A Perfect Rain of Shot and Shell: The Surrender of Fort Macon

A Perfect Rain of Shot and Shell: The Surrender of Fort Macon

The rebels came out with a white flag about four o’clock… – Oliver Cromwell Case

By the middle of April 1862, John Parke’s Brigade of the Burnside Expeditionary Force began the slow, steady work of investment to close the noose around Fort Macon on the Bogue Banks of North Carolina. Parke’s troops earlier captured the coastal towns of Morehead City and Beaufort before crossing the Bogue Sound to fulfill Burnside’s objective of taking the fort. General Burnside understood the fort prevented full Union control of the Beaufort Inlet, a key route for facilitating the sustainment of operations in North Carolina.

Located on the eastern tip of the 21-mile long Bogue Banks barrier island, the fort was strategically placed to protect the approach through the Beaufort Inlet Channel to the mainland of North Carolina. The pentagon shaped masonry fort contained twenty-six casemates and its outer wall averaged better than four feet of thickness. Construction on the structure had begun in 1826 with the first garrison arriving in 1834. Robert E. Lee had been assigned to help correct the erosion control problem faced by the fort in the 1840s. Within two days of the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861, North Carolina forces had seized the fort and claimed it for the Confederacy.

As Parke positioned his forces for a final assault against the fortification, a 27-year old Confederate Colonel named Moses J. White prepared his 400 defenders to meet the Union troops. Colonel White, a native of Mississippi, held an impressive record as a student at the U.S. Military Academy for the Class of 1858 graduating second. Originally assigned to the western theater at the beginning of the war, he was given command of Fort Macon on October 5, 1861. During the siege, White struggled with health problems that had first appeared during his time at West Point. However, he continued to encourage his officers and soldiers during the Union bombardment until he was completely exhausted. Even though he was hopelessly surrounded and his men were exhausted, Colonel White refused to surrender the fort.

James Parke

Moses White

The opposing commanders at Fort Macon, James Parke and Moses White.

Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut were given a key role in the investment of the fort. However, they were missing their leader during this important work. Like Confederate Colonel White, the commanding officer of the 8th Connecticut, Colonel Edward Harland, was sick and, by mid-March of 1862, he had become bed-ridden with typhoid fever. Under the command of Major Hiram Appelman, the regiment was divided into three parts to support the operations against Fort Macon and the coastal cities. Two companies were sent to occupy Beaufort and a few of the other companies were sent to secure Morehead City. The remaining companies including Company A crossed over from Carolina City to the Bogue Banks to begin movement toward Fort Macon. Private Oliver Case of Company A had been on picket duty seven miles away from camp near Carolina City when his company departed without him. As Case caught up to his fellow soldiers over on the Bogue Banks, there was much work to be done in preparation to lay siege to Fort Macon and its Confederate garrison.

On April 12th, the 8th Connecticut, still under the command of Major Appelman, led Parke’s Brigade in forcing the Confederate defenders to withdraw into the confines of the fort.

Connecticut regimental historians, Croffut and Morris describe the action:

Major Hiram Appelman, now in command, marched his regiment by the right flank up the beach, and, when within three miles of the fort, filed across the island in line of battle. Company G, Capt. James L. Russell, was thrown out as skirmishers; and the regiment waded forward knee-deep in the yielding sand. The rebel skirmishers contested the advance, but were driven steadily back; and, while they retreated, they shouted, with absurd inaptness, “Come on, you d__d Yankees! we are enough for you !” Company H, Capt. Sheffield, was now deployed to skirmish; and the captain was severely wounded in the body. The exultant rebels continued to move back until they entered the fort; the Eighth having passed through a cedar-jungle, about a mile from the fort.[1]

Colonel White, likely realizing that he was being trapped in the fort, took the unusual step of conducting a night attack in an attempting at breaking the developing siege. As the 8th Connecticut began to construct defensive positions in case of a counterattack, the Confederates stuck the regiment with the cannons from the fort.

The enemy made two ineffectual attempts at night to dislodge us from our advanced position, in one of which Lieutenant Landers and a private of the Fifth Rhode Island Battalion were slightly wounded, and in the other Major Appleman and a private of the Eighth Connecticut Regiment received severe contusions from a discharge of grape while digging rifle pits within 750 yards of the fort.[2]

On April 17th, Oliver’s tone about his fate in the impending battle had softened considerably from his first combat experience only one month earlier at New Bern. The “dread of death that one naturally expects” had morphed into a feeling that “I may not live to get home…”[3] However, the optimistic tone found throughout Oliver’s letter had not completely escaped him as he professed, “but I think I stand as good a chance as anyone in the company…”[4]

Oliver’s letter of 17 April 1862 does not comment on this operation carried out by the 8th. He does describe the work being done to affect the siege of Fort Macon.

Some of the companies are detailed each night to help build entrenchments and I think that by three or four days at farthest we shall open fire upon the fort. The mortars and field pieces are nearly all in position, and part of the howitzers.[5]

Oliver’s prediction is fairly accurate because the siege will begin in about 7 days. In the meantime, life on Bogue Banks is filled with the work of preparing positions for mortars being floated across the sound. The guns were moved up the island at night to avoid detection by the Confederates within Fort Macon. Protected firing positions were constructed for the guns using sandbags. Conditions were difficult for Oliver and his fellow soldiers as they worked.

