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 46 of 81)
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mishing, through a thick wood, and out of that into a slashing of heavy
timber, among the stumps and fallen trees, almost directly in the rear,
but somewhat to the right, of Mr. Friend's house ; and in full view of a
five-gun battery — Battery Five — with very high parapets and perched
on the top of a high hill, to the right, north, of Mr. Friend's house. We
reach the slashing about mid-afternoon, after an advance of two miles or
more from the scene of the skirmish by Gen. Hinks' colored troops on
Baylor's farm ; the line of our advance not only curving, but sweeping to
the left, close upon Gen. Hinks' right.

While back in the woods near the City Point road, the enemy gave us
many shells, from the front and from the right, and many bullets from
his skirmishers, as they retreated before our advance ; but now as he sees
us moving about in this slashing, his Battery Five plays on us alone,
vigorously, and we receive a great many bullets from an unseen line dis-
tant on our front. This makes our advance very slow. We spring for-
ward from stump to stump, and from log to log, drawing the enemy's
fire and then gaining ground before he can re-load.

Soon Sergt. Major James M. Hodgdon, who has been acting all day as
Adjutant Boutwell's assistant, carrying orders from Col. Stevens on the
right to Major Grantman and others — ap])ears, and directs Lieut. Thomp-
son of E to take thirty or forty men of the Thirteenth — taking all of
Company E and a few men from another Company — and place them as
flankers to the left of the Reg. ; in squads of three or four men each, ex-
tending the line of the Reg. toward the left, and swinging back a few
yards on the extreme left of the line, in the brush and slashing. This is
quickly done, and without accident, though it provokes a lively fusillade
on the part of the rebel skirmishers. These flankers are thrown out be-
cause the colored troops, not very firm on the skirmish line to the left,
might retreat before a heavy charge by the enemy, and imperil the left
flank of the Thirteenth.

Battery Five is one of a long line of a dozen or more Batteries — per-
haps more properly, Redans — all containing artillery, and connected by


rifle-trenches, and protected, a hundred or two yards to their front, by
a line of rifle-pits. We can see three or four of these Redans.

As we ajjproach the edge of the slashing, troops are either withdrawn
from the skirmish line or closed to the right, for the Thirteenth here
widens its front again, by taking more open order towards tlie right,
bringing the main part of the Regiment more nearly in the direct front
of Battery Five. After a little further advance, we approach, about 4.30
or 5 p. m., as near to the edge of the slashing as is deemed prudent ; and
the men are ordered to halt, to find secure cover, to cease firing, and to
keep hidden as much as possible. The men are tired from the long day's
action, and rest upon their arms, settling down behind the large logs and
stumps. The enemy's pickets, however — following the rule of riot at
Donnybrook Fair : " Wherever you see a head, hit it " — keep pegging
away at us, and Battery Five sends us a goodly number of shells.

We have now nearly two hours of reasonably quiet observation. We
are so near to Battery Five, that we can occasionally when the wind serves,
distinctly hear the commandant's orders, " Load," " Fire," and can look
right into the muzzles of his guns, as they are run up to the embrasures,
and fired straight at us, " puff — bang ; " sometimes singly, sometimes all
at once. Our cover is so secure, however, that his firing is more inter-
esting than harmful. Away to our left, near to Mr. Friend's house, is a
long and strong line of skirmishers — colored troops — working forward
over dusty, plowed land, among numerous apple or peach trees. They
are in full view, and are having a hard time of it. They rush forward,
and are then di-iven back ; and then try again, and again ; but without suc-
cess, and quite a number of them are stretched out on the ground, dead.
Battery Five shells them severely, and they and the shells drive up a
great deal of dust. The scene is very interesting to us ; for a deter-
mined charge by the enemy upon those negroes would expose the Thir-
teenth, and bring Lieut. Thompson's flankers and the left half of the Reg.
into instant action. The negroes are doing wretched skirmishing.

Now drums are heard in our rear — a dozen loud taps — and all is
still. Immediately a full regiment of colored infantry, with colors flying

— that is battle flags — and in a splendid line of battle, moves up toward
a rail fence on our left and rear. Li a moment Batteiy Five gives them

— over our heads — three or four shells right in their faces. Snap —
bang, go the shells among them, and down go their colors into the dirt,
and back go they like wild men. Somebody's fool has blundered. A
good, thorough, handsome, elegant blunder, too !

