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13th Vermont Infantry

Regimental History

Hon. Albert Clarke, Secretary home Market Club, Boston, Mass.,
First Lieutenant Thirteenth Regiment

In the summer of 1862 ten companies were recruited in Washington, Chittenden, Lamoille and Franklin counties, which were organized into the Thirteenth regiment of infantry on the 24th day of September. All had been undergoing squad and company drill for several weeks, and on the 29th of September the companies went into barracks at Brattleboro, and were thus assembled as a regiment for the first time.

More than half of the men composing this regiment were young farmers, and there was a liberal sprinkling from all callings common to the country. Not a few had left college and the learned professions, to serve, during what most of them believed would be the last year of the war, and the standard and culture throughout the regiment was unusually high. There were rivalries for office, as usual, but scores of men who were as well fitted to command as any others, scorned to seek commissions and went through their term of services as privates and non-commissioned officers, discharging every duty without the need of orders and relieving tedium of camp-life by classical studies and learned discussions.

The regiment was most fortunate in most of its officers, and especially so in its colonel Francis V. Randall, who had been a captain in the Second Regiment, and previously had been a lawyer, state attorney for Washington county, and a member of Legislature. Being many years older than most of his men- he was thirty-eight, and the average of their ages was but twenty-four-having seen service while most of them had not, and being withal a man of fine military bearing, and possessed of popular ways, he enjoyed their confidence and even their affection, which neither faults nor antagonisms served to impair. Not only did he give the regiment good care and discipline, but when there was opportunity to meet the enemy, he distinguished himself for zeal and gallantry, and enabled his men to render a full measure of service and win for themselves imperishable renown. Another officer deserving special mention was the surgeon, George Nichols, M.D., of Northfield.

At Brattleboro the regiment was equipped with the latest pattern of Springfield rifles, muzzle loaders, to be sure, but the best infantry arm then in use. Mustered into the United States service, October 3, with nine hundred fifty-three officers and men, the regiment left for Washington on the 11th, where it arrived the 13th and went into camp on East Capitol Hill, whither it had been preceded by the Twelfth regiment, and was soon followed by the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth, all of which were formed into the Second Vermont Brigade on the 27th.

They were reviewed one day by General Banks, and there were rumors that they were to be sent under his command to the lower Mississippi, but General Casey succeeded in holding them for service in Virginia, and on the 30th of October, the brigade marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the tune of " The Girl I Left Behind Me," crossed Long Bridge and ascended Arlington Heights to the estate of General Lee, where it encamped one night. The next day the Twelfth and Thirteenth marched to the heights south of Alexandria, where they were joined a few days later by the rest of the brigade, and there, in what became known as "Camp Vermont," they were engaged for a month in camp and picket duty, drills, reviews and in fatigue work on Fort Lyon, near by.

Starting in the rain, about nine o'clock in the night of November 26, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth, under command of Colonel Randall, marched through Alexandria and thence on the pike towards Fairfax Court House. Late in the night they bivouacked, and proceeded next day to Union Mills, where they remained nearly two weeks, guarding the railroad and maintaining a strong picket line along the Bull Run. Although they had tents there was much suffering from severe cold and storms. They were in constant readiness for an expected encounter with Confederate cavalry. Being relieved, they returned to Camp Vermont, December 5th, making the journey to Alexandria on flat cars in a heavy, damp snow storm. When they reached camp in the evening it was still snowing, their tents had not arrived and they were without food, fuel or axes. A few found shelter in neighboring buildings, but the greater number were taken in by the other regiments of the brigade. Many, however, took colds and some of them never recovered. In a few days stockades were built and the camp was made comfortable for the severe winter had set in. The old routine was resumed. December 12th, the brigade marched to Fairfax Court House and encamped in a grove northwest of the village. There they remained five weeks, the regiment taking turns in going forward to Centerville for a few days, holding the fortifications there and picketing along the Bull Run in connection with other troops.

Early in the evening of December 27th, the long roll sounded at Fairfax and the regiments hastily formed in line. The outposts had reported that Stuart's cavalry was moving rapidly upon the village from the south and east. Colonel Randall was in attendance upon a court-martial at Alexandria, but Lieutenant Colonel Brown led the regiment on a double quick through the village and into a rifle pit which crossed the Alexandria pike a quarter of a mile to the east. When the men became silent, the approach of the enemy over the frozen ground could be distinctly heard in the clear frosty air. Apparently they had reached the pike and were forming to charge from the east. A solitary horseman, having passed the Union picket, came dashing down the pike from that direction, paused a moment by General Stoughton and then passed in rear of the Thirteenth. When the voice of Colonel Randall was heard the anxious men experienced relief and reassurance. He had heard of the raid and had ridden with all speed from Alexandria. It was only by strategy that he made his way through the foremost of the Confederates along the pike. A charge by the enemy's advance was soon repulsed by General Stoughton's skirmishers, and when our artillery opened, General Stuart moved away and flanked the town to the north. The Thirteenth was moved rapidly to intercept him, but only to become very warm and then nearly to freeze, before returning to camp in the morning.