The Eighth Connecticut Volunteers and 4th Rhode-Island were alternately on duty; when off duty, occupying an uncomfortable camp down the island. Rifle-pits were dug at night within two thousand feet from the fort, and constantly occupied. In front of them, in storms, the sea surged over the island. The sand was so movable, that the men were sometimes half covered.[6]  

The firing positions constructed by the 8th Connecticut and the 4th Rhode Island would prove to be very effective during the final attack against the fort and by the 23rd of April, Burnside determined that it was time for the final assault. He once again offered Colonel White the opportunity to surrender the fort with generous terms including the parole of all the Confederate defenders. As with previous demands for surrender, the young Confederate commander refused to accept the terms and prepared his soldiers to defend the fort. In the early morning hours of April 25, Parke ordered the bombardment to begin in earnest.

bombardment of fort macon harpers weekly

The bombardment of Fort Macon, April 25, 1862

For the next eleven hours, the Union artillerymen with assistance from the soldiers of the 8th CVI kept up the bombardment. The masonry fort was no match for the modern rifled artillery and several large openings appeared in the walls and gun after gun was disabled. Through it all, the 8th CVI was in the thick of the action. Oliver writes to Abbie:

The work was completed Thursday night and the bombardment commenced early the next morning and continued without intermission until four in the P.M., our regiment meanwhile lying behind the breastworks while a perfect rain of shot and shell came upon all sides of them, many times caving the banks upon them so it was necessary to dig one another out with shovels. Several of our men were hit by balls rolling into the trench upon them, but none were wounded. The artillery lost one killed and two wounded.[7]

Croffut and Morris confirm the role of the 8th during the bombardment:

The Eighth was alone in the rifle-pits, between the thundering cannon, shooting the rebel gunners and infantry whenever a head was visible.[8]

As the land-based Union guns began to fire on Fort Macon, several ships from the Blockading Squadron appeared near the fort and attempted to participate in the shelling. While the Navy had not been included in the planning for the reduction of the fort, Commander Samuel Lockwood responded to the sound of the artillery. However, the four ships were unable to bring effective fire on the fort due to rough seas and soon abandoned the effort after two of the ships received minor damage from Confederate counter fire.

The Union guns ashore were initially wildly inaccurate doing little damage to Fort Macon during the few first hours of the assault. After Union Signal Corps officers in Beaufort established communication with the gun commanders on Bogue Banks, they were able to accurately direct the mortar fire so that by noon almost all shots were on target and the fort walls began to crumble. In response, Confederate gunners attempt to counter the fire from the mortars, but the protected positions among the sand dunes limited damage to the Union guns. As the bombardment continued into the early afternoon, Confederate guns in the fort were damaged and destroyed and Colonel White realized that he could not hold out much longer as the powder magazine was in great danger of being hit.

Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it was evident that the fort and its garrison could not withstand much more of the devastating fire from the Union guns. After meeting with his commanders, Colonel White ordered the flag of surrender to be raised.

The rebels came out with a white flag about four o’clock and a messenger was sent for. Gen. Burnside, also, arrived in the evening. Capitulations were agreed upon before morning…[9]

The Union forces entered the fort and raised the national colors igniting a controversy between two of the regiments.

…early the next day the “Stars and Stripes” were run up by the 4th R.I. Regiment. The 8th Conn. were not very well suited to do all the work and have the 4th R.I. hoist their flag, but that is all right; it is “Uncle Sam”, anyhow.[10]

Croffut and Morris identify the Rhode Island regiment as the 5th and give additional details on the honor bestowed on them in lieu of the 8th.

…the 5th Rhode-Island; and to this fragment of a regiment the rebel flag was given as a trophy next morning, when the formal surrender was made, and the regiment took possession of the fort. The Eighth considered itself again defrauded of its just rights; and the Tribune’s narrative said, “But for the accident that the 5th Rhode-Island had relieved the Eighth Connecticut the previous evening, the captured flag would have gone to grace the legislative halls at Hartford.” Gen. Parke justifies giving the preference to the Rhode-Island regiment by the fact that the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers had no field-officer present to receive the surrender.[11]

after siege of Fort Macon

The Surrender of Fort Macon, April 26, 1862

In a happier ending to the story for the Confederate officers and soldiers of Fort Macon, Oliver relates that many of them, after their parole, were reunited with their family members.

The prisoners were discharged on parole, much to their gratification and some of our boy’s displeasure. Sightseers say that they had a great time over in Beaufort Saturday when the garrison was set free. Children looking for their parents, wives for their husbands, fathers for their children and when they were recognized in the crowd such a hugging and kissing as was not often seen was carried on.[12]

ENDNOTES:

[1] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[2] OR, Parke, May 9, 1862.

[3] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (17 April 1862)

[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[7] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 April 1862)

[8] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[9] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 April 1862)

[10] IBID.

[11] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[12] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 April 1862)

 

The Common Fate of Two Soldiers

The Common Fate of Two Soldiers

War brings the strangest of twists of fate. It also brings a common destiny between its participants even among two men from opposing sides of the conflict. At the battle of Newbern, so began this shared fate for Private Oliver Cromwell Case of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment and Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch who would command a brigade at the Battle of Antietam.

First, the fallout over losing the city of Newbern would bring the two men together for the second time on the field of battle.

