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 61 of 81)
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A large pine-tree in front of our works is provided with spikes driven
in to facilitate climbing, and serves for signal tower and lookout. Rich-
mond is plainly visible from it.

Dec. 16. Fri. Pleasant. Reg. in camp. A large detail from the
Reg. and Brigade — about 300 men in all — at work on the New Market
road, now being covered with long stretches of corduroy.

Lieut. Prescott assigned to the command of Company C, and placed in
command of Redoubt McConihe on the Bermuda Hundred front. He
reports for duty there this forenoon.

Dec. 17. Sat. Pleasant. Reg. again settling down in winter quar-
ters — snug little log-huts. The 24th Corps still holds the right of the
line of the Army of the James ; and our Third Division holds the left of
the Corps line — about one mile to the right of Fort Hai'rison.

Dec. 18. Sun. Showery, Reg. in camp. Inspection. Under an
order granting furlough prizes to the best soldiers, Sergt. M. C. Shattuck
of Co. B receives the first furlough granted in our 3d Division of the 24th
Army Corps. The Division comprises over 6,000 men. Heavy firing
going on near Petersburg all this morning — throb — throb — throb.

Dec. 19. Mon. Pleasant day, rainy night. Reg. in camp. The
joke rattles round the camp that the 13th are now " Nine months' men,"
having nine months more to serve. The 13th has furnished 20 men for
musicians in bands ; 07 for the navy ; 20 for commissions in colored regi-
ments ; 15 for heavy artillery — Penn. Battery — and is represented on
almost every staff in this Department.

Dec. 20. Tues. Very rainy, chilly. Reg. in camp. Capt. Betton
starts for home on 20 days' leave.

Dec. 21. "Wed. Rainy, clear in the afternoon. Five deserters
from the Union army shot on our right.


Dec. 22. Thurs. Very cold and windy. Reg. in camp.

Dec. 23. Fri. Clear, cold. Reg. in camp. A commissioned officer,
a little fellow, appointed to a special duty quite dangerous and important,
swelled with confidence and pride, and called for\olunteers to accompany
him, in these words : " Them as is gwine — g long with mee ! " He then
waited awhile, heard no response — except laughter — and finally was
provided with a special detail of men, whom he marched out of camp with
the air of a hurt grandee. He was not of the Thirteenth.

Dec. 24. Sat. Pleasant. Reg. in camp. No stockings hung up !

Dec. 25. Sun. Pleasant. Reg. in camp. Usual Sunday duties.
A fine Christmas dinner for all. There are, too, the hackneyed sports of
the camp ; foot, sack, wheelbarrow, and horse races ; greased pole to
climb, greased i)ig to catch ; mock review, sham parade, etc.

This story of the loth comes around, condensed : Norfolk plum pud-
ding heated over, large, for fifteen guests. Pint of sutler's best brandy
poured over pudding, while the odor fills the tent and all the guests re-
mark upon the waste of good brandy. Brimstone match applied, goes out,
then anothei', then others, all go out ; brandy no burn. Candle, a tallow
dip, applied in forty places, rancid tallow dripping over each place ; can-
dle slips out of turnip candlestick and stands head down in platter beside
pudding ; brandy no ignite. " I can make that brandy burn," remarks
a guest. He brings a torch of pitch-wood with a great smoky flame.
Torch applied in twice forty places — black smoke rolls up, pitch and
soot rolls down, over each place. Guests make remarks suited to the fes-
tive occasion, laugh till they cry, roar themselves hoarse, shout them-
selves deaf, yell themselves blind ; brandy no take fire. Give it up.
Smoke, brimstone, tallow, dirt, pitch, soot, etc., scraped off plum pud-
ding — but the supreme quintessence of all of them had run most liberally
into it. Guests served ; one mouthful taken by each, result : a hideous in-
stantaneous ex])losion of remarks, essence of all of above, expletives and
the names of all the high dyked towns in Holland. Guests disperse.
All declare that they could not remove the taste of that pudding, etc.,
etc., out of their mouths for a month ; and the sutler has no further
market for his ' 1n-andy.' The pudding was old, mouldy, had soured, a
store pudding.

Dec. 26. Mon. Rainy, foggy. Reg in camp. News of the fall of
Savannah, Ga., read to the troops this morning at reveille — 5.30 a.m.
This dispatch arrived here at 1 a. m., and turned the night into a jubilee.
The Thirteenth is the first regiment of our Brigade to be in line at this
morning's reveille, to hear the news and to cheer. The men feel that
when a rebel prop now goes down, it goes down not to rise again. The
cheering sounds right merrily as it runs along the line, taken up by reg-
iment after regiment, repeated rapidly and loudly. It is still very dark
at reveille ; invisible troops cheer, and invisible drums, bugles and bands
are ])laying in every direction — save one ; the rebels have gone out of
the jubilee business this morning.


