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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the transfer of Gen. Lee's troops from there toward his Petersburg lines ;
and if his left wing can be turned, to march into Richmond. Among the
men and the lower grades of officers this movement is regarded as of
greater import than any made for many months ; and many a man lies
down for a short rest to-night, in the strong belief that to-morrow will
bring the end of the war in Virginia. More has been said ' at the front '
about this ' general movement,' than of any other since Gen. Grant
crossed the James last June.

The 10th Corps, Gen. Terry, is to make a demonstration on the Charles
City and Darbytown roads ; while Gen. Weitzel's force of the 18th Corps
is to push through the White Oak Swamp at Hobson's crossing, move up
to the Williamsburg pike, and then attack. Consequently the 18th Corps
will pass in the rear of the 10th Corps, and along to the right of it, then
face to the left and advance.

BATTLE OF FAIR OAKS — NO. 2.

Oct. 27. Thurs. Clear and cool a. m. ; rainy p. m. This affair,
however disastrous, deserves a special title; and is accounted the 2012th
engagement of the war under the above name. At 4.30 a. m. the Thir-
teenth is assigned to the position of skirmishers leading our 1st Division.
The column moves from Cox's farm at 5 a. m., now about daylight, first
swinging around towards DeejD Bottom, then passing over New Market
Heights, then marching across the country by the most direct route, until
we reach the Charles City road near White's Tavern at 10 a. m. Here
a short halt is made, and then the column pushes forward across the coun-
try by obscure roads and paths until our Brigade, which leads the column,
comes out upon the Williamsburg pike near that part of the Fair Oaks



500 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1864

buttle-field where Gen. Silas Casey was attacked, and driven back, on May
30, 1862, just previous to the great battle of Seven Pines and Fair Oaks.
As we come out upon the right of the 10th Corps, its skirmisliers are busily
engaging the enemy. The order of march this morning was for the troojjs
to march three miles an hour, resting ten minutes in every hour, but this
order has been maintained for only one hour — the first. Tbe troops are
mucli wearied by the long, rapid march of some twelve or fifteen miles,
and are now unfit for battle. A severe rain storm sets in at noon, con-
tinuing all the rest of the day and neai-ly all night.

On reaching the Williamsburg pike, the Thirteenth is deployed as skir-
mishers across the pike, and moves along on both sides of it toward Rich-
mond. We first meet the enemy's skirmishers, in any force, on the pike
beyond the field known as Seven Pines, where we quickly drive them
back, and our Brigade is formed in line of battle across the pike at 1.15
p. m. The Division sharp-shooters, under Capt. Goss of the 13th, with
the 118th N. Y. and the 10th N. H. are tbrown forward between 1.30
and 2 p. m., all being armed with Spencer rifles. They advance to a posi-
tion within 100 yards of the rebel earth-works, and there lie down. The
Thirteenth is then placed on the right of our Brigade line, as flankers,
near and fronting the York River Railroad, north of the pike.

The enemy has hurried up troops, upon the run, from his lines confront-
ing Fort Harrison, and heavily re -en forced his lines within his entrench-
ments here, rendering them imj^regnable to any assault that can be made
by our force now present on the field. This is not distinctly known, how-
ever, and about 3 p. m. our two brigades move forward to the assault ;
the 13th being held in reserve as flankers in a grove of pines, under fire
but not engaged. While we are here the enemy runs a battery of three
guns down on the York River Railroad, and shells us severely. Many
trees are cut off, and one of them in falling wounds two men. This shell-
ing somewhat draws our attention from the assault, which can be seen only
in part, but is extremely noisy, showing that the enemy is present in
heavy force. The assault is made most gallantly, but our troops are re-
jiulsed, and retire with heavy loss.

The 10th N. H., in the 2d Brigade of our Division, loses eight officers
and seventy-four men. It reaches a point within a few yards of the
enemy's works, from which it can neither advance nor retreat, and the men
lie down and wait for night in wlilch to escape. A sortie from the enemy,
before night, captures the most of them. The 10th destroys its colors,
and so prevents their capture. The 2d Brigade enters upon the work
of the day with about 500 men, and at night is almost among the things
that were.

The expedition merely results in preventing re-enforcements from being
sent to Gen. Lee's right, south of Petersburg, and at night our troops are
all withdrawn. We advance to within less than four miles of Richmond ;
a mile nearer than Gen. McClellan went, and nearer than any of our in-
fantry have i)reviously gone.



