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 52 of 81)
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the air a little.

Hospital. Gen. Butler's light-duty order, of a month or so ago, not
having been enforced, Surgeon Gen. McClellan, a brother of Gen.
McClellan it is said, now and sensibly deems it imprudent for the
wounded, who are doing pretty well, to remain here while such extremely
bad cases are coming in from the rebel prisons ; and therefore a large
party of us are transferred to-day to Annapolis, Md. We are to travel as
we please, and twenty or more of us decide to visit Baltimore for a day
or two, and then go down to Annapolis.

One of the party, now rapidly recovering, has had a most singular
wound. A minie bullet entered his right eye, and came out at his right
ear, demolishing both ; and, as it were, " knocked them all out of sight and
hearing," as he facetiously describes the affair. He is a merry fellow,
and undoubtedly will survive. Among wounded soldiers the rule holds
good, almost without exception, that the hopeful and the cheerful men re-
cover, while the man who gives up dies.

Aug. 15. Mon. Warm. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches just west
of Mr. John Hare's house, on the river bank. The heavy rain of last
night, and a sudden, severe shower to-day, causes much damage to the
trenches, flooding the lower parts of them, and several men are drowned
in the trenches near us. The lines we occupy are so situated as to be
incapable of proper drainage, and nothing at all can be done to them
until after dark, and our men are standing in water up to their middle.
The water is three feet deep in several places in the trenches now oc-
cupied by the 13th. Some of the covert ways are half full of water.
A new sutler appears to-day ; sutler Holmes has not been with the Reg.
since we left Camp Gilmore last April.

Every evening nowadays there is an artillery duel. The huge shells
appear like balls of fire flying over our heads in every direction and over
the lines as far as one can see, all up and down the two armies — a splen-
did sight. The most of the shells, which we of the 13th receive, come
from the rebel batteries to the northward across the Appomattox. The
9th Corps, next on our left, are and always have been the noisiest on our
lines, banging and pounding away almost incessantly.

The men of the 10th N. H. in their trench are standing in mud and
water up to their arm-pits, holding their haversacks and cartridge-boxes
up over their heads — " in the position of a soldier."

Hospital. The party bound for Annapolis via Baltimore, go u]) on a
small steamer. Lieut. Thompson can walk on crutches for about five


minutes, then collapses. Last night, while attempting to go on shore at
Baltimore, liis crutches slipped, and he fell on the steamer's deck.
Attempting to use the lame foot — which had no strength in it — he sat
down upon it very heavily. The broken pieces of bone severed an artery,
and he would soon have bled to death but for the prompt action of a
young surgeon who chanced to be on board the steamer. The artery
cannot be tied and a tourniquet is fitted on. A carriage is sent for, and
he is taken to the Eutaw House.

This party of twenty or tliirty officers makes up a procession almost
laughable. Arms in slings, heads in bandages, legs bundled up, feet in
white wrapjiings, crutches stamping, attendants supporting, stretchers here
and there, one express wagon packed full ; all the officers chatting, jok-
ing, laughing and merry as a class of school boys just out for a vacation.
The wounded man, as a general thing, is bound to be jolly if he can,

Aug. 16. Tues. Cool, rainy. Reg. in the front riile-trenclies, and
repairing them wliere damaged by the rains. The water cannot be gotten
out of the trenches, and the men are in mud and water all the time. No
relief to-night. The plan has been for the Reg. to be in the front rifle-
trenches two days and then have two days at the rear — that is on two
and off two — but now we are on duty in the front rifle-trenches right
along day after day and night after night w^ithout relief. Heavy shower
at 3 p. m. Water three feet deep in the Thirteenth's trenches, and the
banks of them caving in ; a terrible night, no rest, and the rising water
causes the men to expose themselves greatly to the rebel fire. The tents
are useless, the roof of our house is the sky, the moon and all the stars
are mere holes for the water to run through upon us, there 's a rebel shell
coming with every gallon, and ten rebel bullets with every pint ; the head
of our bed is a sand bank, the foot a hole in the ground, the mattress is
of mud stuffed with gravel stones, the jiillows are a mortar trough, the
coverings are sheets of water — we are right in the swim !

