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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them having his gun knocked out of his hand by a canister shot."

The Band of the 13th had a very hard night's work. They joined the
stretcher-corps, and followed us to the charge, and ke^rt only a few jjaces
in our rear. The volleys meant for us flew over their heads also. After
our return from the assault, they hastily removed the wounded ; going up
within a few yards of the enemy's front line. They were repeatedly fired
upon by the enemy, but continued in the work of removing the wounded
until after eleven o'clock. One of the Band states that " tlie fiercest part
of the final rush of the Thirteenth and Brigade, and the enemy's wor^t
firing at us, lasted about fifteen minutes." The enemy evidently expected
a repetition of our assault, for they threw out no pickets or skirmishers
until long after the main body of the Thirteenth had retired from the
front, and our wounded had been removed.

The following is copied substantially, as corroliorative :

Capt. James A. Sanborn, Historian of the 10th N. H. V., states, that
"the plain which we charged across was staked off by the enemy's En-
gineers before the battle, and the distances marked on the gun-carriages,
to cut shell-fuse by." He continues : " The 9th N. Y., Hawkins' Zouaves,
were on picket at the front in the outskirts of the city on the night of
Dec. 12th, and were relieved by the 10th N. H. on the morning of Dec.
13th. The 10th N. H. drove in the rebel skirmishers, and occui)ied the
railroad and Hazel Run, on the flank. And from their position witnessed



70 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHHIE REGIMENT. 1862

the repeated charges, made during the day, upon INIarye's Heights. Just
before dark the rest of our First Brigade, excepting Hawkins' Zouaves,
came up and joined the 10th N. H. ; and charged just at dark, across the
ground where thousands had been repulsed and slain during the day.
The Brigade moved across the plain in quick time until the rebel batteries
opened, and then at double-quick. A fence is passed, then a deep ditch,
under the tremendous artillery fii-e, and solid ground is found only to be
swejit by a perfect monsoon of lead and iron, from the enemy's batteries
and lines of battle behind the stone wall. The Brigade moves forward
until the rebel muskets seem to flash in our men's very faces. Regiments
mingle in confusion in the darkness, now only relieved by the flash of the
enemy's guns. Retiring a short distance, the lines of the 10th and 13th
N. H. are re-formed, but the attack is relinquished. The 10th N. H.
bivouacked that night in an open field."

The ofticial report of the assault of the 13th on this evening places the
losses at two men killed, three officers — Capt. Carter, and Lieutenants
Durell and Shaw — and thirty-one men wounded, and six men missing.
Total forty-two. How it was that so many men as there were in the
Thirteenth, got into that place, and ever got out again unhurt, is a won-
der to all. It can only be accounted for by the high, wild and excited
firing done by the enemy, who " thought that a vastly heavier column
was coming upon them."

Six officers of the 13th were absent sick, or on leave. A few officers,
and a number of the enlisted men, the writer among the number, went
through the whole battle and on duty all the time, though they had been
excused from duty by order of the Surgeon.

After Lieut. M. A. Shaw of Company I was wounded, Lieut. Chas. H.
Curtis of Company C was placed in command of Company I on the bat-
tle-field. Sergeant William R. Duncklee of I carried the State colors.
He was wounded in the side of the head, but brought his colors off the
field, and with them the National colors also, which the other color-
bearer had dropped. Sergt. Amasa Downes of B took the State colors
after the return to the railroad. Sergt. David W. Bodge of B took the
National colors. Duncklee was absent in Hospital about three months.

Our charge is supported by batteries of artillery, which take position
about 4.30 p. m. above the town, on the right-hand side of the road to
Marye's Hill. The enemy, however, drive some of these guns away in
three minutes.

The writer found a new hatchet in the mud on the wharf, opposite the Washington
fami, soon after the cohinin left the vicinity of the city Gas Works for the assault,
picked it up, and stuck the handle into his Serjeant's sword-belt. The hatchet, how-
ever, persisted in working- out. and to save it he carried it in his left hand most of
the way. As he was off duty, he had to borrow a gun (his own gun having been put
on the team at Uniontown. Md., and never seen .again). The bayonet of this borrowed
gun fell off and was lost somewhere on the advance to the railroad ; and so he went
into the final assault, without a cartridge box or equipments, his Sergeant" s straight
sword dangling about his legs, the Company's (E) record-book, 14 inches long, 11



1862 BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG. 71

The following notes are made from Confederate accounts.