1864 BATTLE OF FAIR OAKS. 501

Capt. E. "W. Goss commanding the sharp-shooters of our First Division
of the 18th Corps was killed while taking part hi the assault, and his body
fell into the hands of the enemy. His body was never recovered, nor
is its resting place known. As near as can be learned, however, Capt.
Goss was killed about twenty yards to the left of the Williamsburg road,
and about 100 yards in front — east — of the outer line of Confederate
works where they cross that road.

A volunteer, a Captain, was wanted last August (29th) by Gen. Dev-
ens, to command a corps of 200 sharp-shooters, picked men from the
different regiments in our First Division, and Capt. Goss volunteered for
the duty. An extremely dangerous position when advancing on the field.
The 1st Division, however, contained but few officers of such bold daring,
cool courage, sound sense and clear grit, all combined in one individual,
as Capt. Goss always evinced.

G. W. Johnson of I states that " he met a Confederate Capt. Catlett, and
he stated to Johnson that he was in command of the Confederate skir-
mishers at Fair Oaks, Oct. 27, 1861 ; that he saw the commander of the
Federal sharp-shooters — Capt. Goss — approach his (Confed.) line and
station his men — all the time under a severe fire — as coolly as if on
drill ; in fact he said he never saw any man act so bravely while under
fire as Capt. Goss did on this occasion, and he himself passed the word
along the Confederate skirmish line not to shoot this officer because he
was so gallant and brave. After posting his men Capt. Goss stepped be-
hind an apple-tree for protection, but in the contest that followed he was
killed. This Confederate Captain was one of the burial party, and took
for his own use Capt. Goss's gauntlet gloves."

Lieut. Murray on the staff of the 1st Brigade is captured and goes to
Libby Prison. He is held as a hostage for a time, for a rebel condemned
to be hung by our Government. He is confined in the same cell, and for
the same purpose, with Capt. George N. Bliss of the First Rhode Island
Cavalry. The cell, in which they were for the most of the time confined,
is in the basement, under the northeast corner of the building, and at the
corner of East Carey and Twentieth Streets. The same cell in which
Dick Turner, commandant of Libby, was afterwards locked up (after
the Union occupation of Richmond), and from which he escaped, and was
never afterwards captured.

Five men of the 13th are also taken prisoners by the enemy, and two
men wounded. Our troops are withdrawn from the front only with ex-
treme difficulty. It is impossible to send orders to the skirmishers on
the front, and those of the loth are necessarily left with the rest to their
own resources. As night comes on, they conclude that they must with-
draw or be captured, so they come off quietly, as many as are able to do
so, and rejoin the Reg. late at night.

The heavy rain renders the roads exceedingly muddy. The night march
on the retreat is one of the hardest we have ever had. Everything is
mixed together, the very darkness making order impossible. Utter con-



502 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1864

fusion reigns ; teams, artillery, ambulances and infantry all jumbled to-
gether, and all heavily loaded ; mud and water in many places knee-deep
in the roads, the niglit pitchy dark, the rain pouring in torrents, the enemy
reported close on our heels, commands are separated, teams are stuck in
the sloughs, wagons are tipj^ed over and smashed, the contents scattered
and run over, horses and mules ugly, drivers hurrying, noisy, swearing,
quarreling, mad, feet of the men blistered, many sitting by the roadside
used up ; and so the affair goes on for four or five miles, and about mid-
night the Thirteenth, keeping together as much as possible, but much
broken up and drenched through and through, bivouacs in the rain and
mud, near the Charles City road, and waits for daylight.

Our men are completely jaded out by the march, the fight, the exposure
to the enemy's fire, the excitement, the retreat in the nmd, rain and dark-
ness ; and also much depressed by the sense of the utterly blasted hojje of
gaining Richmond, and lie down with very gloomy forebodings for the
morrow. The men, probably, have counted upon more success to-day,
than those in charge of the movement. The name of this ugly affair
should be placed on the colors of the Thirteenth, however, for they did all
that was required of them, and were in no way responsible for the result.
A short account of the affair states that while the 10th Corps engages
the enemy, the 18th Corps passes along to the Williamsburg road. The
rebel skimnishers make a determined stand near Fair Oaks, and the 118th
N. Y. drive them back to the entrenchments. The First Division ad-
vances to within about 1,000 yards. Now occurs a delay of one and a
half hours. After which time the Second Brigade — about 500 men —
Col. Cullen commanding, charges through a severe fire, to a point from
which it can neither advance nor retreat. The 10th N. H. hi this charge
loses 74 men out of 100, and 8 officers out of 10.

