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 57 of 81)
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Yesterday morning the Thirteenth went into the fight with 187 mus-
kets ; this morning Capt. Stoodley, in his field report, reports 89 men as
present for duty. Hosp. Steward R. B. Prescott is the only representa-
tive of the medical staff of the 13th present in all this expedition — the
Surgeons all detached and absent on other duties.

The capture here of the Confederate muster-rolls shows how terribly
the 13th and 10th cut up — nearly annihilated — the 44th Tennessee,
during the rebel charges in the fog at Drury's Bluff on the morning of
May 16, 1864.


A man of the lOtli N. II. was sitting down during some part of
the battle to-day with his back to the eartli-works, and holding his gun
between his knees ; when a shell thrown from a Confederate gunboat
burst near him, and a piece of it broke his gun and cut his spine in two.
He merely leaned back a little more, without any show of pain or hurt,
and remained sitting against the works nearly as before. The thing was
done in a flash. A man instantly killed, if he is sitting or lying down,
makes but little change in jjosition.
♦ Gen. Stannard says that the enemy — Gen. Anderson commanding
Gen. Longstreet's Corps, and assaulting with Law, Anderson, Bratton,
Clingman and Colquitt — opened with twelve guns on his centre and left,
the enemy's infantry advancing on his right. That he held his fire, until
the enemy emerged from the thick underbrush in front, when he repulsed
them with musketry alone. The enemy charged three times. The enemy
acknowledges a loss of 2,000 men ; and their loss has been estimated at
3,000 and above.

Yesterday, 29th, Gen. Birney with the 10th Corps and a body of
colored troops of the 18th Corps carried everything before him at Deep
Bottom before 9 a. m ; and before noon swept around upon the New
Market road, advanced and established communications with the right of
Gen. Stannard's Division, north of Fort Harrison, as had been arranged.
Gen. Birney, however, could not dislodge the enemy on his front, though
his troops, and esj^ecially the colored troops who made an assault, be-
haved with great gallantry. Their charge was witnessed by us from Fort
Harrison. Richmond therefore cannot now be entered from this side, as
was hoped, by a surprise, and the chief gains of the attack centre about
Fort Harrison, captured and held by Gen. Stannard's 1st Division of
the 18th Corps. A large force of the enemy is now entrenching on an
inner line, on our front, while our lines are being made as strong as possi-
ble. Gen. Ord's wound, received after we entered Fort Harrison on
the 29th, caused a serious delay in the general movements of the day.

As the line of trenches extended northward beyond the northern end
of the 500-foot line, it reached a little redoubt on the main line (not
the three-cornered affair now, 1885, seen in that dii'ection) distant 300 to
400 yards from the right of the 13th, as they were placed on Sept. 30th.
During the battle the Confederates charged up to this redoubt, captured
it, and held it until dark, delivering a very annoying fire upon our lines,
at close range.

Almost due north of the front of the 13th, and about 500 yards dis-
tant, is a ravine running from right to left across the field, and just
beyond it stood an old Confederate bake-house. (The ruins of it now
visible, 1885.) About mid-afternoon, Gen. Clingman's brigade charged
up into this ravine near the old bake-house, and found it very didicult
either to advance or retire from ; and Capt. Goss of the 13th charged
ujjon a portion of Clingman's command, with his sharp-shooters, and
captured the large number of prisoners and the three battle flags as men-



A Confederate skirmisher used an upper window of this old bake-house
for a convenient place to shoot from during the fight, was killed, and his
body hung over the window sill for many days after the battle.

The colors of the Thirteenth was planted in the sand to-day, and Color
Sergeant Charles Powell, of K, was standing beside it holding the staff
in his hand, the most of the Regiment lying down in line of battle, when
a rebel sharp-shooter hidden behind a little log-house fired at him, and
the bullet cut through his left wrist while the flag staff was in his hand,
disabling him for any further service in the army.

Powell wlls obliged to go to the rear ; but with the true courage of a
soldier, and of a Color Bearer, too, though under a murderous fire and
severely wounded, the wound bleeding profusely and very painful, he
calls coolly and carefully upon a comrade at his right to take care of
the colors, and after having seen it in safe hands, goes to the rear to have
his wound attended to, leaving the colors as he had planted it, the flag
unfurled and the staff firmly set in the sand.