Blame for a military defeat is always messy business in time of war. The Civil War was no different. The military and political leaders plus the general citizenry of both the Union and Confederacy wanted someone to accept blame and its ugly consequences for a defeat on the field of battle. This phenomenon gives historians to this day a rich trove of study and cause for extensive opining. Among the most famous of these incidences is the defeat of Lee’s army at Gettysburg for which James Longstreet would take a large share of the responsibility among the post-war Confederate writing.

The Battle of Newbern was no different albeit one of the least known in the blame game. The total defeat of Confederate forces defending Newbern was a severe loss for the leadership in Richmond and especially for the state of North Carolina. Only a few weeks before this battle, the Confederates troops defending Roanoke Island quickly gave way to the first of Ambrose Burnside’s amphibious assaults. Now, one of the gateway cities controlling the inland approaches to the transportation hubs of North Carolina had fallen with seemingly little resistance from the Confederate and state troops stationed in a series of fortifications below Newbern.

The immediate commander on the field was Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch, a former United States Congressman from North Carolina. Branch had succeeded Brigadier General Daniel Harvey Hill as the commander for the district covering this part of the North Carolina coast but, much like Hill, had no success in convincing the Confederate government in Richmond of the importance of defending this area. While Branch continued to send requests for reinforcements, ammunition and other supplies, Burnside began his assault against the undermanned Confederate defenses. Branch had only 4,000 poorly trained and armed troops with no naval support while Burnside’s forces numbered over 10,000 with gunboat support from the Union Navy. The result of the battle should have been a foregone conclusion.

Branch_Lawrence_O_Bryan_LoC_26684u

A pre-war photograph of Lawrence O’Bryan Branch [1]

 

Branch’s immediate superior commander was Brigadier General Richard Caswell Gatlin, a West Point graduate and native of North Carolina, commanding the Confederate Department of North Carolina responsible for the overall coastal defense of the state. From his headquarters in Goldsboro, Gatlin also requested reinforcements for the coastal defenses to no avail. Born in 1809, the aging Gatlin was suffering from an illness at the time of the battle and was relieved of his command just five days later making it convenient for the Confederate government to pin their scapegoat. Gatlin’s report on the battle admitted the failure of leadership to stop Burnside and “maintain the ascendancy on Pamlico sound, and thus admitted Burnside’s fleet without a contest; we failed to put a proper force on Roanoke island, and thus lost the key to our interior coast, and we failed to furnish General Branch with a reasonable force, and thus lost the important town of New Bern. What I claim is that these failures do not by right rest with me.”

Richard Gatlin

Brigadier General Richard Caswell Gatlin took the fall for the Confederate defeat at Newbern instead of Lawrence Branch

 

The North Carolina press was not kind to either of the generals in command during the Battle of New Bern. One newspaper, in a backhanded jab at Gatlin, wrote, “Schooling never puts brains in a man’s head, nor can West Point make a General who was not born with it in him.”[2] While the paper claimed to believe Gatlin was competent for command, it also stated that “the government should investigate the matter, and if he be found incompetent or derelict, he should be removed.” [3]

On the subject of Branch’s leadership, the same newspaper was even more direct about his responsibility for the defeat at New Bern. Claiming to have originally opposed his appointment to the command position, the paper opined that they “knew he would try, and we had no doubt that he would do his very best to make a General; but we knew, at the same time, that it was not in him, as the disaster at Newbern plainly proves.” [4] The call was for Gatlin, Branch or any other individual or party responsible for the loss of New Bern to “be dealt with promptly and deservedly.” [5]

Gatlin was relieved of his command and formally resigned in September of 1862. Branch was moved north to join the division of A.P. Hill where he would successfully lead troops in the battles of Hanover Courthouse, Seven Days, Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, Chantilly, and Harper’s Ferry. After pushing his soldiers through a 17-mile roadmarch from Harper’s Ferry directly onto the field in Sharpsburg, Branch helped save Robert E. Lee’s Army of North Virginia from defeat on the afternoon of September 17, 1862.

Branch’s Brigade pushed back forces from Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps attacking toward Sharpsburg, most notably they poured a galling fire into the flank of the 8th Connecticut Infantry Regiment. Based on my research, there is a high probability that one of Branch’s regiments, the 7th or 37th North Carolina Infantry, fired the shot that struck and killed Oliver Case during their desperate stand near the Harper’s Ferry Road. In a twist of fate, Oliver Case had faced the troops of Lawrence O’Bryan Branch in his first and last combat action.

General Branch would also share another experience with Oliver Case that day. After the timely arrival of his brigade and repelling the attack of the Union IX Corps, Branch and the two other brigade commanders in A.P. Hill’s Division gathered with their division commander and General Lee just east of the Harper’s Ferry Road to confer on the next action of the Confederate forces. As the discussion ensued, an opportunistic Union soldier on a distant hill fired a single shot that hit General Branch in the face and slightly injured fellow brigade commander Maxcy Gregg. The shot was instantly mortal for Branch who fell into the arms of a staff officer.

McIntosh Battery (3)

In the fields beyond this gun, Oliver Case and Lawrence Branch met their shared fate

 

Within mere minutes and a few hundred yards of each other, Oliver Case and Lawrence Branch had sealed their shared fate by a deadly single shot.