Aug. 17. "Wed. Cooler, rainy. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches.
Every one soaking wet. Rebel batteries shell our lines from 1.30 a. m.
until morning, and their sharp-shooters are very busy after daylight. A
shell bursts in the soft mud near three men of the Thirteenth, deluges
two and literally buries the third ; he is hauled out of the mortar blow-
ing, ' spluttering,' and saying several things much nastier than himself.
Scene for laughter, and that is all. Hundreds of the situations are most
ridiculous. The 18th and 9th Corps on this front ; the 2d and 5th Corps
are north of the James.

Hospital. Lieut. Thompson at U. S. General Hospital, Naval Build-
ings, Annapolis, INId. About 20 officers with him in the same ward, con-
taining thirty beds. Surgeons Vanderkieft and Sweet decide that his
foot must be amputated. The patient replies : " No, the foot must be
saved ; else the whole body must go into the same box, all in one piece."

While he was at the Eutaw House the proprietor furnished him an at-
tendant free, deducted one half of his bill upon settlement, sent him to


the steamer in a hack and sent two men to carry him aboard, also free.
This was connnendable generosity, and altogether unsought.

Aug. 18. Thurs. Showery. Thirteenth in the front rifle-trenches,
and in tlie water and mud as usual. Muddier men were never seen, and
we cannot show our heads above the works without instantly receiving
from one to a dozen rebel bullets. An old felt hat raised on a stick and
moved a little — to make it a])pear as if it contains a head — is perfo-
rated with three rebel bullets instanter. The enemy oi)ened his batteries
about 10 o'clock last night, and siielled our trenches severely for nearly
three hours. A terrific noise, and the crack of multitudes of shells is the
result. No one hurt in the Thirteenth.

Assistant Surgeon John Sullivan resigns his commission — much against
his inclination, as he would prefer to remain with the Regiment — and is
honorably discharged the service. While our Surgeon Richardson has
had charge of the 18th Corps Hospital, Assistant Surgeon Sullivan has
been doing all the duties of a Surgeon at the front for almost a year.

The severe duties, cares and the climate are surely killing him. He
has been granted a leave of absence and sent home from the army
twice, under the order that restricted leaves of absence to causes where
absence from the front was deemed necessary to save life.

He has always been very efficient and very popular in the Thirteenth,
and his place cannot be filled again as well easily, if indeed at all. His
great sympathy fpr, and unwearying, kindly care of such men as really
suffer, and his quick and almost intuitive detection of shamming, are
decidedly desirable qualities in an army Surgeon. We shake his hand at
parting here, with a most unwilling good-by.

John Sullivan, our Asst. Surgeon, recently resigned, was of Exeter,
N. H., and the great-grandson of Major General the Hon. John Sullivan,
LL. D., of the Continental Army, in the Revolution. He first enlisted as
a private in the 2d N. H. Vols., and served in that regiment in the first
Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861. After the retreat from that battle-
field to Centreville, he assisted in performing the first capital operation
of the war upon a New Hampshire soldier. The patient was Sergt. Isaac
W. Derby of Company A, 2d N. H. V. severely wounded in the arm. No
anaesthetics were used. Derby consenting, he was held down by a fence
rail, and the arm was cut off. The operation was performed at night, and
the only light was afforded by a tallow candle and a brush fire. Derby
fought it through manfully, never entered the Hosjjital at all, and after a
few days was attending to such duties as a one-armed man could do about
the camp. Sergt. Derby has stated to the writer that : " having one's flesh
cut is a small matter, but to have one's bones sawed in pieces is a very
serious business." See N. H. Adjt. General's Report for 1866, Vol. ii.
page 427.

While serving as a private in the 2d N. H. V., Sullivan was examined
in the Surgeon General's office in Washington, and received the appoint-
ment of Medical Cadet U. S. A. ; in which capacity he served in the


army Hospitals in Missouri and Kentucky from September 1861, until
October 1862, when he joined the Thirteenth. Here he has served under
commission as Assistant Surgeon for nearly two years, but more than half
the time as Acting Surgeon. About three weeks after his resignation his
services were needed in the U. S. General Hospital at Troy, New York,
where he was tendered and received the appointment of Executive Offi-
cer. That Hospital contained twelve hundred beds, and was in charge of
George H. Hubbard, Surgeon U. S. Vols., who entered the service as
Surgeon of the 2d N. H. Regiment.

