
to officers of all ranks, and by refusing to give enlisted men anything at
all, unless they came with written requisitions signed by two officers, and
in accordance with the strictest red tape. This creates much ill-feeling,
and threats of mobbing the concern are freely indulged in. Fair com-
mon sense, and Uncle Sam's uniform would have appeared guaranty
enough. A rather free distribution would have been less costly, for when
the men found themselves wholly refused and the officers bountifully sup-
plied, and afterwards got orders for supj^lies for themselves, they were
hai'der to satisfy, and demanded more than they needed.

One soldier of the 13th writes: "At the Cold Harbor front for six
days the dead and dying men (in front of our lines) could be seen at any
time, when a person chose to turn his head and look. The stench aris-
ing from the dead was horrible, and mingled with odors from all sorts of
decaying matter on every side. On the march to White House, on the
12th, the roads and woods were strewn, all the way, with hundreds of
dead horses and mules."

We have several times witnessed the expert work of the Army Tele-
graph Corps. No sooner is a change made in any part of the line than
a small body of men, with a mule or two, a few bundles of wire, and a
lot of forked sticks, are seen running a telegraph wire along in the rear ;
fence rails, trees, poles, anything that will properly elevate the wire, are
brought into use, and long before the soldiers can settle down in bivouac,
communications are speeding along the wires to Hdqrs., to Washington,
and thence scattering to the world. We might, as it were, halt for a few
minutes for dinner, and before the matches can start the little blaze of a
coffee-fire, the Telegraph Corps has connected, just back in the rear, and
the news flies away on lightning wings : " Blank Brigade at dinner." But
they say nothing about our — inexpressible — beef, cooked three days


ago and kept in a bag ever since, while the summer heat has ranged at
100° in the shade and above ; how said beef looks, how it smells, and
how it tastes — that is no news in this army.

From May 5th to June 10th Gen. Grant's losses are placed at 54,551,
and for the same period Gen. Lee's were about 20,000. Cold Harbor
being a link in that 40 days' chain of most fearful battles — May 4th to
June 15th, 1864 — between the Rapidan and Petersburg. Although
the battle of Cold Harbor proper commenced on the morning of June 1st,
the preliminary manoeuvring for position by the two armies — Grant's
and Lee's — appears to have begun soon after the Union army crossed
the Pamunkey, say on the morning of May 30th, among the swamps,
creeks and innumerable by-roads, a few miles to the northward of Cold
Harbor ; resulting in cavalry skirmishes and reconnaissances in force by
infantry and field artillei-y, in which the Union losses are put at a total of
about 3,022 — ' previous to June 1st and after crossing the Pamunkey.'

Following one of Gen. Humphreys' notes, page 191, quoting the Medi-
cal Director, Surgeon McParlin : " The number of killed, wounded and
missing after crossing the Pamunkey to the evening of June 12th (exclud-
ing the 18th Corps) may be estimated as follows : wounded 7,545, to which
Gen. Humphreys adds 900 ; a total of 8,445. Killed 1,420, missing
1,864 ; total 11,729. Li the 18th Corps, wounded 1,900, killed and miss-
ing 500 ; total 2,400. Grand total 14,129 ; to which he adds 3,000 sick


A. Old Cold Harbor. B. New Cold Harbor.

C. Mrs. Kelly. D. C. Wright.

E. D. Woody. F. G. Williams.

G. Albert AUerson. H. Old-StiU Pond.

K. Field into which the Thirteenth charged on June 1st. No Union
earth-works had been built at that time. The Union works near
the pond H stand nearly on the crest ; those west of them are
advanced into the field across which we charged.

L. Front trench with many traverses occupied by the Thirteenth from
June 4th to 12th, facing west.

M. Rear trench occupied by Thirteenth, also facing west.

1. 2. 3. Brooks running west to Gaines' Mill pond. The right of the
Thirteenth, when in both the front and the rear trenches, rested
close upon the second brook, which was called Muddy Run.
Z. Z. Z. Confederate trenches facing east. The road from D. Woody 's
to Albert Allerson's crosses a brook over a little culvert, north
of Old-StlU Pond, referred to in other pages. The many trav-
erses in our front line at L were necessary because the Confeder-
ate batteries, to the northward, enfiladed this line as it came up
over the knoll.

Lt. Col. Smith writes in reference to this map : " Your recollections of
Cold Harbor correspond with mine."


Tracing of Official Map. Scale, three inches to one milei


sent to Hospital =17,129. Deducting, however, the sick and the 3,022
rei^orted before the morning of June 1st, we have, in killed, wounded and
missing between the morning of June 1st and night of June 12th, a total
of 11,107, as the Cold Harbor losses.

Ca2)t. Phisterer gives tlie losses for the same period, killed 1,905,
wounded 10,570, missing 2,456 ; total 14,931. In this he probably in-
cludes the losses in the 18th Corps.