During the fight to-day a soldier of the Thirteenth is in the act of put-
ting a cap on his musket, when his arm is suddenly jerked back, and he
turns to a comrade near, and commences scolding him, remarking in-
dignantly that ' this is no time to be fooling.' The comrade tells him to
look at his hand ; he does so, and finds the blood flowing over it from a
serious bullet cut in the arm, a flesh wound. Like thousands of other
cases, the blow was so instantaneous as at first to cause no pain whatever.

The following is condensed from Prescott's letters from the Hospital
Dept. : " The Thirteenth left camp at Bermuda Hundred at 9 p. m. Sejjt.
27th, marched nearly to the James, then turned aside into the woods and
obtained a few hours of sleep. Our 1st Division of the 18th Corps crossed
the muffled pontons at Aiken's about 1.30 a. m. Sept. 29th, and reached
the crest of a hill about one mile from the river at early daylight. Here
a part of the 2d Brigade deployed as skirmishers and advanced, closely
followed by the rest of the 2d Brigade, and by the 1st Brigade, in which
was the 13th, and also by the 3d Brigade, the most in column by divi-
sions. The enemy retreated, keeping up a brisk fire with our skirmish-
ers. When we emerged from the woods the black guns in Fort Harrison
were looking down the road toward us, while the fort was flanked with
breast- works interspersed with redoubts mounting other cannon.

" Here a brief halt was made. Gen. Ord surveyed the position, and
ordered an assault. While we were waiting the rebels let fly a few
shells, one of which struck a gun wheel in our column, glancing and killing
three men and four horses. Two brigades moved into the field at the
left of the Varina road, and one brigade to the right, and then ensued
one of the grandest charges in the history of the war. The troops moved
firmly and steadily in close column by divisions, and at a ' right shoulder
shift arms ' until more than half the distance was gained, when an oblique
movement was made, which took the troops partially out of range of the
heavy guns of the fort. In a few moments more our men were swarming


over the parai)et, capturing eight cannon, two of them heavy pivot guns,
and about one hundred prisoners. Col. Stevens was struck by a bullet
when below the foi't (before entering), and was taken away in an ambu-
lance with the body of Gen. Burnham, who commanded the 2d Brigade,
and who was killed by a sharp-shooter after the fort was taken. Two
rebel iron-clads steamed down the river a few hours after we captured
the fort, and threw 200 lb. shell at us all the afternoon, and at intervals
during the next day. Some of the rebel barracks w^re torn down, and
the logs piled into breast-works.

" Sept. 30th. Yesterday Gen. Lee, Jefferson Davis and .others were
plainly seen from the parapet of Fort Harrison ; wliile standing on the
parapet with Capt. Goss we both distinctly saw the party. Deserters
who came in last night report that Mr. Davis said that this jDosition must
be re-taken if it required the entire Confederate army to do it. This
forenoon we could see columns of the rebels massing, and working parties
apparently planting artillery, on our front. Meanwhile our men were
impatiently awaiting the arrival of shovels and picks. It was noon be-
fore these arrived, and hardly a shovelful of earth had been moved,
before the enemy opened vigorously with artillery, and soon after with
their shrill yells, charged down upon us. Our men lying flat upon their
faces fired a volley which checked the rebel charge and then repulsed
them, cutting them up fearfully. They charged twice afterwards, each
time with the same result. They tried the fourth time, then gave it up
and retreated to their entrenchments. During the firing our men swung
their cartridge boxes to the front and poured a part of their ammuni-
tion out in little piles on the gi'ound before them for greater convenience.

" I was at this time Hospital Steward of the Thirteenth, and was the only
member of our Medical Department present during the whole two days'
fight. Sergt. Major James M. Hodgdon and I took advantage of a small
obstacle to the rebel fire, when the enemy charged, but it did not afford
sufficient protection for both of us. I was on his right, and left him and
went through an opening in the line of trenches — leading northward
from the fort — where the colored troops were stationed. Here I found
the Hospital Stewax'd of the 8th Conn. While conversing with him he
fell, shot in the head. Gen. Stannard, standing but a few feet away, lost
his right arm ; and in a moment more, poor Hodgdon came through the
opening before mentioned, his right eye hanging by a shred on his cheek.
I gave him a stimulant, bound up his face, and assisted him to a place of
shelter a few rods in the rear.

