The Dread of Death

The Dread of Death

158 years ago, Private Oliver Cromwell Case stood shoulder to shoulder with his fellow soldiers on a hill outside Sharpsburg, Maryland fully prepared to die.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?[1]

The American Civil War connected death and dying to the country’s citizens like no other war before or since with an average of 600 men dying in the conflict every day. Per week, that’s more Americans killed than died on September 11, 2001 and the fact that this continued for four years is a difficult reality for most of us in modern America to firmly grasp. Two percent of the entire population of the United States (31 million in 1860) were killed, died of wounds or died of other non-combat causes during the war. Everyone, north and south, was touched by the death of a soldier or sailor either directly or indirectly.

Any Civil War soldier who had faced combat, understood that his death could be just over the next hill. Marching over the rolling hills south of Sharpsburg and into the jaws of battle, Oliver Case fully understood that he faced his own morality. He had been here before and he knew the danger…

There is not the dread of Death here as there; but I expect like everyone else to come out alive. I have yet to see the man that did not. It is much the best way on the men to go into action with high hopes and good spirits instead of feeling low and depressed.[2]

Oliver had witnessed the sting of death first-hand. He had seen his friends and fellow soldiers killed in battle. He stood with them as they fought horrible disease to the point of death. Death was familiar to Oliver, but death was not his friend…it was his foe as much as any Confederate soldier he might face. Meeting death was the encounter Private Oliver Case wanted to avoid, but knew that, sooner or later, he would face this enemy and death would come calling for the young soldier from Simsbury, Connecticut. For the Civil War soldier death was part of life and it could not be avoided.

For himself, Oliver Case had resolved long before this mid-September day that he would not run in the face of his own death because a far worse fate would await him. As a witness to the dishonorable behavior of others as death began to stalk them, he wanted no part of such conduct. As he had done before on the coast of North Carolina, he would not falter as the bullets began to fly in his direction. Oliver, rather than choose dishonor, would rely on the mercy of God to choose his fate. He would not face the judgments of a pitiless people who would surely sentence him to a lifetime of shame for cowardly bearing before the enemy. In his letters to his sister and brothers, Oliver had drawn this as a clear line of battle from which he would not retreat.

Make no mistake, fear of the unknown always hovered about him. Like the fever Oliver had struggled against for so many of the past months, fear would always return, unwelcomed and inescapable.  Oliver must have realized that if fear was an inevitable visitor, then he must face it head on and chase it from his mind. It was analogous to leaping into the swiftly flowing Farmington River back in Connecticut and trying to fight upstream against the current. No, rather than struggle against it, Oliver knew that he must ride the strong current of his fear to go where he did not want. Strength came from those men on his left and right who faced the same fear of dying but men with whom Oliver trusted his life. Oliver knew that only his God held the destiny of his young life and that must be his comfort.

But thanks be to God what is our loss is his gain.[3]

Late in the afternoon of September 17, 1862, the strength of honor bore up the hopes and spirits of Private Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut as the order was given to advance toward the Confederate lines outside Sharpsburg, Maryland. Their courage would now be sorely tested in these fields and across the rolling hills…[4]

 How long can this continue? Over every one of these hills lies another storm of lead from those Johnnies. The boys are in fine fighting spirits today, so maybe just one more push over that next hill in front of us and then, we’ll make the Harper’s Ferry Road and the town of Sharpsburg. This will all be over if we can just make one more push. I can see two cannons of the enemy guarding the road at the top of that final hill. At least, I can see the business end of the guns as they begin to spew the deadly canister into our ranks.  Artillery incoming! I want to bury my face in the earth. No, it’s ours…over our heads. Hitting all around the rebel cannons. There’s Captain Upham and his company moving up on our left; closing up quick on those guns. The smoke is clearing; rebels have abandoned their battery. Maybe we have a chance…we can win a great victory. The war will be over!

