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 5 of 81)
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and a gun, by the men of Co. E, dons these honors in a moment, enters
the ranks, and passes to freedom unchallenged. He is at once employed
as a servant by Capt. Julian ; and a more honest, faithful, true and desir-
able servant, no man ever had. than this same Charley Bush.

He remained with the Regiment, in Captain Julian's employ for about
a year, and then enlisted as a Sergeant of (colored) cavalry. On many
occasions he held their watches and large sums of their money, when 'the
officers of the Reg. went on picket or reconnaissance. He learned to read
and write very soon after joining his fortunes with the Thirteenth, with
the members of which he was a universal favorite.

A squad of four men — Hosp. Steward R. B. Prescott, Privates Chas.
W. Green of B, Henry C. Howard of E, and Robert Rand of K — are
left behind on the Maryland shore, to guard the regimental baggage, and
suffer extremely from the cold. There are but three matches in the pos-
session of the party. Two of these are lighted only to be blown out by
the wind ; if the third fails the party will freeze. By using the utmost
care they succeed in kindling a small fire, which they keep burning, as
there is no wood on the bare plain, only by means of leaves and twigs
found by scraping away the snow. Over this wretched little fire they
huddle together all night, in the vain endeavor to keep warm. 'T is next
to impossible to sleep, even if it be not suicide to allow sleeping at all.
And so they brave the night out ; while the water in the canteens at their
sides freezes to solid ice. The intense cold causes them to crowd so close
to the fire that the clothing and blankets of all are burned and Pres-
cott's boots are ruined. ••''

Dec. 7. Sun. Very cold, clear. Fires roast one side of us Avhile the
other side freezes. AVe present a sorry spectacle this mornmg. Blan-
kets that we slept on last night are frozen fast to the snow, and many of
them are torn while being detached from it. We remain here all day,
fix up tents, build fires, munch our half frozen food, and suffer generally.
Many of the men are frost-bitten, many are utterly used up. The Poto-
mac is frozen over so far out, that steamers cannot land until the ice is
broken. To test its strength, an old horse is driven out, and walks a
long distance on the ice before he goes down. An experiment very in-
teresting to the horse ! The snow scarcely melts any. Some of the Reg.
are encamped among fallen timber, some in tlie woods, and some in log
huts used by the Confederates last winter. One man of the 13th writes
home : " Mail came this morning. Twenty (20) of us slept last night in



an old rebel barrack with the roof taken off, a box about twenty feet
square. We had a fire in the middle of the room, and also one at each
end. They say we have burned up twenty-five miles of rail fence smce
we left AVashington."

Quarter-master Cheney was left at Camp Casey, in charge of 283
men, from all the regiments in our Brigade, who were unable to march
because of illness. Surgeon Twitchell was also left at Camp Casey in
care of the sick in Hospital. Lieut. W. H. H. Young was left there sick ;
but on Dec. 5th he was- put in command of these 283 men. All were
placed on board a steam-tug, and a scow in tow, at Alexandria, and they
join the Reg. to-day at Aquia Creek. The care of this large number of
half sick men, when sick himself, so prostrated Lieut. Young that he was
unfit for duty for several weeks.

The Confederates evacuated Aquia Creek about three weeks ago, de-
stroying everything wliich they could not take with them.

Lieut. Col. Bowers, in the absence of his mess-chest, revives his ex-
periences in the Mexican war — though he cannot bring those torrid days
into this polar atmosphere — by planting himself in front of a fire, and,
like a warrior of old, roasting a piece of meat on the point of his sword.

Dec. 8. Mon. Very cold a. m., noon warmer. Huge fires are roar-
ing on every hand, and their smoke fills the land. We thaw out suffi-
ciently to eat a poor breakfast. Civilians can have no idea how inexpres-
sibly good to the soldier hot coffee is, on such a morning. Coffee made
very strong, sweetened a little with pale brown ' army ' sugar, well stirred
in with an icicle, which settles it, is a drink fit for the gods and top roy-
alty. The Reg. receives calls from members of the 6th, 9th, 11th, and
12th N. H. encamped near by. To-night we have another cold bivouac,
though less severe than on the 6th and 7th, and the men have learned to
make better use of their shelter tents. The writer and two other men
have enjoyed a chateau, made on a sharp hillside by throwing a shelter
tent and a few armfuls of pine brush over a fallen pine tree resting se-
curely on a stump, raising it three or four feet from the ground. This tree
serves for eight or ten men, who are tucked under it from one end to the
other. All soi'ts of curious and ingenious " coops " are found on every
hand ; anything is welcome that protects us from the arctic weather.
. The field and staff officers' baggage, tents, blankets, mess-chest, eat-
ables, etc., have waited transportation across the river for nearly two
days. Up to this time these officers have had only such blankets and
other cover as they could borrow, and have spent two nights in such poor,
improvised coops as they could make or get made for them.

