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 6 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 6 of 81)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Fdsbg., at a distance of half a mile and less, 35 batteries, 179 guns, rang-
ing from 10 lb. Parrotts to 4^ inch siege-guns, opened at once upon the
city, about ten o'clock a. m. ; continuing their fire for more than an hour,
pouring from fifty to one hundred shots per minute directly down into the
city, and throwing from 7,000 to 9,000 shells in all, tearing, ripping, cut-
ting, through the buildings of the town. " Houses fell, timbers crashed,
dust rose, flames ascended." It was an hour of tremendous thunder, clang,
and racket ; guns, screams, howls, shells, crashes, echoes, throbs, blows,
roars, thunders, flashes, fire, all commingled — but the plucky Mississip-
pians would not budge an inch. Few soldiers ever before kept up such
a fire as they did amid such awful surroundings ; but out of the din and
danger, and the incessant crash and roar, among the buildings about them,
there steadily came the little puffs of smoke from their rifles, and their
unerring buUets against our men at work near the pontons, on our side
of the river.

If Fredericksburg ever raises a monument to anything, it should be a
fine one to the memory of these men of Gen. Barksdale's Mississippi
Brigade. The terrific bombardment did not dislodge them, and they de-
layed the pontonniers until 4 p. m., when the 7th Mich., 19th and 20th
Mass., of Hall's Brigade, and 89th N. Y., volunteered to cross in boats ;
which they did, the 7th Michigan leading, and seized the city at 4.30 p. m.,
clearing it of the Confederate troops ; where cannon, shells and rifles were
scarcely ])ersuasion. Northern bayonets proved an unanswerable argument.
Strange that so many of these men near the river survive the bombard-
ment, while their less fortunate fellows farther back in the city lie head-
less, armless, legless at every few steps. The city looks as if a huge shell
had burst on almost every square rod in all Fredericksburg.


Dec. 12. Fri. Foggy morning. Very pleasant day. Companies B
and E are relieved on picket by Companies C, Capt. Bradley, and G,
Lieut. Forbush ; Lieut. Wilson going upon the front line, Lieut. Forbush
commanding the reserve. The 13th is called at early daylight, and re-
mains on Caroline st. all day and night. The city streets are the front
lines of the army ; the rear line is along the river bank. There are two
lines (at least) of stacks of arms, ranged as far as we can see, all up and
down this and other parallel streets. The city is full of troops, chiefly
in bivouac on the sidewalks.

Before the occupation of the city by our troops, an immense quantity
of tobacco, in small oak boxes, had been sunk in the river, and our men
now fish it out and supply themselves without stint. The city is badly
shattered. One double, wooden house, near by the Thirteenth, has over
forty holes straight through it, made by shot and shell. A brick house
near by was struck in ninety places on the front. The citizens in depart-
ing took little with them besides clothing, food and valuables. The sol-
diers forage everywhere. Not an indiscriminate pillage, but a very free
helping of themselves. Stores are cleared out, but there is not much dis-
position either to destroy or remove anything from houses ; aside from a
rummaging, scattering and mixing up of things, many a family, on return-
ing to their homes, must find them about the same as when they left.

There is many a concert around a piano or organ. The writer is in
one fine parlor where the large piano has just been played by a soldier.
The player has scarcely arisen from his seat and stepjjed aside for a mo-
ment, when a solid cannon-ball from the enemy crashes through the
chimney near the fireplace, knocking the bricks and mortar about the
room ; and then taking the piano keyboard diagonally, flings the ivory
keys in a shower all about the room, and draws from the piano the most
infernal yelp that ever beset human ears — here above. We are covered
with dust, bits of plaster and brick, and make a prompt exit down into
the street, no one hurt.

The enemy sends no shells into the city, fearing to set it on fire, but a
great many solid shot, and chunks of railroad rails from one to two feet
in length. The latter rip and tear terrible gaps and holes through the
buildings, while the solid shot do but little damage. One solid shot strikes
a large stack of muskets, six or eight of them, fairly near their point of
union, and sends them ' kiting ' and walloping about, end over end, and
every way. It is worth going a long journey to see a deserted city occu-
pied by an army. No civilian to be seen, no woman, no child ; no person
looking from a window ; houses, buildings and stores wide open ; no
citizen going in, none coming out; stables and barns without an occu-
pant, even the dog-kennels and hen-houses are abandoned. Soldiers by
the thousand everywhere ; long lines of stacks of muskets ranged up and
down the streets ; infantry, cavalry, artillery, wagons, ambulances, pass-
ing continually.