" On the afternoon of Oct. 26th, we were withdrawn from the works,
and encamped near Mr. Henry Cox's house. There was a sharp frost
that night, so that when the troops were moving next day — 27th — the
ground, as it thawed, was very slippery for marching. We moved
over New Market Heights by a cross-road to White's Tavern on the
Charles City road, thence past Allen's and Hobson's. At Hobson's we
turned to the left and followed the road to Seven Pines. The Thirteenth
had the lead, with Capt. Goss's sharp-shooters and the General's staff,
only, ahead of us. Spear's 11th Penn. Cavalry had preceded the column,
and were out of sight. The cavalry were drawn up in a grove of pines
to our right near the W^illiamsburg road, when we arrived there.

" Capt. Goss moved forward in skirmish line on the left of the Williams-
burg road, and the Thirteenth moved by the flank up the road. Gen.
Gihnan INIarston was conmianding the Division. The last time I saw
Capt. Goss he was in the open field not far from INIr. Kuhn's house.
About this time a charge on the right of the road, made by two compa-
nies of the 11th Penn. Cavalry, took our attention and I saw or heard no
more of Capt. Goss. I think a Richmond paper had his name and Lieut.



18C4 BATTLE OF FAIR OAKS. 503

Murray's in the list of captured prisoners ; and we knew nothing definite
about him until the return from Anderson ville of some of our sharp-shoot-
ers who were captured here. Sharp-shooter Bannister of Co. H was
never accounted for, except as missing.

" We marched by the flank toward Richmond, and deployed in line of
battle on the right of the Williamsburg road in the woods, where our
Brigade remained during the day. The Thirteenth were deployed as
flankers, in the edge of the woods, and facing the York River Railroad.
The charge on the Confederate works by the other troops was made on
the left hand side of the Williamsburg road. The enemy was within
his works, and not in his front line of rifle-pits. His large fort, a little
south of the York River Railroad (S. on accompanying map), was en-
gaging our field batteries in the Wilhamsburg road, the shells flying both
ways directly over the Thirteenth, cutting the trees in all directions, and
some of our men were injured by the splinters. This action should be
called ' Williamsburg Road,' and not Fair Oaks, as only colored troops
went there. About 3 p. m. it grew very foggy and dark, and although
the rebel battery had been in sight it was soon obscured ; and it com-
menced raining hard, the rain continuing nearly all night.

" About 8 Tp. m., after posting a picket, we were withdrawn, leaving the
picket. The cavalry joined us on the right and followed us out, and we
retraced the road to near White's Tavern, where we remained during the
rest of the night. I never expected to see the men of that picket again,
and would have withdrawn them even without orders if I could have
taken them without disturbing the pickets of other regiments. It was
said that the officer of the day would relieve them but he never came ;
and they withdrew on their own responsibility about 3 a. m. on the 28th.

" So far as I know, we did not handle spade or pick. If any earth-
works were occupied by us, we did not make them, and our Brigade had
none I know. It was some time after dark when we withdrew from
the Williamsburg road, and we halted for the night, on the Charles
City road, at some distance toward the city from White's Tavern. The
next morning we were moved into the woods, as this road is almost a
straight line to Fort Lee, marked Z on the accompanying map, and we
were exposed to a raking fire as we lay in the road. I thought at the
time that Gen. Marston expected to entrench at that point.

" The 10th Corps, which had demonstrated here while we were on the
Williamsburg road, had their skirmish line between us and the rebels at
this time, and were not withdrawn until after we had finally retired to
Fort Harrison. There was a garden at the house — W. Jordan's near
X on the map — just in front of the cross-road, on the Charles City road,
and Quarter-master M. L. Morrison and myself followed up the picket
line to this garden, and there filled our haversacks with cabbage, toma-
toes, etc. We did not consider ourselves much demoralized that day by
the rebel fire ; and as we had had no fresh vegetables for a long time, you
can imagine what a good dinner we had the next day.



504 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1864

" The east line of my farm is between one and two miles toward the
city, up the Charles City road, from Fort Lee ; and near this fort is the
first station east of Richmond on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, also
called Fort Lee." Lt. Col. Smith.

