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 65 of 81)
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118th N. Y. Lt. Col. Levi T. Dominy.

9th Vt. Lt. Col. Val. G. Barney.

^ After Col. Stevens -was wounded at Fort Harrison, the 1st Brigade passed tinder
the command of Lt. Col. Raulston, then to Col. Cullen, then to Lt. Col. Ripley of the
9th Vt., all •without any change in regiments. The 19th Wisconsin came into our
Brigade when the white troops were changed from the left to the riglit — exchanging
positions with the colored troops on the Union lines north of the James River on Dec.
5, 1864. — S. M. T.


Third Brigade, Col. Saral. H. Roberts.

21st Conn. Lt. Col. James T. Brown.

40th Mass. Capt. John Pollock.

2d N. H. Lt. Col. J. N. Patterson.

58th Penn. Lt. Col. Cecil Clay.

188th Penn. Lt. Col. Geo. K. Bowen.

Engineers. Mounted Band. Cavalry.

Corps of Shar^vshooters. Pioneer Corps.

3d U. S. Battery. 1st N. Y. Battery.

5th U. S. Battery. 3d N. Y. Battery.

4th Wisconsin Battery.

April 1. Sat. Foggy — clears bright. Reg. in camp. Paid off
for four months — up to Dec. 31, 1864. We have to exercise the utmost
vigilance day and night, and are so held and disposed as to be ready at
any moment for instant action, if these lines are threatened or assailed,
or the enemy appears to be evacuating his works on our front. Not
knowing what is coming next, we chafe and fret under the strain of forced
inaction and anxiety. The lines under our charge are now so extended
as to require nearly all of a day, or all of a night, for the general officer
of the day, or of the picket guard, to make his rounds. Very quiet along
our lines, but Gen. Grant's lines in front of Petersburg are engaged, and
making a gi-eat amount of noise. The incessant, fearful and hideous din
growls, rumbles, jars, and throbs, hour in and hour out. The Bermuda
Hundred lines are more quiet ; but their guns can be heard mingling with
the rest. At night, from high points along our line, the flashes of the
cannon and the bursting shells are distinctly visible far down the lines to-
ward Petersburg. The Thirteenth holds a Dress-parade just at night —
the last Dress-parade at the front.

The ' Rebel Yell ' is probably nothing new, but older than Anglo-Saxon
history — as old as the word ' Hur-rah.' As near as can be made out, it
is the first syllable of the word hurrah — hur — repeatedly and rapidly
given explosively in the roof of tlie mouth, a high, sharp falsetto note ;
possibly the sharpest and loudest sound of which the human voice is
capable. It is the rapid repetition of the rebel yell, by hundreds and
thousands of rebel voices, that gives to it its vibratory, vicious, piercing
character. Any one can easily sound this famous yell after a little prac-
tice. As a distinguished Southern writer ^ says : " A man can holloa
the rebel yell all day ; it does not exhaust the voice."

1 Hon. T. W. Dawson, a gallant Confeflerate officer, now Editor of the Charleston,
S. C, News and Courier. The writer had a short correspondence with him in connec-
tion with the Prickett affair, see pag-e 277, and made an inquiry of him concerning
the rebel yell. He described it so that the writer could ' pick it up ; ' but added,
facetiously, that ' since the war was over he had been " hollering" so much for the
old flag and an appropriation, that he liad neaxly forgotten the old tune.' — S. M. T,


The Northern cheer places the greatest stress upon the deep, broad,
last syllable — rah ; and now at last the ' Rahs ' are to have it all their
own way.

Ten thousand men together, one half screaming, as the rebel yell, hur,
and the other half roaring, as the Northern cheer, rah, each man for him-
self, could probably produce a medley of sounds more hideous and intimi-
dating than by the use of any other two syllables in the English language.

April 2. Sun. Clear, warm. Reg. in camp. •' Many men write
home, as on the eve of a battle." The morning opens with what seems
to us an early, wild, loud alarum on the bells in Richmond, and not like
the usual Sunday bell ringing there. We have been flattering ourselves
that formerly we were vigilant ; but the pressure of strict watching last
night, to-day, and to-night along these lines, exceeds anything we have
experienced since we have been in the army.

