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 64 of 81)
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correct methods and a fixed will ; " and that is just what he appears to be
to-day. Brigade Dress-parade at sunset.

March 13. Mon. Very pleasant. Brigade drill. "Gen. Sheri-
dan set his dogs of cannon barking at Richmond to-day. The people
hear them, and are woefully scared." So says a man of the Reg., an ex-
changed prisoner, who came down on the flag-of-truce boat. A rebel
Lieutenant, who deserts to our lines, states that Gen. Sheridan came
within eight miles of Richmond ; the people expected him to enter the
city in force and burn it, and the consternation there was fearful.

March 14. Tues. Pleasant. Reg. in camp. Generals Grant and
Ord, and Sec. of War Stanton, visit our camp to-day. Grand Review of
the 25th Corps (colored). New Hampshire State election. Legal voters
in the Reg. vote for members of Congress — 117 Repubhcan, 10 Demo-
cratic. A very particular inspection is made of clothing, equipments,
camp, arms, ammunition and men in the 24th Corps. Signs of a battle.
The 9th Corps cross the James to our lines on the north side, and a


large fleet of Union gunboats moves up the river above the drawbridge.
Brigade drill in afternoon. A man of the Thirteenth writes : " If you
want to drive the devil, throw him ice — freeze him out. "

March 15. "Wed. Very pleasant, a little rain, windy. Reg. in
camp. Little doing beyond camp and guard duties, inspection, etc., a
dull day. Company drill in forenoon. Battalion drill in afternoon.

Army life is rough, hard, forbidding, and still is crowded to the full
with almost every species of amusement, singing, playing, fun, jokes,
practical and impractical, games, stories and ludicrous incidents and situa-
tions. There has been endless sport with words, puns, ' gags ' and rhymes.
The army laughs far more than it weeps. The soldiers have amused
themselves continually by making sport of everybody, and of almost every-
thing, coming in their way. Camp jokes are common property. The fun
is frequently rather rough and coarse, but as a rule is made in good nature,
and remarkably spontaneous when we consider the terrible strain upon
the men — and half of them mere boys — incident to the sudden plung-
ing of these hundreds of thousands of them, from the quiet life and occu-
pations of peaceful citizens, into the wild whirl, abandon and crash of
army life in the field, in such times, places, climate and circumstances.

The Thirteenth has had its full quota of nicknames, too, all decidedly
pat, but we have space only for one or two : ' Old Bones,' the very strong
man. ' Grunty,' the weak man. ' Old Yarn,' the man of too many stories.
' Johnny Spry ' and ' Slipper,' quick and lively men, up to all sorts of
tricks, pranks and adventures, and rarely or never caught — certainly
never caught napping. 'Tommy-Toddler,' the very little short man.
' Lengthy,' between whose legs runs the drummer boy and shouts aloft :
' Say — whawt 's the weather up there ? Throw us down a chavv-terbak-
ker, will yer ? ' ' Smellee,' who is seen always to smell of everything set
before him before he tastes, drinks or eats. ' Burdock,' whose root is
perennial, whose lies are as huge as that plant's leaves, the vicious burs
clinging to everything ; ill-fortune always catches men of this sort, their
stories have loose places like those of the man who declared that cedar
bean-poles would last forever — for his father had tried them twice with
that result ; and last of all ' Quij^pee,' the manufacturer and rattler of
big terms, sometimes disagreeable, who spits out, like a mad cat. ' Ityaal ' :
I think you are a liar ; and who calls a Southern thunder shower
' Awaterofluidamskythunderaceouscataractionarydelugination — wet,' and
thinks he has said something very funny.

March 16. Thurs. Warm ; exceeding windy. Reg. in camp. No
drill. The mud has been very deep, and about all the teaming is done on
corduroy roads, of which there are miles on miles, all up and down the
rear of all the camps and lines. Gen. Grant evidently believes in good
roads. The earth is drying now, and to-day the dust is flying in clouds.

Many boxes arriving from home for the men and officers. Twelve
hundred boxes in one day, for the 24th Corps, is not an unusual arrival ;
one day brought over 2,000 of them.


March 17. Fri. Clear, warm, windy ; heavy rain last night. Reg.
in camp. Review of the 24th Corps, by Lieut. Gen. Grant, accomj^anied
by E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War, Admiral Farragut, the Secretary of
the Navy, and other visitors and ladies. The cavalcade, with nearly a
whole cavalry regiment for an escort, ])asses at a trot. Some of the ladies
are in carriages, others on horseback. This review is one of the finest we
have ever seen ; all the troops in heavy marching order, with knapsacks,
blankets, shelter tents and all. Thirteenth at Corps Hdqrs. and not in the
review. Capt. Buel C Carter is Acting Quarter-master on the staff of
Maj. Gen. John Gibbon.