There are near us some large piles of stove-wood, cut, split, and thrown
up in heaps to dry. Some of our men have unwisely taken cover there.
Battery Five drops in a shell ; it explodes, and sends up a beautiful foun-
tain of small stove-wood to rain down among the men. They make the
best time on record from that shower. Another body's fool has blun-
dered. None hurt, but all are considerably moved.

From some point away to our right the enemy sends us two or three


large shells, Batteiy Five shells are small, and one of these large shells
bursts apparently dh'ectly over the right of the Thirteenth, the rest go
over.' Jordan's and Friend's houses and buildings are used as a cover
by the enemy's jjlckets, and we can see the puffs of smoke there in large
numbers ; this condemns all the buildings to destruction if need be.

While we are resting on our arms here in the slashing, about twenty
field guns — one account says sixteen — take position in our rear and
along the edge of the woods, and obtain the range of the enemy's Bat-
teries, or Redans, numbers Five, Six and Seven. The troops of Gen.
Brooks' Division, all excepting the Thirteenth and the other detachments
forming the skirmish line in front of that Division, are massed near these
guns as a support, and also held in readiness for an assault upon the
enemy's works. Later on these troops deploy in a long battle line and
follow the skirmish line. See Capt. Julian's account page 393.

A little after six o'clock, Gen. Burnham sends for Col. Stevens, Major
Grantman and other field officers in our Brigade, now on the skirmish
line, and they move back to his Hdqrs. on the wood-road in the timber a
short distance to the rear of the front skirmishers. Here they receive
instructions concerning the movement about to take place. Capt. Coitt
commanding the 8th Conn., and Major Merriman commanding the 92d
N. Y. are present at this meeting.

While these field officers are going to Gen. Burnham's Hdqrs., a cannon
ball, or shell not exploding, strikes in the wood-road and ricochets, and
just at the moment of bounding upwards from the ground strikes Major
Pruyn of the 118th N. Y. in his body and tears him fearfully, instantly
killing him.

After receiving instructions our field officers retui'n to the skirmishers
again ; and a little before 6.30 p. m. the skirmish line of Gen. Brooks'
Division, now consisting of the 13th N. H., eight companies of the 8th
Conn., and small detachments of the 118th and 92d N. Y. regiments,
is oi'dered to make ready to charge. The usual distance is at once taken
as skirmishers — about five paces between man and man — and this move-
ment of extending the line to the right — the Thirteenth being on the
left next the negro troops — carries the whole skirmish line of Gen.
Brooks' Division, excepting the Thirteenth, far to the right of Battery
Five, and brings the Thirteenth directly in front of Battery Five, and
stretching a considerable distance to the right and left of it.

The 189 men of the Thirteenth deployed as skirmishers, even at a
less distance than five paces apart, would make a line more than 400
yards in length, while the east face of Battery Five, the face assaulted,
is only about 100 yards in length.

The flankers under Lieut. Thompson of E, on the left of the Thirteenth,
are directed to come up on the line, to extend to the right and to deploy
as skirmishers in the same manner as the rest of the Thirteenth. As
these flankers rise to their feet in the low slashing, and hence come into
full view, the rebel riflemen open upon them savagely, and two or three


of the men need at first a little encouragement. They come up into line,
however, quickly and promptly, and by so doing the most of them are
brought to the very edge of the slashing and some of them out of it
altogether and into the clear open ground of the field in front, a very
exposed position.

The Thirteenth is formed in line as skirmishers and waits but a few
moments for orders, when a furious burst of artillery tiring opens in our
rear from the field guns mentioned above, several loud voices shout " For-
ward I " there is a rush and a shout ; the flankers on the left still mov-
ing obliquely to the front and right advance a coujjle of rods or so into
the field, when Lieut. Thompson of E, the writer, is tripjjed up by a rebel
bullet striking through his left ankle and he plunges headlong to the
ground falling upon some dry grass or weeds in the field. He is struck
while crossing a sort of ' wheel-path ' extending from the wood-road —
that ran through the slashing crossing a rail fence and out into the open
field beyond two lai-ge stumps — and goes back upon his hands and knees
to one of these stumps for shelter from the severe rebel fire.