All these severities, however, have scenes of relief. Among these are
overcoated men in war traps and costumes crouched down and watching
the hundreds of little pint and quart tin pots of coffee boiling around the
camp fires ; each pot with a green stick laid across it, to prevent its boil-
ing over, the steam curling white and gracefully up alongside the darker
smoke of the fires, and the delicious coffee aroma speeding abroad on
every side over camp and snow.


' Then, too there is Picture No. 20, in this Aquia Creek gallery : A
number of cold, hungry and thirsty officers of the 13th gather around a
mess-chest, arrived not long since from across the river — open, bur-
glarized, empty. Attitudes, gestures, remarks, plans for detecting the
fellows.' Pi(tture No. 21. 'A cosy nook deep under the river bank
among dense trees, half a mile from camp. A fire. Three or four pri-
vate soldiers taking a very private lunch, and something stimulating. At-
titudes, gestures, remarks ('t other kind), plans to avoid detection.'

(After nearly twenty-five years, these two pictures are described to
the writer by a man who helped enjoy the lunch under the river bank.)

Dec. 9. Tues. Warmer. Snow disappearing. Reg. marches from
Aquia Creek, with a large body of troojjs, at 2 p. m., and after a tramp
of six miles or so, straight away for Falmouth, Stafford Heights, across
fields and through brush, a rough march, we halt for bivouac about 7
p. m. on fair ground, in a pine grove near Brooks Station, and really
pass a comfortable night ; the first comfortable sleep we have had since
the night of Dec. 3d, in those Maryland oaks. Our march here from
Camp Casey, near Fairfax Seminary, has occupied seven days, marching
time, and is estimated at 70 miles, with the few miles from here to Fred-
ericksburg to be marched to-morrow. Col. "Wright's provisional Brigade
is broken up, and its regiments assigned to other Brigades.

Dec. 10. Wed. Pleasant, warm, hazy. Reg. starts about 10 a. m.,
and after a march of nearly six miles halts, a little past noon, near and
northeast of the Phillips House, the Hdqrs. of Gen. Sumner, and bivouacs
among thousands upon thousands of troops quite closely massed. There
are a hundred thousand men within a short distance of us to-night. We
now become a part of the Army of the Potomac.

The 13th is assigned to the 1st Brigade, 3d Division, 9th Army Corps,
in Gen. Sumner's " Right Grand Division " of the Army of the Poto-
mac, organized as follows :

Army of the Potomac, comd. by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside.
Right Grand Division, comd. by Maj. Gen. E. V. Sumner.
Ninth Army Corps, comd. by Maj. Gen. O. B. Wilcox.
Third Division, comd. by Brig. Gen. Geo. W. Getty.

First Brigade, comd. by Col. Rush C. Hawkins (9th N. Y.).
10th N. H., " Col. M. T. Donohoe.
13th N. H., Col. Aaron F. Stevens.
2.5th N. J., Col. Andrew Derrom.

9th N. Y., (Hawkins' Zouaves), Lt. Col. Edgar A. Kimball.
89th N. Y., Col. H. S. Fairchild.
103d N. Y., Col. Benj. Ringold.

Second Brigade, comd. by Col. Edward Harland.
8th Conn., Maj. John E. Ward.


lltli Conn., Col. Griffin A. Stedman.

15th Conn., Lt. Col. Samuel ToUes.

16th Conn., Capt. Chas. L. Upham.

21st Conn., Col. Arthur H. Button.

4th R. I., Lt. Col. Jos. R. Curtis.

The 1st Brigade, Hawkins', was organized of four Regiments at Pleas-
ant Valley, Md., early in October, and arrived here Nov. 19th. We go
in, with the 25th N. J., as new members of the Brigade family.

Thus organized we ai*e a large Brigade, and great expectations are
indulged in because of the special reputation of Col. Hawkins, and of
his famous Zouaves, now commanded by gallant Lt. Col. Kimball.