March 18. Sat. Clear, windy, cold. Gen. Kautz's cavalry left here
last night to co-o})erate with Gen. Sheridan in the region about Cold Har-
bor. Admiral Porter has a very large fleet of monitors and gunboats in
the lower James.

The rebels are on their works in great numbers and in full sight, wit-
nessing the sports in the 10th N. H., now celebrating St. Patrick's Day —
the review yesterday causing a postponement of the celebration. '• The
pole was made so greasy that no one could climb it and get the S25 prize
on the top. A darkey and mule race was very funny. Negroes rooted
in a half-bushel measure of meal to find a silver half dollar ; found the
prize, and had their heads and faces wliite with the meal." So one man
of the Thirteenth writes about the sports of the day.

A large detail from the Thirteenth has been at work all day on a
corduroy road near the ambulance train. We receive to-night our full
complement of Sharps breech-loading carbines, and all the Springfield
muskets are to be turned in to the U. S. Government. The badge of
the 24th Corps Is adopted to-day — a heart within a heart.

March 19. Sun. Warm. Thirteenth in camp. The 3d Brigade
of our — Gen. Devens' — 3d Division is at White House, on the Pamun-
key, to receive Gen. Sheridan on his return from his ' North-of-Richmond '
raid, and to replenish his stores. Inspection at noon. Brigade Dress-
parade at night.

" Head Quarters Department of Virginia,
Army of the James.
Before Richmond, Va., 19th March, 1865.
" Special Orders No. 78 :

The commanding officer of the Thirteenth New Hampshire Volunteers
will make requisition for one hundred and twelve Sharps carbines, on
receipt of which he will turn in to the Ordnance Depot an equal number
of Springfield rifles.

By command of Major General Ord,

Theodore Read,
Assistant Adjutant General."

The above order was accompanied by another directing the 118th New
York Vols, to receive one hundred and twelve Spencer carbines, and to
turn in an equal number of Sharps carbines. Lt. Col. Smith states that


these 112 carbines were sufficient to arm the Thirteenth, so greatly was
the Regiment reduced in numbers at this time. The loth received the
carbines from the 118th N. Y., not new ones. They weigli 10 pounds,
the cahbre 52, for a one-ounce conical bullet — minie, and the charge of
powder is 45 gi'ains. A formidable weapon.

Miirch 20. Mon. " Pleasantest day of the season." Thirteenth
in camp. " Sharjis breech-loading carbines received by all the Thir-
teentli ; " writes a member.

Orders are received late in the evening for the Thii-teenth and other
Regiments to be ready to move to-morrow at 8 a. m., with four days'
cooked rations in haversacks, and sixty rounds of ball cartridge per man,
tents to be struck, and all the troops to move in heavy marching order.
Surplus baggage to be packed for storage.

A person must lug his food about in a dirty bag for three or four days,
through all the exposures of a military campaign, to realize the condition
that rations get into ■ — usually the half is spoiled before the time comes
to eat them. Thousands of the enlisted men are made sick by the care-
less management of the ration supply.

March 21. Tues. Clear a. m., rainy p. m. Thirteenth in camp.
Ammunition issued at daylight. Strike tents at 6 a m. and get all ready
to move, in heavy marching order, at 8 a. m. Do not move. Eighteen
deserters came in last night. A heavy rain sets in about noon to-day.

After loafing about in rain and mud till near night, the men of the
Thirteenth are ordered to their old quai'ters, with permission to spread
their shelter tents again over their huts, now thoroughly wet inside and
out. About midnight the rain begins to pour in torrents, a heavy gale
sets in, blowing the hastily fitted shelter-tent roofs off the luits, and the
rest of the night is spent in cold, wet and discomfort.

Gen. William T. Sherman's army is now near Goldsboro, N. C, about
180 miles distant from Richmond.

March 22. Wed. Cloudy, cold, rainy, windy; an ugly day.
Twenty-one desei-ters came in here last night. Thirteenth strikes its tents
again this morning, packs up ready to move, and marches up to the
"■ Cross-way " about 9.30 a. m. Here it is announced that our First Bri-
gade is to hold the lines of both the 1st and the 2d Brigades, and we pass
the day in the trenches.