While we lay in the woods during the shelling by the rebel batteiy on
the railroad, there occurred one of the most singular casualties and escapes
known in the war. As a man in our Brigade was lying down upon his
face, a large, white, splintered chunk of a tree set flying by a bursting
shell, swept along his back from shoulders to feet, like a flash of light-
ning, carrying everything before it, leaving the man minus the back-side
half of nearly all of his clothing. The shock dazed him, but caused him no
serious injury beyond a small abrasion. He instantly whirled over upon
his back, the rough ground did not feel agreeable, and he turned back as
quickly upon his face again ; then raised his head and gave himself one
glance, swore a fearful oath, seized his gun, sprang to his feet and rushed,
a literal tatterdemalion, to brush at the rear. The last seen of him, he
was retreating in the distance, in quick route-step, wrapped in a blanket
a la Indian. Fair Oaks proved foul oaks to him.

Gen. Humphreys states that Gen, Weitzel, commanding the 18th
Corps, having passed through the White Oak Swamp at Hobson's cross-
ing, arrived at the W^illiamsburg road at 1 p. m., near the Seven Pines
battle-field, and came in front of the rebel works after advancing on that
road a mile and a half. He assaulted with two brigades, CuUen's and
Fairchild's. Col. CuUen's 2d Brigade of the 1st Division was formed on
the right of the road, supported by the 1st Brigade (ours) and 3d Brigade
of that Division, the Division commanded by Gen. Marston. On the
left of the road, in line of battle, was Fairchild's Brigade of the 2d Divi-
sion, the Division commanded by Gen. Heckman. This force, preceded
by skirmishers, advanced over the open ground at 3.30 jj. m. They got

DESCRIPTION OF MAP.

A. Charles City Road. C. Allen. D. Hobson.

B. B. Road followed from New Market Heights to Seven Pines.
E. Old Union earth-works. F. Seven Pines battle-field.
G. Hilliard. H. Kuhn. I. French. K. King.
L. Williamsburg Road. M. York River Railroad.

N. Fair Oaks station. R. Roads leading southward.

P. Pine timber, where the Thirteenth was placed as flankers fronting

the York River Railroad.
S. Here was a large fort not shown on the official map.
T. Eacho's Hospital. V. W. Open ground.

Y. White's Tavern on the Charles City road.
Z. Fort Lee on Charles City road ; about two miles eastward of Lt.

Col. Normand Smith's farm (1887), which is on the same road.
X. W. Jordan's garden near here visited by Smith and Morrison.
U. U. U. Confederate main lines, trenches and rifle-pits.




FAIR OAKS, October 27, 1864.
Tracing of Official Map. Scale, one and one half inches to one mile.



\



1864



BATTLE OF FAIR OAKS. 507



close to tlio enemy's works, but were repulsed with a considerable loss,
each of the two assaulting brigades losing three colors.

Shortly after dark, Gen. Weitzel began to withdraw to the Charles
City road, the rain, darkness, mud and narrow road making the retreat
very fatiguing for the troojjs, who were marching all night. The losses
in the whole movement, by the 10th and 18th Corps in killed, wounded
and missing, were about 1,100 men. The enemy met here, who had
just arrived from Gen. Ewell's lines north of the James, were Gen. Field's
Division, assisted by, or co-operating with. Gen. Gary's Cavalry Brigade.
The enemy's losses were very small, his defense having been made behind
the best of entrenchments, the heavy system of Richmond defenses.

Oct. 28. Fri. " Nice day. Rained last night and did not hold up
till morning." In coming down from the front last night, the men were
much scattered, a result largely due to the almost impenetrable darkness
(there was no rout, we were not pursued) and were arriving at the place
of bivouac singly or in small squads all night long. The rain of yester-
day and last night has made the roads exceedingly muddy — the glory
of this expedition is reduced to mud and water. The Reg. leaves its
bivouac on the Charles City road about 9 a. m. When the Reg. arrives
at camp a little after dark, we find our old quarters occupied by other
troops, and take a new camping ground about a quarter of a mile farther
to the right, outside of Fort Harrison, and behind the rifle-trenches.

One soldier writes : " We fugled about in the woods all the forenoon
on the Charles City road, in view of a rebel fort. Slashed several trees
across the road, then retreated. Reached our old quarters about dark,
footsore and thoroughly played out."

