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 63 of 81)
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hanging to the stake. After which the whole brigade file past him to
their quarters.

Feb. 16. Thurs. Foggy. Reg. in camp. Capt. Farr — an officer
whom all the Thirteenth Regiment likes — leaves camp for Fortress Mon-
roe on a military commission. His wound not having healed sufficiently
to enable him to engage in field duties. Very heavy cannonading heard
in the neighborhood of Petersburg. A member of the Thirteenth finds a
part of an old, broken white marble grave-stone, breaks it in pieces, piles
the pieces in the fireplace of his hut and sprinkles them with a little red
ink ; he says ' they warm him, and cheer him up, just as well as green-
pine firewood does.'

When a soldier has a visitor to entertain, he selects hard bread, not
broken, and the best he has, soaks it in the best pot of coffee he can make,
fries it, then covers it with the moist brown sugar, and jilaces this as the
principal dish before his guest. The true soldier serves his coffee in
pots ; and, by the way, the parade of pots of coffee, and negro attendants,
at first class hotels, is after all nothing but an old army custom.

Feb. 17. Fri. Very rainy. Reg. in camp. Inspection at 10 a. m.
A Captain in the 11th Conn, says if he ever finds himself desiring to re-
turn to the army, he will strap on a knapsack, dig a hole in the ground,
get into it, throw up a work, hire a man to shoot buckshot at him if he
shows his head above ground ; and he thinks one night and one day of it
will cure him of the desire. Fifty-one desei'ters from the enemy have
come into the lines of the 25th Corps between the James and Fort Harri-
son, within the last 48 hours. The Chivalry are thus running for refuge
to the " neeg-urs " — as they call the colored people. But neither does
the best element in the Southern army desert.


Feb. 18. Sat. Clear, warm. Reg. in camp. The rebel flag-o£-
triice boat runs afoul of one of their own torpedoes, sunk in the James
river just above Fort Brady, and is blown up. Since the meeting of the
Peace Connnissioners, desertions from the rebel lines have largely in-
creased. Many rebels desert to flee persecution, or to save their lives
•from danger caused by local feuds perjietuated wherever the inimical
parties meet, in the army or out of it — the old vendetta.

Feb. 19. Sun. Clear, warm. Reg. in camp. Inspected by Lt.
Col. Kreutzer of the 98th N. Y., now commanding our Biugade. He is
teacher of the officers' militaiy school.

Feb. 20. Mon. Clear and very warm. Reg. in camp. Drilling.
George H. Pomroy of H receives a 20 days' furlough, as the result of last
Wednesday's inspection. At the last Division review the 13th was spe-
cially complimented by Gen. Ord ; and Capt. Betton, in temporary com-
mand, is very greatly pleased. Capt. Betton has high ideas of military
matters, and does his best to carry them out. Two hundred and forty-
eight men present for duty in the Thii-teenth. Lieut. Murray has been
exchanged for a nephew of Confederate Vice President Stephens.

A member of the 13th writes home : " Our turn of picket comes once
a week nowadays, for 24 hours, on the Varina road. No firing on the
picket lines now — which in some places are not over 40 yards apart —
except when some one tries to desert, a thing which occurs pretty often on
both sides, almost every night. If we stop a man who is attemi)ting to
desert, we get $30 reward, and a thirty days' furlough. The rebels desert
and come in every day. In one night last week 100 lebel deserters came
in. We drill every day when in camp. This is the coklest winter we
have seen in the South. The ground is frozen from 12 to 14 inches in

Feb. 21. Tues. Clear. Reg. in camp. Salutes of 100 guns with
blank cartridges are fired this noon from every battery on our lines, in
honor of the re-taking of Fort Sumter and Charleston, S. C, Feb. 18,
1865. Extremely noisy, and all the Union troops are cheering like men
wild with joy. Close to our Regiment is a redoubt mounting eight guns,
with two more on the outside. These are numbered 1, 2, 3, etc., and are
fired in turn, and then all together, until they fire ten rounds each. The
other batteries, including Fort Harrison, are likewise sounding the same
high grand psean of victory. The rebel lines are as dumb as oysters. A
member of the 13th writes : " Between the discharges here we can hear
the faint boom of cannon away down on the Petersburg front."

Feb. 22. Wed. Cold, rainy. Reg. in camp. The day is observed
as a holiday, so far as possible, by the entire Union army ; while the roar
of cannon fired in salutes fills the whole land. But the rebel army in
Virginia do not celebrate Gen. Washington's birthday. Gen. Washington
did some noisy work in his time ; but he commanded a mere handful of
soldiers compared with this modern Union army of nearly three millions
of men, divided here and there into masses of 150,000 or so, and


armed with thousands of cannon. How the day does always find its
man !

