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

. (page 50 of 81)
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 50 of 81)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

qualified corroboration of their most hideous and terrible statements.

July 7. Thiirs. Very hot ; a slightly showery afternoon. Reg.
moves at night into its front rifle-trenches on the river. This was done
vmder fire from the enemy's batteries, which opened sharj^ly about sunset.
No one hurt.

There is a staff officer in the division who is brave but nervous. He
would lead a charge upon the enemy with evident pleasure, but would
dodge at a spent bullet. Aware of this nervous trait. Gen. Burnham oc-
casionally amuses himself by slyly sending a nail buzzing past this man's
head, just for the fun in seeing him dodge, and step aside to avoid the
apparent danger. The General has tried this buzzing-nail experiment on
a number of persons besides, and seems to find great amusement in the
play, laughing heartily when a man dodges.

Hospital. There is a rebel Brigadier General here who has lost one
foot. He has a special servant at Uncle Sam's expense. There are four
rebel officers in the ward next to ours, all of them badly wounded. They
receive the same care, rations, treatment, everything, that are furnislied to
the Union officers ; and that, too, free, while we pay $1.00 per day for
our accommodations here.

This is a long narrow building, and on each floor rooms open out of a
long hall-way. This hall is exercising ground, and resounds from morn-


ing till night with the stamp, stamp, stamp, of men on crutches. The
building is but a feAV rods from the shore of Hampton Roads, so we have
a fine sea breeze for much of the time, and it is especially strong and
and welcome at night.

The ward where we are is called the " Hai)py Family," because we
are inexpressibly unhappy and make everybody else so when we are neg-
lected, and will not submit to anything whatever which threatens our
interests. We are now having a race neck and neck, with death, and do
not jjurpose to be handicapped with any ill-treatment, on the part of
nurses, cooks or any one else, and especially not from cheap surgeons.

July 8. Fri. Excessively hot. Reg. stewing and uncomfortable in
the front rifle-trenches all day. ' A sky of brass, an earth of ashes, the
air of a furnace,' day in and day out, and scarcely any relief at night.
Rumor has it that we are to storm the enemy's works to-night, our Bri-
gade to lead. About 5 p. m. the enemy assaults our lines held by the
brigade next on our left, and a furious fight ensues. The enemy there is
repulsed, and immediately after the repulse the enemy in front of our
Brigade suddenly springs uji behind his works and fires one volley —
over our heads, of course. A new dodge.

July 9. Sat. Very hot. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches all day.
During the whole time along here the enemy's sharp-shooters, pickets, ar-
tillery, and mortar-batteries have made our position at the front one of
great anxiety, care, and danger ; demanding the utmost vigilance. One
third of the army is awake all the time, the rest sleep by their guns, ready
for work at instant call. The Reg. is called into line at 2 a. m., and re-
mains under arms for about two hours, the enemy expected to make an
assault. The Thirteenth can now muster only about 150 men fit for duty,
but these are equal to 500 new troops. The troops have made hundreds
of holes about as large as barrels, in the banks of earth, into which they
can crawl and be secure from enfilading shot and shell.

July 10. Sun. Very hot. Reg. still in the front rifle-trenches on
the river, and many are led to repeat the refrain : " — why did I go for
a military man ? " Deserters state that our operations — by regular ap-
proaches — upon the enemy's lines, make life in their trenches almost
unendurable. They suffer far more than we do. The Confederates are
very desirous to exchange newspapers ; on our side ordei's are very
strict against such exchanges. At night our vedettes trade and converse
a great deal with the enemy's vedettes ; they stand their hostile watch in
friendly attitude, and but a few yards apart.

Jtlly 11. Mon. Very hot. A little rain toward night. Reg. re-
lieved in the evening, and returns to its camp in the rear trenches. En-
emy shelHng the whole camp. Capt. Forbush starts for home on 20 days'
leave, going by reason of sickness in his family. "We witness some splen-
did 11-inch mortar practice, and can see the effects of the explosion of
these huge shells at points within the enemy's lines, causing a scattering
among his tx-oops, and throwing up great clouds of earth and dust in his
forts and trenches.


Jvily 12. Tues. Very hot. Reg. in the rear rifle-trenches. Quar-
terly returns being made up. As we are now in a dense grove, here at
the rear, we are for a few hours relieved from the intense heat. It is
like a furnace in the trenches at the front. The regular order for our
service now is four days in the front lines and two in the rear lines.

