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 51 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 51 of 81)
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abroad there, like an enormous umbrella, into a huge cloud of dust, and
in falling throws outward and leaves a ' crater ' about 150 feet long, 60
feet wide, and 30 feet deep — "A vast bowl of crumbling earth." The
earth jars heavily where the men of the 13th stand, less than half a
mile from the crater. Instant upon the explosion our batteries open all
along our lines — we can locate about sixty of the guns in full view — and
for an hour there is one continual and deafening roar of artillery. After
some little delay we can see a portion of the 9th Corps charging into the
crater near where they capture a part of the enemy's line ; but the
enemy has time to rally from his surprise, and our movement miscarries.
The negro troops charge, and fall back ; the white troops mass together
in the crater ; the enemy charges upon them ; he trains his cannon upon
the disorganized crowd, and the crater is turned into a slaughter pen
from morning until noon ; by which time the most of our troops, who
were engaged in the assault, are either killed, wounded or withdrawn.
About 2 p. m. the enemy charges in force, captures the remainder of our
unfortunate men, retakes his fort and trenches, and the affair is over.
• Altogether one of the most appalling sights we ever witnessed.

Until after the charge of the 9th Corps, the position of the 13th is in
the second line of battle from the front — the 18th Corps being formed
in two lines — and behind a little breast-work thrown up in the sand, and
acting as the support of the 9th Corps, while they assault. The day is
very hot, and our men can get no water. There is no shade, and the
sand but reflects the burning heat of the sun. The breast-work held by
the 13th is low, and dry as a heap of hot ashes. Here quite a number
of men in our B)igade faint from the intense heat, and are carried to the
rear. The men are weighed down by their accoutrements, army gear,


and sixty rounds of ammunition per man. The enemy's shells are flying
over all the time. After the repulse of the 9th Corjis, the 13th is moved
forward to the front part of the line, remains there until 10 a. m., and is
then moved down to the front line of trenches in the support. Here no
man can show his head. This forward movement brings our Reg. into
the front trench, where the shaft of the mine opens. Cajjt Stoodley, who
has been jirostrated for about two hours by the heat, and several men of
the 13th who have fainted, are now able to move forward with the Reg.
arid are all with it again before two p. m., when the enemy's troops
make their counter assault.

About 5 jj. m, a flag of truce is displayed from this trench, to treat
concerning our men wounded in the charge ; but the enemy will not allow
us to help the wounded, and they are necessarily left to die, or live, as
they may. One hundred and seventy bodies of our men, dead and alive,
can be seen near our regimental line, and are left to lie there all day. A
flag of truce moves out, and while our officers are consulting, the officers
from both sides meeting midway between the lines, some of the rebels
come down over their works with canteens, and give water to a few of
our wounded men — then load themselves with the blankets and effects
of our boys, and return to their entrenchments ! It was Artemus Ward
who called the Confederacy a Conthieveracy.

" Early this morning I was directed to see that certain horses were
properly transferred from our Brigade, and while engaged in that duty
witnessed the assembly of the 9th Corps, and its formation in the assault-
ing column. The opportunity was purely accidental and could have oc-
curred to but few that morning besides myself ; and this silent gathering
of many thousands of men in the dim, early hours of the morning and
their movements, all as steady and regular as if on drill or review, and
yet for one of the most bloody assaults made in the whole war, was the
most grand and impressive scene I ever witnessed. They came up and
formed, regiment by regiment, with the precision of machinery. The
day was excessively hot. Having little to do, I thought I would see all
that I could of what was going on. Near the Brigade were quite a num-
ber of our dead, both negroes and white men. I stepped aside to look at
them. They had been lying there but a few hours, but the white and
black were now scarcely distinguishable in color.

" Soon after this I was looking northward toward the rebel lines near
the Appomattox, when a rebel cannon was run out and fired. I had a
sort of presentiment that the missiles — they used shrapnel — were com-
ing where I was, and instinctively, or from what cause I know not,
crouched or leaned forward, bending both knees considerably. Instantly
the balls were flying past me on all sides ; and upon looking at my cloth-
ing I found that one of the balls had cut two holes in each leg of my
pantaloons just back of the knees, merely grazing my legs as it passed
through. Had I remained standing upright both of my legs would have
been broken, or fearfully cut. It was about the narrowest escape I ever
had." Capt. Julian.