 

NOTES:

1. Library of Congress collection.

2 through 5. Semi-Weekly Standard (Raleigh, North Carolina), March 22, 1862 from the Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers collection in the Library of Congress

The Balls Rung Tunes

The Balls Rung Tunes

The mud soaked roads and swamps leading the Union forces of Burnside’s Expedition toward the Confederate forces defending Newbern made marching miserable for Oliver Case and the other troops in the 8th Connecticut. Bedding down for the night on March 13, 1862 brought little relief to these boys in blue as the North Carolina coastal weather continued to dump rain. Oliver observed that the milder southern climate granted some relief when the order to move out came at 6 am on the morning of March 14th, although “our blankets were as heavy as 8 ought to be.”

The regiments and brigades of Burnside’s expedition were up and moving again on the morning of 14 February 1862. At 7:00 am the units were advancing toward Confederate breastworks that, unlike those of the first day, were occupied by soldiers in gray and butternut. The First Brigade quickly became engaged by Confederate forces in entrenchments along the Fort Thompson line closer to the river. Colonel Rodman, of the Fourth Rhode Island, discovered an opening in the entrenchments by which the Confederates could be flanked and reported this fact immediately to his brigade commander, General Parke. Parke did not hesitate to order an attack by the entire brigade who were positioned in the center of the Union line of advance. The entrenchments were soon overwhelmed by Parke’s troops and the Confederate defenders were flanked because the center of the Confederate line was manned by green militia units. Seeing the advancing Union regiments of Parke’s Brigade, these militia troops quick broke and ran to the rear.[1]

As the 8th Connecticut approached the still-occupied earthworks, it was the moment of truth for Private Case. “[T]he balls rung tunes over our heads and occasionally played a little nearer our heads than we cared for” as the remaining Confederate defenders fired upon the advancing Union troops. For Oliver, his baptism of fire had finally arrived.

To those who have not experienced it, the emergence of humor while under enemy fire may seem an impossibility. This phenomenon, as difficult as it may be to understand, is real. In the midst of battle there is still room for humor. So it was for Oliver Case and the soldiers of Company A, 8th CVI:

Philo Matson, from out on Firetown mountains, was in the rank ahead of me and was much frightened; he would have fell out if possible. The orders were given to fall down, right up, fix bayonets, fire. As soon as I had fired, I heard Philo say, “Oh, I’m killed”, turned and saw a slight flesh wound on the top of his head. I certainly could not help laughing to see him. He turned to the orderly and asked him if he thought he was killed and, when he found out that he was still in the land of the living, took his gun and made himself missing as soon as possible.[2]

Here stands Oliver Case, with of bullets flying over his head, any one of which could strike him and cause instant death, yet he’s laughing. Obviously, Private Philo A. Matson of Canton, Connecticut was giving verbal or non-verbal indications that he wanted to run away as the regiment marched into the hail of bullets. Certainly, his fellow soldiers were afraid of what was ahead but none would dare let it show and be labeled a coward. Matson had no such inhabitations and made a spectacle of himself after suffering a minor flesh wound. His cowardness manifested itself as Maston “made himself missing” on a permanent basis being listed as a deserter in April 1862.

The humor of the Connecticut troops was short-lived as some of the Confederate rounds found their mark. Two companies of the 8th (G and H, actually K) were sent out as skirmishers as company A and the remainder of the regiment lay on the ground with the bullets buzzing just above them. Oliver reported to Abbie on the first causalities of the battle:

Capt. Epham [This name was unclear to the original transcriber] of Co. H was wounded in the shoulder at this time; it is feared mortally. Howes Phelps from Co. B was killed.[3]

In fact, there is no record of a Capt. “Epham” in the 8th CVI. The company commander of company H at this time appears to have been Capt. Thomas D. Sheffield of Stonington who had replaced Capt. Douglass Fowler. Sheffield originally enlisted in company G as the 1st Lieutenant and it is assumed he was promoted and transferred to company H upon the resignation of Fowler. He was honorably discharged on January 17, 1863. Rolls of the 8th confirm that Houlsey F.D. Phelps (aka “Howes”) of East Windsor (likely a distant cousin of Oliver), was killed at the Battle of Newbern on March 14, 1862. Capt. “Epham” was likely Capt. Charles L. Upham, commander of company K, who was reported as being wounded in the battle by the account of Croffut and Morris, but this status is not found on the company rolls.

Storming of Fort Thompson Battle of New Bern

The Union assault on Fort Thompson at the Battle of Newbern

 

These causalities occurred during the assault of the Confederate battery known as Fort Thompson described by Oliver:

At this time, word came that the 21st Mass. had charged upon the battery and were repulsed. We were ordered on double quick through [word unreadable] until we reached the rail road where was a high embankment where we halted to form.[4]

Moving quietly down the railroad, Colonel Harland had positioned his regiment to assault the battery from the flank. Oliver observed some deception in the works:

We were then ordered to fall and by mistake our colors fell too, and the rebels, deceived by our gray coats, took us to be rebel reinforcements arriving by rail road and ceased firing upon us; this mistake probably saved many lives.[5]

The soldiers were ordered to fix bayonets and the charge was then directed by Colonel Harland:

“…with a clear, shrill voice, and the emphasis of coming victory, rang the orders, “By company into line!” An advancing front of forty men appeared before the astonished rebels. ” Fix bayonets ! ” It was done at a rapid walk. ” Forward into line ! ” Up the embankment, and across the railroad, dashed the rear companies, coming into line within a hundred paces of the works. “Steady, guide center, forward, double quick !”[6]

And here is one of those points of disputed history. From Oliver’s view:

When we started from there we went double quick to charge their battery, but as they did not like the look of cold steel they left in a hurry. The color guard immediately ran up to the battery and planted the colors which were the first upon the battery.[7]

At least three regiments including the 8th CVI would claim the title of “First to Plant the Flag” upon the Confederate works. The 11th CVI and the 4th Rhode Island would also declare that they were the first regiment to the top. Croffut and Morris reported it this way:

The Eighth contests the claim of the 4th Rhode- Island to having first entered the enemy’s works; and it is certain that the flag of the Eighth was first displayed therein.[8]

Of course, the 8th CVI had a significant advantage here as “Morris” was the Rev. John M. Morris who would become the regimental chaplain just over one month after the Battle of Newbern.