Hospital. Lieut. Gafney has suffered exceedingly from an abscess.
When it burst he was sleeping, and on waking thought that he was bleed-
ing to death. Hickey was his attendant and a good one, and Gafney
roused us all by calling, " Hickey ! Hickey ! Come ! — For God's sake,
what am I coming to ? " Hickey came on the run, only to find — as all
the rest of us had guessed — that Gafney had found the best kind of re-
lief. Gafney was very low, but we all must laugh at his fright. The
Surgeon tells Lieut. Thompson, this morning, that he will not be able to
take a step for five months !

July 13. Wed. Cooler, with a little rain. Reg. inspected in the
morning by Capt. Julian, on the staff of 2d Brigade. We have an un-
usually quiet day. At night the Reg. goes forward into its front rifle-
trenches near the river. The rebel invasion of Maryland creates intense
excitement in Gen. Grant's army here.

July 14. Thurs. Pleasant. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches. All
quiet along the line here. Many of our men sick. Several of our offi-
cers sick in Hospital at City Point. To-night, Capt. Stoodley has com-
mand of our Brigade vedettes in front of the works. The rebel vedettes
not thirty yards distant, and in plain sight. Men are thus sent out, dur-
ing the night, between the Union and rebel armies, to insure against a
surprise. These inter-line pickets or vedettes rarely disturb each other
except in the case of a charge. On moonlit nights the vedettes look like
two long lines of rather darkly-clad ghosts. Frequently, however, much
chatting and chaffing is indulged in between the vedettes of the two
armies here ; all limited, however, to commonplace affairs or nonsense ;
no information can pass.

July 15, Fri. Fair. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches. The enemy
shelled our lines furiously last night and this morning after 3 a. m. We
have bomb-proofs covered with two tiers of railroad rails, and earth piled
deep on top of all — quite safe. No picket firing after dark. We can
plainly see the rebels in the clear moonlight to-night. A rebel detail going
out on picket, each man carrying a bundle of straw to sleep on, makes
an odd procession when marching in single file. Asst. Surgeon Sulli-
van is very sick, and goes for treatment to Hospital near Point of Rocks.

Hospital. Many of the wounded officers have been trying in vain to
obtain leave to visit home. So they enter upon a concerted movement,
and about three hundred api)ly in one list ; and they have a promise of
approval. Lieut. Taggard called here at Hospital on July 13th, to see
Lieutenants Gafney, Thompson and Clmrchill. The soldier, wounded
or sick, while in a Hospital enjoys a call made by a comrade more than
at any other time.


July 16. Sat. Fair. Reg. still at the front. Hard work in these
front rifle-trenches, no sleep at night worth the name, and we are bur-
rowed in the earth like rabbits — no comfort at any time. Deej) wells
are being sunk for water. The surface water near the army is very bad,
the river water also.

July 17. Sun. Very hot again. Reg. in the front trenches all
day ; relieved at night by men of the 3d Brigade, and returns to camp in
the rear lines. A little after dark every night the vedettes of both armies
go silently and without firing a shot, like long lines of shadows, over their
respective works, down upon the plain between the two armies and ap-
proach to within a few feet of each other ; and there sit down in little
riile-pits, or stand behind protecting trees, and watch each other until
near daylight, when all assemble as silently and return. This is done in
safety — but a few minutes before, or after, these movements, no person
can show his head.

July 18. Mon. Very hot. Reg. in camp in rear trenches. Very
little firing to-day. There has been no rain of consequence since July
came in, and no copious rain for more than a month, and every move-
ment of troops is accompanied by clouds and columns of dust. The huge
mortars are thundering all day to-day on every hand. Special watchmen,
in each little gathering of soldiers in the trenches, are set to give warning
of a coming rebel mortar shell.

Hospital. We are indulging now in liberal quantities of iced lemonade
prescribed at our own expense — and no ' stick ' allowed in it. We also
have all the fruits of the season in great abundance, inexpensive and of
excellent quality. The most of us are allowed to eat almost anything we
can get to eat.

July 19. Tues. Heavy rain all day. Commissions given out, all
dated July loth. Major Grantman promoted to Lt. Colonel. Capt.
Normand Smith to Major. First Lieutenants Durell and Saunders to
Captains. Second Lieutenants Sawyer and R. R. Thompson to First
Lieutenants. First Sergeants Wheeler and Ferguson to Second Lieuten-
ants. At dark the Reg. goes to the front in its old rifle-trenches — and
finds them very muddy, and no chance to drain them. In the covert
way, approaching the trenches, the mud is knee deep.