The streets are not paved, and there is little noise save now and then


when a solid shot or a chunk of raUroad rail escapes from the peri3etual
growl, noise and smoke within the enemy's lines on the hill, rips through
a dozen buildings and drops upon the street or sidewalk. The balls whirl
around with great rapidity, like a top, when they first stop from their
flight, and if they have crashed through a few buildings, they are often
hot enough to set dry wood on fire. We examine them as new curiosi-
ties ; some are buried by the men, to be recovered after the war is over.

A few men entered an apothecary store. Whiskey was left in several
bottles in a very tempting way. Caution suggested a taste before a
draught ; it is all bitter with poison, or heavily drugged. Crash follows
crash. A bayonet run along a shelf tosses off a whole row of medicamen-
tum bottles ; the fragrance of rich perfumery fills the air, mingled with
smells beyond mention. The floor is flooded. Downstairs and upstairs
go the men ; and in ten minutes not a breakable thing or vessel in the
whole store remains unbroken. The poison in that whiskey cost a thou-
sand dollars an ounce, and was too cheap at that. The story is given as
it was heard at the time.

Early this morning there appears on the street a little white girl, three
to five years old, alone, and apparently not in the least disturbed by the
noise, the smoke, the thousands of soldiers, the rumbling cannon and
wagons, and the utterly changed condition of the streets where she had
been accustomed to walk and play. She runs along the sidewalk, tripping
over the men's blankets and knapsacks lying there, carefully avoids the
little fires in the gutter, and looks up at every doorway as if hunting for
some particular house. A thousand soldiers see her and are interested.
She speaks to none. Soon one stops her. She merely says : " I want to
find mamma," and passes on. That is her only answer to every inquiry.


A. National Cemetery. B. South wall of same.

C. Superintendent's lodge near where Marye's house stood.

D. New street, made since the battle, from town to Cemetery gate.

E. Telegraph road with stone bank-wall ; the stone of the wall is now

removed, and built into the Superintendent's lodge. The rebel
batteries were on Marye's Hill just west of this road.

F. Steep side of bluff up which the Thirteenth charged into field on

the top. G. Ditch running down to unfinished railroad.

H. Continuation of blufi'-side with lone oak tree and spring : * o.
I. Bank and ditches of unfinished railroad.

K. Richmond & Fredricksburg Railroad crossing Hazel Run, L.
M. Low, level field or meadow.

N. Thirteenth and Brigade formed for the assault. The arrow show-
ing nearly the direction of the assault.
P. Brick house, as near as can be located on the plat.
The distances are given in yards.

From a sketch, made by the writer in May 1885.


After a while an officer cares for the motherless child, and sends her to
a place of safety. A more touching little scene rarely occurs.

The remains of the city's destruction are piled and strewn on every
hand. Whole fronts of buildings have been torn out and smashed into
splinters. Furniture of all sorts is strewn along the streets. Houses are
ripped, battered and torn, windows smashed and chimneys thrown down.
Every namable household utensil or article of furniture, stoves, crockery
and glass-ware, pots, kettles and tins, are scattered, and smashed and
thrown everywhere, indoors and out, as if there had fallen a shower of
them in the midst of a mighty whirlwind.

To-night Hawkins' Zouaves go on picket to the front. Troops have
been pouring into the city for the last twenty-four hours, and to-night we
hear the ceaseless tramp, tramp, tramp, through the streets, of the regi-
ments of Sumner's Grand Division, the roll of wagon wheels, the rumble
of artillery and the tread of hundreds of horses.

The most of the men of the Thirteenth to-night occupy the houses near
their position in the street. The increasing tramping through the streets
all night long renders the sidewalks unfit for bivouac, preventing sleep,
and wearying the men too much for the hard service before them.

Dec. 13. Sat. Pleasant, but cool. Last night very cold, this morn-
ing foggy and dense, clearing bright about mid-forenoon. To-night it is
again cold. The 13th furnished details for picket on the night of Dec.
11, as we have said, when we first came into the city, and also for the
night of Dec. 12. Since then the Reg. has remained in the city, chiefly
along Caroline st., until this moriiing, and furnished only small detach-
ments for outside work. Early this morning the 13th, with the Bingade,
moves from Caroline st. to the river bank near the Gas Works, and just
below the ponton bridge which we crossed on the night of Dec. 11.
We reach our position on the river bank at eight o'clock.