About 9 p. m. the Reg. is ordered to have three days' rations in haver-
sacks, and to take 60 rounds of ammunition. Some companies have 80
rounds. We are warriors now in full feathers and trappings : ten pounds
of gun, eighty rounds per man of ball cartridge, one pound of powder,
five pounds of lead, heavy equipments ; knapsack, haversack, three-pint
canteen, all full ; three days' rations ; rubber blanket, woolen blanket,
shelter tent, full winter clothing ; tin cup, tin plate, knife, fork, spoon,
spider, et cetera too numerous to mention, and too many to carry, and a
pound of mud on each shoe. We are a baggage train, freight train,
ammunition train, commissary train, gravel train, and a train-band, all
in one. Thus handicapped, we are soon to try conclusions with Massa
Lee, on his own chosen ground, the high ridges of which, scarcely two
miles distant from us, as the crow flies, are plainly visible from this
point in the daytime, and also the numerous rebel flags floating over the
distant hill-tops.

The day is spent in preparation ; oixlers are received to be ready to
move early to-morrow morning. Prayers are said on the principle of
" Trust in God, but keejj your powder dry ; " and late at night we
bivouac, sleep on the ground, in a long shoal ravine, arms at hand, amid
multitude of little smouldeinng cofEee-fires, and in an atmosphere half
fog, half smoke, another and larger part, big with terrors undefined
— the eve before a battle. A part of the force near us to the northward
are in dense woods, but there are only a few scattered trees near the


December 11, 1862, to February 8, 1863.

Dec. 11. Thurs. Cool, misty, foggy, damp ; sunny and warmish at
noon ; cold, chilling at morning and night. The day ojiens with the dis-
tant but sharp blows of two Confederate cannon, signal guns located
apparently away to our front and left, at five o'clock (5 a. m.), showing
that the enemy is on the alert. These guns are fired by the Washington
Artillery on Marye's Heights. It is at very early daylight ; our whole
camp, however, is already astir and a few little fires are burning, and we
can never forget the peculiar expression that comes over the faces of both
officers and men at the startling, warning, defiant sounds of those two
rebel guns. They might be compared aptly with the first short, sharp
barks of a disturbed watch-dog. The expression is that of surprise.
They are soon known to us all to be rebel guns, and the men near us
commence joking about that kind of a rising bell. Some think they are
the signal of a commencing battle, others do not understand them at all ;
no firing follows immediately, and they soon pass out of mind.

The whole scene and surroundings on all hands wear an air very ro-
mantic and theatrical, shading down the awful grimness of war, and
making its affairs an interesting study for the impressionable and active.
War is an immense school, in more senses than one, to the man who lives
in it and keeps his faculties alive also.

The Thirteenth, with our Brigade, early moves into a deeper ravine
than the one of our last night's bivouac, or ratber on the slope of one in
front of woods, and about one fourth of a mile to the northward of the
Phillil^s House ; and the whole immediate force, after having been
massed by divisions, is there formed in order of battle about 8.30 a. m.,
and remains under arms all the day. We are within a mile of our
cannon on the bluffs, the river, and the city of Fredericksburg.

Soon there is heard upon our right much heavy and continuous firing,
musketry and artillery, while nearly two hundred heavy guns mounted
in line along Stafford Heights — the high bank of the river opposite and
overlooking the city — with an increasing and terrific roar, from 7 a. m.
until 1 p. m., pour shot and shell by the thousand directly down into
Fredericksburg, and high over it upon the hills beyond, where swarm the
gray hosts of Gen. Lee's army. We can hear the buildings crash under
the awful storm of iron and lead ; and are near enough to hear the dis-
charge of almost every cannon fired by the two armies, and the crack of


numberless shells niarkhig the sky with hundreds of angry flashes and
little ball-like clouds of smoke. Many of the enemy's shells come over
far enough to burst near our infantry lines. We are new troojjs, and
have stepped at once from the field of story, out upon the edge, and in
full view, of an actual battle in actual war, and that war the most terrible
of modern times. For above an hour, from about ten to eleven o'clock
in the forenoon, the noise is deafening, the city being battered by the
whole fire of the National cannon ; the shots frequently counting as high
as one hundred per minute, and numbei'ing several thousands in all.
Over and over again we try to count the cannon-shots, but always failing,
as they mingle in a roar. From the long line of guns on the bluffs op-
posite the city, from the numberless shells, many of which we can see
bursting above the town, and from the burning city itself on our front, the
smoke goes up as from j^ai hundred furnaces. The firing continues until
about five o'clock in the afternoon, but the worst part of it is over by
one. We are waiting for the building of the ponton bridges, and the
news comes to us from time to time that the enemy is smashing the
bridges, as fast as they are laid, and shooting down the builders by scores.
Soon the rumor runs along that we are to be the next Brigade to attempt
that dangerous piece of work, but we do not move. It is for us a slow,
dragging, tedious, anxious day. We had a hurried breakfast, and now
we build our little coffee-fires and have our soldiers' dinner ; and again
repeat the bill of fare at supper, the air about us heavy, nauseous and
thick with the smoke of our fires, the smoke of the bui'ning city, and the
smoke of the tons of exploding gunjiowder.