Writing after the battle, General Parke reported that all the regiments “were under fire, and the officers seemed proud of the men they were leading and the men showed they had full confidence in their officers.”  Two soldiers are killed in action and four are wounded.

The attack upon the defenses of Newbern (March 14th) was made at an early hour, and the Eighth assisted in the capture of about five hundred Confederate troops. This was the regiment’s first baptism of blood. Its killed were privates Phelps of Company B and Patterson of Company I, with four wounded. The personal bravery of Colonel Harland amid the whistling bullets at Newbern, together with his skill and cool-headedness as a tactician, and his evident desire to shield his men from harm whenever possible, gave them a confidence in him which was never afterward shaken.[9]

The 8th was first in the battle in which they fought bravely…Gen Burnside came along up side of our Regt an[d] order[ed] us to charge on them in which we did in double quick time in which they fired upon us killing 8; wound[ed] several. It was a bold attempt but we won the victory driving the rebels in every direction.[10]

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] OR, Parke and Harland March 22, 1862.

[2] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 March 1862)

[3] IBID

[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[7] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 March 1862)

[8] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[9] History of the Eighth Regiment C. V. Infantry, J.H.Vaill, Case, Lockwood, and Brainard Co, Hartford, 1889.

[10] Letters of Cyrus B. Harrington, Connecticut Historical Society, March 15, 1862.

The Landing at Slocum’s Creek

The Landing at Slocum’s Creek

Ambrose Burnside’s second objective in his expeditionary campaign against the Confederates on the North Carolina coast was the city of Newbern. Newbern was located on the Neuse River about 35 miles above the interior entrance to Pamlico Sound and access by rail to the interior rail network that fed the Army of Northern Virginia from the deeper parts of the southern states.  A Confederate stronghold and logistical base, the city provided an opportunity to cut the rebel supply line and provide a linkage by rail to Burnside’s third objective, Fort Macon.

As they had done earlier in the days before Burnside’s assault on Roanoke Island, Confederate officials were lackadaisical in their defensive preparations at Newbern. While it had been over a month since the fall of Roanoke Island, the government in Richmond did very little in the way of providing additional manpower or supplies to the forces defending the approaches to Newbern. Although a “political general,” Confederate commander Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch recognized the deficiencies of the Newbern defenses and began lobbying Richmond soon after assuming command in January 1862. His calls for reinforcements and materiel fell on deaf ears in the Confederate capital.

Branch_Lawrence_O_Bryan_LoC_26684u

Confederate Brigadier General Lawrence Branch lead the resistance to Burnside’s Expedition[i]

 

On March 13, 1862, Burnside’s fleet of ships had made their way up the Neuse River to the mouth of Slocum’s Creek only 16 miles below the Trent River which formed the border of the city of Newbern. The strip of land between Slocum’s Creek and the Trent River was fortified by General Branch and the Confederates with earthworks, trenches and obstacles to form successive defensive positions. However, Branch did not have an adequate number of troops and artillery pieces with ammunition to properly man these positions. The small Confederate Navy along this part of the North Carolina coast was rendered totally ineffective by the Union Navy following the Battle of Roanoke Island so no naval gunfire support was available to Branch.

As the ships of Burnside’s fleet arrived at the mouth of Slocum’s Creek on March 13th, Oliver Case the 8th Connecticut soldiers loaded onto smaller, shallow draft boats to make their way toward the landing site. The 8th Connecticut under the command of Colonel Edward Harland remained assigned to the brigade of Brigadier General John Grubb Parke. Parke’s Third Brigade consisted of the 11th Connecticut, 4th and 5th Rhode Island as well as the 8th Connecticut. It was a tedious operation to ferry the troops onto the beaches and organize them for movement but it was soon completed.

Landing of Troops Battle of New Bern

The Troops of Burnside’s Expedition come ashore at the mouth of Slocum’s Creek[ii]

 

Oliver described the landing site as “a small cove” where troops were pushed forward by their commanders “and immediately commenced marching up the river.” Slocum’s Creek probably seemed more like a river to Oliver and many of the boys from Connecticut as the 8th marched along the creek’s edge on what Oliver called “the beach” for about two miles before turning to head inland. Not long after heading away from the water, the regiment came upon a welcome sight that was just too good to resist for some of the troops.

In a short time we came up to an encampment of cavalry which had been evacuated but a short time. Some of the boys fell out and helped themselves to chickens, ham, biscuits etc.[iii]

Good things cannot last and so it was for the feasting troopers who were soon given the order to move out. In a scene that would be a preview of Burnside’s infamous “mud march” in Virginia almost one year later, the troops struggled against terrible conditions. Oliver described it this way:

We travelled till after sundown over the muddiest road (if road it could be called) that I ever saw.[iv]

The Confederate commander closest to the landing, Colonel R. P. Campbell, in command of the Confederate right wing, had interpreted the supporting gunfire from the Union ships as an indicator that another landing of Union troops would follow the first and orders his troops to pull back to the defense line near Fort Thompson. When the Union regiments reach the entrenchments on the 13th, they find them abandoned.