" First Sergeant John F. Gibbs of E performed prodigies of valor to-day
during the rebel assaults to re-take Fort Harrison. The ammunition run-
ning short, and the teams being unable to come up by reason of the rebel
sharp-shooters killing the mules, Major Stoodley called for volunteers to
go back for the boxes. Sergt. Gibbs started instantly, and worked nobly
lugging the heavy boxes of ammunition ^ in the face of a heavy fire, for a

^ The boxes contained 1,000 rounds of ball-eartridses, and weighed above eighty
pounds each, while Gibbs is a spare man of medium height. — S. M. T.



considerable distance (over open ground) from the wagons to the battle
line. He deserved promotion for it." R. B. Prescott.

Some idea of the depletion of the Thirteenth in its term of service may-
be gained from the following statement made by Major Stoodley : " In
the fight to-day, acting as Major commanding the Thirteenth, I stood alone,
the only conmiissioned officer present with the Regiment, of the original
thirty-seven officers who left Concord on October 7, 1862."

Major Stoodley.

Lieut Taggard, acting Adjutant, writes in his Diary : " Thursday,
Sept. 29th. We started at 9 o'clock last night ; crossed the James at
Aiken's. We captured Fort Harrison Sept. 29th, meeting with much
loss. Sept. 30th. About noon the enemy made a severe attack on us,
but were repulsed with great loss. We took, in the two days, twenty-two
guns, 1,500 prisoners (a great number of them wounded men) and four
colors. The losses in the Thirteenth were two officers and thirteen men
killed, seven officers and fifty-eight men wounded, one missing."

Lieut. Taggard.

" At Fredericksburg on the evening of Dec. 13, 1862, I received a
' clip ' in the shoulder, and another bullet tlu'ough the thigh, when within
about four rods of the sunken road at the foot of Marye's Heights, but
succeeded in leaving the field. On Sept. 28, 1864, Col. Stevens' bri-
gade was relieved in the Bei'muda Hundred trenches by Pennsylvania
troops, and at 9 p. m. the entire brigade with the exception of Co. C, 13th
N. H., which garx-isoned a redoubt of our advanced works, moved in light
marching order with its Division commanded by Gen. Stannard to assault
Fort Harrison. The 10th N. H. and 118th N. Y. were deployed as skir-
mishers after we crossed the James on the morning of the 29th. Capt.
Goss of the 13th, commanding his corps of sharp-shooters, was also on
the skirmish line.

" The column advanced to within about 40 rods of the fort when Col.
Stevens was struck. Soon after this the column obliqued to the right,
and the enemy, supposing that we were about to attack their left flank, or
the open side of the fort, sent a body of their infantry out of the main
earth-work to protect that flank. They made another mistake. They
had a six-inch Rodman gun mounted a little to the left of the centre of
the fort, which had fired upon us repeatedly and with savage execution
while we were crossing the open field in the assault ; and just as the
last of our Division were safe under the cover of the little bluff, that
gun double-charged with grape was fired, accidentally or otherwise, and
the grape shot tore up the ground and shrieked over our heads with-
out hitting a man. This heavy and harmless discharge dismounted the
gun. A moment later the Division with a cheer rushed up the slight rise
in the ground. We struck the fort near the left hand corner — the sec-
ond angle — leaping down into the six-foot moat, and climbing the walls,
which were ten or twelve feet high. The fort with the garrison and guns
was soon in the hands of our assaulting party. About dark the 13th was


moved to the open rear of the fort, where we worked nearly all night
'throwing up entrenchments.

" There is good reason for my remembering the six-inch Rodman gun
above referred to. As we were advancing during the assault, a shot from
it had plunged into our column to my left, and I watched the rebel gunners
as they re-loaded it ; saw them step back, and the puff of smoke as the
lanyard was pulled. I was exactly in line, and in the centre of the flame
there seemed to be a little black ball coming directly toward me. I gave
a warning cry and sprang to the right — a thing that I could easily do,
being then in the line of file closers — and a moment later Reuben L.
Wood, a recruit in Co. G, who was directly in front of me when the gun
was fired, was struck squarely in the centre of the body, the shell passing
through him and flying on its way. Strange to say the shell did not
knock him over backwards, but cut a round hole in the back of his over-
coat (I remember but one other man who wore an overcoat that day) ;
and so true and clean was the circle cut, that apparently there was not a
fragment of the cloth half an inch in length left projecting into it. He
fell on his left side, terribly perforated.

"I entered the fort a few feet to the right of the second angle, passing
the Rodman gun on my left. At that time a squad of rebels at the first
angle were firing into the ditch where our men were for a moment before
climbing up the walls of the fort. After getting inside the fort the first
thing I did was to order two running rebels to halt and surrender, but
they seemed to have urgent business elsewhere, and I fired my first shot
at one of them. We got into the fort without firing a shot.