On the 20th of January the regiment marched south twelve miles to Wolf Run Shoals, where, with the Twelfth and a battery which were joined later by the Fourteenth, it remained until April 2, when it moved 5 miles down the Occoquan, and established "Camp Carusi," a mile north of the stream. Detachments were sent thence to guard the ferry at Occoquan and several fords above, extending to the left of the Fourteenth. This was a delightful camp and as there was a fine parade ground, the regiment became very proficient in battalion drill. On the morning of May 14, a wagon train from the regiment, on its way to Fairfax Station for supplies, though more than a mile in rear of the picket line, was attacked by a small body of Moseby's men and the drivers, guards and mules were captured. The men, seven in all, were treated to a bare-back ride of twenty-seven miles on mules and were then paroled and allowed to return on foot. News of the capture soon reached the camp and the regiment started upon a run to intercept the captors at the nearest ford, but arrived a few minutes too late. One day, while Company G was at the ferry, a large number of escaping slaves approached from the South and were conducted to their freedom and sent on their way to Washington amid great rejoicing.

The regiment distinctly heard the cannonade at Chancellorsville and expected to start for the front at a moments notice but the order did not come. June 13, the advance of Hooker's army began to pass northward, crossing the Occoquan on a pontoon bridge, and on the 25th, after the entire army had marched, the Thirteenth moved to join the regiments of the brigade. They met at Union Mills and proceeded together on the great seven day's march to Gettysburg, where they arrived at sunset, July 1, and took position in a field of clover at the left of Buford's cavalry, then drawn up in a square, guarding the left of the army, which had fallen back through the town and formed on Cemetery Hill and the ridges to the right and left.

The next morning the brigade moved a little to the right and supported batteries on Cemetery Hill. Here it was subjected several times during the day to a converging fire of shell from three directions and was a witness of the terrific fighting on Little Round Top, in the Wheat Field, Peach Orchard and along the Emmettsburg road. While in this position, Capt. Merritt B. Williams of Company G received a mortal wound from a spherical case shot and several men were injured. One or two regiments came rushing back panic stricken from the cemetery and were restored by the Vermont Brigade. Colonel Randall rendered his own men a good service by upbraiding the fugitives and citing to them, veterans though they were, the steadiness of the Vermonters, many of whom had never been under fire before. During the day five companies of the Thirteenth under Lieutenant Col. William D. Munson, were stationed to guard a battery in the front line on the west face of Cemetery Hill and this position they held until night. The other companies moved out with brigade on the double quick to the left, after Sickles and Hancock had in turn been driven back from the Emmettsburg road and the shallow valley to the east, under orders from General Doubleday to hasten to Hancock's support. As General Stannard was leading towards the position where the First Minnesota had just been destroyed, asked Colonel Randall if he could recover a battery which had been lost in the valley below and which was being rapidly approached by a strong body of the enemy. Randall replied that he would do it or die trying, so this right wing of the brigade ceased moving to the left and dashed forward at a full run down the gentle descent, up which Pickett's men charged the next day. Randall's horse fell, shot, and for a moment the rider was partially underneath, but soon he was running, hatless, to overtake his line, and in a moment appeared in front of the colors, leading on to victory. The guns were reached and drawn back, where General Hancock and his men received them with thanks and cheers. Randall then quickly re-formed his line and pursued the enemy. He went as far as the Peter Rogerís house on the Emmettsburg road before halting. While crossing the valley, a Confederate, who had been supposed to be dead, arose from the ditch in which he lay and fired at Maj. Joseph J. Boynton from the rear. The bullet narrowly missed the Major's head. Three men of company C turned to bayonet the miscreant, but the Major stopped them and took him prisoner. The battalion halted near the Roger's house and captured eighty-three prisoners, who had taken refuge there. Company A was thrown around the house, and the Confederates surrendered mostly to Captain Lonergan and Adjt. James S. Peck. The other companies were in front of the house, company G being nearest. Captain Coburn with company C was sent to the left and right to explore in the gathering darkness and thick smoke, but as no more rebels were in sight the battalion returned to the line, and as it approached with the prisoners it was cheered by twenty thousand men. The companies with Randall in the gallant dashes were: A, Capt. John Lonergan, G, Lieut. Albert Clarke, C, Capt. Lewis Coburn, E, Capt. Andrew J. Davis and B, Capt. Orcas C. Wilder. They sustained a smaller loss than might have been expected.