Savannah, 150 heavy guns, and 25,000 bales of cotton, is Maj. Gen.
Sherman's ' Christmas Present ' to the President of the United States.
The day is to be observed by the Union army as a special holiday, so far
as possible, after the silute is fired this morning with shotted cannon in
honor of Gen. Sherman's victory.

Dec. 27. Tues. Cloudy, misty, rainy, foggy ; clearing at night.
" On Dress-parade the Thirteenth received its new colors, with its Bat-
tles inscribed on them." Hiram C. Young of H, Color Corporal.

" We drew a flag with a deep, heavy fringe and tassels, elegant lancc-
wood staff, and other appointments complete ; but the price demanded
for lettering was too high, and we had to return it, and take a much less
desirable flag from the State." Lt. Col. Smith.

The old flag of the Thirteenth, which the Regiment has boinie through
dozens of skirmishes and picket fusillades, hundreds of exposures to the
enemy's shell, grape and canister, the hail of thousands of bullets, and a
long list of severe battles, now war-worn, torn, tattered, used up, and
worthless for further active field purposes, is placed on the retired list,
and returned with all the honors of war to the custody of the State of
New Hampshire.

A new color — one flag — and none too good, is sent from Concord,
Dec. 14th, inscribed by order of Maj. Gen. B. F. Butler with the follow-
ing list of battles, and terms of constant fighting, and exposure to the
enemy's fire :

" Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862.

Siege of Suffolk, April and May 1863.

Walthall Road, May 7, 1864.

Swift Creek, May 9, and 10, 1864.

Kingsland Creek, May 12, and 13, 1864.

Drury's Bluff, May 14, and 16, 1864.

Cold Harbor, June 1, and 3, 1864.

Battery Five, Petersburg, June 15, 1864.

Battery Harrison, Sept. 29, and 30, 1864."

Dec. 28. "Wed. Very rainy. Reg. in camp. A very strong picket
line sent out. The men have no shelter. About noon there falls a breezy
bit of excitement. Aides come rushing about camp, and all our troops
are hurried into "the front trenches. The pickets in rifle-pits are ordered to
resist an assault, if made, with all their might, and if compelled to fall
back, to dispute every inch of ground as they retire. But the enemy re-
mains quiet, our troops are dismissed, and go back to camp. One man of
the 13th writes : " All the blamed rebs wanted was to get us wet."

Dec. 29. Thurs. Snowy, cold. Reg. in camp. Surgeon Richard-
son was chief operating Surgeon on board of Gen. Butler's boat in the
Fort Fisher expedition, and visits our camp to-day. The first intimation
we had here of the Fort Fisher fiasco was the cheering of the rebels on
our front. They held a jubilee after the fasliion of our celebration of the
Savannah victory.


The spree is a reversion to animalism and the savage state, a drain
upon body, mind and life ; and thousands of soldiers have ' spreed ' them-
selves into Hosjiitals, Invalid Corps or premature graves. The sick fi'om
reasonable causes, the wounded and hurt, are to be honorably excepted ;
but outside of their numbers and the honorably discharged, the present
survivors of our Regunent as a rule are of the sober, quiet, steady-going
class of men, who exercise the greater care of themselves. As the Thir-
teenth becomes reduced in numbers, the sport, jovialty and fun decreases ;
and that too even in a greater proportion than the fall in numbers. This
is not an evidence of the depression of the spirits of the men ; though tired
of the war, the Northern army, of which we are a part, is determined to
win. The rough, coarse fun, the wild, high times in camp, the ' roaring
camp-fires,' the picturesqueness of the Regiment are fast falling away to
the stern and sturdy business of the war ; while the wide range of personal
characteristics, in our original thirteen hundred men, is narrowed to al-
most the definiteness of one special class — the steady and sober men.
Camji life grows dull, and still more dull, with every turning month.

Dec. 31. Sat. Heavy rain, with hail and snow about 10 a. m., and
the year goes out with an exceeding cold wave at night. Reg. in camp.
Mustered for pay by Capt. Stimpson of the 81st N. Y. Inspection post-
poned on account of the cold storm. This month has been a quiet one
for us, excepting much hard work on the picket lines, and within and
upon the entrenchments.