The Cross-way is where the Union works cross the New Market road,
one and one fourth miles southeast of Laurel Hill church ; confronting
the Confederate lines crossing that road farther up towards the church.
See map, page 473. The Second Brigade marches farther down to-
wards the right and rear. The Thirteenth is assigned position about
thirty rods in the rear of the front trenches, in the New Market road,
and held as a reserve. All with knapsacks on, and with four days' rations
in haversacks. We realize that the spring campaign has opened in ear-
nest — vnth terrible work in prospect. But the men instinctively feel that
Gen. Grant will end the war this year. Large bodies of troops are mov-



ing away. At night the Thirteenth goes back to its old quarters, now
also all thoroughly wet, and bivouacs in them again.

Col. Edgar M. CuUen starts for home, and Col. Edward H. Ripley of
the 9th Vt. assumes command of our First Brigade.

March 23. Thurs. Cold, clear, very windy and dusty. Thirteenth
in camp ; if we may call it camping where every man is half squat, like a
grasshopper, with legs bent, all ready for a spring to arms when the drum
beats. " Evei'y man must be kept ready to move at a moment's notice,"
is the standing order of the day. All surplus baggage has gone to store,
or has been sent North. Thirteenth sent to the picket lines at evening in
heavy marching order.

A trip along the Union lines reveals an immense region of deep, wide
streams and lofty, clayey bluffs ; the whole country a succession of hun-
dreds of high-banked creeks, gravelly knolls, sloughy marshes and swamps
thickly wooded and filled with brush, briar and vine ; long stretches of
low, cold, sandy, pine-land flats, here densely wooded and there utterly
bare ; interspersed by large cultivated farms, with buildings destroyed or
half ruined — about the same kind of country all the way from Fort
Harrison, here north of the James, to Hatcher's Run south of Petersburg.
The vedettes are increased in number. Extending for more than thirty
miles, two parallel lines of these wide awake fellows, a few yards apart,
stand throughout the nights between the two armies, watching each other.
Back of them the pickets, back of them the battle lines, artillery, camps,
stores, and the ojien country.

March 24. Fri. Clear, very windy, a little snow. Thirteenth in
camp. The men are greatly pleased with their Sharps carbines. They
inspire confidence in defense.

The Thirteenth along at the first of its term of service had few excel-
lent mai'ksmen, and for a year or so less attention was given to individual
training in target practice than should have been ; but later an interest in
the matter was fostered, and the result of practice was to develop great
skill, and the men of the Thirteenth soon had few equals as marksmen,
with the Springfield rifle, among the infantry regiments. The change to
carbines has had but little adverse effect, the men soon become familiar
with their use, and the majority are recording good shots made with this
new weapon.

In every year, while the Thirteenth has been in the South, they have
been treated to a snow storm about this time in March. In 1863, Mar.
20th ; in 1864, Mar. 22d ; in 1865, Mar. 24th.

Running along in the rear of the Union lines is a wide, straight cordu-
roy road, so constructed as to reach all prominent points on the shortest
possible line, and to bid defiance to rain, snow or frost. An aide or
courier on horseback, the lightest ambulance, and the heaviest wagon
trains, and artillery, can move over this road with equal freedom from
mud, slough, accident or delay. An immense amount of labor has been
expended on this road, and its branches, and thousands of heavy logs are
laid upon it, and embedded as firmly as stones in a city street.


March 25. Sat. Cold, cloudy, some rain. We man the works
about 9.30 a. m. and about noon return to camp. Reg. strikes tents
again this morning, under orders to move in heavy marching order, but
remains in camp or along the earth-works all the day. President Lincoln
and wife and Gen. Grant visit Fort Harrison, and our line of works.

Gen. Grant wrote yesterday ; " Gen. Weitzel in command noith of the
James will keep vigilant watch upon his front ; and if found at all prac-
ticable to break through at any point, he will do so." This order results
in our keeping awake for a week, ' about twenty-seven hours out of every
twenty-four,' as the boys have it.

The ' Independent Division,' consisting of Gen. Foster's 1st and Gen.
Turner's 2d Divisions of the 24th Corps, Gen. Birney's 2d Division of
the 25th Corps, and McKenzie's cavalry, formerly Kautz's, with Gen. Ord
chief in command, marches from our front here to-day towards the left
of Gen. Gi'ant's army, southwest of Petersburg. Gen. Gibbon goes with
Gen. Ord. This movement is made with such secrecy that Generals Long-
street and Ewell on our front, and Gen. Lee, do not learn of it until
April 2d. These troops go to find a position near or beyond Gen. Lee's
right flank, which, it is expected, he will extend from below Petersburg
more and more towards the southwest ; and it may properly be called
" Gen. Ord's Flying Corps." They have before them a march of more
than thirty miles, to reach the left of Gen. Grant's line below Petersburg.