To plat the scene, draw a north and south line along the city shore of
the river and stand upon it, a rod or two south of the Gas Works, and face
east. The river runs past you from left to right, that is southward. A part
of the 13th are lying about you on the grass at the south side of the Gas
Works, the colors of the Reg. are leaning against the south wall of the
building near the eastern end, the end towards the river, the color bearers
and guard are sitting near by, and perhaps a hundred men are near them.
The rest of the 13th are near about, preserving no particular order, some
on the grassy bank, some at the river's edge, some sitting on timber, or
standing on boards thrown down on the mud of the street and wharf ;
all making themselves as comfortable as the dirt and mud, the extremely
offensive Gas Works, and the clouds of gunpowder smoke will permit.

The rest of the Brigade are near by, and very similarly disposed. The
river bank shelves down to a muddy street and wharf all along. Here
we remain all day, doing nothing except to watch the constant fii-ing, or
to listen to the roar of battle behind us, west, along the front of Marye's
Hill, a mile away. (Pronounced Ma-ree.) One mile to your right,


south, is Gen. Franklin's ponton bridge, out of sight behind a high bank.
One eighth of a mile to your right Hazel Run falls into the river. Di-
rectly in front of you, east, and rising high above, across the river, here
300 yards wide, is a long bluff with one hundred or more Union cannon
mounted on it, and all in full play. Their shells go over you, and over
the city behind you, to Marye's Hill ; Marye's Hill replies ; and many a
shell from both sides bursts in sight ; the pieces splash in the river, beat
upon the banks, fly among the cannoneers on the bluff, or fall at your
own side, and bury themselves in the hard earth. Occasionally a man
near you, in the Brigade or Division, is struck, killed or wounded, and
a stretcher bears him away. The position is a nervous and a trying

Three hundred yards to your left, north, is the central ponton bridge,
over which we crossed into the city. The road to this bridge winds
down the high, steep Falmouth bank of the river, through the Washington
Farm ; it is the first road you see on your left. Many soldiers come
across the river upon the bridge and go up into the city, through a lane,
one hundred feet farther to your left, north of the ponton landing on this
side. This lane leads from the old steamboat (now ferry) landing, up
into the city. It is provided with a high stone wall on each side, a stone
pavement, and is about 150 feet in length. Six hundred yards, or so, to
your left, north, is the bridge of the R. & F. R. R. A full mile to your
left, north, across the river is the Lacy House ; and a mile east of there
is the Phillips House.

Here, by the nasty Gas Works, we remain under arms all day. Our po-


A. Marye's House with rebel batteries to the south of it.

B. Orange Turnpike. C. Plank road.

D. Telegraph road with stone bank-walls.

E. New street opened since the battle, and leading to Cemetery gate.

F. Bank and ditch of unfinished railroad.

G. Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad.

H. Hazel Run. L. Oak tree with Spring near it.

I. Gen. Getty's Division formed for the assault.
K. K. Point near angle in Telegraph road, near which were the rebel
batteries A., aimed at by Gen. Getty's men in the assault, and
the little field, on the bluff, reached by the Thirteenth.

M. Brick house — as near as can be located.

N. Vicinity of Lee's HiU.

Gen. Getty told the writer that Gen. Hooker's corps was on the right of
the Ninth Corps — in which the 13th — and that the place where Gen.
Hooker exposed himself during the day was at the cut on the R. & F.
Railroad, just to the right of the place where Gen. Getty's Division
formed for the assault. This railroad cut was enfiladed by the rebel
batteries on Lee's Hill.

MARYE'S HEIGHTS, December 13, 1862.
From an old print seen by the writer in Fredericksburg in May 1886.


sition on the grassy bank, or on the ojien ground exposes us to the flying
pieces of many of the enemy's shells intended for the cannoneers of our
batteries on the Falmouth (or Staiford) bluffs, across the river, but bursting
short of their mark ; while many shells from our own guns, on those
very bluffs, bursting as soon as they leave the guns, pour their jagged pieces
down into the river, and upon the hither bank among our men. The
water in the river is in a constant state of disturbance made by them.
We are about one mile from the enemy's batteries, and within four or
six hundred yards, and directly under the muzzles, of our own guns, and
are thus exposed to the incessant fire of both. All day long the shells,
hundreds of them, pass to and fro over our heads. Many men in our
Brigade are wounded here by pieces of shells, and their lead rings.