Oliver observed the abandoned enemy camps and fortifications realizing that the soldiers of Parke’s Brigade may have dodged the bullet for this day.

About the middle of the afternoon we came to the first battery, which had just been evacuated and the barracks set on fire, which were still burning as we passed. We found out afterward that if we had been a day later the rebels would have had their forces there and mounted and it would have taken the lives of many men to have dislodged them for it is a very strong point. The fortification is a mile long, with a large ditch in front protected in the rear by breast works of huge trees felled top of one another. It would have been almost impossible to have flanked them and they would undoubtedly have had to be charged upon to have dislodged them.[v]

The expedition continued to march until nightfall when they halted and prepared for follow on operations at daylight the next morning. General Parke reported that “roads generally were in bad order, and the men marched in many localities through water and mud. In addition, heavy showers fell at intervals during the day and night, and although the men had their overcoats and blankets the bivouac was extremely trying.”[vi]

After struggling against the terrible road conditions, the troops were allowed to make camp for the night to include building fires using the available pitch pine wood which burned even in the wet conditions. That night, wrote Oliver, the rain “commenced in good earnest” creating miserable conditions for the soldiers who found that “after 12 o’clock very little sleeping was done by the soldiers in this division.” Oliver and his comrades knew that tomorrow would bring battle.

ENDNOTES:

[i] Prewar photograph from Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2010649184/

[ii] From Harper’s Weekly, April 5, 1862

[iii] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 March 1862)

[iv] IBID.

[v] IBID.

[vi] OR, Parke, March 22, 1862.

Hurry Up and Wait

Anyone with military service is familiar with the concept called, “hurry up and wait.” It’s a fact in the life of a soldier to be told to quickly prepare for something big and then find yourself in a waiting pattern until your leaders are satisfied with conditions and the command is given to move out. This time is often spent by young soldier speculating and reflecting especially when the hurry up and wait is in anticipation of combat operations. There are many such days in the life of a soldier.

 

fall-in-for-roll-call

“Hurry Up and Wait” – A Fact of Life for Civil War Soldiers[1]

 

March 4, 1862 was one of those days for Private Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. As the day dawned, they scrambled to prepare for movement only to find themselves waiting for the final orders to load the ships and move out to what they all believed would be their second battle experience. As the soldiers waited, the rumors flew and Oliver passed the time in one of his favorite activities, writing letters. This time he speculated to his sister Abbie about the regiment’s destination:

As to our destination we are entirely ignorant, some say one place – some another, but none know.[2]

As Ambrose Burnside planned the next move for his expeditionary force, the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut tried to anticipate their next movement. For several days, leaders had also anticipated the movement by ordering the troops “to keep three days rations cooked in advance so as to be ready to start at a moment’s warning.” Just the day before he wrote this letter, Oliver and his fellow soldiers were told that tomorrow, March 4th, would be the big day only to experience more disappointment after scrambling to ready themselves in the morning.

But when the reveille was beat the order to strike tents was not given as had been expected, and it was shortly given out that we should not be able to go aboard this forenoon on account of the wind which was blowing a strong northeaster at the time.[3]

The volatile North Carolina weather had once again caused more hurry up and wait for the Union forces of Burnside’s Expedition. Oliver used this occasion to rely the latest news from camp to Abbie including the word of several resignations among the officers of the regiments. In addition to the resignation of Capt. Fowler already mentioned in his letter of February 27, 1862, Oliver also includes that “Capt. Nash and a couple of Lieut’s. have gone home.” Captain Charles W. Nash from New Hartford enlisted on 25 September 1861 as the Commanding Officer of Company C, 8th CVI. He resigned 2 March 1862 at Roanoke Island, NC.

Based on the regimental rolls, the resigning Lieutenants may have included some or all of the following:

Lieutenant Robert H. Burnside

Enlisted 25 September 1861, New Hartford

Company C, 8th CVI

Resigned 1 March 1862

1st Lieutenant Henry N. Place

Enlisted 25 September 1861, Waterbury

Company E, 8th CVI

Resigned 18 March 1862

2nd Lieutenant Luman Wadhams

Enlisted 25 September 1861, Waterbury

Company E, 8th CVI

Resigned April 8, 1862

1st Lieutenant Noah P. Ives

Enlisted 23 September 1861, Meriden

Company K, 8th CVI

Resigned 18 March 1862

Oliver does not give the reason for these resignations, but there are other troubling rumors spreading through the camp about officers of the regiment:

It is rumored that the Col. and the Chaplain are both going home, also several others. The reason assigned for the resignation of the Col. was that Gen. Burnside had given him particular fits about the way he had conducted the regiment.[4]

The regimental commander, Colonel Edward Harland, did not resign and would rise to command the entire brigade by the Maryland Campaign. Whatever performance deficiency that may have existed in the mind of Ambrose Burnside was obviously corrected and Harland was well respected as a leader.

As for the chaplain, Oliver’s information was much more accurate. The 8th Connecticut chaplain was Joseph J. Woolley of Norwalk who mustered into the 8th on October 5, 1861 and did resigned on March 13, 1862. The roster of the regiment lists health problems as the reason for his resignation.

