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 48 of 81)
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Capt. Stoodley heard Gen. Grant say : " The taking of this strong hne
with skirmishers is one of the most brilliant actions in this war."

While all are standing here, a drunken staff officer — of whose staff
we do not learn, but not a member of the loth — dashes out over our
lines, rides down on the plain toward the rebel lines, halts, rises in his
stirrups, waves his hat at the enemy, loudly bids them defiance, and then
rushes back at a break-neck speed, both horse and rider unharmed by
the enemy's fire. Gen. Grant orders his arrest, and at once dismisses
him from his position as a staff officer.

The forces under Gen. Hancock, having relieved the 18th Coii:)S in a
part of the works in our vicinity, make an assault, together with a portion
of the 18th Corps, amid a perfect roar of artillery and musketry, forcing


the enemy back from the whole length of the line attacked. We have
an excellent opijortunity to see what a heavy infantry charge means ; a
grand but terrible spectacle, and esjjecially so this evening when the
fighting is exceedingly fierce. Last night, after we captured the enemy's
front line, rebel troops in great numbers began to enter Petersburg from
Gen. Beauregard or Gen. Lee on the north, and to re-enforce the en-
emy's lines on our front. The bridges are in the city, and they all ap-
peared to cross there. We could hear their cheering, and the muffled
rumble of distant tramping and teams. Gen. Hancock's 2d Corps came
up near the front ; a part occupying the line we had captured, relieving
the 18th Corps, and giving our men a better chance to rest. We could
have pushed on, however, if ordered to do so, for the labors of yesterday,
though especially severe for a long time, allowed several hours for rest in
the latter part of the day- The army of the Potomac is hasting to this
front from its fields north of the James.

The whole of last night was thus used up by Clan Grant, and Clan
Lee, gathering hereabout, in the darkness, to discuss the question of
Petersburg with the arguments of war.

Hospital. The wounded officers and men of the Thirteenth are moved
about 10 a. m. to-day from Mr. Thomas Rushmore's house, in the am-
bulance — ' Ambulance Brown,' driver — and placed on board the steamer
' Hero of Jersey.' Soon after leaving Mr. Rushmore's the ambulance is
hailed, and stops to take on a rebel officer, wearing a sort of half -citizen's
dark gray suit, and wounded in his arm. The writer, the rebel, and
Brown in the centre, occupy the driver's seat outside. He treats those
who are aiding him to get up on the ambulance, with the utmost con-
tempt, and scorns to stoop to show the least regard for, or civility to, us
his fellow passengers. He is tall, slim, black-haired, black-eyed, frowning
and supercilious ; a more aristocratic, haughty, snappish, peppery, un-
comfortable creature we have never seen prior to this time. He is also
extremely dirty, has evidently been in the mud, and his only baggage is
an old cotton-cloth bag with strings, something like a haversack, once
white, but now a mess of greasy dirt. When he is helped aboard the
steamer. Brown, who had shown him several very pleasant and kindly at-
tentions, each rewarded by a snap, a snarl or a sneer, carefully takes up
the rebel's haversack and passes it into the boat — taking it up in the
most dainty fashion, as if it were poison, or he was fearful of brushing
off the tinsel — and hands it over the steamer's rail, with the remark, in
mock earnest : " Don't let us forget this gentleman's baggageJ" Brown's
courtesy is ii*resistible, and provokes a general laugh. The rebel's eyes
flash fire, but he is too angry to speak, and disappears in silence, looking
murder and malice unutterable. He is altogether the most unreasonable
and ugly specimen of a Southron we have ever seen. We think he must
have been captured by that " Skirmish line of the Thirteenth," now rec-
ognizes his captors, and does not like our methods of warfare ; or else he
is a deserter, and a scoundrel jirior to all the rest.


A few miles down the river we are stopjDed by Gen. Grant's army
crossing the James River on a ponton bridge, and here we have to wait
until his entire army crosses. The bridge extends from north to south
across the James, from WindmiU Point, south of Wilcox's Landing, to
Fort Powhatan, nearly twenty miles from Petersburg. The river here is
2,100 feet wide, 75 to 100 feet deep in mid-channel, the current strong,
and the rise and fall of the tide is about four feet. The j^onton boats,
101 in number, are secured to ships anchored above and below. The
bridge was commenced at 4 p. m., on June 14th, and finished by mid-
night. All of Gen. Grant's army and trains, excepting his rear-guard,
had crossed by midnight of June 16th.

