S. Millet Thompson.

Thirteenth regiment of New Hampshire volunteer infantry in the war of the rebellion, 1861-1865: a diary covering three years and a day online

. (page 7 of 81)
Online LibraryS. Millet ThompsonThirteenth regiment of New Hampshire volunteer infantry in the war of the rebellion, 1861-1865: a diary covering three years and a day → online text (page 7 of 81)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

is the writer's authority for the statement concerning Gen. Hooker.
Judge Henley served during the battle as a Captain in the 32d Virginia
Confederate regiment. Col. Edgar B. Montague commanding.

Third, a little farther west, you cross another railroad, then unfinished
and mere banks and ditches, but now completed and used. You cross
this new railroad bank, near a low, wet lot of ground, the swampiest
place on this railroad along here, and about 500 yai'ds from the Cemetery.
As you stand upon this new railroad, at the point marked I. on the map
on page 43 and near this low, swampy place ; to your right, north, is
a long bluff, running southwestwardly toward the Cemetery. On the
side of this bluff, about 100 yards northward from you, is a lone oak-tree,
and a spring of water called Cold Spring. On the top of the bluff, north
of the tree and spring, is a street, opened since the battle, running from
the city to near the Cemetery gate. A ditch makes down diagonally
from this street, from a point near the Cemetery to the new railroad.
We now approacli the scene of the assault. Along the southern slope of
this long bluff thousands of Union soldiers fell during Dec. 13 ; our night
assault was made to the left of nearly all of them. AVest of this diagonal
ditch, between you and the Cemetery, is a very steep bank, marked F. on
the same map as above, and is practically the southwest end of the bluff.
This bank rises northward some 20 or 30 feet to a little nearly level field,
not 200 yards square, lying close up to the Telegraph road, and directly
in front of Mai-ye's Hill. This road, and along it also the famous stone
bank-wall, bounds this little field for about 150 yards on its west side ;
the new street bounds its north side for neai-ly 200 yards ; the new rail-
road runs along south of it at a distance of about 50 yards ; while the
southeast side of the field falls upon the diagonal ditch, at a distance of
about 150 to 175 yards from the Telegraph road, the steep bank sweep-
ing around to that road near the southeast corner of Marye's Hill. There
is no better description for this little bluff and field than to call it a flat-


top hill. Up into this little field the First Brigade, Hawkins', of Gen.
Getty's Division attempted to rush alone in the night charge. The Sec-
ond Brigade, Harland's, was held in reserve near the R. &, F. Railroad
bank, a little north of Hazel Run. It was uj) the south side of this little
bluff that the Thirteenth charged, receiving the first volley of Confederate
musketry, most of the bullets flying overhead, and then continued on
under the storm of bullets coming from the rebels firing at will, and into
the little field on the top until ordered to lie down ; and lay there pro-
tected by the darkness, and little ridges of land, for apparently a full half
hour, and until the worst part of the rebel firing was over. How near to
the stone wall they came, will appear farther on. The land falls a little
all the way from the road to the bluff, consequently the rebels in the road
fire over our heads. The unfinished railroad runs southwestward along
near the foot of the bluff, at a wide angle from the R. & F. Railroad, to
near the southeast corner of Marye's Hill. The stone bank-wall then
standing along the west side of the little field into which the loth charged,
has been removed, and built into the Cemetery lodge, and the surface of
the little field furnished the clay for the bricks of the Cemetery wall.
It is no stretch to say that the red, in many a brave Union soldier's blood,
and of the Thirteenth too, has given its own color to those bricks.

The line of the advance and assault, after the R. & F. Railroad was
crossed, was practically along the edge of the southern side of the bluffs,
skirting the more level meadow or intervale that forms the north bank of
Hazel Run from the Bowling Green road to the southeast corner of the
Cemetery. The top of the bluff, and the meadow along Hazel Run, was
pi'obably swept by the fire of fifty Confederate cannon and ten thousand
muskets ; the side of the bluff alone could be made use of by an advan-
cing column.