" The work of 1864 is done. An eventful year. God be praised for
all his mercies." Major Stoodley, in Diary.

In the discussion, now so common, of the relative abilities of Gen.
Grant and Gen. Lee, it should be said that while no one can do Gen.
Grant any credit by disparaging or disputing the great abilities and
achievements of Gen. Lee, history can never write them on the same
level ; Gen. Grant will forever hold the higher place. We must bear in
mind that since the Battles of the AVilderness, and that of Cold Harbor in
June 1864, Gen. Lee has been operating practically on the defensive, and
on inside lines, and shut up in a citadel surrounded by swamps, rivers and
high bluffs and made as strong as engineering skill, and the labor of
thousands of negro slaves, added to that of his troops, can make its natu-
rally strong walls ; while Gen. Grant has been operating on the offensive,
trying to enclose, invest or batter down the walls of that citadel, all the
time on outside lines, and practically in the ojjen field. The oijerations
have been those of a vast siege.

How these two men would act in an exchange of situations, no one
can tell. Their two situations cannot be compared. They are all con-
trast. The time too for comparing the abilities of these two men ceased
before the battle of Cold Harbor — even if not at the first start from the
Rapidan, after which Lee swung nearer and nearer to his ca])ital and
citadel. At Cold Harbor, at 4.30 a. m., on June 3d, the first attempt to
storm that citadel was made — upon Gen. Lee's entrenchments. He had



previously entrenched, and had been attacked, when within his defenses,
on June 1st, but there was much field work besides. Since that battle
he has been, and now is, shut up in a citadel. East central Virginia is a
vast pocket or a jug without a handle, and heroic and brave Gen. Lee,
and his no less brave and heroic army, is in it, and cannot get out and
away. Gen. Lee knows, and every intelligent Southerner knows, that
that dash on the early morning of June 3, 1864, at Cold Harbor, was
the most tremendous, and efEective, Northern thi-eat in this whole war,
whether a material gain or not ; a threat unmistakable to uttex-ly crush
Gen. Lee's army at one blow, if he ever again dares to risk it in the open.
A threat that deters lives a near neighbor to the battle that wins. Even
the incurred loss of one Union soldier in every eight of the assaulting
force on that morning, and the failure of the movement, may be more
than compensated by the moral gain : the convincing every Southern sol-
dier, from Gen. Lee down, that he must maintain forever a goodly pile
of saud between himself and such bold Union bayonets.

Gen. Grant builded even better than he knew on that morning. Hence-
forth the Southern soldier must shovel for a living ; and the Northern
soldier can shovel as fast and as much as he. The Northern troops soon
forgot their failure to break through Gen. Lee's entrenchments at Cold
Harbor. Twelve days later they hesitated not to assault his heavy en-
trenchments in front of Petersburg — to do it as skirmishers, and to cap-
ture them too, forts, armaments, garrisons and all.

But to turn the story that has no end : The Thirteenth, though so
much cut up in the charge on the evening of June 1st that they could
not fairly be put into this June 3d assault — less than thirty-six hours
later in the battle — still we as a quick reserve held our part of the bloody
front bank of the ravine, while our assaulting columns dashed past us
out upon the most exjjosed ground of all covered by the assault of that
morning, and over upon the heavy Confederate ranks and trenches a very
few short yards beyond ; held it while the air resounded and the ground
trembled and shook with the awful thunders of that charge, the Union
cannon, and the combined artillery and musketry fire of the entire Con-
federate line ; and while the forest all around and over us was crushed
and torn, like a field of reeds, with the thousands upon thousands of bul-
lets, grape-shot and shells, amid the roar and crash of one of the most
stupendous blows ever struck in modern war ; ready, waiting and desir-
ous, if a rebel counter-charge was attempted, to stand up and to do our
best part to meet it ; and before the echoes of the first Union onset had
died away we moved forward over the field of the assault, under fire, as
a support — passing nearly over, but a little to the left, of the very crest
and field where we charged on June 1st with heavy loss but with success.

Surely the Thirteenth may well claim, and long remember, with just
pride and honor, their share in that fearful assault of June 3d, as well as
in all the Cold Harbor battle. The simultaneous rush of eighty thousand
men, in one combined charge, is no small affair, the hail of bullets, shot


and shell from fifty thousand muskets and three hundred cannon, all in
full play, is no small storm ; and men who will dash through it all upon
heavily manned entrenchments, as dashed these Union columns on that
June morning, will little hesitate to strike steel on steel in the open field.

Tlie battle of Cold Harbor will grow more and more important in com-
parison, will have more and more of just credit for its effective results,
as the mist of mere bigness and dimension blows off Gettysburg.