Aug. 19. Fri. Showery all day. Thirteenth in the front rifle-
trenches. Much shelling and picket firing. The only way to dodge the
enemy's mortar-shells — which the boys call * mortal-shells,' as they drop
into the trenches and explode — is to rush behind the traverses. The
only casualty in the 13th, though many of the enemy's shells have ex-
ploded in our lines, is the wounding of Corporal Augustus Boodry of G.
His is a very peculiar wound and extremely painful. A piece of shell,
1^ inches long, 1| inches wide, is driven through his leg below his knee,
and between the bones, instantly widening the space between the bones,
and tearing the tissues for sevei-al inches.

Hospital. A man now here has had a minie bullet driven straight
through his head — going in near the right eye and coming out below the
right ear. He is doing well. He says he neither saw nor felt anything
unusual when the bullet struck him, all was done and over so quickly.
The first thing he felt was the blood running down his face and neck, the
parts near the wound having been benumbed by the stroke of the bullet.

This is the second case the writer has seen of wounds very similar — a
bullet entering the eye or near it.

Aug. 20. Sat. Cool, cloudy. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches by
the river bank. The enemy commenced his usual shelling again this
morning at one o'clock. We have to lie low in the mud and water, and
have not been dry for a week. The Union artillery just in rear of our
line opens fire with a terrific din, and keeps it up for half an hour or so,
over our heads, and everywhere. A brigade, with the 10th N. H., moves
about a mile to the left of our Division, and near the lines opposite the
rebel ' Hare House ' Battery.

There are many hours when the men and officers have literally nothing
to do, but to ' while away ' the time as best they may. They take old
musket barrels, enlarge the vents, load them heavily with i)Owder from
some unexploded shell, put in one or two bullets, set the battery up in
the sand, and fire it — the bullets falling a third or half a mile away
within the enemy's line. Possibly the enemy employs a similar means,
for one of the men of our Brigade was killed while sitting with his back
leaning against the inside of our earth-works, a bullet penetrating the top
of his head in such manner as if it had fallen straight down out of the
sky. Our men play with still another ' battery ' where the lines are very
close together. A stout stick with a small stone on one end is balanced


upon a log, the opposite end of the stick is struck a heavy blow with an
axe, and the stone goes far over towards the enemy's line — and some-
times it is claimed that a particulai-ly lucky blow will send a stone within
them. A reproduction, for amusement, of a very ancient device.

Tlie following extract from a letter describes one situation of the Thir-
teenth in the Petersburg trenches :

" In the Trenches near Petersburg, Va.
August 20, 1864.

" We have been in the front trenches here for a week, and are having a
hard time of it. It has rained eveiy day. The water is two and a half
feet deep in the trenches where the men of the Thirteenth have to stand
and wade. About one mile from us the men are in water up to their arm-
pits. It literally floods the trenches. If a man rises up so as to be out
of the water, a rebel bullet is sure to be after his head. I have not had
my clothing dry for a week, night or day, and am covered with mud from
head to foot. The men are still worse off than the officers. The rebels
open with artillery between 12 and 1 a. m., and continue shelling for
about two hours, and as a matter of course we can get no sleep. W^e
have to lie in the trenches at night, and have no covering except a rubber
blanket to shield us from the weather. All the troops that can be spared
have now gone to the left, where the 2d and 5th Corps are operating.
Rough work this ; I feel almost worn out. To be wet, go without sleep,
and feel in danger all the time — for there is constant danger of being
shot — is anything but pleasant ; but I get along so much better than the
most of the enlisted men I feel quite satisfied with my lot. If anything
will make a soldier think of home, wife and children, this kind of life will
do it." Lieut. R. R. Thompson.

Aug. 21. Sun. Showery. Reg. still in the front rifle-trenches ; the
right Company, G, in the trench nearest the river, and practically about
twelve feet under ground. The enemy shells us as usual, opening to-day,
however, at about one o'clock in the morning, and continuing until after
five o'clock — over four hours of racket, boom and crash. A soldier of
the 13th writes : " It has rained water for a week, and shells for four
nights, all along the lines ; the rain and the shells do about an equal amount
of damage. The boys say of the enemy's large elongated shells : ' Look
out ! There comes another pork-barrel with the bung pulled out.' "