Maj. Gen. E. O. C. Ord is to-day assigned to the command of the 18th
Army Corps, in place of Maj. Gen. W. F. Smith.

July 20. Wed. Clear, hot. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches, and
repairing them where damaged by yesterday's rain. The enemy's sharp-
shooters very busy. Coehorn shells are coming over often.

The effective force of the Army of the James is about 26,000, and of
the Army of the Potomac about 48,000 ; and of Gen. Lee's army about
48,000 according to Confederate reports. The Confederates, while behind
such entrenchments as they now have, can resist a siege made by twice the
number of Union troops now in front of Petersburg and Richmond. The
whole situation is now that of a siege, along lines of huge earth-works
twenty to thirty miles in length.


July 21. Thurs. Very warm. The 2cl Brigade Band, William
Critchley Jr., Leader — formerly 13th — returns to our Brigade from
Gen. Smith's 18th Corps Hdqrs. Men of the 2d N. H. and of the 24th
N. C. have, to-night, a long bantering confab across the Appomattox,
near Mr. John Hare's house. So big words are thrown across the river,
as well as big shells. The river here very narrow. Reg. in front rifle-
trenches all day and night. Heavy cannonading — at us and over our
heads. As one writer says, substantially : " We have a month of siege
work ; lying in the trenches ; eying the rebels ; digging by moonlight ;
broiling in the sun ; shooting through a knot hole ; shot at if a head is
lifted ; shells passing and reiDassing ; lives endangered by shells from both
sides ; officers falling ; comrades dying ; evei'ybody wearied by the mo-
notony, and exhausted by the heat and watching ; numbers growing less,
but hope never dying ; constantly under the enemy's fire, whether at the
front, or in the rear ; sharp-shooters, shells and mortars busy upon us
everywhere ; and in return, we play it all back, and burrow under
ground." Chaplain Moses Smith, 8th Conn., M. & C. H. Conn. 618.

July 22. Fri. Pleasant. Reg. in front rifle-trenches. Thunder
of artillery is continuous, and shells are falling beyond number. The en-
emy shelled us this morning, between 12 and 1 a. m., most furiously, the
shells at times so numerous as to baffle all counting.

Hospital. The dry, hot, clear weather of July helps the wounded men
here very much. Lieut. Thompson, the writer, can now sit up ; June 14th
weighed 166 pounds, to-day weighs 120 pounds only ; sleeps at night on a
cot raised upon another, a quite common arrangement in the Hospital to
secure increased coolness, and with his wounded foot on the broad sill of
a window that looks towards Fortress Monroe and the sea. Pieces of bone
are coming out of the ankle, which has furnished of late about a dozen
abscesses for the Surgeon's lancet ; the first output were three abscesses
at once where the leg bone was split. Still he cannot complain — his
wound is not so bad as hundreds here. Lieut. Gafney has gone home

When all is still here at night we can hear the cannon at Petersburg,
distant sixty or seventy miles ; the water assisting probably in transmit-
ting the sounds. Sometimes the discharges are so distinct we can readily
count the throbs ; and we entertain ourselves in trying to learn how many
separate discharges we can distinguish before the sounds mingle in a sort
of dull distant reverberation.

July 23. Sat. Fine day. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches all day ;
relieved at night, and returns to its camp in the rear. This rear camp
again shelled by the enemy, between 12 and 1 o'clock this morning. The
bursting of these large shells near by makes one feel as if his ears were
' boxed ' with a pair of sledge hammers, and his head struck by a pile-
driver plump on top — and all at once — and the pieces and small shot
scatter with a whirr like a scared covey of jiartridges. A large shell clips
howling and screaming, straight through Lt. Col. Coughlin's tent, in the
10th N. H., just over his head, but does no harm — except to the tent.


One of the rebel mortar-shells bursts near a large beech-tree, tearing the
bark entirely oif one side of the trunk and limbs, utterly blasting one half
the tree, and studding the wood all up and down with many dozen small
shot and jjieces of shell ; besides this the roots are broken and torn up on
one side of the tree with tlie ground about them ; a striking exhibition
of the destructiveness of mortar shell.