Two rebel deserters celebrate the day, as well as they possibly can, by
coming over into the lines of the Thirteenth, siiouting and cheering like
men possessed when they arrive ; and soon are well fed and cared for in
all their wants and needs.

Quoting from a letter written at the front on Feb. 25, 1865, we have
here a scene ^ enacted by the mother of Presidents on her own ' sacred
soil,' on the birthday of her most illustrious son : " Wednesday last, Feb.
22d, was the anniversary of Washington's birthday, and a special order
from the Hdqrs. of the Union army made it a general holiday. It was a
rainy day. About nine o'clock in the forenoon Quarter-master Morrison
and myself started olf on horseback for Cox's landing on the James river,
where the exchange of prisoners takes place every day at ten o'clock.
We visited several points, and arrived at the landing a few moments be-
fore the rebel flag-of-truce boat, and watched its ajjproach. It had the
Confederate flag flying at the stern, and was towing a barge filled with
our sick soldiers, the boat itself being a dirty affair.

" In a few moments more, six hundred of our men, half of them com-
missioned officers, including two Brigadier Generals, were on the shore ;
and those of them who could walk immediately started for Aiken's land-
ing, at some distance below, where our flag-of-truce boat lay. The rest
filled a long line of ambulances, and fully two hours were consumed before
they were all transferred to our own boat. Such a looking set of men I
never saw before, and hope never to see again. Hatless, shirtless, shoe-
less, wrapped up in old bed-quilts of as many hues as Joseph's coat ; their
feet wound with rags, and many of them barefoot (and the wintry, ice-
cold mud six inches deep), their clothing in tatters, their hair long and
matted, dirty and unshaven, and all looking as pale and thin as though
wasted with consunq^tion or fever. Many were carried on board our boat
on stretchers, too weak and sick to stand. I talked with numbers of
them — one of the Thirteenth, captured Sept. 30, 1864.

" These men left Richmond at eight o'clock that morning, and showed
me the day's ration drawn just before they left. It was simply a solid,
heavy piece of corn bread, about six inches long, three wide, and one and a
half thick. It was made of a sort of meal, ground up, corn, cobs and all
together. Whole and partially broken kernels could be seen in it. This
with water was all they had. They had tasted salt meat in minute quan-
tities twice since Christmas, and then it was taken from the citizens. Just
before our boat moved ofP, the Naval Band on one of our gunboats
struck up the ' Star Spangled Banner,' and the poor emaciated fellows

1 A gentleman, a highly esteemed friend of mine, now a resident of Providence,
R. I. , then a Second Lieutenant in the 39th Mass. Infantry, Charles Henry Chapman,
was a member of this party of exchanged prisoners, and corroborates this sketch in
its worst particulars ; remarking in addition, that the suffering was too terrible for any
language to depict with full justice to the subject. — S. M. T.


tried to cheer. They were too weak to give a very loud one, but I never
heard a more impressive cheer in my life." Lieut. Prescott.

Feb. 23. Thurs. Very rainy all day; heavy thunder at night.
Reg. in camp. Regimental or Brigade drill every fair afternoon except-
ing Saturday. Schools for officers meet on one evening in each week.

Feb. 24. Fri. Cloudy, Reg. in camp. Ordered to prepare to march
— but do not move. Salutes fired with shotted guns. A body of colored
troops of the 25th Corps, broke camp last night and silently made off in
the darkness — an appropriate season. The 3d Brigade is under march-
ing orders. Lively times appear to be in prospect for us.

Feb. 25. Sat. Cloudy, cold, rainy. Reg. in camp. We appre-
ciate a very marked difference in feeling now from that which pervaded
our army one year ago. We know not how to express it better than to
say, that the light of advancing peace seems to forecast its rays over
and around us ; while we live in a constantly abiding sense of probably
plunging into the final and closing crash of war — our last battle whether
we die or live — at the very next hour we see. One describes it as : 'a
vast uncertainty fall of tremendous good promise sure as to-mori"ow's sun.'

Feb. 26. Sun. Clear, warm. Reg. in camp. Inspected by Capt.
Betton. A host of deserters from the enemy have come in during the
past week ; 127 came in within one day.

Feb. 27. Mon. Cloudy, warm. Reg. in camp. Three officers
and 100 men of the 13th are selected for guard duty at 24th Corps Hdqrs.
for one week.

Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan marches from Winchester to-day, with
two Divisions and one Brigade of cavalry — a force 10,000 strong ; with
Generals Merritt, Devin and Custer, to join Gen. Grant's array in front
of Petersburg. His orders, and route of march, contemplate sweeping a
girdle of waste and devastation, to the northward, all around Gen. Lee's
army ; and the crossing of a hundred rivers, and a thousand swamps, in
the worst season of the Virginian year. The supplies for Gen. Lee's
citadel are to be cut off.

Feb. 28, Tues. Rainy. Reg. in camp. Mustered for pay by
Capt. Betton. Another quiet month has been passed in our winter quar-
ters. But the camp is full of evidences of terrible business near ahead.


March 1, to April 12, 1865.

March 1. Wed. Cloudy, cold. Thirteenth in camp. Capt. Hall
receives his commission, also Lieutenants Oliver and Hardy. The Thir-
teenth furnishes a Captain, two Lieutenants and 100 men for guard at
24th Corps Hdqrs. Twenty-seven deserters come in bringing their mus-
kets with them. They are now the jolliest set of men we have seen for
many a day. The U. S. Government pays deserters from the Confeder-
acy §10 apiece for their muskets, to induce them to bring them in.
Both men and arms are thus a dead loss to the Confederacy, which can-
not replace them.

March 2. Thiirs. Very rainy all day. Thirteenth in camp.
Twelve deserters come in — nine of them bringing their guns with them.

Col. Abbott, Chief of Artillery of Gen. Grant's army, reports that the
daily average weight of iron — with gunpowder in it, for the most were
shells — thrown at the enemy, along our lines in front of Petersburg and
along the James, has been : August 1864, 5.2 tons ; September 7.8
tons ; October 4.5 tons ; November 2.7 tons ; December 2.1 tons ;
January 1865 1.6 tons ; Febuary 1.1 tons. Aggregating 793 tons in
all, or 37,264 rounds. (M. & C. H. Conn. 684.) These are mere initial
thunder-figures of Union cannon in action.

'• Recently while on picket, one dark night about midnight we were
suddenly startled by a loud cry for help from the darkness in our front.
Rushing to the spot with one of the pickets we discovered a rebel de-
serter stuck fast in a swampy place. Reaching out his musket to us, by
means of it we soon puUed him out of the mud hole and took him to our
line. He was a man about sixty years old, and until forced into the rebel
army had been a physician practicing his profession somewhere in North
Carolina. He was enormously fat, he wore a wig and spectacles and
false teeth, all of which he had lost in the mud hole, was covered with
mud and dirt, and you can easily imagine what a ludicrous and pitiable
spectacle he jjresented. After he had wiped the mud from his face and
eyes and blown it from his mouth, he drank a dish of coffee, drew a long
breath, looked around upon the circle of our pickets and then proceeded
in the most deliberate and solemn manner to deliver his opinion of the
Confederacy. The Lord Cardinal, in Ingoldsby's little poem the 'Jack-
daw of Rheims,' cursing the thief who stole his ring, made a feeble effort
compared with the energy with which this North Carolina doctor anath-


ematized the Southern Confederacy. He cursed it individually, from
Jeff. Davis and his Cabinet down through its Congress and public men to
the lowest })ot-house jjolitician who advocated its cause ; he cursed its
army from Gen. Lee down to an army mule ; he cursed that army in its
downsittings and uprisings, in all its movements, marches, battles and
sieges ; he cursed all its paraphernalia, its artillery and its muskets, its
banners, bugles, and drums ; he cursed the institution of slavery, which
had brought about the war, and he invoked the direst calamity, woe and
disaster upon the Southern cause and all that it represented ; while the
earnestness, force and sincerity with which it was delivered made it one
of the most effective speeches I ever heard, and this together with his
comical apjjearance and the circumstance of his capture made the men
roar with laughter." _ Lieut. Prescott.

March 3. Fri. Cloudy, cold. Thirteenth in camp. Lieut.
Churchill honorably discharged the service. His health is very poor, the
climate undermining his constitution.

We may add here, properly, that after suffering for many yeai's from
rheumatism contracted in the service, Lieut. Churchill accidentally had
his leg broken. His vitality had been so much reduced that the broken
bone would not knit, and he died soon after the accident, on March 19,
1885. The case was very singular. He was employed in the U. S.
mail service, having charge of the malls at the railway station in Concord,
N. H. Early one evening he went from his work to his home, and sat
down to take off his boots. They were of the ' Congress ' pattern, and
while removing one of them, the elastic sides clinging somewhat, by a
sudden jerk he broke the bone of his leg just above the knee. The bone
was shattered, pieces soon began to come out, and blood poisoning ensued.
Lieut. Churchill said that a shell had come very near, or grazed this leg,
and he had always felt a degree of lameness in it after that occurrence.