This immense army crossing the James river here presents a most
magnificent spectacle ; and as our steamer lies near, those of us who are
able to sit up can see it all — a last grand view of war to many a poor
fellow on the Union side ; while the wounded and other Confederates
aboard with us watch the mighty scene with intense interest, their faces
betraying no hate but mingled emotions of sternness, dread, wonder and
desperation, one of them exclaiming on the last day of our waiting :
" Great Heavens ! — is there no end to that thing ? " We have had no
view of an army on the field of a review, which would at all compare
with the view of this army hasting here to-day forward to the field of
battle. Reviews are shows ; this is business, in all the push, stir and en-
ergy of war, A living panorama, a vast army in motion, long lines of
cavalry, generals with their staffs, infantry in long, dense columns, with
all their mounted officers, furled battle flags, knots of camp-followers and
teams, wagons, cannon, flying artillery, heavy guns, bands, hundreds of
ambulances and countless army gear ; all moving rapidly, swiftly over
the low, level, floating bridge, in grand procession and all seeming to be
as it were down upon the very sui'face of the water itself.

All day long, and in the hours of night, the bridge, nearly half a mile
in length, is full, an unceasing tramp, no break in the column, but steadily,
speedily, the great host forges on, as if every organization in it were a
huge link in some immense drawing chain, that the God of war was now
sweeping irresistibly into place as an impregnable cordon around the pre-
sumptuous and turbulent Confederacy — as it is ; squadron after squad-
ron, regiment after regiment, brigade after brigade, division after divi-
sion, battery after battery, train after train, corps after corps, each with
all the appliances, ensigns, flags, arms, paraphernaUa and materiel of real
and tremendous war ; all lines and files in perfect order, place and time,
moving under the control of the master mind of that one greatest of
American men and Captains — Lieut. General Ulysses S. Grant, seconded
by his noble Lieutenant, Major General George G. Meade ; constantly
for hour upon hour appears this huge unbroken stream of men, bursting
into full and sudden view from an unseen source in the dense woods on
the northern shore, entering low down upon the bridge, crossing with quick
route-step the wide level to the southern shore, ascending the river bank,



and instantly disappearing as they came, we cannot see whither, apparently
inexhaustible in numbers and invincible in power — the fate-holder of our
Nation, the strong right arm of our whole People.

June 17. Fri. Fair. Reg. remains in its entrenchments on the
bluff side near Mr. Friend's house until 7 p. m. ; when we are relieved
by troops from the 6th Corps, and march back, with the rest of Gen.
Brooks' Division, to our old camp within Gen. Butler's entrenchments at
Bermuda Hundred — " Camp near Point of Rocks " — arriving there at
2 a. m. — 18th. To-day a severe artillery firing and skirmishing is
engaged in along the Petersburg front, during which the Union forces
dislodge a body of the enemy from a ravine near us, which he occupied
last night. We witness the affair, without being directly engaged in it.
The fighting continues day and night, and our lines are being constantly
advanced. This evening the enemy attacked the Petersburg lines in
force soon after we left, and were fearfully cut up by the 6th Corps.

Last night about sunset the Union troops — two Brigades of the 18th
Corps on the right, the 2d Corps, and two Brigades of the 9th Corps on
the left — attacked the enemy's lines, capturing several more redoubts of
the same line that Battery Five is on — and drove the enemy back along his
whole line. This under Gen. Hancock ; and we have a notion that Gen.
Hancock would have been a better match for Gen. Beauregard, in all this
early business about Bermuda Hundred and Petersburg. In such attacks
as our force made on the evening of June 15th celerity and push are the
chief causes of success ; Petersburg were in our hands then merely by a
swift rush into it. However, so far as the Thirteenth is concerned, it is
universally conceded in camp that we have done a very fine bit of work —
snapping Gen. Lee's line just where we struck it, at its strongest point.

Hospital. The wounded still on the " Hero of Jersey,' and many of us
begin to suffer severely for want of care, and from the excessive heat.
Cold water freely poured upon gunshot wounds, allays the pain better
than anything else, and is now the only means at hand.