Hospital. Lieut. Thompson can take about ten steps on crutches ; and
orders are received that he and about fifty others are to report at once at
Annapolis, Md., for '• liglit duty ! " We have a meeting, talk the matter
over, and decide tliat our duties will be light — here or elsewhere ; and
that we will not be removed from here for any duties whatever, excepting
it be by force, so long as the surgeon reports us sick in hosi)ital, and while
we are in our present condition. There are not a dozen out of tlie fifty ^
who can lift ten pounds, or walk a rod ; and suggestions and exjjressions
here must sound much like those of a certain army in Flanders. These
things may be un-military, but the necessity of saving our life and limb is
now our first law — so far as we can enforce it. This ward is filled with
a set of very determined men, bound to have tlie benefit of every advan-
tage ' consistent with the interests of the sei'vice.' It is a question of life
and death with many of them.

July 24. Sun. Cool day, and a rainy night. Reg. in the rear
trenches ; where the enemy shells our camp again this morning, beginning
soon after midnight and continuing till about 2 a. m. This is the worst
shelling we have ever experienced here. They send over every kind of
shell, some of them huge. We get behind the trees and any other cover
which we can find. Bomb-proofs are now necessary at the rear trenches,
and are decided upon. Lt. Col. Grantman's horse is killed by a piece of
shell — the only death compassed in our Brigade by all this shelling. No
man of the Thirteenth is injured.

The old 2d Brigade 1st Div. ISfch Army Corps — 13th and 10th N. H.,
8th Conn, and 118th N. Y. regiments — which has held together and
fought togetlier through six battles — Walthall Road, Swift Creek, Kings-
land Creek, Drury's Bluff, Cold Harbor and Battery Five — is to be
broken up and Col. A. F. Stevens is to command a Brigade — the 1st
Brig. 1st Div. 18th Army Corps.

The Corps on the Petersburg front have connected from right to left as
follows : On the right the 9th Corps, Gen. Burnside, at the Appomattox,
relieved the most of the time by men of our 18th Corps ; next the 5th,
Gen. Warren ; then the 2d, Gen. Birney (Hancock absent because of an
old wound breaking out afresh) ; then the 6th, Gen. Wright, flanking
south to protect the left wing.

July 25. Mon. Cool, a heavy rain all last night. Reg. in rear
trenches. The 1st Brig. 1st Div. 18th Corps consists of the 13th N. H.,
81st, 98th and 139th N. Y. regiments. Col. A. F. Stevens now command-
ing. The Thirteenth now in command of Major Normand Smith.

^ After a few days we learned that a clerk made a mistake in sending in these
fifty odd names — and then the clerk heard ' a few remarks.' — S. M. T.


The enemy has shelled the camp here severely for three nights, or
mornings rather, in succession : 23d, 24th and 2oth. Their signal is a
huge ' Whitworth screamer ' sent over ahout midnight, immediately fol-
lowed by a grand shell and cannon chorus for two or three hours, all up
and down the line. The main purpose, and effect, being to keep our men
awake. Bomb-proofs are being built in our reserve camp ; they are a
sort of cellar 10 or 20 feet long as the number of men require, 6 or 8 feet
wide and 6 feet deep, roofed over with logs, a few with railroad rails for
main stringers, and earth piled deep over all.

Before moving out of the rear camp to-day to take our place in the
1st Brigade, the officers of the 13th make a grand collection of unex-
ploded shells thrown over here by the enemy. Capt. Julian seems to
have the largest and most dangerous collection, numbering over forty, of all
sorts and sizes. He extracts the powder from a number of these shells,
pours it into an old boot, buries the boot in the ground, fires the powder,
and enjoys a mine explosion after the most apj^roved miniature style.

Maj. Gen. David B. Birney to succeed Maj. Gen. Q. A. Gilmore, in
command of the 10th Corps.

July 26. Tues. Pleasant, warm. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches.
Notwithstanding its honors, the Reg. regrets parting with its bluff old
commander, Gen. Hiram Burnham, and with its many old and tried friends
in the 2d Brigade. Nothing has been too good for the 13th, in Gen.
Burnham's opinion, since they captured Battery Five.

The troops have to pass a very exposed and dangerous place while going
for water to use in cooking and drinking. Two men of another regiment
have been killed there by the rebel sharp-shooters. All the picket posts
now consist of a corporal and three men. The vedettes are usually re.
lieved about every hour in the night, to insure wakefulness. Camp and
garrison guards stand for four hours at a time.

July 27. "Wed. Pleasant, hotter. Reg. returns at dark to its rear
trenches. Is very near to its old capip here, and in a position no more
secure. Capt. George A. Bruce appointed Actg. Asst. Adjt, General, and
Capt. George N. Julian Actg. Asst. Inspector General on Col. Stevens'
staff of the 1st Brigade.