Finally, after listening to th& ceaseless uproar all day long, about dark,
5 p. m., we fall in and march at a double-quick through the mud for about
a mile toward the city, then halt ; then retrace our steps to the place of
last night's bivouac, and where, for a wonder, our men had been relieved
of their heavy knapsacks this morning, and had piled them for future use
— by the survivors. We here expect to turn in, and some prepare for
bivouac, when at 6 p. m. and now quite dark, we are all suddenly called
into line again by the Long-roll. Soon, at 6.20 p. m., the long line of
our whole Brigade, defiUng to the left from our place of bivouac, and
leaving the Phillips House a little distance to our right as we pass it, and
marching by fours, by the right flank, moves in a dead silence slowly over
the hills where an hour or two before we had double-quicked, then on
down the steep river bank, and across the ponton bridge muffled with
earth and straw, and thrown across the river near the lower end of the
city, and one and a half miles southwest of the Phillips House as we
follow the crooked road, and we enter the battered, torn, crushed and
burning city, no one opposing. Many will recall the boilers, machinery
and other debris of burnt steamers and vessels lying in the river near this
ponton bridge as we cross. This ponton bridge is laid from the Wash-
ington Farm to the old steamboat and ferry landing — the central jjonton
bridge. We cross with a slow route-step, every man cautioned to move


as quietly as possible, pass up a steep paved way, turn to the left down
the street, and about 8 p. m. deploy in line of battle along Caroline
street, also called Main street, and is the second street up from the river.
The third street is Princess Anne street, leading to Mr. Slaughter's house
and grounds. Guards are quickly stationed, and Companies E and B are
sent at once as pickets to the rear of the city and along Hazel Run. While
these pickets are taking their positions along Hazel Run, the " Taps " are
being sounded in the Union Army, and less loudly in the Confederate
Army also. With the exception of one or two men in each company who
had recently served as guards, the Thirteenth entered the city with un-
loaded muskets, and loaded them after halting in Caroline street ; and
about 9 p. m., after standing there a long time in line of battle under
arms, the Thirteenth stacks arms along the west side of Caroline street,
and bivouacs on the west sidewalk, the side towards the enemy. Other
troops similarly occupy the east side. The night is very dark, the streets
are tilled with the debris of the shattered city and clouds of smoke from
the burning buildings, while bummers turn to forbidden jDillage. Many
houses are entered, blinds closed, fires kindled in stoves and fireplaces,
and hot coffee is drank, in the proud, deserted halls of the F. F. Vs., to
our own comfort and to the good health of the house-owners — just now
absent because of Gen. Burnside's cast-iron hail-storm. The city seems
much like a city in the early hours of the morning before the inhabitants
are astir. Joseph W. Dickerman of C writes home from Fdsbg. : '' We
broke camp at 6.20 p. m., crossed the Rappahannock and marched into
the city at 8.30 p. m., with unloaded guns ; went to the main street, then
filed left down some twenty or thirty rods, halted on the right-hand side
of the street, and loaded quietly before stacking arms." Lieut. Staniels
wi'ites in his diary : " Marched up to Gen. Sumner's Hdqrs. at sunset,
then back to camp. Long-roll beat at six. Marched immediately for
Fredericksburg. Cross the ponton bridge at eight o'clock. Stack arms
and remain in the street over night." ^

The writer at this time is a First Sergeant. As we cross the city on
entering, there lies on the sidewalk as he fell, his gun still held in his
hand, a Confederate First Sergeant in a new, clean. Confederate dress
uniform, with the regulation chevrons and insignia on the sleeve. His
cap held by a loose throat-strap is still on his head, and merely tilted back
from a handsome forehead, which alone remains of the whole front part
of his head. He was probably instantly killed by a shell or shot, and lies
a ghastly object seen in the dim light of a distant fire. Sergt. Chas. F.
Chapman of E is the first to see him, and taking First Sergeant Charles
M. Kittredge of B and the writer by the arm, Chapman calls out : " Here
— see what you First Sergeants are all coming to ! " This was the first
body of a man killed in tlie war, that any of us had seen. As soon as