Peter Smithwick, six feet seven inches in height, the tallest man in the
Thirteenth, is severely hurt, while here, by a piece of shell striking his
left arm near the shoulder. Many a man with such an ugly bruise,
would go to the rear, but he is made of better stuff. He coolly pockets
the piece of shell, a rough chunk of iron about the size of a hen's egg,
and goes through the battle, though his left arm is practically useless, and
is supported much of the time by his cross-belt. Two men are killed
and seven wounded here, in our Brigade, by the bursting of one shell, and
the men are ordered not to remain massed in dense bodies, but to spread
apart and find cover.

From a little hill a few rods from the 13th, westward, we can see the
rebel batteries, and lines of battle, and the contest of the day going on in
front of Marye's Heights, now wreathed, puffed, lined and festooned with
battle smoke, and wide to right and left a similar scene is in view. This
hill is near Mr. Slaughter's house, and has a steep bank and cut on one side,
which is altogether beyond the range of the enemy's rifles, being nearly
a mile distant from them, and, excepting for an occasional shell rushing
wide of its proper range, is as safe as any dooryard on a New England
farm, incomparably safer than the river bank, and a man might stand
here for forty hours unharmed ; so we can gaze at ease for the few min-
utes which Ave can spend away from the Regiment. Some of those pres-
ent say that tliey can count sixteen different points from which the enemy's
artillery fire proceeds, each point supplied with four or more guns.

For a part of the day the men of the 13th are obliged to stand in deep
mud, in an exceedingly dirty and wet street, and boards are wrenched off
the buildings near by to stand upon. At times from early morning till
night, we can distinctly hear the din of the battle on the hills west of the
city, while our own guns, firing over our heads, keep up a deafening roar,
— the sounds sweeping in fitfully, and in gusts, from all sides. As the
sounds of louder thunder come in from all around the sky during a vio-
lent storm, so amid the general rattle and growl come the sudden out-
bursts of musketry and artilleiy, as charge after charge is made by the
Union forces upon the enemy's lines along Marye's Heights, and else-
where, while mingling with the other noises, and topping them all, comes


the regular boom and echo of one huge Confederate gun, which we hear
but cannot locate. The roar of the furious battle commences about 9
a. m., and continues all the day, until dusk.

So the terrible day wears away, a regiment of men wiped out, a thou-
sand men falling almost every hour, until a little after four p. m., when
the rumor runs tlu'ough our column here like wildfire, that Gen. Getty, with
only the two brigades of his Division, is to make a night assault on
Marye's Heights ; the most formidable position in the enemy's line, a
death-dealing semicircle ; and on that murderous stone bank-wall, upon
which all the assaults of the day have made no impression whatever ;
and just with the coming to us of that grim rumor, there falls a pause
in the rebel tiring.

We can scarcely give the rumor any credence whatever, and the move-
ment is roundly condemned on all hands as sheer folly ; but there soon
rings in our ears the sharp order: "Attention! " The men fall into line
along their stacks of muskets, in a stern, dead silence ; and soon again
follows an order : '' Take Arms. Right face — March ! "

The sun is now apparently less than half an hour high, and Lieut.
Gafney, pointing to its reddish disc just on the edge of the horizon, and
seen through the haze and battle smoke, remarks : " I wish I could get
up there and kicjv that thing down I " And the Thirteenth has no
braver officer than Lieut. Gafney.


A. Rappahannock River. B. Maj. Lacey's house.

C. Orange Turnpike, passing the Phillips House.

D. Claiborne Run. F. Ponton Bridge, central.

E. Position near cut on the R. & F. R. R., where Gen. Getty's Di-

vision formed for the assax;lt.

G. City Gas Works, around which the Thirteenth remained all the day
Dec. 13, on the river bank. H. Hazel Run.

I. Caroline street (or Main st.), the second street from the river.

K. Princess Anne street ; leading to near Mr. Slaughter's house and
field, L. M. Marye's house.

N. Unfinished railroad crossed in the assault ; then mere bank and
muddy ditches. O. Union batteries on Stafford Heights.