Oliver also gives an interesting assessment of the leadership abilities of the Commanding General, Ambrose Burnside:

The Gen. looks out for this men and woe be to the officer under him that tries to “rough it” on them. When we first came here we had some salt junk that was cooked up for two or three days rations and put hot into barrels, and before we ate it up it was a little tainted around the bones. The Gen. found it out and gave the commissary to understand if it happened again he could march. His men were not going to eat stinking meat.[5]

After all the rumors and reflection, it seemed that the soldiers of the 8th were moving much closer to ending this episode of hurry up and wait.

I think in all probability we shall not go aboard before morning although we are prepared to hear the order any moment to “strike tents in fifteen minutes.” I have just stopped writing to take some cartridges from the orderly to make up my forty rounds.[6]

According to a later letter penned by Oliver, the regiment did finally break camp on this day and were loaded aboard their former home on the steamer, “Chasseur.”

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Hardtack and Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life, John D. Billings, George M. Smith and Company, Boston, 1887

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT, 1861-1862.

[3] IBID.

[4] IBID.

[5] IBID.

[6] IBID.

Douglass Fowler: What Might Have Been

Douglass Fowler: What Might Have Been

Douglass Fowler 8CVI and 17CVI

Studying the Civil War and its participants inevitably leads one to the “what might have been” questions. This is acutely true when focusing on the experiences of the soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict. I cannot count the number of times I’ve asked this question regarding Oliver Case. His life held so much promise for great things beyond his service to the Union.

So it is with the subject of one of Oliver’s letters, Captain Douglass Fowler of Norwalk, Connecticut. Fowler had originally enlisted in the 3rd Connecticut Infantry, a three-month regiment, as the commander of Company A on May 14, 1861. While in the 3rd Connecticut, Fowler served alongside the future 8th Connecticut regimental commander Edward Harland during the First Battle of Bull Run and was honorably discharged on August 12, 1861 at the expiration of the regiment’s term of service.

Fowler soon returned to service with the 8th Connecticut as Commander of Company H on September 23, 1861. The records for the 8th indicate that he resigned on January 20, 1862. Based on Oliver Case’s letters to his sister, this was likely the date that Fowler submitted his letter of resignation for approval up through his chain of command. Oliver’s letter dated February 27, 1862 relates that Captain Fowler’s approved resignation had recently been returned from Washington and he would be heading home soon.

Most fascinating is the reason Oliver provides for the sudden resignation. Oliver writes to Abbie that “Capt. Fowler got into a fuss with the Lieut. Col. at Annapolis and sent in his resignation.” Arguments and rivalries between officers in Civil War volunteer regiments were not uncommon and the 8th Connecticut had it’s share of issues especially during the first few months of service. Trying to identify the Lieutenant Colonel that caused Douglass Fowler to resign is difficult to determine with exact certainty. The two Lieutenant Colonels that served in the 8th Connecticut during this period were Peter L. Cunningham followed by Andrew Terry.  

Peter Cunningham became Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut soon after its formation. However, he was not a man well suited for the duties or for military service. As Oliver Case writes, Cunningham became the “laughing stock of the whole brigade” due to his lack of military presence and drilling acumen. Likely pressured by the regimental commander, Colonel Edward Harland, and possibly other senior leaders, Peter Cunningham submitted his resignation from the 8th Connecticut on the 23rd of December 1861 and soon returned to Connecticut.

cunningham

Peter H. Cunningham, Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut, October 5, 1861 to December 23, 1861

 

Promoted from his initial rank of Major upon the resignation of Peter Cunningham, Andrew Terry assumed the duties of Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut on or about December 24, 1861. According to the official records, Terry hailed from Plymouth, Connecticut and enlisted in the 8th Connecticut on October 5, 1861. He served as Lieutenant Colonel for the regiment until March 28, 1862 when he resigned. Andrew Terry was born on December 29, 1824 and married Susan H. Orr sometime before 1847. He died on August 26, 1877 and is buried in the Hillside Cemetery in Terryville, Connecticut.

andrew-terry-photo

Andrew Terry, Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut, December 24, 1861 to March 28, 1862

 

So, will the offending Lieutenant Colonel please step up? Oliver gives us the one clue to solving the mystery that the incident happened at Annapolis. This means it could have involved either officer since the regiment did not sail from Annapolis until after the new year. However, it is more likely that Andrew Terry was the reason behind Fowler’s resignation since the resignation and departure of Cunningham would have removed the officer from having an impact of Fowler’s future service. The other clue that may support this theory of Terry as the offending party is found in Oliver’s statement “[Fowler] should have been Maj. Instead of Capt. Appleton.” When Andrew Terry was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, this left a vacancy in the position of Major for the 8th Connecticut, the third highest ranking officer in the regiment. As the new Lieutenant Colonel for the regiment, Terry’s opinion would have carried great sway with the regimental commander, Colonel Harland. The “fuss” that Oliver writes about could have been a dispute between Fowler and Terry regarding the recommendation for promotion to Major.