" The General Hosjjital at Point of Rocks was located on a level plat
of ground on the north side of the Appomattox, and was about seventy-
five feet above the water of the river. I was detailed as master builder
of this hospital when it was first established. Surgeon Fowler was Sur-
geon-in-charge, and Surgeon Munn was executive officer. The bluff of
the river bank was very steep and it was very difficult to get supplies
for the hospital up from the boat-landing. Having charge of a large
number of men, I suggested an inclined railway u-p the face of the bluff
from the landing to the hospital, and to the front of Surgeon Fowler's
and other officers' quarters. We had neither rails nor wheels, and con-
sequently laid a double track of trees hewn sti*aight and square and tree-
nailed to sleepers imbedded in the clay of the bluff. Two cars were built,
with platforms about eight feet long and six feet wide, and so constructed
that tlie platforms would be level when the cars were on the track. The
wheels and axles were made of wood.

" On the premises was an old machine, which I suppose had been used
for threshing grain, and which had a wheel about six feet in diameter
attached to a shaft and frame. This machine we embedded in the earth
at the upper end of the tracks ; and secured blocks on the wheel for ropes
to wind upon, in such manner that when one rope was winding up tlie
other was unwinding. The cars were arranged in such a way that when
one was running up the incline the other was running down. The mo-
tive power was a mule which traveled first around one way of his path and
then around the other, as the car running up demanded. This incUned
railway was a success. It was used continuously for freight and passen-
gers until it was worn out. When on visits to this point Gen. Grant and
staff and other officers made use of this railway to ascend the river bank,
from the steamers on the river. When worn out it was superseded by
another arrangement provided with iron rails and wheels.

" My gang of men, numbered from 25 to 200, most of them taken from
the convalescent wards, and in addition to these I had a whole regiment
of new troops in the winter of 1864. We built three hospital buildings
here 50 feet wide and 250 feet long, which were occupied. Other build-
ings were })lanned and laid out, but when Gen. Grant began his last cam-
paign, the most of my men were ordered to the front, which put a stop to
our work in a great measure. When the war closed of course we did not
need any more hospitals, and our work soon ceased altogether. I re-
mained engaged in this work on the hospitals until mustered out with the
Thirteenth." Hexry S. Paul, Company K.



Jan. 1. Sun. Fair, very cold. Reg. inspected and reviewed by
Capt. Stimpson of the 81st N. Y. Dress-parade at 5 p. m.

The last bulkhead of Dutch Gap canal blown out — but the work is
not well done. The canal has been dug chiefly by negro troops. The
enemy has a strong battery so planted as to sweep the whole canal, ren-
dering it useless, and its completion next to impossible.

Jan. 2. Mon. Very cold. Reg. in camp.

Nature has fixed a gulf of prejudice, and generally of mutual personal
distaste, between the black man and the white. The less they mix their
blood the better. The black stain will revei't even after the tenth gen-
eration it is said. The blacker the negro the more fitting he seems to
be, and the more acceptable, as a rule. The white and negro soldiers
are generally good friends. There is little friction between them, and
quarrels are comparatively rare. But the negro accepts the superiority
of the white man, the white man feels it, and knows it, through and
through, and to the last demonstration ; and this tough fact utterly
knocks out the veiy keystone of true fraternity even more than color ;
for the colored soldiers are of every shade from tan to ebony.

Nothing is more natural, and good-natured too, than the chaffing be-
tween these two ' arms of the service.' The negroes call the white, ' poor
faded men,' ' white livers,' ' cotton-faces,' etc. While the white men call
them the ' unbleached,' ' curly-tops,' ' ivory boys,' ' black roses,' ' geranium
bottles,' ' silhouettes,' and all that. The latter term is pretty good ; for
a company of negro troops, standing in line, under the order : ' Eyes
right I ' were a picture funny enough to make the Egyptian Sphinx
laugh four thousand years ago. The average negro on his own ground
and level is amiability itself ; out of his natural sphere he is quite apt to
fail for want of sufficient staying power to hold him through any severe
trial. As soldiers they are a great credit to their race. The negro is
now led and governed by instinct, rather than by reason. The black
man needs education first of all things ; it is only upon that foundation
that he can build. Ignorance systematically enforced upon a people for
many generations breeds one thing ; education and mental training breeds
quite another thing. To this date the negro has originated nothing.

Jan. 3. Tues. Cold. Three inches of snow. Reg. in camp, and
trying to keep warm before fires of green pine wood.