The land rises back of the city like a vast amphitheatre, on whose huge
terraced seats is Gen. Lee's Army, occupying parquet, circles, balconies,
and far back the highest galleries of all on the crests of the impregnable
hills. Gen. Burnsides Army occupying the low arena, or stage, must
advance up these semicircling, terraced seats. The chief rebel position
near the city is Marye's Hill, located high up between the Plank road
and Hazel Run. The next hill to the south of Marye's Hill, and at a
distance of about one mile, is Lee's Hill, so called because Gen. Lee's
Hdqrs. were established on it during the battle.

The Telegraph road is cut along the east side of Marye's Hill, is about
twenty-five feet wide, and is bordered on the side towards the city by a
strong stone bank-wall about four feet high — "shoulder high." This
road goes around the southeast corner of the hill, turning there at a
sharp angle westward. As nearly as can be made out from the rebel
accounts, this half a mile or so of stone bank-wall was manned on Dec.
13 by a rebel Brigade and parts of two more, all in the road. They
were of Gen. Lafayette McLaws' Division of Gen. Longstreet's Corps,
and commanded by Gen. J. B. Kershaw. The 16th and 18th Georgia
of Gen. T. R. R. Cobb's Brigade (he was wounded about noon) holding
the rebel right. (The writer has been tokl by Confederate Capt. Henley,
referred to on page 54. who was present, that these Georgians fired a
volley prematurely,^ as Gen. Getty's troops appeared above the bank in
the night, and that his Regt., the 32d Va., was sent in partly to relieve
them, and partly to keep them more steady.) The 24th Georgia of Cobb's
Brigade, and the 2d S. C. of Kershaw's Brigade holding the centre.
The Phillips Georgia Legion, and the 8th S. C. of Cobb's Brigade, and
the 15th S. C. (probably) holding the left. Several other regiments are
mentioned, but nothing very definite can be gained as to their distinct
positions. The troops on this front were supported by Gen. Ransom's
Division, posted not 400 yards to the rear of the stone wall. Gen. Ker-
shaw states officially : " The formation along most of the line (of the
stone bank-wall) during the engagement, was four inen deep'' Behind
these troops, on both their flanks, and high uj? all around the sides and
crests of the hills, was a very heavy force, a part of it Ransom's Division,
supporting McLaws, all within easy rifle shot of the comparatively little
space — the stage — in front of Marye's stone bank -wall, where the

inches wide and | inch thick, flopping from a strap over his shoulder, a poor gnn
without a bayonet in one hand, and a shingling' hatchet in the other ; intending to seize
a good gun at the first oppoi-tunity, but no other gun came to hand till after the as-
sault. The hatchet did excellent army service for himself, for Sergt. Van Duzee,
and for many another man, through the winter camp at Fredericksburg and until
after the Siege of Suffolk, when it was sent home, and is still preserved (1887) as a
relic. This was the first battle of the Thirteenth !

^ The line of flame from that first volley was longer than three regiments would
ordinarily make, and therefore other troops must have joined in it with the Geor-
gians. — S. M. T.



72 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1862

Union troops charged into the fire of these many thonsand rebel muskets,
and of the numerous lieavy batteries of artillery. The Washington Ar-
tillery, Col. Walton, being short of ammunition, had been relieved, on
Marye's Hill, before we charged, by Lt. Col. Alexander, with three fresh
batteries, who states that he " opened (on us) with canister and case-
shot, and this, their last repulse, was said to have been the bloodiest."
There were about fifty rebel cannon on and near Marye's Hill.

Gen. McLaws states, officially : " The body of one man, believed to
be an officer, was found within about thirty yards of the stone wall, and
other single bodies were scattered at increased distances until the main
mass of the dead lay thickly strewn over the ground at something over
one hundred yards off, extending to the ravine." ^

We now return again to the account of the Thirteenth.

After the charge the Reg. retires to a field in the edge of the town,
halts there a while, and then goes to its old place on Caroline street in the
city, and remains there until it goes on picket the night of the 15th.