Rev. Mr. Augustus Woodbury, in his ' Burnside and the Ninth Army
Corps,' states that — " The mine exploded at precisely sixteen minutes
before five a. m. The ground heaved and trembled ; a terrific sound,
like the noise of great thunder, burst forth ; huge masses of eai'th,
mingled with cannon, caissons, camp equipage and human bodies, were
thrown up ; it seemed like a mountain reversed, and enveloped in clouds
of smoke, sand and dust."

The point charged upon by our troops — the crater, where stood the
enemy's fort — is in a re-entering angle of the enemy's line, and directly
beyond it is Cemetery Hill. The prevailing opinion is, that had the
Union charge been more determined, and the deployment within the
enemy's lines and about this hill — which were reached — been more
promjjt, the enemy's works would have been rendered untenable for a
long distance both to right and left, and possibly he could have been
forced out of his entrenchments altogether. But amid accidents, delays
and blunders, there is " A feeble assault ; a mournful slaughter — an utter,
terrible failure."

Our losses are placed at not far from 5,000 ; the enemy's at about
1,000. Gen. Humphreys states that the mine was under a redan held
by Elliott's brigade of Johnson's division, and opposite the centre of the
9th Corps. The explosion overwhelmed the whole of the 18th and a part
of the 23d South Carolina infantry regiments, and, the battery in the redan.
On our side about 80 heavy guns, and as many field guns opened at once.
Our losses he puts at 3,500 to 4,000. The losses in Elliott's Confederate
brigade were 677.

July 31. Sun. Very hot. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches, where
the shaft opens, all day ; and about 500 feet distant from the crater of the
mine explosion. A flag of truce is run up to treat for burying the dead ;
the enemy very slow to answer. The lines quiet to-day. To-night the
Reg. is relieved here by the 6th N. H., and returns with our Brigade to
its old camp in the rear lines, on the right by the Appomattox ; arriving
there about 11 p. m. well used up.

The point occupied by the Thirteenth in these two days is in the front
trench of the Union works — those nearest to the crater. The 9th Corps
farther to the rear in support to-day. When we leave to-night the Union
dead and many of the wounded lay on the field of yesterday morning's
assault and about the crater, and between the lines of the 13th and the
rebel works. The Confederates were seen also to give the wounded
negroes water to drink — and then to carry away their blankets and
clothes. For a proud Confederate to wear the clothing of dead negroes,
is at least peculiar. Lieut. Staniels returns to the front, and visits the
13th, finding it in front of the 9th Corps. His wound is not healed, and
he returns to the field hospital again at night.

Aug. 1. Mon. Very hot. Reg. in rear trenches resting — " If men
can rest in such weather." Reg. inspected by Capt. Julian. At 10 a. m.
under a flag of truce our wounded, who have lain on the battle-field of


the Mine explosion uncared for since the morning of the explosion, day
before yesterday — over 48 hours — are removed. Out of about 4UU
only twelve are found alive. The fact is the enemy has removed as
prisoners nearly all, excepting those fatally wounded and not likely to
recover. The Reg. is now located very near the Appomattox river bank.

Aug. 2. Tues. Hot. Reg. in rear trenches all day. At night re-
sumes its old place in the front rifle-trenches, the right resting on the
river. " Expect to be blown up before morning," writes one man of the
Thirteenth. The failure of the mine explosion makes a great stir.
Everybody is blamed in general, and the Division commanders in particu-
lar — " They had better gone in ! "

Aug. 3. "Wed. Very hot. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches. Quiet.
Dee}}, large wells have been sunk to obtain water for cooking and drink-
ing. One day a horse accidentally fell into one of these wells, and re-
mained a long time in the water, thrashing about, and otherwise doing
after the manner of horses. One of the men came there for water to use
for cooking purposes, and seeing the horse at the bottom of the well,
merely remarked : '' Why — I did n't know that this was a watering-place
for horses ; " drew up his pailful of water and went his way, as if nothing
in particular had occurred.