Now go up on the terrace, at the southeast corner of the Cemetery,
reverse this present view, and look east, across the sunken Telegraph
road, down upon the little field — this flat-top hill — the level land be-
low it, and down along the bluff sides, and along the north bank of Hazel
Run ; and you will be ready to stake your reputation and best wits, that
no man, knowing the ground, could have sent two brigades, and held
back one of them in reserve, to assault this corner ; while fifteen or
twenty Confederate regiments, and several batteries, knowing every acre
of the ground, securely posted behind hill-top and ridge, in ravines and
rifle-pits, behind buildings, sunken roads and stone bank-walls, were all
ready and waiting to receive them. The Union Generals could not
have known and really did not know the extreme difficulties of this

The term flat-top hill is preferred to the word plateau because it seems
to more definitely describe the place. The plateau extends eastward from
the Telegraph road, and widening, for a quarter of a mile or more, while
this little flat-top hill is of but a few acres, and is the extreme soutliAvest
end of the plateau where it comes upon the Telegraph road. In all the


assaults of the day the troops mounted the plateau, the Thirteenth mounted
this southwest end of it.

Now let us return to the river bank and come uj) with the Thirteenth
in the assault, as nearly as we may, the irregularities of the ground, and
the necessities of secrecy and cover compelling numerous windings.

Leaving this vicinity, the Thirteenth with its Brigade and Division
moves up the wharf northward, then passes into the city, by going through
the old lane leading from the steamboat landing near the ponton bridge,
westward to the vicinity of Princess Anne street, then turns southward
again, and crosses the broad field west of Mr. Slaughter's house. Here
in this level field the column of the 13th, as we march by the right flank,
is drawn out quite straight, and a solid shot, from the enemy near Lee's
Hill, skims with its own peculiar scream along nearly the whole length of
the Regiment, and not more than ten or fifteen feet overhead, but harm-
less. When across this field we go down a steep bank and wade through
a little stream of mud and. water that empties into Hazel Run ; all the
while bearing towards the left, southward, from the point where we
emerged from the city. A portion of the 13th crosses a deep ditch upon
a few timbers, the rest marches around it at a double-quick. Just before
we drop into Hazel Run valley we pass over a part of the day's battle-
field. Next we move more directly forward, westward, at an irregular,
jerky, rapid pace, quick, double-quick, run, and come upon uneven ground
where there is a partial cover, among scant brush and a few low ridges
and knolls, from the enemy's musketry fire now coming upon us quite
severe from his pickets, evidently at a long range, and from a few small
cannon shot. As we pass, the dead of the day's battle are seen lying on
the ground to our right in large numbers. The enemy's fii-e rapidly in-
creases as we move down a slight declivity on nearing the railroad. We
next approach the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, countermarch
into line of battle along the city side of the embankment, the southeast
side, which now affords a little shelter from the enemy's fire. The even-
ing grows dark very rapidly here in the mist or smoke in the valley. The
sun set to-day at forty-five minutes after four.

After the line of battle is formed here, the right of the 13th, with
Col. Stevens, is towards the city, the left, with Maj. Storer, is towards
Hazel Run, Lt. Col. Bowers being in the centre. The Thirteenth is on
the right of the second line of Col. Hawkins' (First) Brigade ; the 25th
N. J. is on the right of the first line, and in front of the Thirteenth.
The 9th N. Y., Hawkins' Zouaves, have tlie left of the front line of the
Brigade. The iiositions of the 10th N. H., 89th and lOod N. Y. in our
Brigade are not distinctly knoAvn to the writer.

Gen. llarland's (Second) Brigade is in support, the 4th R. L, 8th,
11th, ir)th. Ifith, and 21st Conn. ; and this Brigade halts within a few-
rods of the railroad, and our First Brigade is in all the succeeding part
of the charge alone. M. & C H. of Conn. 294.

The enemy's fire, while we are here at the railroad, is made much


worse by a light Union battery, which has taken position to the right and
rear of our Brigade, and commences firing furiously, a part of its shells
going almost directly over our heads. The enemy's fire, however, thus
invited, soon silences this spiteful little snap-dragon ; one rebel shell is
seen by us to burst directly ujion the top of one of these Union guns,
others among the guns ; and the battery hauls off, or ceases firing, evi-
dently getting the worst of the duel. Soon other Union batteries open,
farther to our right, but also firing nearly over our heads as we advance.