Sergt. Chas. W. Batchellor of D writes home : " We started to the
charge about dark Saturday afternoon. The 13th the second in line, the
25th New Jersey the first. They would not stand fire, and we came u})on
the field first ; and the first thing we knew, we were within about six rods
of the rebel battery. We dropped on our faces, after giving them a few
shots, and laid there until they ceased firing ; Avhen we moved off on the
other side of the field, and formed the Reg. once more in line. Our men
were brave and courageous. I have lived through one of the most dan-
gerous infantry chai'ges ever made on this continent, as to the best au-
thority we can get from old soldiers."

The remark about moving off •' on the other side of the field " is very
correct ; because in the latter part of the assault the 13th obliqued some-
what to the right, northward, and the men, while coming off the extreme
front, first swept northward and then went straight back to the R. & F.

^ The voice of the man who shouted : "Down, Boys — Down! " to Gen. Getty's
men as they approached the Confederate lines, came from our right, was heavy and
hoarse, though strong, a strange voice, and the writer has queried many times whether
it iniglit not have come from the officer mentioned by Gen. McLaws ; and who, realiz-
ing- our danger in the darkness, shouted to us a word of warning, in the supreme mo-
ment before his own life went out. Allowing one yard of space in the line to each
man, and making the ('onfederate lines " four men deep " along the half a mile of
stone bank-wall, would make the number of Confederates there about o,500, exclusive
of officers. In an interview with Confederate Gen. Lafayette IMcLaws, in Boston, on
Nov. IT, 1S8(), he informed the writer that he was unable to locate upon the map the
spot where the officer above mentioned wiis found, though he thought he was not far
from the Federal left in front of the stone wall. The space along the wall in the road,
he said, would not admit a very large force of infantry without crowding, but every
foot was occupied ; and as the Federals appeared determined to break the Confed-
erate line there, if they could, re-enforcements were marched in whenever the troops
engaged there became wearied or arms became foul, hence many changes occurred
during the day and evening. Gen. McLaws st.ited that the Confederate batteries
could have broken up the central ponton bridge very easily, but it was not done,
partly because of fear that Gen. Burnside would fire the city in retaliation.



1802 BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG. 73

Railroad ; the assault and retreat together forming a curve or loop to-
wards the north.

Judge R. L. Henley,^ previously quoted, stated that the little plain, or
intervale along the north side of Hazel Run, and over a part of which
our Brigade charged on the evening of Dec. 13, was swept by the fire
of more than 10,000 Confederate riflemen, to say nothing of the large
force of artillery.

Gen. Getty informed the writer in May 1885, while examining the
map of the field, that liis assault was directed against the angle at the
southwest corner of Marye's Hill, about where the southwest angle of the
Cemetery wall now stands. He also corroborated the formation as given
above of Col. Hawkins' Brigade, and the statement that Col. Harland's
brigade was held in reserve along the R. & F. Railroad. He wished to
have the statement made in this histoiy that ' his Division formed for the
assault behind the Richmond and Fredericksburg Railroad, and in the
course of the assault Col. Hawkins' Brigade crossed over the unfinished
railroad ; Col. Hawkins' Brigade charged alone, and, after returning from
the assault, was re-formed behind the same R. & F. Railroad near the
point from whence they entered upon the assault, and also near where Col.
Harland's Brigade was held in reserve.'

In the foregoing account we have had no disposition to criticise the
25th New Jersey ; many of its officers exerted themselves to the utmost
to keep their Regiment in line when the muddy swamp was struck, and
a large part of it did hold together. The first volley took more effect
among the men of the 25th, and their losses were much larger than in
the Thirteenth. They claim to have advanced to within fifty paces of the
rebel stone wall, and this establishes our advance to a point still nearer.

The fact that many Confederates moved in and out of the Telegraph
road during the day and evening, the reliefs being frequent, will account
reasonably for the claim made by such great numbers of them that they
fought behind the famous stone wall. A large number have a right to
say, " Er'ekn fer shuah, er war thar."

The writer remembers distinctly that the railroad bank, behind (on the
city side of) which the Thirteenth and other regiments in our Brigade were
re-formed after the assault, had upon it a lot of old railroad ties, and still
showed the little hollows from which ties had been removed ; and that
there was no assembly of, nor attenqit to re-form, the Thirteenth behind
the unfinished railroad, which at that time was mei*ely an affair of low
banks and muddy ditches.