1 Tlie N. H. Adjt. General's Report, Vol. 2, for 1S(K5, pag:e TS5, states that the line
•was formed about !l o'clock, reaching- the ponton bridge at half past ten; much later
than the actual hour — a serious error.


the 13th is in the city, Companies B. Capt. Dodge, and E, Capt. Julian,
are hurried forward on picket ; and while taking their ground, near Hazel
Run, and on the Bowling Green road, several Confederates are seen skit-
tling off in the darkness, and a hunt is instituted among the old buildings
for more of them. Soon two of them are found in an old shed by some
of the men of Co. E. They raise their guns to fire and threaten to
thrash the whole Northern Army if they are molested ; but naturally
change their minds, as half a dozen loaded muskets are pointed in upon
them at the open door, and surrender. Thus Comjiany E has the honor
of making the first capture of prisoners for the 13th, and very plucky
fellows they were too.^ One of them, though not very badly wounded,
dies before morning of wounds, cold, and loss of blood, despite the best
care we can afford him. The other, his comrade, a noble fellow, re-
mained by him to defend him to the last. They both expected to be in-
stantly shot on capture — a common notion among the Confederate sol-
diers from the far South. These are Mississippians, Barksdale's men.
We have crossed the bridge built by the 8th Conn, and other regiments ;
the 7th Michigan having first crossed and dislodged the enemy's sharp-
shooters. We cross too from the old Washington plantation, whereon
(it may have been) was the garden wherein grew the cherry-tree, whereat
the boy, George, went with his little hatchet, whereabout he could not tell
a lie ; whereof we have all been told, and whereby we all have been,
morally, much benefited, of course. Our Brigade, Col. Hawkins, holds
the lower part of the city to-night. The enemy on departing piled a
dozen or two of his dead in a back yard near the position of the 13th
and off Caroline street ; they are terribly mutilated, all cut up and bat-
tered by bullets, shell, splinters, mortar and brick ; many of his dead are
also in cisterns and cellars.

With the exception of the special assaulting party, who crossed in boats,
and cleared the river bank of the enemy's troops, while the pontons were
being laid, our, Hawkins', Brigade are the first troops of the army to cross
the river. The assaulting party, excepting a few men of the 89t]i New
York, recrossed, leaving our Brigade to occupy the city ; and we hold the
lower end of it to-night, while troops of Gen. Howard's Division are com-
ing over and occujiying the upper end. Troops are moving all night.

To-night a negro woman occupying the small wooden house, around
which the upper brook bends where it first flows into the Bowling Green
road (thence following that road towards the river), is seen struggling
with a barrel of flour, trying to roll it into her small front door. The
door is hardly wide enough to receive the barrel, and the men of Com-
panies E and B help her to put the barrel into the house, and into a back
room serving as a store-room. They then go to a grocery store and fill
that back room solid with barrels of flour, groceries, etc. ; among the lot a
box of salt fish that Methuselah had when he first set up housekeeping —
at any rate it smelled old enough. Then, in return for their help, Dinah
1 N. H. Adjutant General's Report for 186G, Vol. 2, page 785.


goes to the brook in the street, gets a pail of water, and sets about cook-
ing griddle-cakes, of plain wheat flour and water, for the men who filled
her store-room. The reserve picket is near here, and Dinah is kept
busy cooking all night. The writer, and a good many others of the picket,
cannot decide to even try the cakes, but they are passed to others in
plenty, who eat them with their sugar. They are to-night f amiUarly called
" nigger heel-taps," and probably they merit so good a name.

To go back again to the morning of Dec. 11 : Gen. Burnside attempted
to lay the ponton bridge 02)posite the city, the central bridge, this morning
about 2 o'clock, but his men were shot down by the 17th and 18th Mis-
sissippi regiments of Gen. Barksdale's Confederate Brigade, who with the
8th Floi'ida were posted in the houses and buildings in the city which
were nearest the shore of the river. The rest of that Brigade, the 13th
and 21st Miss, and the 3d Georgia, were also in the city, in reserve. All
together a strong force of about three thousand men. The morning hav-
ing been spent in fruitless attempts to build the bridge, Gen. Burnside,
annoyed, and fretting under the delay, ordered his batteries to open on
the town, ho2:)ing thus to dislodge the enemy. The river hei'e is about
300 yards wide ; and mounted high on the bluffs across the river from

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 5 of 81)