" Last Tuesday night, March 21st, a substitute in the 81st N. Y. went
in company with another fellow. They stole their Quarter-master's and
Surgeon's horses, a sash and sword, which one of them put on, and about
midnight rode out to the picket line, and in answer to the challenge of
the vedette, the one wearing the sword and sash announced himself as
' Corps officer of the day,' and waiting until the vedette turned to walk to
the other end of his beat, struck the spurs into the horse, and dashed
across to the rebel lines. The other man, who acted as his orderly, was
not quite quick enough to elude the vedette, and was caught.

" On Friday morning, 24th, about 8 o'clock a man deserted from the 11th
Conn. He was on the vedette line — the outer picket line. His com-
panions probably assisted him to escape. Two shots only were fired after
him. The Brigade officer of the picket ordered the vedette nearest the
deserter to pursue him, which he did. the officer and myself also joining
in the chase. We chased the fellow about a third of the distance between
the lines of the two armies, but he escaped to the rebels. While re-
turning from this chase, we found between the lines two skeletons in
blue clothing ; probably of two Union soldiers killerl last September at
the capture of Fort Harrison. The 10th Corps charged at that time
across this field, where we are picketing, and was repulsed."

Lieut. Prescott.
March 26. Sun. Cold, clear, windy. Inspection at 10 a. m. At
1 p. m. the Thirteenth witnesses the execution of a deserter, a man of
the 81st N. Y., the next regiment on our right ; the same fellow who


stole the horse and was caught in the act of desertion Last Tuesday

" Our Brigade was formed on three sides of a square (the fourth side
open). The funeral procession entered : a band, six soldiers bearing a
rough pine coffin, an ambulance containing the prisoner guarded by six
soldiers, three on each side, and the firing party, twelve men of the 81st
N. Y. commanded by a Sergeant. They halted, the prisoner stejjped
from the ambulance, the Provost Marshal read the sentence of the pris-
oner, who sat down on his coffin, and a cap was drawn over his eyes.
The firing party took position, the commands were given by signals of
the sword ; twelve muskets were fired (in a volley) at the deserter's
heart, and he fell over upon his coffin, dead. The whole affair occupied
hardly half an hour." Lieut. Prescott.

This afternoon about 5.30 p. m. our 3d Division, Gen. Devens com-
manding, is again reviewed by President Lincoln, who is stopping at
City Point with Gen. Grant. Gen. Grant takes position just on Lincoln's
left. Mrs. Lincoln is present, with her little son " Tad " on his pony.
Mr. Lincoln is exceedingly fond of this boy. Many visitors, and an im-
mense cavalry escort, accompany Lincoln and Grant. The country
here has been tramped over so much, that there is no grass to cover and
hold the soil ; and it is either very dusty or very muddy, as the weather
serves. To-day the dust blows fearfully, like snow in a gale, blinding
every one who has to face it. Nearly all the white troops, excepting
our 3d Division, are moving away from this front to-night.

March 27. Mon. Clear, fine. Thirteenth moves farther towards
the right, taking the place of the 100th N. Y., Col. Dandy, which
marched to the left of Petersburg under Gen. Ord. Major Stoodley,
to-day Division officer of the day, has charge of the picket lines to the
James at Deep Bottom, a line nearly ten miles in length. He takes Lieut.
Prescott with him, and they ride together down over the entire line, and
return by it, and the trip uses up nearly the entire day.

There are now on these lines only our 3d Division of the 24th Corps,
and a small force of colored troops on our left about Fort Harrison, the
whole under command of Gen. Godfrey Weltzel ; and he is all up and
down the lines and everywhere at once, seeming to neither eat, drink, or
sleep. Our 3d Division does all the picket duty from the right of the
25th Corps, near Fort Harrison, to Deep Bottom. Watchfulness, vigi-
lance, has here gone stark mad ; * everything sleeps wide awake, and
with both eyes open — men, horses, guns and all.' The order is repeated
every hour, day and night : " See that your men are ready to move at
any moment."

Gen. Ord's Flying Corps, which commenced moving on the night of
March 25th, all leaves our front during to-night ; quietly moving away
under cover of the darkness, and without the enemy's knowledge.

March 28. Tues. Warm, pleasant. Reg. in camp, fitting up
quarters — the same that were abandoned by the 100th N. Y. '' We are


carefully cleaning around camp," writes one ; " and waiting on our guns
under marching orders for a move now — and all the time — expected
to occur at any moment."