"On the 30th the 13th was moved about 1 p. m. to the extreme left —
and rear of the main fort, the right of the Reg. resting on the entrench-
ments — but these were of no use to us in the assaults that followed.
Line of battle was formed, guns stacked, and the men set at work build-
ing a defense of a few logs about six Inches in diameter upon which a little
earth was thrown, merely enough to keep them in place and forming a
shelter about one foot in height. Presently I heard an officer of the
picket line say to Major Stoodley commanding the Thirteenth : ' Your men
will have to stand firm ; the enemy are massing on your front, and will
charge in a few minutes.' In about twenty minutes from the time when
we stacked arms here, the enemy opened on us with artillery. Gen,
Field's Division of Gen. Longstreet's Corps, under the supervision of Gen.
Lee, soon charged upon us ; and came on four times in succession, but
were repulsed each time with a terrible loss. We exhausted the sixty
rounds of annnunition per man with which we commenced this day's
fighting, and the men were again supplied. The enemy could not recap-
ture the fort. We lost no prisoners.

" The little Confederate redoubt for two guns, on our right towards Fort
Gilmer, played a prominent part in this day's fight. From here also a
Confederate rifleman had fired several shots at us over the top of the re-
doubt. Sergt. Albert M. Smith, Daniel W. Osborn and myself rested our


guns upon the little log in front of us, and when he raised his head again
to fire, we fired simultaneously — and silenced his little battery. It was
from the angle, where this two-gun redoubt started from the main line,
that another rebel fired later and hit Sergt. Major Hodgdon in the eye.
Hodgdon's head when struck was within a foot of my feet. I presume it
was the same rebel who fired and hit my right side."

Edwix Wake, First Sergeant Co. G.

" Lieut. Edwin Ware was mustered as Third Corporal, and rose by
promotion to First Sergeant. He was wounded twice at Fredericksburg,
Dec. 13, 1862, once at Cold Harbor, June 1, 1864, and again here at
Fort Harrison. Unlike many who clung to hospital life, he would return
to his Regiment sooner than he ought, after his several wounds. He
was commissioned as Lieutenant by the Governor of New Hampshire,
but was not mustered as such owing to the early mustering out of the
Thirteenth. He was an intelligent, brave soldier, and universally liked
by the officers and men of our Regiment." Major Stoodley.

Capt. Betton states that he entered Fort Harrison during the assault
on Sept. 29th, near the bridge at the northeast corner of the main fort,
and then climbed up the great traverse ; the flag of the Thirteenth lay
there and he picked it up and thrust the staff into the sand. The enemy
at this time had not all retired from the south end of the fort. Soon after
going down from the traverse into the southern part of the fort, John
Riley of E stepped up behind Capt. Betton with the Thirteenth's flag in
his hand. Cajjt. Stoodley gave his attention to assembling the men of the
Thirteenth, while Capt. Betton, by mutual consent, formed a line of men
of the 139th N. Y. and others, it being necessary at this juncture to have
every fighting man in hand for immediate and continuous action.

As our troops entered the fort John H. Mawby of K with the assist-
ance of other men turned the captured guns, but having neither fuse nor
gun-caps touched the guns off with matches, and in this way fired a num-
ber of times at the retreating enemy.

After the fort was captured, Capt. Betton approached Gen. Stannard,
who was near the traverse, and requested the use of an ambulance to
convey the bodies of Capt. Forbush and Lieut. R. R. Thompson to City
Point. Gen. Stannard then ordered Capt. Betton to take an ambulance,
put in it these two bodies and the body of an aide to Gen. Stannard who
had been kiUed, and accompany them to City Point. Capt. Betton exe-
cuted Gen. Stannard's order, arriving safely at City Point ; again leaving
there he crossed to Bermuda Hundred, procured a horse, and though
stopped while on the way by Gen. Heckman was afterwards allowed to
proceed, and rode back to Foi"t Harrison, where he rejoined the Thir-
teenth in action during the second rebel charge. He had the long ride to
City Point and return, and had slept none for nearly forty-eight hours.