P. Little hill, or bluff, up which the Thirteenth charged. The same
bluff-side continues down towards the city along near the unfin-
ished railroad. V. Canal. W. Bowling Green road.

Y. Point aimed at in the charge, as stated by Gen. Getty.

Z. Brick house, about 250 yards east of Marye's, and 150 to 200 yards
east of the stone wall on Telegraph road. This brick house was
seized by Gen. French's Division about noon, Dec. 13.

R. Telegraph road, with the stone bank-walls, and west of it the rebel
batteries and troops on Marye's Heights, the rebel position.

S. Rebel batteries towards Lee's Hill. T. National Cemetery.


Tracing of Official Map. Scale, three inches to one mile.


The Thirteenth quickly takes its place in the column ; but we must say
that no one whom we know hankers after a twilight excursion to Marye's
Heights on this particular evening. We stand at a terrible disadvantage.
They have belched a world of fire, and shot, and shells, and buUets, al-
most continuously for these last two days ; and, within an hour, long
columns of the enemy's infantry have been seen by us running over the
slopes, and down into position in his front lines under the hill. However,
we are new troops, have been anxious for the last fifteen or twenty years,
on an average, to ' hear drums and see a battle,' and now our curiosity
is to be altogether satisfied. We move off quickly by the right flank, by
fours, along the street, landing and wharf, and tln-ough an abundance of
mud and water. The colors are between the left of Company E and the
right of Company C ; E being the Color-company.

Hospital Steward Prescott writes that the order, " Forward,'' was
passed to our First Brigade at half-past four o'clock. The prevailing
idea and feeling in Gen. Getty's Division is that our assault will be fruit-
less ; but it must be done, and soon the determination rises to do our
utmost to win, we desire to strike an effective blow, and we move toward
the front growing more and more confident and strong, from the hope we
have, that possibly we may now do what our troops have failed to do in
all of this day's fighting : break Lee's line at Marye's Hill, which would
be a most glorious accomplishment of some of the work for which we

To plat the place of our waiting all this long day, you stood on the
river bank just South of the Gas Works, and faced due east. Now face
about, due west, and follow the north bank of Hazel Run five sixths of a
mile, straight west, over ditch, ridge and level, and you will strike the
stone bank-wall on the Telegraph road, below Marye's Hill, near the
southeast corner of the present National Cemetery grounds. That south-
east corner is the point aimed at in this famous night assault of Gen.
Getty's Division. (Gen. Getty so informed the writer. May 1885.)
Around this corner of the Cemetery, the Telegraph road, now as then,
bends sharply from its southward course, and runs almost due west. The
corner is sharp, bluffy, steep, rough and abru])t, and was in a still more
forbidding condition, in 1862, before the National improvements were
made and the Cemetery was walled in. In coming up to this southeast
corner of Marye's Hill, from the Gas Works, you cross, first, the Bowl-
ing Green road, and afterwards many a ravine, ridge and brook. Sec-
ond, you cross the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, where it has
high banks ; right here Gen. Getty's Division formed for the assault.
To your left, south, is the Hazel Run bridge. To your right, north, is a
deep cut on the railroad ; near which cut Gen. Hooker so long and so
gallantly bore himself, mounted on a large white horse, during this
battle that the Confederate commander, though not knowing who he was,
ordered his men not to fire upon him, but to capture him alive if they


In May 1885 the writer met accidentally, on a James River steamer,
Judge R. L. Henley of Williamsburg, Va., and while in conversation with
him, he remarked that during tlie battle a P'ederal officer frequently ap-
peared in this railroad cut, which was enfiladed by the batteries on Lee's
Hill, greatly exposing himself, and acted so bravely that the Confederate
commander gave an order to his riflemen not to shoot him, but to capture
him if they could. Tlie Confederates could not make out who this Union
officer was, and the Judge inquired of the writer if he knew. The writer
did not then know, but told Judge Henley that he was intending to call
on Gen. Getty in Washington and would inquire of him concerning the
matter. Gen. Getty, when the writer called on him, at his farm a few
miles out of Washington, and made the inquii-y, answered at once that
Gen. Hooker, mounted on a white horse, was riding in and out of that cut
on the railroad half the day during the battle of Dec. 13, and that he,
Getty, remonstrated with him for exposing himself so much, but Gen.
Hooker seemed to care little for the danger or for the remonstrance. This

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 6 of 81)