Adjutant Boutwell also honorably dischai'ged, for disability because of
wounds received in the service. He was detailed as Acting Adjutant of
the Thirteenth on the field at the battle of Fredericksburg, afterwards
commissioned as Adjutant ; in whicli capacity he served continuously,
excepting when sick, until he was wounded at Battery Five, Petersburg.
He has never recovered from this wound sufficiently for liim to return to
active service. He was for a time Adjutant of the Substitutes' camp at
Concord, N. H., and afterwards held the position of Asst. Adjt. General
on the staff of Major Whittlesly commanding rendezvous.

Both were able, brave, prompt and efficient officers, and are a great
loss to the Thirteenth. Both genial, breezy and social, they have con-
tributed no little to the cheerfulness and life of the Regiment. There
seemed to be no tune which the Band of the Thirteenth could play that
Boutwell could not accompany with his voice either with words or notes.
He had a very fine tenor voice, loud and clear ; and manj^ a time, when
the Band was playing in one part of the camp, Boutwell's voice was heard
rendering the same air in another part ; sometimes he seemed rather out-


doing the Band in sound and melody. Generally this accompaniment
was a little more agreeable to the camp than to the Band.

A rebel picket boat comes down the James to-night, our pickets along
the shore fire upon her, she replies with artillery, and the noise rouses
our entire camp. Twenty-seven deserters come in this morning also,
bringing their guns, ammunition and equijjments with them.

March 4. Sat. Rainy. Reg. in camp. Confederate money has
dropped in value to less than two cents on the dollar ; $50 in ' White-
bellies ' (as the Confedei-ates call their money) being nearly equal in pur-
chasing value to a $1.00 Greenback. In Richmond the price of flour is
$850 per barrel ; corn meal $80 per bushel ; chickens $10 to $13 apiece ;
and everything else in the way of food is in the same proportion, when
paid for in Confederate money.

March 5. Sun. Clear, cold. Reg. in camp. Inspected at 4 p. ra.
by Lt. Col. Kreutzer of the 98th N. Y. commanding our Brigade. Lt.
Col. Smith returns from leave.

The average prices paid for supplies by the ' Quarter-master's mess *
— Goss, Morrison, Taggard, Sawyer and R. R. Thomjjson, and others
who were members of it — and a fair average for the year ending with to-
day, is as follows, the items taken from the account book of tliat mess
and others : cheese 25 cents per pound, butter 44 (sometimes 75), fresh
poi'k 12^, sausage 15, tea 1.60, sugar 14|, corn meal 2^, ci-ackers 20,
raisins 32^, lard 8 ; milk, quart, 17^, eggs, dozen, 28, potatoes, bushel,
80, oysters, quart, 25, condensed milk, pint can, 50, chickens, each, 50.
All the officers were limited in their subsistence to bare necessities, for
no luxuries could be had ; the running expenses for raw materials, as
above, amounting to from four to six dollars for each officer per week.

March 6. Mon. Warm, pleasant. Reg. in camp. Brigade drill
in the afternoon. About all the firing of late along our lines here has
been in the way of salutes in honor of Union victories. The guard fur-
nished from the Thirteenth for 24th Corps Hdqrs. returns to the Reg.,
having been relieved by men from the 12th N. H.

March 7. Tues. Clear. Reg. in camp. Brigade drill in after-
noon ; dress-parade at evening.

A regiment prepares to march in this manner : About sunset the regi-
mental drummer beats an officers' call ; commanders of Conqjanies gather
at once at the Colonel's headquarters ; an order is read : " The Thirteenth
will march at six o'clock to-morrow morning, in light marching order,
with three days' cooked rations and sixty rounds of ball-cartridge per
man." Captains inform their men, examine arms and equipments, see
that every man has his blankets, his shelter tent and a complete uniform.
Lieutenants and Sergeants attend to rations and other matters. Raw
rations of beef and pork are drawn by the Conimissaiy, brought to the
several company cooks' tents, and at once put over the fires. A few
pieces of raw pork are cut up and distributed among the men, for some
of them 2)refer to receive it raw, and to broil it on a stick, oV spider, over