Gen. Hazard Stevens, then serving on the staff of Gen. Getty, contrib-
utes the following- : " Just as Gen. Getty's Division was about to charge,
the General sent Maj. Edward .Tardine of the 9th N. Y., Hawkins' Zouaves,
a gallant officer who had been in action several times before, to assist Col.
Stevens in leading the Thirteenth, which had never been under fire.
When Ma.j Jardine arrived he found the Thirteenth drawn up in line of
battle in front of the R. & F. Railroad embankment all ready, and only
awaiting the order to adv^ance to the assault. Planting himself in front
of the line, he started to make a military speech in order to inspire the
Regiment with the necessary ardor for the bloody work before it ; but as
he looked down the long regular line of glistening bayonets, and saw the
determined, resolute faces, and stalwart forms, he realized that any ha-
rangue was not needed, and finally burst out with : ' Thirteenth New
Hampshire, you love your country, you are brave men, and you came out
here to fight for her — now, go in ! Forward I ! ' "

A moment later the Regimental officers give the order to their several
commands, and the column moves close up under the railroad embank-
ment to mount it and charge. More than half an hour has been taken
up since we left the river bank, but after the dispositions are made our
halt and waiting in line of battle along the R. & F. R. R. is but for a
few minutes, when the order rings along the line : " Forward I " — at
which the most of the Brigade starts, but a part is left lying down flat
on the ground. Even with this loss, if the charge had kept on as it
started, there might have been some chance for success ; but after a little,
squads of men halted along the way and commenced firing over the
heads of the body of the Brigade which kept advancing. We do not
pretend to know where these fools came from — but they were there.

As a whole, however, we quickly cross the railroad in good order, bay-
onets fixed, and with a rush and a cheer dash forward to the assault on
the dou])le-quick. The writer here distinctly remembers seeing the Thir-
teenth in a fair, good line, in the dusk, when at some distance across the
railroad ; but soon a part of the left wing of the Reg. plunges into the
deep mud of a wet, swampy, ditchy place which extends towards Hazel
Run, the right wing and the colors finding better ground. There is much
scattering fire upon us from the right and left, but for a few minutes just at
the first of our assault there is an ominous silence on our front. The left
wing of the 2oth N. J. in the front line of our Brigade, and in advance of
the Thirteenth, plunges into mud, breaks up, lies down or sinks, and divides,


a part only advancing who find solid ground, and the 13th keeping up take
tlieir advance position. The order of the right wing of the 25th is better,
but this wing soon surges to the right, uncovering the colors of the 13th.
and the Reg. springs at once for the advance. This irregularity is soon
adjusted to some extent, but the line of the 25th is broken and in squads,
and the 13th is up even with them or close behind them from this time.

When the assault first began the Captains of companies in the 13th
sprang to the front, all urging their men to the utmost, and the men
kept well up in line, dressing on the colors ; and followed very close upon
the ranks of the Jerseymen. Very naturally, howevei*, the centre of the
Regiment bulged forward a little, as the colors directed the course of the
assault, and when the 25th N. J. broke up in the mud, its men in front
of our colors were in the way of the men of the 13th, who stepped upon
them and over them as they fell into the ditch, and before they had time
to rise again. Thus our colors easily came to the van ; while parts of
the line of the 13th were held back by the large squads of the men of the
25th, who kept on in spite of the mud. This nuid accident damaged, if
it did not destroy, the effective power of both Regiments ; but the 13th
seeing the 2.5th in the mud first, had a little better ojiportunity to avoid
it. The assault from this time until we halt near the rebel lines, is all
the work of ten minutes and less, and terrible beyond words to describe ;
and by this time it is so dusky that we cannot see clearly more than a
few rods. A part of the right wing of the 25th N. J. extends to the
right beyond the extreme right of the 13th ; but we are so close upon the
men of the rest of that wing that our men could reach them with their