Hospital. Many prisoners are sent here from Libby, and it is said that
a wounded rebel is occasionally smuggled through with them — of course
receiving better treatment here than he could get at home. Some of the
cases — of Union men — received here from the rebel prisons present a
terrible condition. There is such a case now in the next ward. He is
undergoing an operation for the extraction of maggots from a deep wound
in his thigli. They have to be scooped out of their comfortable domicile
with a spoon-shaped instrument. Nothing that he could possibly bear
would kill them, and they must be removed mechanically. He is very
low, but will probably recover. He maintains the theory that the mag-
gots saved his life, by neutralizing poisonous matter which his system
was not in a condition to expel. Tough theory — tougher practice!
After this when a man complained that his wound was killing him, some
cruel wag would suggest, as a remedy, " Put in some maggots — to neu-
tralize the poison."

Aug. 4. Thurs. Very hot and dry. Reg. in front rifle-trenches
all day, relieved at night, and moves a short distance to the rear and en-
camps in a ravine close up to our second line of works. We have shelter
tents on poles, and open at the end. Considerable rebel shelling — no
one of the 13th Is hurt. This reserve camp is much nearer the front lines,
and more exposed than the old reserve camp in the pine gi-ove ; we are
to occupy this position for quite a period, alternating with the position in
the front rifle-trenches, and hence call It our ' Ravine ' camp.

Aug. 5. Fri. Very hot. Reg. fitting up Its quarters In the Ravine
camp near the second line of works, and five minutes' walk from the front
line of the Union works near the river. About 5 p. m. the enemy ex-


plodes a * mine,' a quarter of a mile from the Thirteenth, towards the
left. It is a sorry piece of engineering, not being under any work at all,
but several rods in front of our works and in an open field — a most
ridiculous farce. The enemy follows up his ' explosion ' by a demonstra-
tion on our lines, but makes no assault. A brisk cannoniide ensues. The
Thirteenth immediately falls in, and marches to the front ; when all is
quiet marches back again — not engaged. The affair is not of much
consequence, but this matter of mining adds, to the discomforts which the
men are already enduring, the imaginary and dreaded horror of being
blown to the sky or buried alive. Our canq) is now in a depression or
ravine in the side of a gravelly knoll, and we have no shade whatever ex-
cepting that of our shelter tents. These are stretched on poles, tacked to
stakes driven into the ground, drawn over the trench as awnings and set
up in every way that ingenuity can devise, to afford a bit of shade into
which the men can get, down upon the sand of the trenches, and avoid a
literal baking alive in the fierce sunshine.

Aug. 6. Sat. Very hot. This unceasing hot, burning, dry weather
makes our army inexpressibly uncomfortable and miserable. Sunstrokes
are a matter of every day occurrence among us. The Reg. remains in
its Ravine camp during the day, and at night returns to its front rifle-
trenches. It is reported that the rebels can be heard mining underneath
the front rifle-trenches where we are. Rather a nervous bit of news ; but
doubted so much that no one appears disturbed by it.

Aug. 7. Sun. Very hot. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches. A flag
of truce run up by the enemy's pickets, who want to exchange news-
papers — refused. Lieut. Murray goes home, with Gen. Burnham, on
20 days' leave.

Aug. 8. Mon. Very hot. Reg. remains in the front rifle-trenches
during the day, and at night returns to the old reserve camp about one
mile from the front. There are four principal Union lines of defenses,
and camps, along this part of the works abutting on the river. First, the
extreme front line, running south from the river across Mr. John Hare's
field a little west of his house. Second, in the first ravine east of his
house, less than one quarter of a mile from the front — where our Ravine
camp is located. Third, in a ravine about one mile fi-om the front, where
we are to-night. Fourth, about one and one half miles from the front,
a complicated system of earth-works, trenches, rifle-pits and bomb-proofs,
in a grove of heavy pine timber.

Hospital. One Abbott, having casually looked in upon these gilded
sepulchres of the living dead, writes an article of fulsome flattery for a
Northern publication ; and we write him a letter, and send him our com-
pliments, inviting him to shoulder his gun, like a true patriot, go to the
front, get one or two bullets through him — then come here and take an
inside view for himself experimentally. The Hospital does well — Abbott
does too well.

Aug. 9. Tues. Exceedingly hot. Reg. moves into the Ravine


camp, nearest to the front line ; and at night 113 men from the Reg. go
to work on a new fort just in the rear of our Brigade trenches. The
whole force of shovelers is 600 men. During the afternoon, a heavy
duel is fought, with large mortars, off toward the right. Two ammuni-
tion boats are blown up at City Point, the result of an accident. The ex-
plosion is heard, and the jar felt, in our lines, at the front. It destroyed
several vessels, and buildings, and killed and wounded a large number of
men. Lt. Col. Grantman goes home sick. Has a 20 days' leave. INIajor
Smith in connnand of Thirteenth.