July 28. Thurs. Very hot. Reg. remains in camp in the rear
trenches ; at work fitting up its new quarters. Furious shelhng all night
— but not on our front. We can also hear the enemy's cars running all
night on the Richmond & Petersburg Railroad.

Long practice in the service brings great skill in sharp-shooting and all
gunnery work, but this is counterbalanced in great part by the skill and al-
most intuitive carefulness gained by long experience under fire. Men
know what bullets and shells can do and cannot do. know what risks to
venture with them and how to avoid them ; while the contrivances for
protection against them are numberless, ingenious and sure. With all the
skill which experience and practice gains, it may be said, with great truth-
fulness, that Veterans are not in half the danger of loss by death and


wounds, that new and raw troops are. This accounts in large part for the
fact that so many men pass unharmed through such terrific storms of
rebel missiles as now break upon our lines hereabout.

Hospital. Lieut. Thomijson's camp bed — an iron, folding, single-ln-
width contrivance — is on the shady side of the building, and he has not
seen the sun or moon for more than a month. He could not move far
enough, excepting in the few first days here, to get a glimpse of them.
Has been for the most of that time unable to sit up in a chair — thanks to
that fool surgeon, and the lazy hospital steward who peddled gangrene
gratis. Moved far enough to see the sun to-day.

Every day and night death has come in among us, and removed his own
to the realm of light ; and the bed and the ghastly corpse of its occupant
have been silently removed, to make space for another suffering soldier-
candidate for the spirit land. Men within an inch of death look calmly
on, without so much as a visible quiver in eye, face or nerve. Experi-
ence has accustomed us. We wake at night and hear the careful foot-
steps of men in stocking-feet. They approach a cot, they turn the sheet
up over the face of the body that lies there, and stepping around, one at
each end of the cot, they silently bear all out of the room ; a soldier has
passed his final muster here — died that his country might live a Nation,
the grandest on earth.


July 29. Fri. Very hot. Reg. remains in the rear trenches all
day. Lieut. Staniels reports for duty again, though his wound has not
healed and his arm is in a sling.

At 3 p. m. we receive orders to march at dark, with two days' cooked
rations. At 7 p. m. the 13th is relieved, with the 18th CorjDs to which
we belong, by the 2d Corps, and we march during the night to the rear of
the 9th Corps. After marching and countermarching until long past mid-
night, we finally relieve the 9th Corps, at 3 o'clock Saturday morning,
four miles from our camp, towards the left of the line. There is a high
crest in the rear of the Confederate lines, the possession of which is de-
sired. The 9ih Corps is to charge, as the centre, our 18th Cor2)s is to
hold these front lines, in support, with orders to fire all along our line
when the mine is exploded.

Lt. Col. Pleasants of the 48th Penn., a regiment of miners in Gen.
Burnside's 9th Corps numbering about 400 men, proposed to run a shaft
under Elliott's Salient, held by Elliott's Brigade of Gen. Johnson's Divi-
sion, a fort of the enemy's, near the centre of the 9th Corps front, mount-
ing six guns. The work was commenced June 25th, and mainly com-
pleted July 23d, the last work being done about 6 p. m. of July 27th.
The shaft is, in round numbers, 5 feet high, 20 feet below the surface of
the ground, and 520 feet long, with lateral branches, and having eight
magazines beneath the enemy's fort, which is 140 yards from our lines.


The magazines are charged with 8,000 jjounds of gunpowder. The earth
has been carried out of tlie shaft chiefiy in cracker boxes, and dumped in
a neighboring ravine. While the mining was being done the 6th N. H.,
in the 9th Corps, occupied the trench in our Unes where the shaft opened ;
the men were not allowed to leave the trench at all, and the officers were
placed under the strictest orders not to reveal the secret. Gen. Grant
has brought up about ICO heavy guns, many of them of the largest cali-
bre, and placed them in commanding positions. The plan is to explode
the mine at 3.30 a. m. to-morrow ; then immediately to open with every
gun along our lines, and in the midst of the confusion to assault the
enemy's works.

July 30. Sat. The hottest day of the season. The Reg. is called
at daylight, remains in the second line of trenches from the front, and is
held with the rest of the 18th Corps as a support to the assaulting col-
umns. The mine was to have been exploded at 3.30 a. m., and our troops
were in readiness at that time, but the fuse is damp and must be renewed.
The mine explodes at 4.40 a. m., and an immense and exceedingly dusty
fountain of earth mingled with cannon, caissons, timber and the 300 men
of the garrison, shoots up into the air to the height of 200 feet, spreads

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 50 of 81)