June 18. Sat. Fair. Thirteenth in camp at Bermuda Hundred,-
and enjoying a much needed rest. During to-day Gen. Lee has made
nine assaults on parts of Gen. Grant's lines. While we were moving
away last night the enemy withdrew fi-om their old, outer, long line of
redoubts, redans and trenches, without the knowledge of Gen. Grant's
troops (at least), to a new and much stronger line of defenses, about one
mile nearer Petersburg. The enemy in withdrawing leaves many of his
recent dead still unburied ; and the long trenches, filled with those of his
dead which he did bury, tell how very severe his losses must have been.

His old line of works along the bluffs was broken by the capture of
Battery Five and others on June loth, and is indicated by the line accom-
panied by the numbers 2 to 15, on the east side of map on page 411 :
their new line is indicated by the line, on the west side of the same map,
running between L and S.

Hospital. The wounded officers and men finally pass Gen. Grant's


ponton bridge, and a surgeon comes on board the steamer. Late to-day,
nearly night, the steamer arrives at Hampton, and the wounded are
carried ashore on stretchers. We are at once placed in the old Scminaiy
building, now called Chesapeake General Hospital. (Soldiers' Home,
1887.) Capt. Dodge, Adjutant Boutwell, Lieut. Gafney and Lieut.
Thomjison are placed together in the same room — the first room to the
light of the head of the main stairway in the third story. Dodge and
Thompson side by side near the window, but on separate cots. We are
told that a number of the wounded died on the steamer, while on the
passage down the river and bay. The nervous fear, experienced by the
severely wounded officers while being carried up these long stairways, is
so exhausting that many are blindfolded, so that they may see no danger.

Lieut. Gafney carried the bullet that he received at Battery Five until
November 8, 1881, when it was exti'acted by Dr. Horatio N. Small of
Portland, Me., formerly Asst. Surgeon in the Thirteenth, and Surgeon of
the 10th N. H. All four of these officers were wounded by round ounce-
bullets, the enemy we met using round bullets and buckshot.

June 19. Sun. Fair. Reg. in camp. Very quiet along the lines.
Our Regiment's capture of Battery Five looms up in importance, more
and more as the facts come into view. Gen. Lee regarded the point cap-
tured, at and near Battery Five, of such strategic value, that he has since
made a move, with over 40,000 troops, to recapture it.

The Adjutant of a Pennsylvania Regiment is drummed out of camp
for cowardice — the same man refei-red to on May 23, 1864. " The
troops are drawn up in line. The culprit, with a large board fastened
upon his back on which is painted, ' Coward,' appears at the right of the
line. Just in front of him are two men with arms reversed — not as at
soldiers' funerals, but with the bayonets raised somewhat higher — and
two men behind him carrying their guns at a ' charge.' Preceding the
whole is a fifer and drummer. This melancholy procession, of six men
and the culprit, moves slowly down the entire line, the two musicians play-
ing the Rogues' March, then moves back to the point of starting ; when
his sentence of dishonorable dismissal, with forfeiture of everything in
the way of pay and allowances, is read aloud. Then a private soldier is
called from the ranks, who cuts the straps from his shoulders, and the
military buttons from his coat. After this he is escorted to the limits of
the camp and allowed to depart." Pkescott.

June 20. Mon. Fair. Reg. in camp. Very quiet. The last four
days have been devoted to resting. Orders received for us to be ready
to niavch to-morrow morning. Capt. Smith, Acting Major, commanding
the Tliirteenth. Major Gi'antman is commanding the 2d N. H. Our
Brigade has lost 760 men, out of 1,600, since May 8th.

Hospital. Four months' pay is now due us, and we are much jnnched
for money to purchase things which we greatly need. Capt. Dodge's
leg is wounded by a bullet just above the knee, a comminuted fracture
of the bone. He sutfers but little. His leg rests in a sort of trough,



made of j)ieces of board, which can be raised or lowered at will. A chap-
lain so-called, but i-eally a fool and an ass, bores him beyond endurance
with a half hour of gloomy talk. Those who are very sick and likely to
die soon, are visited by this walking charnel-house of a chaplain — and
what little of life is left in them he can soon talk out.