Aug. 10. Wed. Very hot and dusty. Reg. imj^roves Ravine
camp ; at night goes into the front rifle-trenches, and relieves the 81st
N. Y. The Union vedettes, sent out between the lines at night, cannot
go out farther than 150 feet ; the rebel vedettes come out about the same
distance from their front trenches. The Union vedettes are ordered, if
attacked, to fire as rapidly as possible, and then to lie down, even at the
risk of being captured, and not to attempt to return to our lines. This
plan gives a clear field for our lines in front to use their rifles and cannon,
and avoids the danger of these vedettes being shot by our own men. Last
night a large force of our troops were massed in our rear, the enemy ex-
pected to attack us.

From the Hospital Dept. of the Thirteenth : " July 8th. The 13th has
four days of service in the front rifle-trenches and two out, alternately ;
always going in after dark. The majority of our men who are hit are
shot tlirough the head ; along the line of our Division the casualties aver-
age fifteen or twenty a day. The mortars on both sides make great
havoc and are a terror. I have seen men almost completely torn to
pieces by them. When our Parrott shells strike Petersburg, we can hear
the bricks crash, we are so near the city. One of our guns — ' The
Petersburg Express,' a 100 lb. Parrott — sends a shell into Petersburg
every fifteen minutes. The shells from that gun go directly over the
Thirteenth's rifle-trenches. Last Sunday night, July 3d, I was in the front
rifle-trenches. It was dark. I had just got up to go into another rifle-
int, when a blinding flash rushed past my eyes, and a fierce scream rang
in my ears. Then something hit me, with a sharp rap on my leg, bring-
ing me to my knees. Capt. Goss picked me up. No blood could be
found. The skii"t of my coat was torn badly in several places. I was
hit by the lead ring from the shell of ' The Petersburg Express.' ^
My whole thigh was black and blue for a long time afterwards, and I
was very lame, but luckily I received no permanent injury.

" There is no Hospital now with the Thirteenth — it is impossible to
have one in or near the front rifle-trenches. If a man is sick or wounded
he is taken to the Field Hospital about one mile to the rear ; and from

^ The lead ring is used arovmd the base of an iron or steel shell, fired from rifle-
cannon, to fit the grooves in the bore, and is thrown off with great force during the
early flight of the shell. Many men in Gen. Getty's Division were killed and wounded
by these lead rings at Fredericksburg during the day of Dec. 13, 1862. — S. M. T.


there, if in bad condition, he is sent to the base Hospital, at City Point.
A Surgeon's call is held once a day in the front rifle-trenches, a Surgeon
and Hospital Steward being required to be present. The rebel trenches
are but a few rods in front of ours, and they and our boys at once fire
when a hat is seen moving about in the opponents' trenches. It is sure
death on either side for a man to show his head above the works, which
are pierced with numerous small holes to watch and shoot through.

" I was sent for duty in the Commissary Dept. at the Field Hosjjital by
Surgeon Richardson, but do not like the change ; would prefer to be with
the Regiment. This Hospital is about one mile in rear of the Thirteenth's
trenches, in a prominent rebel's house, standing close besile the City
Point Railroad. Our troops have here a 13-inch mortar, called the ' Dic-
tator,' mounted on a platform car in a little i-avine near this house. To
load they pour into the mortar twenty pounds of powder, loose. Then the
hollow ball of iron — the sides of it two inches thick — is filled with seven
pounds of powder and five hundred and twelve one-ounce rifle balls. The
fuse of the shell is then driven in and sawed off at the proper length.
The whole weight of the shell when charged is 235 pounds. Four men
are required to lift it into the mortar. A fuse is placed in the vent of
the moi'tar, lighted and the men step back. When fired the shell can
be seen for quite a long time in its curving up and on through the air ;
the air resists the sharp rending and shrieks fearfully. Sometimes scrap
iron, nails, stones, etc., are put into the shell with the bullets.

"Wednesday, July 20th, a shell from that mortar struck fairly within
the rebel fort ' Archer,' making a huge cloud of dust and blowing one
angle of the fort away. The rebels say they can stand ordinary shelling,
but when we go to throwing at them whole blacksmith's shops, anvils,
tools, bellows and all, it is rather too much.