About 11 a. m., all along the lines here in our immediate vicinity, our
troops in the front trenches — some 3,000 men — commence firing as
ra])idly as possible. The enemy replies, and soon the discharges of mus-
ketry blend in a continuous roar. Pretty soon also the artillery on both
sides joins in the fray, and the noise becomes tremendous, continuing for
an hour or two in all. During the affair eighty men of the 13th have
fired over 4,000 rounds of ball-cartridge — about 50 rounds ])er man. At
the same average the 3,000 men must have fired above 150,000 Ijullets at
the enemy's lines. It is wonderful how very few men are struck amidst
the shower of flying lead and iron. This demonstration appears to be


made by the Union troojjs liere for the purpose of covering sundry move-
ments on the Union left, to which point a large force has been dispatched
from our vicinity, and whose firing we can hear as our own fire slackens.
The enemy here replies, scarcely knowing why. Supposing that a gen-
eral engagement threatens, our camjj-followers stampede pell-mell for the
rear. They are a spry and amusing peoi)le. In a mortar-battery, di-
rectly in our rear, a 13-inch mortar is playing upon the enemy ; the huge
shells rounding high in air through an immense curve above our heads,
hissing in a rapidly repeated warning sound : " Ketch you — ketch you,"
as they go.

" The musketry firing going on about two miles to our left sounds like
heavy wagons driven rapidly over very stony ground. The artillery firing
sounds like huge bass drums beaten very fast, but without regai'd to time.
After a while the firing settles down to a slow, continuous rumbling and
throbbing all along the line." Charles W. Washburn, Band.

Aug. 22. Mem. Cool — a few showers. Reg. in front rifle-trenches.
Enemy gave us no shells this morning. We have been all day momen-
tarily expecting him to assault our lines — but all remains quiet now
at 9 p. m.

Hospital. A Major is here from Michigan, who is in a sad state of
mind and body. His horse's backbone was cut in two just back of the
saddle, on which the Major was sitting at the time, by a large piece of
shell which stnick upwards from the ground. The Major was not even
bruised, but the jar caused a partial 2Jaralysis of his spine — and nearly
jerked his head off. He is gaining, but very slowly.

Aug. 23. Tues. Fair. Reg. in front rifle-trenches. The enemy
fired a few shells this morning, and wounded several men in the 2d N. H.
Twenty men of the 2d N. H. are mustered out *f the service — a capital
time to emigrate from this corner of Tophet. New Hampshire is a good
State to emigrate to, just now. The whole Reg. were turned out last
night, cooks, clerks, sick and all, and manned the trenches to meet an
attack, but the enemy did not appear.

Hospital. The wounded are having the gangrene cut out of their
wounds with a ' caustic preparation of iron,' as it is called, and it burns
like an iron red hot. One man near by, mad with pain, lost his nerve
and actually yelled for half an hour like a teething baby. The Naval
band was playing at the same time out of doors, and his yells spoiled the
music for the rest of the patients — in fact he overdid it, and in a meas-
ure lost sympathy. Possibly thousands have suffered more and not even
sighed, for his was not an unusually bad case.

Aug. 24. Wed. Fair, very warm. Reg. in the front rifle-trenches,
which are nearly dry now, but we cannot show our heads above them.
We are all day, and all night, and all the time, at the mercy of the
enemy's front, reverse, and enfilading fire from his river batteries — and
how it is that we escape being blown into inch pieces is past our compre-
hension. Every man in the Reg. seems to have a ' charmed life.' We


are in one incessant battle, long and constant, with the men under fire
and at close range more than half the time. However, a man is a small
thing on an acre of ground, and the swift hare is a hard shot. To-night
the enemy is massing on our front, and our line here is very weak. Every
available man is at work refitting the trenches, where they have been
damaged by the rains ; and every man who can lift a musket is ordered
into the front rifle-trenches.

Aug. 25. Thurs. Warm, fair, rain at night. Reg. in front rifle-
trenches. A great deal of anxiety, enemy expected to attack here. Or-
ders come for us to be ready to move at a moment's notice. Every man.
at his post. No move to-day. The infernal hubbub prevents. We do
not know what is coming next. Now it is proper to call us " Northern
Mudsills." We have been in the mud here until we are embedded and
fixed. This morning we got all ready to move out of the trenches for a
rest, and the teams at camp were loaded with our baggage ; then came
an order for us to remain, and prepare for action, an lattack threatened ;
and here we are to-night, every man in the trenches, headquarters' guard,
cooks, sick and all. We would prefer a fight to this sort of life.

Hospital. Two Brass bands every fair day furnish an abundance of
stirring and excellent music. Peaches, berries, melons, tomatoes, and all
the fruits of orchard, field and garden abound, and can be had for a trifle,
and we live as never before while members of the army.