June 21. Tues. Fair. Thirteenth is called at 3 a. m., has a
hurried breakfast, and at 4 a. m. again crosses the Appomattox, at Broad-
way Landing, and marches to the rear of Petersburg. We lie in the road,
in the woods, near the front, all the day — a brisk artillery duel going on
over our heads all the afternoon — and at dark we move with our Bri-
gade into the front line of the entrenchments. We set at work immedi-
ately on the entrenchments, and a covert way required in approaching our
front trenches. Co. G is on the right of the Thirteenth, and rests close
down on the river bank. The trenches now occupied by us are fully one
mile in advance of Battery Five, and on the flat to the westward of it.
Col. Stevens again in command of the Regiment. Major Grantman in
command of the recruits of the 2d N. H. that are left here after the volun-
teers have gone home. He retains this command but for a few days, and
only until the regular officers of the 2d retumi again from New Hamp-
shire to the front. The most of these recruits are foreigners, who know
but little of the English language.

Hospital. Capt. Dodge dies to-night. His life might have been saved
probably, if he had consented to have his leg amputated. His determina-
tion to save his leg cost him his life. He died of blood poisoning, and
was deceived, by the absence of pain, into believing that he would re-
cover. He died while Lieut. Thompson was asleep. As the patients in
the ward awoke, and found that he was gone, they instinctively knew the
cause — a shudder ran through them all. The Surgeons and attendants
say that he suffered no pain, and passed away without any struggle, and
like a person falling asleep.

There are two hospitals here about one fourth of a mile apart, both
under one management, with Dr. Ely McClellan Surgeon-in-charge : the
old Seminary building, with a high basement and three stories above, wnth
a massively pillai'ed broad veranda in front, and surmounted by a huge
donae ; and Hampton Hospital consisting of thirty or forty cottage-like
buildings 125 feet long, 25 feet wide and 18 feet high, of one story,
finished to the roof. Hundreds of smaller buildings and tents are on
every hand, the whole constituting almost a city — the city of suffering,
pain, dismemberment and death.

The outlook towards Fortress Monroe, Hampton Roads and the sea is
very fine ; the middle ground a vast collection of army tents, while the
training grounds are filled with bodies of troops manoeuvring in every
measure known to the oi'der of driU. Those of us who can get to the
windows, spend hours at a time watching the ever-changing scene. The
mind of a wounded man is exceedingly active, and no position for a hos-
pital more desirable and attractive than this could well be conceived.


Again we continue with the notes made in May 1885, when visiting
these fields with Lt. Col. Smith : Following the City Point Railroad from
Battery Five westward towards Petersburg, about three fourths of a mile
will bring us to the first bridge on the railroad, an iron bridge thrown
across Harrison Creek, and the ravine in which the creek finds its way
northward to the Appomattox. Between this ci-eek and ravine, and the
Confederate lines where they come to the i*iver, is, first of all on the
Union lines, Fort McGilvery and Battery No. 8 ; and the space here
between the creek, the river, the Confederate lines, and the railroad, all
together about one half mile square, was the scene of most of- the service
of the 13th during the summer of 1864. The ravine along the creek
served for reserve and Hdqrs. camps. Towards the river to the right of
this railroad bridge were the Hdqrs. of our 1st Brigade, Col. Stevens,
low down in the ravine, and much exposed to water, mud and mosquitoes,
to say nothing of the minor inconveniences of the enemy's continuous fire.

Farther towards Petersburg, where the railroad and the carriage road
come close together and run side by side, the last front lines of National
and Confederate confronted each other ; neither side budging a rod here
for more than nine months. The Union and rebel lines here are a suc-
cession of forts, batteries, and innumerable connecting earth-works, run-


A. U. S. Military Railroad. C. Mr. John Hare's house.

D. Alexander Pace.

B. City Point Railroad, crossing Harrison Creek by iron bridge, Y.

E. Battery Five in the old outer Confederate line captured June 15th,

This old line faced east. The Confederates soon after retired to
the new inner line L. V. S., see June 18th. This new line gener-
ally faces east.
W. W. Confederate Batteries north of the Appomattox.

F. City Point I'oad. G. Thomas Rushmore.
H. Mr. Beasley. I. Mr. Rowlett.

K. Heavy timber, 13th reserve camp. X. Appomattox River.

M. Fort McGilvery near Battery VIII. ; next Batteries IX. and X. ;

then N, Ft. Stedman, P, Ft. Haskell, R, Ft. Morton, all seven

on the Union main line facing west.
S. Elliott's Salient, Mine, Crater. T. Cemetery Hill.

Z. Union front line from river to railroad, and in rear of it Mr. John

Hare's liouse, C. The Thirteenth held the end of this line on

the river bank, between Mr. John Hare's house and the enemy's

lines, having its camp in the little ravines shown to the north of

Fort McGilvery.
L. A short ravine, but very deep, running between the Confederate

line of rifle-pits and their main line of rifie-trenchfis, in front of

the Thirteenth.