1 Judge Henley, when holding a Captain's commission in the •32d Va. , came near
being captured at a farmhouse, where he happened to be one night when a ])arty
of Union officers came and occupied a part of the house for the purpose of hokling
a consultation. Securely hiding, however, he overheard the details of the contem-
plated raid by Generals Kautz and Wilson against the Danville and other Southern
railroads. Succeeding in making an early escape, he at once wrote to Gen. Lee of
the contemplated movement. This led to the disasters to the Union cavalry at Reams'
Station and vicinity in May 1864 ; and as a reward for this special service, Gen. Lee
promoted him at once to the rank of Major.



74 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1862

Our charge was in and across the ancient bed of the Rappahannock,
it is said, now occupied in part by the north bank of Hazel Eun. It
was noted, both during the day and during the assault, that one huge
rebel cannon out-bellowed all the rest. Cannon fired directly at you at a
little distance, in the night, look something like instantaneous reddish
flashes of the sua while rising. They instantly wink out huge, glaring,
dazzling eyes, and the next second shut them in midnight blackness.
Then follows the report, and the scream and crash of the shell.

Whoever visits the Fredericksburg battle-field can point to the little
field at the extreme western end of the bluff and jjlateau, and just across
the Telegraph road from the south end of the terraced slope of the Na-
tional Cemetery, and truthfully assert : Deep into that little level field
and close to that bank-wall, came the Colors of the Thirteenth New
Hampshire Regiment, when Gen. Getty's Division made their night as-
sault on Marye's Heights ; reaching a point nearer to the Confederate
lines along this front than the Colors of any other regiment in Gen.
Burnside's army.

During our charge, says a witness : " The fury of the fire, on both sides,
suddenly redoubled, and for half an hour the din was awful, the fighting
severe, and the sparkle and flash, of musketry and cannon, a grand dis-
play — then all was still."

The best description of the scene of our charge on Marye's Heights,
that the writer has met with, is the following :

" At sunset Gen. Sumner made a grand attack : Humphrey, Morrill,
Getty, Sykes, or at least a portion of their Divisions, were gathered under
the hill. Getty made a flank movement, and forced the rebels to leave
the stone wall at the foot of the crest, which they had held all day, and
fi'om which they kept up an annoying fire.^ The sun had gone down, the
daylight was fading away. Our own light artillery opened a rapid fire.
The hillside, the plain, the thicket, Marye's house, the crest of the ridge,
the second range of hills beyond, spai'kled, flashed and blazed with the
rebel fire. There were twenty thousand flashes a minute ; rifles, mus-
kets, cannon, shells. A continuous rattle, and deep, heavy rolls of mus-
ketry, with the heavy pounding of two hundred cannon all along the
(rebel) line, and our own heavy guns, on the northern (Stafford) side,
pouring their heaviest fire upon the rebel positions. The column cleared
the wall, the houses, the thicket, almost reached the top of the hill ; then
weakened, exhausted, were forced to relinquish all they had gained. Of
all the battles I have witnessed, I have seen none where tjie fire equaled
that whicli was poured upon Sumner's conmiand. Tlie new troops, as a
general thing, fought as bravely as the veterans." Caklkton.

Dec. 14. Sun. Pleasant. Very cold last night ; a bitter, damp, be-
numlting cold for the wounded left on the field. Reg. comes into the
city early to its former place on Caroline street. There is a comjjarative

1 Not the bank-wall along- the Telegraph road — another, a field wall. See page
58.— S. M. T.



1862 BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG. 75

quiet all day on our front, excepting occasional severe skirmishing, more
noisy than effective. Many buildings are turned into hospitals, and the
wounded, dying and dead are all about the city. Many of the wounded
ai'e being removed across the river and beyond cannon shot, a constant
procession of them. It is a sad, sad Sunday, for there is not an unbroken
regiment in the army, and here and there along the lines in the street
in our vicinity are little clusters of musket stacks, representing a quarter,
third, or half a regiment now surviving ; the rest are lying dead along the
bloody slopes in front of Marye's Hill, or wounded in the hospitals, or,
possibly worse, are on their tramp to a Southern prison. The distant
firing nearly ceases by 8 p. m., and the men are allowed to occupy the
houses, near by our place on the street, for sleeping ; Sergeants being
required to know exactly where to find their respective squads at a mo-
ment's notice, if they are wanted. To-day Gen. Burnside proposed to head
the 9th Army Corj^s himself, and to rush them, a solid column of 15,000
men, dii-ectly upon Marye's Heights. The order was actually given, and
the positions assigned, but the scheme was abandoned. The hour was
set at 8 a. m., and Col. Hawkins' Brigade, ours, was to lead Gen. Getty's
Division ; but it is said that Col. Hawkins told Gen. Burnside that it was
sheer folly for a dozen or twenty Regiments to attempt to do what sixteen
Brigades had tried and utterly failed to accomplish. Other command-
ers remonstrated so vigorously that Gen. Burnside gave up the idea. Well
for us that he did !