Last night a furious bombardment was kept up all along the Union lines
in front of Petersburg and below ; a line of hard upon twenty miles of
the most severe firing. Shells were dropping in almost every quarter of
the city, bursting, and scattering showers of brick and of pieces of shell.
No man here can forget the deep, distant rumble, growl, and throb of
that night-long, terrific cannonade, by every gun on Gen. Grant's lines ;
rolling up toward us, as the wind served, continuous, incessant, hour
after hour, and boding sui"e death to the Confedei'acy.

Such a night it is all around us, while all is very quiet here on our own
lines, after midnight. From early evening until midnight, all the bands
in Gen. Weitzel's command here, and apparently as many more in Gen.
Longstreet's lines on our front, join in a musical contest ; ' Dixie ' vies
with ' Hail Columbia,' ' America,' with ' My Maryland,' and the ' Star
Sjjangled Banner ' dips full notes with the ' Bonnie Blue Flag.' All very
fine — but exceedingly deceitful.

News arrives in the night that Gen. Grant's army has captured 10,000
prisoners — Cheers ! We receive telegrams here about two hours after a
movement has been consummated on Gen. Grant's extreme left.

Lieut. Prescott goes out to-night in command of our 1st Brigade picket
and vedette lines ; a very careful, prompt and efficient ofl&cer being re-
quired for that most important position at this time.

The last camp of the Thirteenth at the front :

" Last Monday, March 27th, the Thirteenth moved into the abandoned
camp of the 100th New York regiment, Col. George B. Dandy, which
marched to the left of Petersburg with Gen. Ord's Flying Corps."

Lt. Col. Smith.

The Union line of entrenchments comes up to Fort Harrisori, on the
left, and thence runs northeast, and toward the right, to and across the
New Market road, at a place called the Cross-way, w^here there is a large
curtain on the road. This Cross-way is about one and one fourth miles
southeast from Laurel Hill church, one mile due east from Fort Gilmer,
nearly two miles north from Fort Harrison, and one mile almost due


north from Mr. O. Aiken's house, which was Gen. Devens' Hdqrs. See
map on page 473. From the Cross-way the line runs north, east and
south, forming a curve, or loojD, all north of the New Market road and
about two miles in circuit, — re-crossing the New Market road again
farther down and sweeping southeastward to Deep Bottom. This curve,
or loop,, is cut about midway of its circuit by a road (the next road of any
importance east of the Varina road) which leaves the New Market road
at Mr. James's house and runs north i)ast Mr. H. Jordan's house to the
Darbytown road, and is marked W. W. on map.

The last camp of the Thirteenth was close up to the rear, south side, of
this curve in the entrenchments, a few rods to the right and the first camp
to the right, east, of the point where this James and Jordan road cuts
through the line. The camp faced northward and was half a mile north-
east of the Cross-way. The camps of the several regiments in our Bri-
gade were very far apart, scattered along the lines north of Fort Harrison
and east, and southeast, and south, and on towards Deep Bottom.


April 3. Mon. Clear, pleasant, warm. Capt. Hubbard W. Hall
regimental officer of the day.

" Broke camp, and marched to Richmond without opposition. Entered
the city about 8.30 a. m. — our Regiment leading the column."

Major Nathan D. Stoodley, in Diary.

Few men of the Thirteenth slejjt last night. South of the Appomattox
river there was the usual artillery fire, its deep throbs rolling continuously
and incessantly up the misty valley of the James, and heard by us for
hour after hour. The enemy's picket fires were burning as usual along
his lines on our front, and with undimmed brightness ; but all was very
quiet on our own lines. There was too much care and curious question,
however, among us to make sleep even desirable, the very air seeming
to whisper of great events. As we were under orders to move on the
morrow at daylight, the night seemed like the night before a battle with
most of the anxiety removed, and a strong promise of victory added. But
for the sullen boom of huge cannon in the distance, the night were best
framed for dreaming wide awake.

Few men, except the pickets and watch, saw anything very unusual
going on within the enemy's lines, until well into the night. P^very man
in the Thirteenth was held in readiness for an instant move, the men
turning in under arms, but there seemed less pressure of foreboding and
anxiety than we have felt for a week past ; and so the night wore slowly
away with all excepting the officers and men on the picket lines and out-
posts ; but upon no morning, since the war began, have we felt as we do as
this morning comes on. As the pressure of watching and anxiety, experi-
enced for a month past, now falls away, the troops hail with gladness the
opportunity to move, and march out of camp with feelings similar to those
in which a prisoner indulges when the fetters are struck from his feet.