As for the colors of the 13th and the centre near them and within view
of the writer, we soon clear a stone wall, or broken down fence built
partly of stone. ^ the mud and water of a ditch, the enemy for a moment
having ceased firing on our front — w^aiting for us ! — move obliquely
somewhat to the right, charge directly up a steeji bank, and are moving
forw^ard, on smooth and nearly level ground, towards a high point on the
enemy's line, a great black hill, and said to be his most formidable posi-
tion in this vicinity ; when we hear a rebel order : '' Ready, Aim — Fire ! "
and w'ith a terrific crash, and a long line of blaze and flame lighting up
much of the scene, revealing long, dense rows of rebel heads and leveled
muskets, and all ripping out at once, right close in our faces, comes a volley
of rebel musketry, apparently from three or four ranks of men crownled
into one long line of battle and not more than one hundred and fifty feet dis-
tant from us and our colors ; some members of our Regimeiit say at less
than half that distance, and that they felt upon their faces the heat of the
discharge. Anyhow, it was ' pesky near,' as one of our men said of the
rebel bullet that blistered the end of his nose without cutting any of it off.
The rebel volley seems to 2)our out of the very ground, and the line of
flame appears to be as long as three or four ordinary regimental fronts.
^ See Carleton, at end of Dec 13,


After an instant's delay in the firing, of which delay we make the most
by advancing, volley after volley follows from the rebels, to the right and
left, rapid, solid, crash upon crash, amid a general storm of file firing,
or firing at will, more directly in our front ; while shells and gra])e pour
in a shower, from front, from right, from left, from the high hillside and
from the lower level, scream through our lines, whirr, purr, and whizz
over our heads, and beat and bound on the ground about us, and the
enemy's infernal explosive bullets snap, crackle and sparkle on every
hand and in the air. The flashes of fire on all sides from musket, cannon
and shell are as thousands upon thousands, constant, innumerable, and
the roaring indescribably terrific. But for us the enemy fires high, the
most of his shots going over our heads. The whole scene is royally mag-
nificent ; and well worth going five thousand miles to see.

At the first terrible volley, a body of men of the 25th N. J. divided
into irregular squads, in front of us, suddenly turn and dash to the rear,
straight back through the line of the Thirteenth, and create considerable
confusion ; but the men of the 13th hold on their way as best they may,
give a shout and rush forward a few yards nearer to the enemy's front
lines ; when a veiy deep and hoarse voice, near by to the right, is heard
above the din, shouting : " Down, Boys — Down ! " and the order is
quickly obeyed. (The writer has been unable to learn who gave this
order, the voice unknown to him.) Here the writer must have been near
the Thirteenth's colors, for he is nearly knocked down, and is consid-
erably hurt by the staff of the colors hitting him on the left side of the
head, as the color-bearer falls towards the front at the word " Down ! "
and the colors fall and lie at his left. But after the volley and before the
halt, the Captains and other officers are trying to rally the Reg. and to
continue the assault. There is a babel of orders and commands in which
the writer recognizes the voice of Capt. Dodge, and of Capt. Julian, who
stands up for a little time and sends his clear, sharp voice all abroad
for Company E to advance ; but wisdom and prudence soon argue for
preservation of life, and he lies down on the ground near a rod to the
left and front of the colors, and there remains for a long time. Advance
now means advance to a grave, or upon scant and bad rations in a rebel
prison. We can see the heads of the rebels now and then in the flashes
of light, and distinctly hear their officers' words of command. We could
easily throw a stone over among them. A few minutes after the halt,
and while lying down, the writer receives a hard thump on his side, as a
piece of shell strikes Company E's large record book which he carries, and
cuts into the leather cover. Peter Smithwick of E hears the blow, and
reaching forward, pulls at the writer's foot, and asks in anxious tones :
" Orderly, Orderly ; are you killed ? " and receives for an answer : '* No ;
only jarred."

As the officers and men kept moving forward while rallying from the
effects of the first volley, they unconsciously advanced a considerable dis-
tance before the final halt. The writer thinks that one of the Regiment's


colors changed hands during the assault. It will be readily seen that the
companies became mingled together, the wings naturally drawing towards
the centre in the closing-up movement as men stopped or fell. Some of our
color-guard, and quite a number of our men, now gather near our colors;
for though the night is now quite dark, we are so near to the muzzles of the
enemy's cannon and muskets, that the wild scene is considerably lighted up
by the incessant flashes of burning powder, and we can see our men lying
about. These, however, eventually all come ofE the field with us. The
writer moves a little to the right into a sandy depression, or hole made by
a bursting shell. AVe are so near the enemy that his gun wads, or cart-
ridge bags, fly over us, and some of them fall burning, smoking and stinking
among us, and we feel upon our faces and hands the wind of the dis-
charges of his cannon. Our men here pick up these burning wads or bags
upon their bayonets and toss them away. We constantly hear the rebel
commands. Their cannon are depressed, the muzzles well down, and we
can see them jump back as they are fired. All that saves the portion of
the Thirteenth now directly around the colors is their nearness to the
rebel cannon and rifles, which cannot be dej^ressed sufficiently to reach us
with their fire, and a little dry hollow, dropping less than two feet, in the
surface of the field just where the men are lying. The shelter is just
enough to permit a man to rise a little from the ground, support himself
upon his elbow, and look about him, as some of us do, and have quite a
clear view, for a few seconds at a time, of the near surrounding^scene.