Douglass Fowler 8CVI and 17CVI

Douglass Fowler resigned from the 8th Connecticut on January 20, 1862

 

Whatever the issue, Douglass Fowler wanted no more of the officer politics in the 8th Connecticut and so he resigned and returned to Connecticut by the end or February or early March of 1862. He would not stay home for long as Fowler joined the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry to serve as the commanding officer of Company A on July 14, 1862. He participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Fowler would finally get his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel after the wounding and death of the regimental commander. Lieutenant Colonel Fowler found himself in command of the 17th on the first day of Gettysburg leading his regiment into action on Blocher’s Knoll. As Fowler bravely rode forward on his white horse, he encouraged his men to keep moving into the fight. Many of his soldier remembered his fearless example with Fowler urging the soldiers to “Dodge the big ones Boys” as the Confederate artillery reigned in on their position. Only moments after these words of encouragement, Fowler was partially decapitated by a Confederate solid shot. His remains were never recovered, but he is memorialized in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. John Banks has an excellent post about Lieutenant Fowler at Gettysburg.

The what might have been for the Douglas Fowler in the 8th Connecticut remains unknown…

NOTES:

Information on Douglas Fowler from the 17th Connecticut website (http://seventeenthcvi.org/blog/) and John Banks’ excellent Civil War site (http://john-banks.blogspot.com/2014/05/gettysburg-death-of-17th-connecticut-lt.html)

Photo and other information regarding Andrew Terry: From Find-A-Grave (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=82779851)

 Lieut. Col. Douglass Fowler, 17th CVI , Photo courtesy of Bobby Dobbins/17thcvi.org

From THE MILITARY AND CIVIL History of Connecticut THE WAR OF 1861-65, BY W. A. CROFFUT AND JOHN M. MORRIS:

Lieut.-Col. Douglass Fowler of Norwalk was shot dead during the first day’s fight. He had been in the war from the beginning ; having led a company in the Third Regiment through the three-months’ service, and afterwards raised a company for the Eighth. When he resigned his commission in the latter, he recruited a company for the Seventeenth. He was sick before the battle of Chancellorsville, and was borne to the fight in an ambulance ; but he afterwards fought with great endurance, being among the last to retreat. He was by nature a true soldier, brave and skillful ; and his genial temper, generous disposition, and buoyant spirits, united with a fervent interest in the loyal cause, had won for him an enthusiastic regard ; and the men followed him willingly into the deadly strife. He was struck down while leading them in a charge ; and still he sleeps in his unknown grave upon the battle-field of Gettysburg.

Additional info on Douglass Fowler can be found at:

17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry

The American Civil War: Battle of Gettysburg (17th CVI page)

 

Missing His First Opportunity for Combat

On the 7th of February 1862, the ships of Burnside’s Expeditionary force had finally made their way north into the Croatan Sound off the western shore of Roanoke Island. Their guns pounded the Confederate fortifications on the island for most of the day as Oliver Case and the other soldiers of the expedition watched and waited for the order to attack. The bombardment continued until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon when Burnside finally gave the order to begin landing the troops. Shallow draft boats ferried the Union troops to the island from the larger transport ships.

landing-at-roanoke

The Troops of Burnside’s Expedition Land on Roanoke[1]

Most of the initial Confederate opposition to the landings quickly faded away as Union gunboats raked the shoreline with fire. The small boats shuttled regiments ashore as the landings went on until about midnight on the 7th. The 8th Connecticut was one of the later units to go shore. Not among their number was Oliver Case who was too sick to accompany his regiment into their first combat action. Oliver later explained why he remained aboard the Chasseur as he was “indisposed, and the regiment had not pitched their tents and it was rather damp lying in the open air, especially for one who was not well.”[2] His indisposition seemed to be a recurrence of the fever he had suffered prior to his departure from Annapolis almost six weeks earlier when he was confined to a hospital ship.

For Case, it seemed that the disappointment of missing the regiment’s first action against the Confederates was minimized by the minor role the 8th Connecticut played in the Battle of Roanoke Island. According to Oliver:

I have written nothing about the battle for the papers will be full of it. Gen. Burnside said the 8th Conn. held as responsibly fast as any upon the field although they did not have to fire a gun. His orders were to hold it even if it took every man. At one time it looked as though the brunt of the battle was coming upon them, but the enemy were flanked and turned in another direction.[3]

It was true that the regiment had played mainly a supporting role, but Oliver’s dismissive words to his younger sister were surely designed to hide his disappointment as well. Due to the combination of Oliver’s physical condition and the damp living among the swamps on the island, the officers of the 8th Connecticut did not allow him to come ashore and join the regiment until one week after the battle. Finally, on Friday, February 14, 1862, Oliver Case left the Chasseur and planted his feet on the firm ground of Roanoke Island. As he often did in his letters, Oliver painted a word picture of what he saw for his sister.

This island is almost all covered with forests, mostly pitch pine, with now and then a clearing of five or six acres with a small house upon it. The land after it is cleared up is very easy of cultivation and produces light crops of corn and sweet potatoes. The forests are a perfect jungle, it being almost impossibility for man and beast to get through them. There are many swamps upon the island which are a perfect mat of green briars about 10 feet high and so thick that there is no guard kept next to them, which is the same as saying that they cannot be passed through.[4]

 

roanoke-island-map2

A Map of Roanoke Island

Oliver and the 8th Connecticut will not call Roanoke Island home for many days as General Burnside already has plans for his next action on the North Carolina coast. The young man will also not have to wait long for his foray into combat with his fellow soldiers to ease the discontent of missing the Battle of Roanoke Island.

Endnotes:

[1] “The Burnside expedition landing at Roanoke Island – February 7th 1862.” Created by E. Sachse & Co., 1862., Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C., call # LC-DIG-ds-00119.  Available from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003655799/

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT, 1861-1862.

[3] IBID.

[4] IBID.