As telegrams from Gen. Grant's front at Petersburg have been received,
and read to the troops here within an hour or two after every one of his
successes, cheers upon cheers have rung along our lines until the men are
surfeited with cheers ; or else they feel the terrible cost in blood, and
limb, and life, to their brethren in arms, of those very successes ; or else
a desire, mingled with impatience, has taken them, to be moving also
themselves, instead of playing too much the part of tail to all this most
glorious and magnificent kite ; or else, and more probable, they have a
combination of all these feelings, and so they preserve a stolid, almost
sullen silence, most strange in young men, and remai"ked of all. Their
deepest thoughts none may know ; but enough of feelings and emotions
— now to business !

Suddenly, in the midst of the almost universal stillness, about 4.30 a. m.,
probably a little earlier, this morning, the strange quiet is broken by a
tremendous explosion, occurring on or near the James river, rending the
air, and shaking the very ground here beneath our feet, and blazing out a
broad noon-day glare over the trees ; then another explosion, and a sud-
den glare of flame, occurs nearer our line, then others upon our front,
then others to the right ; all following each other in rapid succession from
our left, until, growing duller and duller in the distance, the sounds die
away in the vicinity of Richmond ; only to rise again with louder and
more awful thunders, around near the city, and in the city itself, among
her arsenals and gunboats, while, soon, immense and steady fires gleam
out upoii the sky above the woods. A Long-roll of exploding powder
magazines, at one and the same time arousing our troops to action, and
self-celebrating the downfall and destruction of the Confederacy, its army
and its capital ; a Long-roll calling to arms nearly two hundred thousand
men, Union and Confederate, or causing them to clutch their arms in
hand with most nervous grasp ; one half of them destined to incomparable
victory, the other half to shame and loss and defeat ; but ultimately to
gain untold, for the American Nation is the Phcenix arising from this
day's tremendous flame.

Soon to the southward, and away to the northward again, red flames
light up the sky in every direction. Along the James the enemy's fleet
is on fire, and there, too, explosion follows explosion, until the earth shakes
again and again, and we know that our intimate acquaintance, the famous
James river fleet, is no more.

Deserters come in — two from the 12th Virginia, among others — and
announce the evacuation of Richmond ! Then an aide to Gen. Weltzel
dashes along our lines at a breakneck speed, giving orders direct, for our
entire force here to be in instant readiness to move at call. Another
aide rides wild to the pickets, to order them to advance ; but he is a little
too late — they have marched toward Richmond. Mounted men, officers,
aides and orderlies are flying in every direction, troops are springing to
arms ; while the camp followers, as usual, prepare to go ahead, or ske-
daddle, as the case may for them demand. The whole scene is mingled


in event, and crowded into the space of a few minutes of time, in the
misty, darkly defined hour that just precedes the dawn ; and now comes
back upon our memories, over the slow and winding road of more than
twenty peaceful years, like a fearful and fitful dream, a strange vision, or
the sudden, vivid glimpse of a land of chaos and destruction not our own.

But of all the life excited by the events of this morning, the liveliest
resides in the negroes. There is scarce a negro antic and caper in all
Africa that these overjoyed fellows do not cut up, exclaiming : " Marsa
Lee, an' Ole Jeff, done got it now ; the whole ting done gone up —
I-golly ! "

Lieut. Royal B. Prescott, Co. C, loth, has command of our First Bri-
gade jiickets, and vedettes stationed as usual in front of the main line of
works in little semi-circular rifle-pits, and immediately ujion the first ex-
plosion that is heard he is hurried forward toward the rebel lines. His
is the extreme front line, there being no Union troops between his line
of men and the enemy. His pickets thread their way through the abatis,
and the numerous buried torpedoes, without accident, pass the enemy's
works — here immensely strong and impregnable to assault — and con-
tinue on without opposition until they reach the top of Tree HiU, and
here they halt for a few minutes to view the burning city. Soon they go
down the hill, following the turn2)ike, and halt again near Gillie's Creek.
Here they meet the Mayor of Richmond, coming out of the city in a car-
riage, who tenders to Lieut. Prescott the surrender of Richmond. Lieut.
Prescott declines, and refers the Mayor to Gen. Weitzel just then seen
approaching in the turnpike. The Mayor rides forward to meet that
General. Gen. Weitzel receives the surrender of the city, and then the
pickets under command of Lieut. Prescott, move up the streets direct to
Cajntol Square, arriving there about 7 a. m ; having entered the city
nearly two hours before the formal entry of the First Brigade led by the