" A terrible disaster occurred at City Point Tuesday, Aug. 9th — a barge
loaded with ammunition was blown up. More than 200 persons were
killed and wounded. The ground about the wharf and for a long distance
back was covered with the debris ; which with shells, balls, timbers and
mutilated human bodies had been thrown high into the air and falling
had scattered far and near. I was there at the time of the explosion.
Had gone down to the wharf for ice, in charge of six army wagons and a
detail of a Sergeant and ten men. The ice was in a schooner lying at
the wharf, and was a gift of the Sanitary Commission to the soldiers in
the trenches. I narrowly escaped with my life. My own horse was
lost, and several of my men were severely injured. I succeeded, however,
in securing several wagon loads of ice, which was delivered at the Field

" An old Surgeon here, who has lived in South America, says he never
suflfered more, from the heat, than he has here during this summer. I
went on duty at the Field Hospital on July 4th, and returned to the
Thirteenth on Aug. 29th, meanwhile frequently visiting the Regiment."




Aug. 11. Thurs. Very hot. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches day
and night. Four deserters from the enemy come into our lines. Heavy
artillery engagement to-day.

The army salt-beef is anything but appetizing in this fearful heat.
The boys call it salt-horse because they say that iron horse shoes and
mule shoes have been found in the barrels, with the meat, but never an
ox shoe. The salt-beef is generally a fair article.

Hospital. A poor fellow, a Lieutenant, appears in the Hospital tem-
porarily crazed. He was, it is said, a member of Col. Pleasant's 48th
Penn., and went into the mine on the morning of July 30th to repair or
renew the fuse, just before the explosion. He mistook the sound of some
earth falling near him for the explosion, and thought that he was cut oflE
from escape in the shaft and buried alive. The shock unsettled his mind.
He walks about the Hospital, wringing his hands in abject fear, and re-
peating, in a sad, low, frightened, sing-song tone, over, and over, and
over again, by the half hour : " Mammy, will the dog bite ? — No, child,
no." He will exhibit his usual intelligence for a few moments at a time,
and begin a story or statement, breaking off suddenly in the midst of it,
and sometimes in the middle of a word, with his regular refrain, mixing
things most ridiculously and laughably. He is expected to recover.

Aug. 12. Pri. Very hot. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches. A fu-
rious artillery duel this morning at 4 a. m. Several men wounded in our
Brigade. At night the Reg. is relieved by the 81st N. Y., and goes back
to its Ravine camp. Surgeon Richardson's Corps Hospital is an immense
spread of canvas, covering two acres or more.

Aug. 13. Sat. Very hot. Reg. in Ravine camp, and building
bomb-proofs. Dui'ing our stay here on the Petersburg front, whether in
the front rifle-trenches, or in the resex've camps, we, together with the
whole force along our lines, are divided in two grand reliefs ; one relief
keeping awake and under arms until midnight of every night, then turn-
ing in, while the other relief is called up, and kept awake and under arms
until the morning. Tremendous shelling to-day ; in the afternoon a
regular, incessant roar of artillery.

The troops have access to an excellent spring of water near by, just
around the hill, but two or three rods of the path to it are covered by
the enemy's sharp-shooters. On some days they molest the water car-
riers, occasionally shooting one of them, and on other days watch them
sharply without firing a shot. The Confederate soldiers appear capri-
cious. Our men go for water and return about as unconcernedly as they
would go to the spring or well on the old farm at home.

Aug. 14. Sun. Extremely hot. Since July 26th the thermometer
has often indicated during the days from 100° to 105° in the shade, and
the most of the nights have been but a little cooler. Reg. in Ravine
camp — second line from the front ; at 7 a. m. goes into the front rifle-
trenches. At inspection, this morning, several men fall out of the ranks,
overcome by the terrible heat. The air is a double concentration of all


the vile stinks, and of all the unutterable rot, that a camj) at the front
can possibly be heir to, besides dead men and dead horses not far away.

We have two days at the front, alternating with two days at the rear.
Reg. in bad shape for service. Only ten line officers present for duty.
Company B has only its Captain and four men present. As many men
are detailed for orderlies, clerks, teamsters, special guards, i)ioneers,
sharp-shooters, etc., as are present for duty. An afternoon shower cools

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 51 of 81)