Gen. Humphreys says — condensed : " The lines at Cold Harbor were
so close they could be advanced only by regular approaches. The daily
skirmishing was sharp, and caused severe loss ; during the nights there
was heavy artillery firing, and sometimes heavy musketry ; the men in
the front trenches had little water except to drink, and that of the worst
kind from surface drainage, were exposed to great heat during the day,
had but little sleep, and their cooking was of the rudest character. The
army had no vegetables for over a month, the beef was from cattle ex-
hausted by a long march. Dead horses and mules, and offal were scat-
tered over the country, and between the lines were many dead bodies of
both parties lying unburied in a burning sun. The country was low and
marshy. The exhausting effect of all this began to show itself, and sick-
ness of a malarial character increased largely."

1887. It would be difficult now to find all the front lines of the
earth-works, occupied by the 13th at Cold Harbor. The front lines were
changed a little by the troops after the Reg. left them for the last time,
on the evening of June 10th. The rear line remained unchanged. But
the elements have reduced them in height and depth, and rounded all
their sharjj angles. The most direct way to find them is by the ravine
mentioned under June 1st, lying north-northeast of the National Cemetery,
and by following that ravine to our rear line of works — which was the
extreme rear line in all at that part of the Cold Harbor field and lying
to the left of the ravine and abutting on it — then turning slightly to the
left, and proceeding a little north of west, straight to the front line, on
the left side of a brook starting in that ravine and leading to Gaines'
Mill pond ; the second of the three brooks north of Cold Harbor road.
By Gen. Michler's official map, our position in the front line was the
north end of the most dense system of works shown here on that map,
where there is a long succession of little traverses, and about one half
mile due north of the point where the Union lines ci'oss the Cold Harbor
road. As shown on that map, a line drawn straight across between Mrs.
Kelly's house — marked C on the tracing — near and north of Old Cold
Harbor, and the north edge of pond, dirtectly north of Gaines' Mill dam,
would strike both our front and rear trenches, and near their centres.
The right of the Reg. when in the front trench ran to, or near, the nmddy
brook, in ravine, that drains west into Gaines' Mill pond — the left
mounting over the highest part of the knoll. The right of our rear
trench was at this muddy brook, near where it first begins. To return :

June 13. Mon. Very fine day. Reg. called at daylight. A large


body of rebel prisoners are here near our camp. They say that they
have lived for more than a month past, chiefly on dried fish and Indian
corn bread. Now, as they have been sujiplied with Uncle Sam's rations,
they have thrown out of their camp the former contents of their greasy,
filthy haversacks ; forming along one side of their inclosure a windrow
of such vile, unsavory compounds as would ' make any respectable hog
sneeze the rooter off his nose ' — Bah ! They are hungry, tired out, and
express themselves freely as exceeding glad they have been captured. A
rope cordon has been drawn around the plot of ground on which they
are, and they make great sport of it — they would not run away if they
could. They are done with war, they say. They are exceedingly merry,
and full of boyish pi'anks and jokes. They put on the most doleful faces,
and complain of the cruelty of ' fencing them up ' in this manner — with
a half-inch rope — in such terribly hot weather. Others reverse the idea,
and sit on the ground, in the little line of shadow cast by the rope, and
thank the guard for such ample protection from the hot sun. They mark
a ' dead line ' with straws, make their wills on scraps of paper, beg the
guard not to shoot them in the head, when they attempt to run away and
rejoin the rebel army ; and in short, act like a lot of boys just out of
school for a vacation.

Adjutant Boutwell returns to duty to-day, relieving Lieut. Thompson
of E. To be hustled about everywhere, and at all times of day and
night, through such a melde as the twelve days' battle of Cold Harbor, is
Adjutant enough for a lifetime — for the writer.

Reg. remains at White House to-day until 10 a. m., when we embark
on the steamer ' Ocean Wave,' with the 8th Conn., and at once move
swiftly down the Pamunkey and York rivers. After a very pleasant trip
we arrive off Fortress Monroe at 9 p. m., move up and anchor oft' New-
port News at 10 p. m., and turn in to sleep. While on the way to the
boat this morning, at White House, we pass among some new troojjs said
to be from Ohio. One of them asks what troops we are. Thirteen an-
swers : " One Hundred days' men." Ohio replies : "• You cannot fool us
with any such nonsense as that — unless your flags have been one hun-
dred days in hell ! " — Rough, but not altogether inapt, for neither of
our flags can be unfurled, they are so torn and cut up.

We have been through three scenes of terrible slaughter of men, Fred-
ericksburg, Drury's Bluff and Cold Harbor ; and now we have a little rest
before we again take a hand — shooting and shot at. Such is war ; and
civil war is the most uncivil war of all.