some little bivouac fire, or at a halt in the march. Boxes of crackers,
' hard tack,' arrive, and a fixed number of the crackers is counted out to
each man. Some men need more, some less, and the ' divvying,' and
' evening-up,' is accomj^lished among themselves. Boxes of ammunition
arrive, each box, containing 1,000 cartridges and weighing from 60 to 80
pounds, is lugged by two men. The Captain, if he is wise, will attend to
the distribution of the ammunition himself, and see that every man takes
his 60 rounds. If possible the camp-guard is changed, weak men and
those capable of performing only light duties relieve the strong and able
men, so that all who are to march can have a good night's rest before
starting. The whole affair of getting ready to march occupies a few
hours only of the evening, and the men turn in at the usual hour. No
one knows what may come on the morrow, and all 2)repare for the worst.

Next morning the Regiment is called at 4 a. m. The roll is called.
At the Surgeon's call or previously, it is determined what men are able
to march, and what men not, and who may be depended upon to guard
the camp in the absence of the command. The command is at once
made up, a trusty rear-guard selected, breakfast eaten, the cooked rations
distributed, an informal inspection made of every man and his belongings,
blankets are rolled, each man's blankets in a long roll, the ends of the
roll brought together and tied, forming a sort of ' horse-collar,' all is
made ready and the muskets are stacked along the several company
streets. Servants will carry the line officers' tents and blankets.

Due notice is given, the di'ums beat a quick assembly, the men fall into
line along their musket stacks, the roll is again called ; and by this time
the name, status and duty of every member of the Regiment has been
made a matter of written record. The colors are brought out, markers
are placed to designate the line, Comjianies take their arms, march to
the regimental street — ' front street ' — and the line is formed. In a
veteran regiment an assembly of this kind is made strictly according to
Regulations, but to the casual observer appears absolutely informal ; and
to men and officers all degrees of liberty are allowed within the bounds
of promptness and efficiency. If to move in heavy marching order the
men take knajisacks and all, the teams carrying the officers' baggage.

AVhen all is ready the Colonel takes command, gives the order to
march, places himself with staff at the head of the column, and at the
quick step of a lively march played on fife and drum, or by the Band, the
command moves out of camp in column of fours, by the right flank,
guns on the shoulder, each man with his roll of blankets thrown diagonally
across his shoulders ; every haversack, canteen and cartridge-box is full —
and too many sly flasks also — and the dusty blue column moves away ;
soon the music ceases, the route-step is taken, the files spread apart till the
road is well filled, and the jaunty, joking, merry, laughing host passes
out of sight — to fell or to fall.

"Whether the numbers of the Thirteenth be large or small, they thus
form no holiday pageant strutting across a city square or a village green ;


but a body of armed men trained to swing out of marching column into
an instant battle line and to fight, and marching, battling in actual war
with every energy devoted to its immediate business.

March 8. Wed. Heavy rain, all day and all night. Reg. in camp.
The pickets come in drenched by the rain, and bedaubed with mud, the
results of a night spent in an old cornfield, without fires, cover or shelter
of any kind.

March 9. Thurs. Rainy, clearing about 10 a. ni. Reg. in camp.
Quarter-master Morrison starts for home on a twent}^ days' leave. Capt.
M. T. Betton assigned to the command of the 81st New York regiment.

This assignment was a very great compliment both to Capt. Betton
and to the Thirteenth. The 81st N. Y. was in a demoralized condition,
bordering uj)on open mutiny, and to Capt. Betton fell the task of their
discipline. He succeeded not only in satisfying his superior officers, by
bringing the discordant elements in this regiment into order and effi-
ciency, but also gained the good will of the members themselves.

March 10. Fri. Rain a. m., hail at noon, clears at night. Reg. in
camp. Evening school for field officers continues its sessions.

Lieut. O. M. Sawyer honorably discharged the service by Gen. Ord.
Everybody likes Lieut. Sawyer, and it is hard to part with him. A brave,
efficient and good officer, always ready, always willing ; a genial com-
panion, a true friend — and a right good fellow too.

March 11. Sat. Fair. Reg. in camp. Three officei's and one
hundred men from the Thirteenth again sent to do the guard duty for a
week at 24th Corps Hdqrs. Lt. Col. Smith in command of the Thir-
teenth says he will gain that jjosition by the Regiment right along, if
cleanliness, drill and general efficiency can secure it. As it is, no other
regiment receives this honor so frequently as a complimentary reward.

March 12. Sun. Fair, warm. Gen. Grant reviews a Division of
troops on our left. One writer says : " Gen. Grant is a business man, 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 63 of 81)