(In 1878 the writer, accompanied by young Mr. Jordan, residing near
by, readily found this spot when visiting the field, and hence could locate
the position of the left of the Thirteenth. Mr. Jordan stated that his
father had seventeen buildings destroyed on his farm near Battery Five,
by the Union and Confederate armies.)

The enemy's musketry fire is furious — it appears from this fire that
counted all along his line the enemy must have near three thousand men
— while shell come thick and fast from the enemy's Redans Six and
Seven, and still farther to his left from his cannon located nearer the
Appomattox river, and the shouting of the Northern men in the charge
grows more and more noisy.

The Thirteenth dashes at Battery Five in a long thin line, narrowing
front as they advance, striking first a line of rebel ' French rifle-pits '
running clear across the middle of the open field, capturing these and
above a hundred of the enemy's troops, sending them to the rear, and
then advancing again towards the Battery.

In a few moments a little party of the officers and men of the Thir-
teenth, advancing rapidly, find themselves at the bottom of a deep I'avine,
now dry but forming a natural moat or ditch for Battery Five, the walls
of which loom up above them some thirty or forty feet to the top of the
parapet. Capt. Stoodley here remai'ks to Capt. Julian : " If we follow
this thing right up now, we can take this Battery." Capt. Julian an-
swers : " Then we will take it." No sooner said than done. They, Capt.
Goss and the few men of the Thirteenth with them in the ravine — the
whole party not above a dozen persons — instantly rush for the Battery ;
some straight up over the front walls, others up the north side, on bay-
onets stuck in the sand, grasping grass and weeds to assist in climbing,
striking their boots into the gravel — anyhow so it be the quickest way in ;
and as these few Northern soldiers look from the parapet down into the


Battery they see a full hundred of the enemy. These are thrown into a
little disorder by a number of their own men who have rushed in hur-
riedly from their rifle-pits taking refuge in the Battery, and they all ap-
pear to be waiting for something — they have not long to wait ! Dashing
without a moment's hesitation into their midst our officers demand a sur-
render. Capt. Julian calls ujjon Lt. Col. Council of the 26th Virginia,
commanding the rebel infantry, to surrender, and receives his sword, also
receives the swords of several other officers who surrender to him —
among them Major Beatty and another Major.

Capt. Stoodley calls upon Capt. Sturtivant, conmianding the Battery, to
surrender, and receives his sword.

In a few seconds all is over, and the prisoners are forming to march to
the rear. Meanwhile the captured guns are found to be loaded, and our
men scarcely waiting for orders instantly turn the guns and prepare to
fire them upon some of the enemy seen retreating — but the fuse is gone.
Capt. Stoodley rather hastily asks Capt. Sturtivant for the fuse, and he
replies that he " don't want to be a pai'ty in the matter." Cai)t. Stood-
ley at once politely acknowledges the right of that.

Soon Sergeant John F. Gibbs of E, who is one of the first to enter the
Battery, and is somewhat acquainted with gunnery, finds the fuse, and
the guns are fired by Gibbs and others upon the fleeing troops of the
enemy which were not in the Battery.

Practically these three officers. Captains Stoodley, Julian and Goss,
and less than a dozen men of the Thirteenth, capture Battery Five — an
exceedingly daring performance. Affairs move quick at such a time.

Gen. Burnham, commanding our Brigade says, officially : " The Thir-
teenth N. H. Vols, captured in this work five pieces of artillery and about
100 prisoners ; and the prisoners captured in the whole affair, could not
have been less than 200."

A General who witnessed the affair, remarks : " It is equal to any-
thing that has been done in the war."

It is said that Gen. Smith — ' Baldy ' — commanding the 18th Corps,
remarked, as he realized what had been done, that he '' felt like giving a
commission to the whole regiment that did that gallant deed." One
writer calls the affair " startling audacity."

" After the Battery was captured by the Thirteenth, which occurred a
little earlier than the taking of the works to the right and left, the Union
troops continued firing for some little time ; and to stop this firing upon
our own men, Capt. Goss tied his white handkerchief to his sword, sprang
upon the parapet of the Battery, and stood there waving this white flag
until our men ceased their firing, meanwhile the cheers of victory, shouts
of battle and firing were all commingled." ^ Major Stoodley.