" I was on the field of our assault until late last night looking for the
wounded of our Regiment. The lantern I carried the rebels fired at re-
peatedly, and it was necessary to keep it covered as much as possible.
We advanced in our search very near to the rebel lines along the stone
wall, and I know for a, certainty that no Union men, wounded or dead,
were lying any nearer to the stone wall than the men of the Thirteenth,
all the wounded of whom were found and brought off."

AssT. Surgeon Sullivan.

Dec. 15. Mon. Pleasant, but cool. Heavy firing is heard on the left.
The Thirteenth remains in the city on Caroline street during the day.
Some heavy siege guns re-opened fire to-day, making a great deal of noise,
and in the midst of it a white woman appears in the street, with two small
children, coming as unexpectedly among the soldiers as if they had rained
down, and all three of them frightened more than half to death. They
must have remained in hiding during the bombardment of Dec. 11th and
the whole Federal occupation of the city. The sudden opening of the
siege guns may have suggested to them the possibility of a second bom-
bardment. They are immediately cared for properly, and sent at once to
a place of safety. A number of negroes, men, women and children, for
the sake of freedom, hid, remained in the city and braved the terrible
bombardment, some of them being killed ; but the white population fled,
almost every one.

The winter, now a First Sergeant, about half a dozen other men, and



76 THIRTEENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT. 1862

two commissioned officers of the Thirteenth, liave actually been off duty,
by ordei's of the regimental Surgeon, during all the march through Mary-
land and all this battle of Fredericksburg, but still have kept with the
Regiment ; and went into the charge on the night of Dec. 13, hardly
knowing what else to do. One of these men was so much used up in the
charge, that he returned from it leaning on a comrade for support. All,
however, are nuich benefited by the excitement and activity in the city,
since nearly all are suffering, like the writer, from the effects of exposure
and malaria. Being thus '*off duty," the writer on Friday, Sunday and
Monday (12, 14 and 15), visited the various parts of the city.

The city is terribly smashed and shattered. Many buildings have been
burned. Houses, in which shells have burst, are a mere heap of rubbish.
The Baptist church (said to be) has more than thirty holes through it.
Some of the streets are impassable because of the piles of brick, timber,
boards and rubbish. There has been some vandalism, but less than one
would expect. A large jewelry store has been completely cleaned out of
everything worth taking, and the articles scattered. Cheap pins and
buttons are just now fashionable in the army. Everything is done, that
can be, to prevent pillage and destruction. There is a story that one
man on leaving the city buried his valuables, and Westei'n soldiers have
been nosing about extensively, hunting for fresh earth and indications.

A lookout posted in the church belfry are visited by a solid shot from
the enemy which rings the bell, one loud clang, and scares them half out
of their wits for a moment.

The writer takes a fine view far and wide from this church steeple, but
is very much winded by the climbing. An officer at the church door tried
to prevent the visit, but yielded. The great battle-field is in view from
this high steeple. There are puffs of smoke suddenly rising, large and
small, from cannon and musket, in the distance, all along the country
back of the town ; bodies of Union troops are moving towards the front ;
bodies of Confederate troops are moving in rear of their lines, and away
to the right there is heavy musketry firing. In a field, up on the left, a
few hundred, apparently about half a regiment, of our cavalry, dash out
with glistening sabres, and make a sj)irited charge. They are in sight
but a minute, and raise clouds of smoke and dust. Our batteries along
the Falmouth shore are busy and grim, and noisy, in fact there seem to be
hundreds of cannon in play. The enemy's lines on the hill show much
fresh earth, and the enemy are also active and noisy. A battle is a ter-
rible scene ; but a battle-field seen at a distance presents no signs of death.
We do not recognize the wounded, and the dead are not distinguisliable
from the living who are lying still. The writer is admonished that it is
time to go down, and leaves a five-minute view never to see the like again.
Safely down in the streets again he visits the fith N. H., and has a long



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 9 of 81)