That night the other companies returned to the line and the regiment slept upon its arms in the front line of battle near the position which the brigade held the next day. During the ensuing forenoon a detail of ten men from each company, under General Stannard's orders, gathered some fence rails and placed them in line about forty-five yards in front of the regiment. The object was not then apparent, but it became so later. Though there was a sharp fire of sharpshooters, most of the men volunteered for this work, led by Sergt. George H. Scott of company G, and not one was injured. A similar detail buried some of the dead, so as to lessen the stench, and they also escaped unharmed. When Pickett's charge was well advanced, General Stannard ordered the Thirteenth, which held the right of his brigade, forward to the slight breastwork of rails. On arriving Randall ordered them to halt, lie down and hold there fire. At their left, the Fourteenth, which extended diagonally down into the valley, had opened upon the charging column and it was then moving rapidly by the flank or left oblique in front of the Thirteenth. No sooner had the men of the latter become prostrate than a volley passed over their heads which must have nearly annihilated them had they been standing. In a moment the Sixteenth, which had been deployed as skirmishers, fell back through the line and then the Thirteenth received the welcome order to fire. The men had a short range and deadly aim and as the smoke lifted, it was seen that they had done fearful execution. The fire was vigorously returned, but with little loss, and meanwhile the enemy continued to the right until the front of the Thirteenth was uncovered. General Stannard then directed the regiment to "change front forward on the first company," that is to advance to the right and form a line at right angles with its present position. The din was so great that Colonel Randall could not make his orders understood, so he rushed along his line from left to right, shouting "By the right flank follow me." After leading two hundred yards to the right and descending into a little depression, the new alignment was made upon the flank of the enemy, and so very near that there might easily have been hand to hand encounters. The Vermonters had loaded on the run and no sooner were they in line than they began firing. At the same time the line at their right and front from which they had advanced was pouring a deadly fire into the faces of the charging force, which had now become a mass, and very soon Pickett was assailed upon his left flank by Gen. Alexander Hayes' brigade. Within a minute or two, seemingly, after the Thirteenth opened upon them in this position, the Confederates began to throw down their rifles and wave their hands in surrender. Randall ordered his regiment to cease firing, but the order was not heard. Breaking through the line to the front and turning his back to the enemy, he waved his sword and hat and shouted his order until it was understood. Then, though still under fire from the enemy and from the Union line above and from our Batteries, he moved rapidly among the yielding host, directing them into his line, and their captured two hundred and forty three officers and men. Meanwhile the Sixteenth had come up end formed on his left and was firing upon those who were running away. It was soon faced about and charged four hundred yards upon the left flank of Wilcox. Companies G and I of the Thirteenth, under the command of Major Boynton, guarded the prisoners to the rear and the regiment returned to the point where it had started. The battle was soon over, but the enemy continued an artillery fire, from which the brigade suffered some loss.

The companies of the Thirteenth participating in the famous attack stood in the following order from right to left: A, Capt. John Lonergan; G, Lieut. Albert Clarke; I, Lieut. Chester W. Searles; E, Capt. Andrew J. Davis; C, Capt. Lewis L. Coburn; H, Capt. Aro P. Slayton; K, Capt. George G. Blake; F, Lieut. Justin Naramore; D, Capt. George Bascom; B, Capt. Orcas B. Wilder.

The losses of the Thirteenth in this battle were eleven killed, eighty-one wounded and twenty-three missing. As previously stated, they must have been much greater but for careful management to save life and for the impetuosity of the onslaughts, by which the enemy was partially crippled before he could destroy.

Little remains to be recorded. With the rest of the brigade and the army, the Thirteenth marched on the 6th of July in pursuit of the retreating enemy. On the night of the 7th it crossed Catoctin Mountain in Maryland, over the worst possible road and under heavy rain, and the next day bivouacked near Middlleton, where it was passed and cheered the Old Brigade, and where, its term of service had expired, it was ordered home. After a stay in barracks at Brattleboro, during which the regiment was reviewed and thanked by Governor Holbrook, it was mustered out of service on the 21st of July, about one year after most of the men had enlisted and in a few weeks many of its members re-entered the service in other organizations.