Tracing of Official Map. Scale, one and one half inches to one mile.


ning from the river side by side southward across the country ; a vast
double net-work, with bomb-proofs, and traverses, long covert ways,
trenches, and high parapets, and the thousands of war's devices framed
in timber and iron, cut in earth or piled in sand, and armed to the last
point — to save a life, to insure a safe lookout, to secure a night of sleep
undisturbed, or to repel an assault.

Moving forward to the vicinity of Fort McGilvery, built on a bluff
near the river, we come to the house on the river bank now, 1885, owned
by Mr. John Hare — marked C on the accompanying maps — a wooden
house built on the same site where his brick house stood during the war.
This house is a number of rods towards Petersburg, westward, from Fort
McGilvery. The front line held by the Thirteenth, our " Appomattox
Line," on the river bank, ran north and south, across Mr. John Hare's
field, 200 yards southwest (on the Petersburg side) of his house ; and
confronting it, west, at a distance of less than 300 yards, was the Confed-
erate front line. Distances paced. This is close down to the bluffy river
bank ; the extreme right of Gen. Grant's lines south of the Appomattox.
Our 1st Brigade picket line extended from the river here up to the City
Point road. This narrow, disputed strip of land lying between the
Union and Confederate lines and less than 300 yards wide, is cut, close
up — almost under — the Confederate line, by a very deep ravine — 50
to 75 feet deep — having very steep sides and extending half way from
the river to the road, and is marked L on our maps. While this deep
ravine afforded most excellent cover for the Confederates to form unper-
ceived, for a dash at the lines of the Thirteenth, it would have proved an
almost impassable barrier to a force attacking the Confederate lines from
our side. The Confederates had a high dam built across this ravine near
the river, evidently flooding It — a capital moat. The 13th knew little,
or nothing, of this ravine during the war.

Long, winding covert ways were made through the bluffs to reach our
front lines in safety. The Confederate shells, received here, came mostly
from the northwest across the river. Our front lines here were several
hundred yards in front of Fort McGilvery, which played over our heads.

Mr. John Hare has leveled all the earth-works. Union and Confederate
alike, on his farm, at one time having over three hundred negroes at work
upon them. He stated to the writer that he realized money enough from
the sale of the wood and timber alone, dug out of the earth-works made
by the Union troops on his farm of 125 acres, to pay for all the work of
leveling, besides a large sum realized from the sale of the iron and lead
recovered, and the railroad rails that he found buried in bomb proofs,
and covert ways. Members of the 13th will recall, with much satisfaction,
the hard work they did here in order to thus provide the freedmen with
employment after the war was over !

Our pickets on the City Point road were often placed as vedettes be-
tweeia the lines at night within 20 feet of the Confederate pickets ; and
the line of pickets of our 1st Division ran from the river nearly over to


the hill where the famous " Hare House " stood, a mile or so southwest of
the river.

While the Reg. was here hy the river, a ' liver and white ' pointer dog
used occasionally to get between the Union and Confederate lines in Mr.
John Hare's field, and mistaking the flying bullets for bees, would run
hither and thither, giving u^j the chase of one when he heard the hum of
another, tacking and darting after them every which way for an hour at
a time — a clear case of ignorance proving to be bliss.

Our reserve camp was a long way in the rear of our Appomattox front
line, in heavy pine timber to the northwest of Mr. Beasley's house.

Due north from Fort McGilvery about one eighth of a mile, and east of
Mr. John Hare's house, on the bank of the river, there stood during the
war a story and a half house — marked D on maps — having a brick
basement and dormer windows in the roof and belonging to Mr. Alex-
ander Pace. The officers of the 13th found the basement very convenient
for cooking purposes, had a covert way dug to it from the main covert
way running to the front lines, and constantly frequented the house. Lt.
Col. Smith and Capt. Ladd were in this house one day, and had just
stepped away from a window, when a rebel shell came in at that win-
dow, finding its way out through the side of the house with a crash, but
injuring no one.

June 22. Wed. Hot. Reg. in front lines all day in a little ravine,
and at work on the entrenchments. Enemy very busy, and no one can
safely show his head. Our Brigade line rests close down on the river at
the right, and much of the line on wet ground. The Thirteenth is 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 48 of 81)