^ Tlie writer regrets that lie has heen unable to learn the names of all these men,
for a certainty, who composed this little force which first entered Battery Five.
Major Stoodley states that the party consisted of about a dozen officers and men in all,
when they started from the ravine to enter the Battery.


"The only Union soldiers who entered Battery Five to-day, before
and during- its capture, and until after it had been captured with all its
guns, equipment and garrison, and had been held for some time, were
the officers and men of the Thirteenth New Hampshire Regiment — and
this was proved by a careful inquiry that settled the whole matter."

Lt. Col. Smith.

Eight Confederate officers in Battery Five suri^endered to Capt. Julian,
five of these eight are here accounted for by their arms : Lt. Col. Coun-
cil, who was in conmiand of the line of works. His sword Capt. Julian
still has, 1887, and it bears this inscription : ' Presented to Lieut. Col. Coun-
cil By the Officers and men of Companies B & C 26th Va. Regt. Jan.
1863.' He received of another officer a sword, apparently a home-made
affair, with the edge ground and whetted as sharp as a scythe. This he
gave to Sergt. James R. Morrison of K who still, 1887, preserves it as a
relic. Of another a revolver — Colt's — which he gave to Lieut. Murray.
Of another, a young naval officer, who was at Battery Five merely on a
visit to friends for the day, and just down fi*oni Richmond, a revolver
which he now has. When the officer handed this revolver, with the belt,
holster and ammunition-pouch, over to Capt. Julian he remarked : " I
wiU give you this as a special present to Old Abe." Capt. Julian still re-
tains jjossession of it, however, by prior right. It is a Colt's, of English
make, and the ammunition taken with it was made by Ela Brothers,

Of another — a Major Beatty — a sword which he still preserves. An
incident connected with this sword deserves mention. Sergt. Morrison
of K had charge of taking the prisoners to the rear, and just as he was
starting with them, Major Beatty said to Sergt. Morrison that Capt. Julian
was a very brave man, and expressed a desiro to see him again before
the party of prisoners was taken away. Morrison sent a man for Capt.
Julian, who went over where the prisoners were, carrying with him his
special collection of Southern arms. Major Beatty then politely drew out
of the collection the sword which he but a few minutes before had sur-
rendered, and turning the hilt, formally presented the sword and belt to
Capt. Julian, with the request ' that in future he would wear it as his own,
and when doing so would think of him the recent owner.' Capt. Julian
accepted the gift, promising to wear it ; and during the rest of his term
of service he Avore that sword and none other, and still preserves it as a
relic of the war having a special history of a particular interest.

The results of the day give to the Thirteenth two rebel colors, one cap-
tured by Sergt. James R. Morrison of K, and the other by Corp. Peter
Mitchell of K — both of which colors are sent as trophies to the Governor
of New Hampshire, and are now, 1887, preserved in the State House, and
are the only rebel battle-flags in the custody of the State — about as many
prisoners as the Regiment itself numbers ; several ammunition wagons,
and five pieces of artillery — four handsome brass cannon, and one iron
gun — belonging to Sturtlvant's Richmond Battery ; and have broken the
enemy's main line on this side of the " Cockade City."


The captured enemy, however, are not so happy. A portion of the
men captured are militia, armed with smooth bore muskets — it was a
round ounce bullet that struck Lieut. Thompson of E, and others of the
13th received wounds from the same sort of bullets — but the enemy
fired with great rapidity. When Capt. Sturtivant, commanding the Bat-
tery, finds how few men have caused his surrender, and how matters
stand, he is beside himself with anger and chagrin ; and exclaims in
pure Old Vii'ginia : " Here are my guns double-shotted for infantry, and
all of us captured by a Yankee skirmish line ! "

When our artillery belched out all at once so heavily, he expected an
assault by a strong column of infantry, and prepared for it by double
charges in his guns ; while waiting the onset, fuse in hand — about a dozen
officers and men of the Thirteenth gobble up the whole of his garrison,
pickets, guard, gunners, guns and all I This little party were the first
in ; but in less than five minutes they are joined within the Battery by
nine tenths of the Regiment. The Thirteenth captured in all about 200
prisoners ; and the total loss in the Reg., counting all casualties, were 4
men killed, 5 officers and 44 men wounded.