Oct. 1. Sat. Cold, a heavy rain falling. The Thirteenth has less
than 70 men present for duty this morning. Reg. at work in the rain all
the day upon the entrenchments, preparing for defense, all in battle order


with arms stacked at hand. The enemy is equally busy on an inner line ;
and the pickets of both armies are in constant collision all along the lines.
The enemy shells us briskly also from mortars, gunboats and batteries.
We are suddenly called to take arms at 2 p. m. ; the enemy threatening
but does not attack. Our skirmishers, advancing to-day, drive in those of
the enemy over a portion of the field covered in their assault of yesterday.
The rebel dead are not yet buried — 282 bodies now lie in sight in front
of our Brigade.

Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel succeeds Maj. Gen. Ord in command of
the 18th Army Corjjs.

Extract from a letter written to-day at the front : " Our Color Bearer
was shot yesterday (30th, Charles Powell), being the sixth one this sum-
mer. I have now given the colors to a recruit (John Riley of E) in whom
I have noticed great bravery. Our colors are but a few tattered shreds
any way, but we love it, and shall stick to it." Major Stoodley.

Oct. 2. Sun. Cloudy, cold. Reg. at work on the entrenchments,
every man pressing to his utmost strength preparing to resist attack.
We are assigned as a part of the garrison of the captured fort. We have
had scarcely any sleep for three days and three nights. Constant shell-
ing is going on between Fort Harrison and the rebel batteries. The
enemy must have worked in these last two nights with almost superhuman
energy, his earth-works loom up all along in vast banks of sand.

The cajjture of Fort Harrison plunged the people of Richmond in the
depths of despair ; the terribly costly attempt to re-capture it, on the next
day, anchored them in almost utter hopelessness.

" I have been without sleep so long I am almost used up ; to-day seems
the least like a Sunday of any day since I have been in the army."

Lieut. Taggard, Actg. Adjutant.

" When Sergt. Major Hodgdon was shot, I detailed Sergt. M. C. Shatr
tuck of B, to act as Sergeant Major. He had passed as best soldier in
our Division at the first inspection, and obtained his furlough."

Lt. Col. Smith.

Hospital. To-day in the Hospital at Annapolis, Lieut. Thompson re-
ceives a morning paper, in which it is stated that the Army of the James
has fought a furious two days' battle, winning at every point ; capturing
the enemy's Fort Harrison with a large number of guns and prisoners.
That the Thirteenth was in the thickest of the fight, and " covered itself
with great honor and glory ; holding its ground against all odds, though
its former Colonel, and Lt. Col. commanding (Major Smith acting Lt.
Colonel) were cut down with nearly half of its other officers and men."
He is congratulated upon the victory by thirty or more officers present,
and three rousing cheers are given for the " gallant Thirteenth New
Hampshire." So even a military Hospital has a bright moment now and
then ; but usually, as in this case, at a terrible cost.

Oct. 3. Mon. Rainy. Reg. filling in with breast-work, ditch and
abatis the open space near where we fought on Sept. 30th, and mak-


ing a regular fort looking towai'ds the enemy. The rebel gunboats send
about us many of their huge shells. We, the target's bull's-eye, watch for
their coming, dodge when they come too near, and quietly smile while we
wait another's coming. If any men dodge too much they are I'idiculed,
and told to get a new backbone, while the boys shout to them — as to
stand up : " Set up them pins ! " Our troops bury 260 bodies of the
rebel dead, and for want of time leave above ground, on our immediate
front, about 100 more, all killed in the battle on Sept. 30th.

Oct. 4. Tues. Showers. Reg. at work on the entrenchments.

Lient. Jonathan Dustin honorably discharged the service. An excep-
tionally brave, capable and efficient officer is thus lost to the Thirteenth.
"We shall see him no more, when called to do any difficult or dangerous
piece of work, settle firmly on his feet, straighten up, look his superior
officer straight in the eye, listen attentively, catch every syllable of the
order, merely answer " Yes, sir ; " then go and execute that order to the
very letter. As a carpenter might say, he was exactness trued-up.

Hospital. Lieut. Thompson of E, at Annapolis, " Honoi^ably discharged
the military service of the United States on account of disability because
of wounds received in action." So runs an unwelcome, and in being too
early, an unjust document received by him to-day. He cannot bear any
weight upon his wounded foot, cannot move about at all excepting upon
crutches, and then but a short distance, is hardly in a condition to travel,
and therefore must remain here a few days longer.

Oct. 5. "Wed. Fair, warm. Reg. at work on the entrenchments
and building bomb-proofs. The rebel gunboats about a mile distant have

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 57 of 81)