From the Medical Department of the Thirteenth (condensed) : " We
were called about 4 a. m. Oct. 26th, marched back about one mile and
camped in a large field where the entire 18th Corps gathered during the
day. At 4.30 a. m. on the 27th we started towards the right, passing the
10th Corps in their rear. We halted on the Fair Oaks battle-field, hav-
ing gone around the rebels' left flank, leaving many of their works behind
us. The 10th Corps was now heavily engaged to our rear and left.
Capt. Goss here advanced with his sharp-shooters. Our cavalry charged
at a full gallop driving back the rebel pickets — a grand sight. The lOtli
N. H., armed with Spencer rifles, and under command of Capt. Timothy
B. Crowley of Nashua, moved in on our left. This was about 3 p. m.,
then raining. Our Brigade deployed in the woods to the right, and ad-
vanced in line of battle. The musketry firing was already severe, and
now the enemy opened upon us with artillery. We laid flat on the
gi'ound. The 2d Brigade charged with loud cheers. The firing was
awful, a roar. Our men went close up under the rebel guns, but could
not penetrate the strong abatis. Then we heard the rebel yell, as the
enemy charged down upon the 2d Brigade, gobbling the greater part of it.
Capt. Crowley was wounded in the leg, and taken prisoner, but while the
rebels went after a stretcher for him, he crawled off and hid. Capt. Goss



608 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1864

and all but ten of his sharp-shooters were taken jjrisoners or killed. We
then advanced a few rods and laid down again. The rebels ran a battery
down the railroad and shelled us. Here Otis R. Marsh of I was wounded
in the head with a piece of shell. It was now dark.

" About 7 p. m. we started to retreat. It was very dark, and raining
hard, and the road was soon like pudding. Everybody was wet, tired
and cross ; the rebels were all around us ; the mud almost pulling off
boots and shoes at every step ; every vehicle, every arm, inextricably
mixed together in the road — and how everybody did swear ! It beats
all description. The men dropped out all along the way. We halted in
the woods about midnight, and had four hours to rest. We went on at
4.20 a. m., a little rain still falling. At daylight we were again in the
Charles City road, and then we moved up that road toward Richmond
a mile or two, when a rebel fort ^ loomed up in the road about half a
mile ahead. We moved into the woods (to avoid its fire) and remained
there all the forenoon, while details of men felled trees across the road.
W^e finally reached Fort Harrison about dark. Took the position on the
right of the fort, formerly occupied by the 2d Brigade, turned in, and were
soon asleep." Prescott.

Oct. 29. Sat. Clear. Reg. moves its camp still farther toward the
right from Fort Harrison. The negro trooijs occupy a portion of the line
as garrison of the fort ; they having furnished a part of the garrison,
while our Division was absent on the expedition toward Richmond. The
10th N. H. is this morning commanded by a 2d Lieutenant.

In the 10th N. H , or some other regiment that formed a part of the
Fair Oaks expedition, and was much cut up, one of the Companies had an
Irishman for its First Sergeant. At the first Dress-parade this First Ser-
geant came to the front to report the condition of his lost Company.
"When his turn came to report he hesitated, and scarcely knew what to
say. The Adjutant hurried him, when he blurted out in full brogue :
" Company G all right, bedad — I 'm the only one left ! "

Oct. 30. Sun. Clear, cool. Thirteenth on picket all day. " On
the eve of a move like the recent one, botli officers and men will laugh,
joke and appear gay, merry and glad of an opportunity to meet the
enemy ; but when they take a friend to one side, whose duties do not re-
quire him to go into a battle, and pass over to him their watch, money,
etc., and say a word to him for the friends at home — the fun of the
thing fades out." Charles ^Y. Washburn, Band.

Oct. 31. Mon, Clear, warm. Thirteenth mustered for pay by
Major Normand Smith. In the afternoon we move our carap farther to
the right.

Nov. 1. Tues. Clear, cool. Thirteenth in camp, fitting up new
quarters.

Nov. 2. "Wed. Cold, a little hall turning to rain. Thirteenth in

1 Lt. Col. Smith writes that this was Fort Lee, the first fort on the C. & 0. Rail-
road below his fami (1887).— S. M. T.



1864 BEFORE RICHMOND. 509

camp. Commissions received to-day, all dated Oct. 28, 1864 ; Major
Smith promoted to Lt. Col. ; Capt. Stoodley to Major ; Lieut. Curtis to
Captain. Second Lieutenants Taggard and Sherman to First Lieutenants.
Hosp. Steward Royal B. Prescott to First Lieutenant. All these officers
are mustered for the unexpired term of the Thirteenth's original three
years' enlistment.

With the exception of a short absence on account of sickness, and while
detailed for a few weeks at the 18th Corps Hospital, Hospital Steward
Prescott had served as such with the Thirteenth, during its entire term
of service, without so much as a furlough to visit home. In the absence
of Asst. Surgeon Morrill, Prescott was the only medical officer with the
Thirteenth, in care of the Hospital, the sick and the wounded, for a num-
ber of weeks including the two battles at Fort Harrison. His term 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 59 of 81)