" The National colors of the Thirteenth were planted by me on the
parapet of Battery Five — the first flag planted upon it after its capture."
Sergeant David W. Bodge, Color-bearer.

Capt. Julian says : " During the advance of the Thirteenth as skirmish-
ers, through the pine timber, Lieut. Thompson, the whole of Company E,
and some other men of the 13th, were sent to the left of our Regiment as
flankers, and this deprived me of a command. I was therefore directed
by Col. Stevens to take charge of the general skirmish line on the left ;


Upon the opposite page is a cut of the two Confederate battle-flags
captured in Battery Five. They are the personal property of the brave
captors, and are now, 1887, preserved in the Capitol at Concord — the
only Confederate battle-flags in the custody of the State.

The upper flag in the cut (worn a little) was captured by Corporal
Peter Mitchell of K ; and the lower one (whole) by Sergeant James R.
Morrison of K.

At the request of the writer, Gen. A. D. Ayling, Adjutant General of
New Hampshire, employed W. G. C. Kimball, Esq., of Concord, to photo-
graph these flags ; the cut is made from the negative, and is accurate in
every particular.

Gen. Ayling kindly furnishes the following description : The two flags
are practically of the same size (the edge of one being frayed a little),
viz. : four feet in length and four feet in width. The body is red ; the
bars six inches in width, and blue with white borders ; the stars are white,
and three and one half inches from point to point ; the border around botli
of the flags is two inches in width, and white. The material is bunting.

Captured at Battery Five.


and practically acting as Major, I spent several hours advancing the left
wing of our Regiment. Later on, when the order came to charge. Col.
Stevens came along the line, directing the commanders of Companies
one after another to charge. The movement hung fire a little, apparently
for want of concerted action. It was a dare-devil piece of work at best.
After a few moments, when the Colonel was thus ordering a charge, I
asked him : ' Colonel, do you want this Regiment to charge ? ' ' Yes,' an-
swered the Colonel, ' The movement depends on you — every one of you.'
This little sting touched me, and I sprang forward and shouted ' Charge ! '
— with all my might. Whether I was alone in this first shout I cannot
tell, but away went the Thirteenth in an excellent line for Battery Five,
and captured it and all there was in it.

" After we had taken Battery Five we felt insecure, not knowing but
the enemy would soon charge in sufficient force to compel the Thirteenth
to relinquish the position. But while we were thinking of this, a body of
Union troops marching in one line of battle, apparently a mile long, with
all colors unfurled and every officer and man in position, emerged from
the woods, through whicli we had advanced before charging across the
field upon the Battery, and bore across the open field rapidly to the front,
in sujjport of the Thirteenth and other troops on the skirmish line ; they
came up near to the captured Battery Five and the rebel w^orks flanking
it and halted — then we felt secure, and that no force which the enemy
had hereabout could move us from our position."

Few actions ever more thoroughly demonstrated the need of a bugle,
in handling a skirmish line too long to distinctly hear one man's voice.
Probably Col. Stevens from no point could have made himself sufficiently
well heard by every officer in the extended line of the 13th on this occa-
sion. The force of the charge, however, was not in any degree broken,
and will be better understood from the fact that while the enemy main-
tained his position, both on the right and on the left of Battery Five, the
Thirteenth, in the centre, broke through one of the strongest, if not the
strongest, defenses in his wdiole line of works — capturing this Batteiy, its
garrison and cannon, and hold all they reach, before our other troops, to
the right and the left on the line, capture the works on their fronts. We
are the first to break the enemy's main line in front of Petersburg ; and
were in the front line of the infantry charge that opened the battle of
Cold Harbor — that will do.

The results of the day, on the whole line, were the capture of 18 guns,
and al)out 700 prisoners. The Thirteenth thus accomplished close upon
one third of the whole day's work in the final dash, besides leading at
the front all day. The Thirteenth captures for its Colonel one of the best
prizes of the day — the Star of a Brigadier General. The enemy's ar-
tillery swept the wdiole advance, and his rifles all the open ground. The
rebels in their ' French rifle-pits ' were almost perfectly safe from our
fire, and wholly unseen until our men in the charge ran close upon them.

The National colors of the Thirteenth were planted on Battery Five


by Color-Scrgcant David W. Bodge (of B) ; and the State colors 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 46 of 81)