June 14. Tues. Splendid day save a Httle rain. The Thirteenth
sails at 4 a. m. from off Newport News, moves up the James River, ar-
rives at Point of Rocks, Appomattox River, at 10 a. m., and anchors off
Bermuda Hundred at noon ; and here we lounge about on the boat and
doze away the half-misty afternoon. We have passed many a fine coun-
try residence on the Pamunkey, York and James rivers — and many a
lonely stack of cliimneys. The ruins of Jamestown came partly into view ;


nothing left in sight but a few chimneys, a wall or two, one house, and an
old vine-covered jiile said to be the ruins of a church. This trip up the
James is made like a move in business ; our last sail up this river was
theatrical. We debark near Bermuda Hundred at 10 p. m.,^ march to
our old camp-ground of May 28th, and there bivouac. But we get
scarcely any rest. A large amount of work, which might have been done
on the steamer, is now attended to. Arms and cartridge and cap-boxes
are examined by firelight, and deficiencies supphed until every man has
sixty rounds of ammunition. Three days' rations are cooked and dis-
tributed. Finally, very late at night, we turn in, with the most welcome
assurance that before daybreak we shall again ' move to the front.'

The query goes the rounds : " Wonder what 's up now ? " We must
say we care little to-night what is coming jirovided only that we are vic-
torious. The fact is that the Thirteenth is now very desirous to take
part in another fight here in the neighborhood of Bermuda Hundred, in
order to amend the name and fortunes of this Army of the James — or
at least make the list of our successes a little more brilliant. Many of
our men have said to-night : ' If we get after the rebels on this front
again, we will give them Hail Columbia.' We have fought hard, done
our best, but there is an all-pervading desire now, more than ever, to make
a grand mark for The Thirteenth New Hampshire Regiment. This is
the talk of our camp to-night. The notion of being annihilated as a regi-
ment has never once entered the heads of the members of the Thirteenth
— some may fall — the most will survive.

By way of Drury's Bluff, Gen. Lee, at Cold Harbor, is only about
twenty-four miles from Bermuda Hundred.

^ The Thirteenth furnishes details for work on shore, and our steamer — as well as
others of the fleet — is moving about a good deal between City Point, Point of Rocks
and Bermiida Hundred, as if uncertain where and when to land the troops. The
troops landed in detachments, details of men were made on the boat for guards, pick-
ets, pioneers, etc., who went ashore from time to time. The writer has, in the above
liours given, followed his own record. A letter written by him while still upon the
steamer with the Reg. states : " June 14th, 12 noon, we are now at Bermuda Hun-
dred and about to land. Rains a little, otherwise pleasant." But no day has fur-
nished so many and so wide discrepancies in hours as this one.

Sergt. Major Hodgdon states in his Diary : " Arrived at Point of Rocks at 4 p. m."

Prescott states in his Diary : " Reached City Point about 3 p. m., turned into the
Appomattox, and landed at Point of Rocks about 5 o'clock and marched to our old
camp-gTound of three weeks ago."

A soldier of the Thirteenth writes home : ' ' We left Cold Harbor at 1 p. m. on the
12th, and arrived at White House at 7 p. m. We left Wliite House June 13th on the
'Ocean Wave' ; arrived at 'Appomattox Station' at 1.30 p. m., and at our old
camp at 2.30 p. m. on June 14th."


June 15. Wed. A warm, and very pleasant sunny day. The Thir-
teenth, with Col. Stevens in command, marches with the Brigade — Burn-
ham's 2d Brig., 1st Div., 18th Corps — from camp near Bermuda Hun-
dred at 2.30 a. m., crosses the Appomattox River on a ponton bridge laid
near Broadway Landing, Point of Rocks, two miles below Port Walthall,
climbs a very steep bank, and proceeds rapidly to the rear of Petersburg,
and halts when about three or four miles from that city. While crossing
the pontons, a regiment in our rear takes up the ' cadence-step,' as if march-
ing to music, and soon sets the bridge into a rapid vibration, and a num-
ber of its men are seen to lose step, stumble, and plunge off headlong into
the mud and water ; and as they crawl laboriously ujj out of the infamous
mud, and thoroughly bedaubed with it from head to foot, they are greeted
with shouts of laughter from the other troops.

In this day's movements Gen. Smith is sent with a part of his 18th
Corps, about 10,000 men, in advance to secure whatever foothold he can,
as preliminary to the transfer of Gen. Grant's army to the south side of
the James River. Hence our rapid march from Cold Harbor to White
House ; thence by transports to Bermuda Hundred ; and now up here to
take Petersburg or ground near it, by surprise, and before Gen. Lee can
dispatch troops from about Richmond and Cold Harbor for its defense.