We doubt if the enemy can see us, any better than we can see him.
It is too dark to see far, but the flash of a cannon lights up for a moment
quite a wide space near us. The missiles of all sorts fly over our heads
like hail, and with a near, cutting, whizzing liiss, like the sound of a lot
of small buzz-saws, and the cannonading is furious ; the shots pouring over
us from all sides, and those from our own batteries, in our rear, as danger-
ous to us as any. The fire of our batteries is directed upon the huge
black hill rising close in our front. The enemy's aim from his cannon
mounted upon the same great hill seems to be directed upon our troops
on the flat ground nearer the unfinished railroad and Hazel Run than we
are ; the missiles from the two fires sweep over our heads, though very
closely, but for those troops a few rods in our rear the situation must be
terrible. There are no Union troops between us and the line of the
enemy's musketry-fire along the sunken Telegraph road in our front, not
a man dead or alive. By the flashes we can see every rod of that space.
Nor are any men with the white leggings to be seen hereabout. We
must needs take the matter philosophically, for there is no w^ay to escape
from our position except to bolt for the rear the instant the firing quiets
down, if it ever does — minutes are hours in a jjlace like this. At some
distance back of us, a little to the right, a scattered line of Union troops
are unwisely firing over us at the enemy's lines ; and the enemy is firing
in reply from half a dozen lines high up across our front. There is much
tiring also from a lot of houses far to our right, very wild firing and sharp.


We are in the midst of a magnificent exhibition of fireworks, their flashes
of flame ranging from the bright spark of a rebel explosive bullet, to the
instant glare of a locomotive headlight, as the cannon discharge and the
shell burst, the blaze and roaring about the same on every hand and front
and rear. The many crazy Union bullets are just skimming over our
heads, from the rear, while the flashes of the Union guns only serve to
pi'ovoke an increasing fire from the enemy on our front, their bullets also
just skimming over our heads. The Union bullets are as dangerous for
us to face in retreating, as the enemy's bullets are in following us. The
situation is a trying one ; but our interest in this scene, so new and strange
to us raw troops, robs the dangers of half their terrors. And so we lie
and wait. Think of spending half an hour in such a 2)lace !

The colors of the Thirteenth, and the body of men close about them,
are now near the western side of that little field on the southwest end of
the bluff ; the position is recognizable at a glance, and no other spot on
the whole line satisfies the conditions of the charge and halt. To the
right and left of the colors we can see the men of the Thirteenth lying
upon the ground. While we are here one large Union shell, that comes
rushing, screaming, the nearest of all to our heads, plunges into the ground
about twenty-five or fifty feet to our front, bursts upon striking, jarring
the ground and giving us a shower of gravel ; as usual the most of the
pieces take the direction of the shell, and we can hear the enemy scream,
curse and swear. Since the first volleys, the enemy in dense ranks, in
large numbers, and firing at will, have })roduced a perfect roar of mus-
ketry ; but as they fire high and about all their shots go over, the result
is more threatening than harmful. One thing we note particularly — and
it is remarked upon while we lie here, as the firing lulls to fewer bright
flashes, and as talk commences about finding and removing all our
wounded to the rear — we have not seen and cannot now see any bodies
of men, living or dead, lying or standing in front of ourselves, in the
narrow space between us and the enemy's nearest line of ilashing muskets,
though the ground appears smooth and rising a little from us to their line
along the sunken road and stone wall. No men of any other regiment
are in front of the Thirteenth now and here. We can occasionally, in
the flashes of light, see the hands and arms of the rebels working, as
they ram their cartridges home ; and the multitude of their commands
indicate many oflicers " present for duty." Our interest in the situation

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 7 of 81)