The 2d Division of our 24th Corps receives orders to march with five
days' cooked rations — destination Fort Fisher. We expect to go also.
Confederate Gen. Hoke's Division, which went down and thwarted the
former Union attack on Fort Fisher, return to their works on our front
to-day. We can hear the rebels cheering lustily.

Jan. 4. "Wed. Pleasant. Very muddy. Reg. in camp. Officers'
mess board averages now $5.00 per week.


Jan. 5. Thurs. Cold, clear. Reg. in camp. A Lieutenant in our
Division is claiming : " The rebel commander of Fort Harrison offered
to me his sword, as I rushed into that fort over the high parapet ; " but
which end of that sword the Confederate offered to him, the Lieutenant
lias failed to state. His is not the only claim of the same import. What
a swath of grass some men can mow down in January !

Jan. 6. Fri. Cold, blustering ; rainy afternoon. Reg. in camp.
The Reg., however, is constantly cut up by large details for shoveling and
picket duty. Tough work soldiering this winter. England expects every
man to do his duty ; America expects every duty to ' do ' its man ! The
pickets leave camp for the front lines at 10 a. m., and remain out twenty-
four hours, and the strictest vigilance is maintained. Little or no drill
nowadays. Deserting is quite frequent, and the offenders, if caught,
are to have speedy trials, and to be shot within twenty-four hours of con-
viction of the crime. It rarely or never occurs that a man of any stand-
ing or position at home deserts from the Union army. It is the riff-raff
that deserts.

Jan. 8. Sun. Very cold, clear. Many men frost-bitten. The night
work of policemen in cities is mere child's play compared with the work
of these winter-night vedettes, standing the long hours of their watch
alone, unprotected, unsheltered and without fires, on the open ground,
midway between the outer fortifications, earth-works and the lines of the
two ai-mies.

One man, and a good soldier, writes : " My application for furlough
comes back disapproved — the third time — by Gen. Butler." And
then he ex])resses much indignation, in most vigorous camp language.

Maj. Gen. B. F. Butler is succeeded in the command of the Army of
the James by Maj. Gen. E. 0. C. Ord. Maj. Gen. John Gibbon to com-
mand the 24th Corps, and Maj. Gen. David B. Birney the 25th Corps.

Jan. 9. Mon. Pleasant. Heavy rain last night. Reg. in camp.
Chaplain Jones visits the Thirteenth from his post at Base Hospital,
Point of Rocks. The Reg. had no Chaplain present, in place of Chaplain
Jones, after he was detailed for duty at the hospital.

Jan. 10. Tues. Very rainy, a thunder storm. Reg. in camp.

A Confederate soldier, captured in a skirmish, said he had no objection
whatever to being taken a prisoner ; but he cursed the repeating rifle

most roundly, and said he would like to see that gun which the

Yankees loaded upon Sunday, and kept firing off all the rest of the week.

Jan. 11. "Wed. Fair. Reg. in camp. Much suffering from the
cold, scarcely dry wood enough to be found for kindling the fires. Or-
ders received that no more furloughs are to be granted for the present.

Jan. 12. Thurs. Pleasant. Reg. in camp. Inspection of arms
by Capt. Julian.

Jan. 13. Fri. Very pleasant. Reg. in camp. Early in the winter
of 1864, after the Thirteenth received the Sharps carbines — breech-
loading — Lt. Col. Smith was ordered to drill the Reg. as skirmishers.


Not having a bugler in the Regiment, he sent to New Hampshire and after
much trouble enlisted Daniel Johnson, a discharged bugler of the 5th N.
H. and of Stewartstown. Johnson had been with the Reg. scarcely a
week when he was detailed as bugler at 1st Brigade Hdqrs. tiardly a
commendable proceeding.

Jan. 14. Sat. Warm, cloudy. Reg. in camp. Lt. Col. John B.
Raulston, 81st N. Y., commanding our Brigade, is mustered out.

All veterans will recall the negro camp-follower. A negro appears
with nothing to do, and is at once hired as a servant, and greedy devourer
of odd and unattractive scraps of rations. Possibly a private hires him
for the march, and pays him ten cents in advance, writes his own name,
company and regiment on a piece of paper, and gives it to the negro, so
that the employer may be found. Then the negro carries the traps of
half a dozen men for a while. Within a few hours the negro is gruffly
asked whose ' boy ' he is. Now comes the importance, and pomposity of
him, in full measure. The negro straightens up, puts on ineffable dignity,
and replies : " Dunno, sah. S'pose um Kurnid, sah. May be Brig'dier.

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 61 of 81)