Lieut. Thompson, much prostrated by a bad turn taken by the wound
in his ankle owing to his fall upon it, has lived chiefly on peaches for the
past ten days. As he is unable to do much toward feeding himself, he
and three others here, all in as bad, or a worse plight, are fed, almost as
children are, at every meal, by Miss R. S. Gove, of Elmira, New York,
an elegant lady. God bless the women who went down to the army Hos-
pitals as nurses for the suffering soldiers I

Aug. 26. Fri. Foggy and hot. The whole 9th Corps moves out
before 9 a. m., and marches to Point of Rocks. Reg. as usual, in the
front rifle-trenches.

" Rained water and rebel shells all last night ; no sleep, no breakfast

— cooks all put for the rear — and the Johnnies shelling us like fury all
the morning." SerCxT. Major Hodgdon.

The Thirteenth has had a hard measure of service here in these front
rifle-trenches that run across Mr. John Hare's field ; constantly under the
enemy's musketry and artillery fire ever since the morning of August 14th

— thirteen days and twelve nights — and in very bad weather, generally
hot or rainy, wet and steamy, and much of the time we have been half
buried in mud and water. And now comes a job that caps tlie climax of
all our misery's worst abominations — an all night march. At 10 p. m.
the Reg. is relieved from duty in these front rifle-trenches by troops
from the 10th Corps, with which the 18tli Corps is to exchange positions ;
and with our Brigade we march to the rear, and on, and on, in the rain
and deej) mud, stumbling and grojiing along anywhere and anyhow, in a


darkness where nothing can be seen ; tired, drenched, weighed down with
guns, equipments, clothing, blankets, tents, they wet and therefore extra
heavy, and we bedraggled, chafed, foot-sore, ugly — and finally at 3.30
a. m., arrive within Gen. Butler's fortifications, north of the Appomattox,
on the Bernmda Hundred lines, and bivouac near our old camp-ground.

There is no one now hereabout who sings the song, " Tenting on the Old
Camp-Ground." That song is especially dedicated to the brave and stal-
wart home-stayers ; while they do furious battle with the ferocious min-
now, the deadly trout, the blood-thirsty angle-worm and the awe-inspiring
bull-frog, along the bold and dangerous shores of New England summer
mill-ponds and meadow brooks. For real soldiers all the color such songs
ever had is just now washed out witli an ocean of mud and water.

This night mai'ch is a fit ending of our " Petersburg Front " experi-
ences, from June 21st to date — 67 days — all the time under fire ; our
rear camp shelled as furiously as the front, and often more dangerously.
For nearly two months we were scarce a day out of the range of the
enemy's musketry fire. Still the soldier at the front indulges in many a
merry hour, though the big guns may rattle as they will.


Aug. 27. Sat. Fair, warm. We lie down here about four o'clock
this morning, and rest an hour or two, when the enemy's batteries open
on our lines near by, our batteries reply, and the old play of the Appo-
mattox river bank, in Mr. .John Hare's field, is played over again here at
Bermuda Hundred. Lieut. Taggard returns to the Reg. late to-night
fi'om the Hospital, his wound nearly healed.

The Reg. remains at its place of bivouac until dark, when we move to-
wards the left and occupy an exposed, salient jjosition about midway be-
tween the James and Appomattox rivers ; our camp is called " Butler's
Front above Point of Rocks."

There is one custom in the army that does no little mischief. A is de-
tailed for a bit of hazardous work. He goes to B and hires him to ' vol-
unteer ' for this special service. B volunteers to take A's place, is ac-
cepted, and A escapes all the danger. The pay for such ' volunteering '
substitution among the men is anywhere from fifty cents to five dollars
and more. One of these men, with more money than courage, asked a
comrade thus to take his place. The comrade felt insulted and replied :
" Go in yourself ; the sooner rich cowards like you get shot the better."
Then turned on his heel with the remark : " Money goes with an awful
mean streak." A remark too often proved true.

Hospital. An Adjutant recently arrived here from a four months' so-
journ in Libby, has cut out of his shoulder to-day a piece of shell over two
inches long, three fourths of an inch wide and half an inch thick, weigh-
ing between three and four ounces. He is from West Virginia, by name
McLaughlin, and the rebel surgeons refused to take the jagged piece of


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 52 of 81)