Lieut. Prescott has kindly furnished the writer with the following
statement, as the account of his experiences and duties on this eventful
morning ; the hours given, and the main points, are those written in his
Diary at the time, and in his letters written in Richmond on April 4th
1865, now, 1887, in the writer's hands :

" It was my fortune to go on the picket line in command of the pickets
of the 1st Brigade, 3d Division, 24th Corjis, on Sunday morning April
2, 1865, about 10 a. m., for the usual term of twenty-four hours. The
men under my conunand were about sixty in all, possibly a few more
than that number, all white men, and were from all the regiments in the
1st Brigade. The opening in the Union line of earth-works through
which these pickets passed to their line was considerably to the left of
the camp of the 13th N. H., and only a few rods to the right of the 1st
Brigatle guard-house. The position of the pickets on their line was in
the woods, tall pines, in front of the Fort Harrison line of Union earth-
Works ; in a belt of woods continuing from the vicinity of the New Mar-


ket road, through a marsh to the left, and on toward the James river.
This belt of woods was not very wide, nor dense, for we could see,
through it, the Confederate picket posts, their main line of earth-works
and their camps generally.

" We were to the left of the New Market road, which ran up through
the Confederate works to join the Osborne pike nearer the city ; that is
to say my picket line extended from a point at some distance from the
main works of Fort Harrison to marshy ground that continued down to-
ward the James. My line was the extreme front line of the pickets and
vedettes — no Union soldiers being between us and the rebels — and was
about 100 yards in front of the main line of fortifications ; and the rebel
pickets were very near on our front, being distant less than 200 yards.

" I stationed each one of these pickets and vedettes at night, and as he
took his lonely post, transmitted to him the same instructions that had
been given to me, viz. : that especial vigilance was to be observed during
all the night, and instant report made of any unusual movements occurring
within the rebel lines.

" We were daily, hourly, expecting an attack from or to advance upon
the enemy, and during the afternoon of Sunday April 2d, we observed a
somewhat unusual activity and bustle within the enemy's entrenchments ;
we could hear their frequent drum-caUs for officers or First Sergeants,
and the rumble of tlieit artillery, and many men there were busily load-
ing wagons, which were rapidly moved away as soon as loaded. Upon
this, I wrote a note and sent it in to the 1st Brigade Hdqrs., informing
Col. Edward H. Ripley of the 9th Vermont, now commanding our 1st
Brigade, of what was going on within the Confederate lines. He re-
turned to me a note with instructions to observe unusual vigilance, watch-
ing the rebel movements as closely as possible during that night, which
we did. There was also an unusual activity in the rebel camp that night.
Their religious meetings were continued longer than usual, their singing
and praying were louder, their picket and camp fires were kept burning
later ; and many means employed to deceive us as to their Intentions.

" The first indications I had of the enemy's evacuating his lines, were
at half past four o'clock on the morning of April 3d — 4.30 a. m. — when
the Confederate gunboat in the James river and their magazines in the
vicinity of Drury's Bluff, between one and two miles distant, were blown
up. The concussion was terrific. The earth shook where we were, and
there flashed out a glare of light as of noonday, while the fragments of
the vessel, pieces of timber and other stuff, fell among my pickets, who
had not yet moved from the position where they had been ]iosted for the
night watch. Fortunately no accidents occurred from the falling pieces.

" Immediately after this explosion occurred, Lt. Col. Bamberger, of the
oth Maryland, acting that night as Division officer of the day, came gal-
loping up ; and his horse, terrified by the exjilosion, reared and plunged,
and gave Lt. Col. Bamberger considerable troul)le before he coidd be
controlled, and quieted enough to stand still. He ordered me to advance


my pickets without delay, but to use the utmost caution. The men were
on the extreme front line, and were all ready to move in a moment ; and
in a few moments after the explosion my whole picket line was moving
through the narrow belt of woods. I had been awake for several hours,
in fact all night, and this explosion was the first of the long series that
followed along the Confederate lines, and the James, on that morning,
each with a similar glare and jar.