We begin to hear heavy firing in the distance about 5 a. m., but we do
not come within range of the enemy's fire until 8.30 a m., when a large
solid shot, or a shell that does not burst, strikes with a loud blow in a
field near the Thirteenth, but does no harm. Soon after this we come up
to the rear of some of Gen. Hinks' colored troops who have just had a
sharp skirmish with the enemy posted in rifle-pits near by ; driving the
enemy out and occupying the ground. This place is on Baylor's farm,
about two miles out from the enemy's main line of works. A number of
deatl negroes are lying about — and a dead negro is the most ghastly
corpse ever seen ; and their wounded are coming back shot in all sorts of
■ways, in legs, arms, heads and bodies, but hobbling along and bringing their
guns with them. Negroes will keep on their feet, and move on, with
wounds that would utterly lay out white men, and they stick like death to
their guns. A white man severely wounded throws his gun away. This
affair at Baylor's is of but a few minutes, but very gallant and spirited.
A little before ten o'clock a. m. Gen. Hinks' negro troops — about
3,700 men — after their first brush here with the enemy, move from our
front to the left, and give us the field ; and our Brigade advances to the
front, and on both sides of the main road to Petersburg. The L^nion line


is now : Gen. Martindale on the right near the Appomattox ; Gen. Brooks
— in whose Division is the Thirteenth — in the centre ; and Gen. Hinks'
colored troops on the left.

In brief : Kautz's cavalry about 6 a. m. first cleared the way for Hink's'
colored troops, here on the centre of the line, then moved to the left. The
colored troops then came up to the front, cleared the enemy from these
few rifle-pits, and then they also moved to the left. And now we take
the place of the colored troops at the centre front.

About 10 a. m., as we have said, we move forward to the front, the
Thirteenth being deployed as skirmishers in front of, and covering the
whole of Gen. Brooks' Division, and commanded by Col. Stevens. Our
line is consequently very long ; the enemy posted in the woods in large
squads answers our fire vigorously, and more force is considered neces-
sary to keep him moving back. The Thirteenth therefore narrows its
front, moves farther towards the left, connecting with the colored troops,
and is joined on the right by 120 men from the 8th Conn. Later the
skirmish line is further strengthened by two companies, about 40 men, of
the 118th N. Y., and 150 men of the 92d N. Y. ; Col. Stevens in com-
mand of the Thirteenth and of the skirmish line — a part of the time with
his Regiment, and a part of the time called to the right of the line.

The skirmish line, before the day was out, consisted of the 13th N.
H., the 8th Conn., two companies of the 118th N. Y. and 150 men of the
92d N. Y. — the 10th N. H. supporting the line at some distance back
in the woods.

While we are halted for a moment, among the pines, during some of
these changes, an incident occurs that sets a portion of the line roaring
with laughter. We unearth about a round dozen of rebels in rifle-pits
dug among some thick brush not far away to our right front, and they
open fire most spitefully. We are quickly safe behind trees, and they hit
no one, excepting a little, wiry Irishman in the Thirteenth ; a rebel bullet
just glancing across the top of his thumb, a little back of the first joint.
The affair is a mere bruise. For a moment the thumb is numb, and
Paddy stands still, contemplating it most studiously ; and then he sud-
denly belches out a most diabolical mixture of groan, scream and yell
combined and loud enough to raise the dead, throws his gun as far as he
can, shoots about six feet into the air, throws his roll of blankets a couple
of rods away ; and for fully a minute turns himself into a perfect little
spinning gyration of sprawling, flying legs and arms, flopping haversack,
banging canteen, and rattling tin-cup and cartridge-box, all the time yell-
ing as man never yelled before — in our hearing. He jumped, whirled,
laid down, rolled, kicked, struck out, screamed, swore and bawled all at
once. Meanwhile the little squad of rebel pickets — either thinking that
we have invented a new yell, and are going to charge, or else that we
have with us the veritable " Yankee Devil " himself, horns and all —
cease firing instant upon the Irishman's first compound scream, seize their
loose clothing and blankets in their hands, and make off towards Peters-


burg, running as for dear life. A most amusing scene to all of the Union
troops — excepting Faddy. Soon we move on, and are too busy to note
what becomes of him and his little thumb-bumj) ; but we conclude that he
was hurt.

The skirmish line is so long, and the ground so rough, being covered
with timber and fallen trees, that Capt. Julian is called to act as Major,
and advances the left wing of the Tliirteenth a large j^art of the after-
noon. Maj. Grantman being a part of the time in command of the whole
Regiment and a part of the time advancing the right wing. It is a
crowded, busy day and duty is done wherever duty is demanded, and with-
out much regard to special prerogatives.

As the skirmish line is strengthened by the additions named, our Reg.
closes, and nari"ows its front, until we form a rather close skii-mish line ;
and in this order, substantially, our line moves foi'ward, constantly skir-

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 45 of 81)