The lines of troops here are exceedingly thin, and all our fires, and all
our calls on both bugles and drums, are kept up as if the whole of the
two army corps were present. Mounted buglers dash from Hdqrs. to
Hdqrs. sounding call after call, while drum corps run from regiment to
regiment and play the same farce. The bands play at their respective
stations ; their audience a few men, a few mules, a few grinning darkeys,
and a wide, barren waste of deserted camps.

March 29. "Wed. Very pleasant day — severe rain at night.
Reg. in camp. Were our garrison, now garnishing these lines of earth-
works north of the James, evenly distributed along our front lines, the
men would probably stand about one rod apart. Of course our cares
and labor have increased as our numbers have lessened. Our Division
does all the picket duty for the 24th Corps, and the turn of the Thir-
teenth comes around every third or fourth day. Confederate Gen.
Ewell's Hdqrs. at Laurel Hill ai'e in full view, one and one quarter miles
distant. Two Divisions of the 25th Corps (colored) hold our old lines at
Bermuda Hundred.

March 30. Thurs. Showery. Very rainy last night and this
morning. Reg. in camp, ready to move at call. All through last night
and this morning we have been hearing a very heavy and rapid cannon-
ade going on, along Gen. Grant's lines near Petersburg. Very quiet
here on our front. Our camp is now more than a mile to the right of
Fort Harrison, and a mile nearer Richmond than that foi't is. Our Third
Division, Gen. Devens, is scattered along from Foi't Harrison to the
James at Deep Bottom, a very long line. If we were now attacked by
any considerable force of the enemy, we would have but one recourse —
that of falling back under cover of the gunboats ; but since our lines run
behind strong defenses we could make a stout fight all the way. A pe-
culiar confidence pervades our army ; we somehow feel stronger than
the enemy, and are not as doubtful concerning him as we were at the
opening of the spring campaign in 1864.

March 31. Fri. Rainy ; has rained almost continually from mid-
night of Wednesday (29th) until noon to-day, at times pouring down in
torrents. Reg. in camp, but almost every man is detailed on guard or
picket duty. The Paymaster — appearing as usual on the eve of a move
— commences paying off the Reg. ; " all paid off except H, I, and K."
All quiet here, but very noisy southward.

Few persons in civil life can appreciate the dangers and severe duties
connected with picket duty in the field, especially in the case of vedettes.
The extreme front, no one near to consult with, the drenching rain or the
blinding snow storm often adding their discomforts to the night of pitchy
darkness or benumbing cold ; no fires allowed, no knowing in one minute
but that a rebel bullet may crash through one's head in the next, the dan-



ger, and dread too of a wound that may cause a lingering death with no
one near to help, and may be one's body never found ; the awful re-
sponsibility that really rests upon the true sentinel's shoulders, possibly
the fate of a thousand men, or indeed of the whole army ; the waving
bushes, In the distance of half darkness, in the dim vision of the sentinel
appearing like the enemy advancing in force ; or perhaps he comes, with
a sudden rush and yell — the pickets are of course struck down first of
all. The picket fires his one shot and falls shattered with a dozen bullets,
or is captured — for the chief hope of a picket's safety in such case Is that
the enemy does best to capture and not to kill — and Is reported missing,
and is next heard from as a prisoner of war, or as having died in a rebel
prison. A charge rushes over the pickets as if they were so many
worms ; fifty of them perhaps run down In a minute by two or five thou-
sand men. Nowhei-e on earth can a man stand and feel his safety and
his danger, his importance and greatness and absolute littleness, and the
burden and force of doubt, uncertainty, and the enemy's bitter hate, so
very keenly and all at once, as when he thoughtfully stands, at dead of
night, alone, an outpost, vedette or picket, between two hostile armies in
active campaign in the field. If there Is anything at all in him, tills
work will find It.

Organization of Maj. Gen. Charles Devens' 3d Division, 24th Army
Corps, Gen. John Gibbon commanding, on March 31, 1865 :

First Brigade,^ Col. Edward H. Ripley.

11th Conn. Major Charles Warren.

13th N. H. Lt. Col. Normand Smith.

81st N. Y. Capt. M. T. Betton.

98th N. Y. Lt. Col. Wm. Kreutzer.

139th N. Y. Major Theodore Miller.

19th Wis. Major Samuel K. Vaughan.

Second Brigade, Col. M. T. Donohoe.

8th Conn. Major Wm. M. Pratt.

5th Md. Lt. Col. Wm. W. Bamberger.

10th N. H. Capt. Warren M. Kelley.

12th N. H. Lt. Col. Theodore E. Barker.

96th N. Y. Capt. Geo. W. Hinds.

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 64 of 81)