" As directed by Lt. Col. Bamberger, my men were held well in line,
ready for instant action, and but a few feet apart, forming quite a strong
line ; and moving in this manner we were soon past the narrow belt of
timber, and out of it upon hard, clear, dry ground, much trampled
by the Confederate troops. We bore somewhat to the left, as we ad-
vanced. While we were moving through this belt of woods the first
fires burst out in the direction and vicinity of Richmond, and in the en-
emy's lines. One of my men here had his thumb blown off by the acci-
dental discharge of his rifle, the lock catching in a bush. This was the
only casualty of the day among my pickets.

" On reaching the main Confederate line of earth-works, with its ti'iple
line of abatis, I noticed bits of bright-colored cloth attached to little
sticks, rising a few inches above the ground, a short distance in front of
the rebel works. Suspecting that these marked the location of torpedoes,
I halted the line, went down along it, and cautioned the men to step over
them very carefully.^ No accident occurred, and we were soon inside the
Confederate works.

" We entered first the fort, the large earth-work, immediately in front
of Fort Harrison, having to climb very high walls in so doing. Many
heavv siege guns were here in position, unspiked, and the ammunition
piled ready for use ; and as I passed by I seized a primer from one of
these Confederate guns, which I now, 1887, have in my possession as a
souvenir of that morning's occupation of Fort Gilmer. I halted my line
here within Fort Gilmer, as a measure of precaution, and conversed with
several Confederate stragglers, and negroes, who were still lingering
about the works, and by them I was informed that Richmond was being

" I then advanced my line, formed as before, turning somewhat to the
right, until I came to the turnpike ; the first highway we met after pass-
ing the enemy's main line of works, and leading northward. On coming
near this highway, I waited a moment for the stragglers and breathless
men to come up, then formed my men, for a rapid march, in a column
of fours, obliqued to the right a little, entered the turnpike, and advanced
rapidly straight up towards Richmond.

" We saw no Union colored troops, no Union white troops, and no or-
ganized Confederate troops whatever, during the whole morning, until
we were joined by Lieut. Keener's men after we had reached the high
hill near the city, as mentioned below ; after a march of about five miles,

^ Only seven pounds weight was required to cause one of these torpedoes to explode.



or more, from my picket line in front of Fort Harrison. We met on the
way, however, Uttle knots of Confederate soldiers, all unarmed stragglers,
and a few colored people, all of whom reiterated the statement that Rich-
mond was being evacuated ; and later on we met some who stated that
the city had been already evacuated and abandoned by the Confederate
troops and Government.

" Following the turnpike, and marching by the right flank, all the way
in, we advanced rapidly until we came upon the crest of the high land
known as Tree Hill, sharp and steep, very near to Richmond, and sepa-
rated from it only by a deep gorge or valley containing a brook or two.
Here we halted for a few minutes to take breath, and to look down upon
a city in flames. Soon after halting here, we were joined by Lieut.
David S. Keener, of the 5th Maryland, and a small squad of his men.
They had come up from some point still farther to the left than we had
been, between my picket line and the James. His men joined mine,
making in all a company of about sixty or seventy men, and I led them
all down the hill, all the time marching in the turnpike, until we came
to Gillie's Creek bridged by a few planks, on which were stationed three
white cavalrymen, who disputed my further progress into the city, and
claimed that they were acting under orders of the General commanding.

" We therefore halted at Gillie's Creek, on the south side, and without
crossing, stacked arms, and the tired men threw themselves down upon
the ground to rest. While we were here, a gunboat in the James, near
by, in full sight, blew up ; this was the second explosion we had witnessed
this morning, the first one being at 4.30 a. m. Another gunboat blew up
some time afterwards. A few of the men, who had fallen out because of
our rapid marching, joined us here.

" While we were halted here at Gillie's Creek, the Mayor of Richmond
came down from the city in his carriage, and I held a conversation with
him. This was, as near as I can determine, between six and a half and
seven o'clock in the morning (6.30 and 7 a. m.), and the place where I
conversed with the Mayor was a few rods south of Gillie's Creek in the
turnpike. The Mayor here then tendered to me the surrender of the
city of Richmond, and offered to place in my hands a package, in the act
of so doing, containing, I presume, papers and the keys of the public build-

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 65 of 81)