Wait…beyond those brave Confederate gunners, I can hear those officers in gray shouting at disoriented troops milling around the road. I hear the cries on the officers to “rally on the colors” and “stand your ground.” The sea of graybacks are swelling and the rebels in front of us are firing into our ranks or mostly above our heads. I’m sure glad this swale is protecting us from their Minnie balls. I see the Zouves to our right…those New York boys are firing hot but many are falling. Now they are beginning to slowly move back down the slope. Lieutenant Colonel Appelman is giving the order for the regiment to move forward followed by the echoes of the captains. Nobody hesitates; not one of us. All the boys are rising up all around me. Now I know how Philo Matson felt at Newbern. God forgive me for my ridicule of Philo because I now want to make myself missing from this field. Orton, Martin, Lucius…they jump to their feet…I must go with them. I will not leave them. I cannot disgrace my family. This may be my end, but I will not be branded a coward. God give me courage to face the enemy and, if needs be, my own death!

     106 (2)The field where the 8th Connecticut made their desperate stand just short of the Harpers Ferry Road

I haven’t seen the other Connecticut boys in the 16th since they stepped off into that big cornfield. Lots of firing coming from that direction. I can’t look back…Colonel Harland is urging us forward but he’s on foot and not riding his horse. What a fine officer and a brave man. More firing and a rebel yell rising from that cornfield Ariel and Alonzo marched into…God protect my brothers. What would our mother think if she knew all three of her boys were in the thick of the fight on the same field?

It seems like we’ve barely started to move when old Colonel Appelman falls to our front. Four men (I don’t recognize them) are bearing him rearward. There stands Chaplain Morris loading a rifle as the cartridge box dangles from his neck like he’s a common soldier. What is happening? Our position is desperate. The Major screams above the din for the regiment to lie down again. I must reload, aim, and fire. May be ten rounds left in my box. What’s that on our left beyond the enemy battery now abandoned by Captain Upham and his men? Soldiers in blue? But, wait…a flag. The colors are red, white and blue, but not the national colors. I know that flag. I remember from Roanoke Island. It’s a North Carolina regiment and here comes another one behind themforming into double file. God help us, we are done for.

The bullets are hitting our ranks thick as flies now from our front and the left. It’s bad for our boys. Thud…Orton is hit on my right and crumbles to the ground. I’m kneeling and reloading but Lucius stands to fire in front of me…he shouldn’t. Too late, he’s shot twice in the chest and spins around falling at my feet…his eyes wide open toward the sky. This is the moment I knew would come. No turning back…if I die, I die like a man. I stand, aim at the rebel color bearer, squeeze the trigger…darkness, silence…

The dread of death is no more for Oliver Case…he has finally met death, but on his terms.

I went with my Brother to the Eighth Regiment to learn the fate of my younger Brother Oliver and found only eight or 10 of his company left from about 40 they had in the morning. Was told by a comrade that stood beside him that he fell and he called him by name but no reply. Said he was no doubt killed. The next morning we were marched down near the bridge and lay there all day. No one was allowed on the field as it was held by sharpshooters on both sides. The next day September 19 myself and brother had permission to go over the field and look for our brothers body being very sure he was dead we each took our canteens filled with water and commenced that awful sickening tramp and if I could picture to you the sad sites that we beheld. The ground for acres and miles in length were strewn with dead and wounded. The wounded crying for water they having lain there the whole day before and two nights — but everyone was looking for some comrade of their own Regiment but some time that afternoon we found the body of our brother we were looking after. He was no doubt killed instantly the bullet having passed through his head just about the top of his ears. We wrapped him in my blanket and carried him to the spot where the 16th dead were to be buried having first got permission from the Colonel of the Eighth and the 16th to do so. The 16th men were buried side by side in a trench and they dug a grave about 6 [feet] from them and we deposited the remains of my brother and that having first pinned a paper with his name and age on the inside of the blanket. Then they put up boards to teach with name and Regiment on them. His body lay there until December when father went there and brought the body to Simsbury where it now lies to mingle with the sole of his native town.[5]

IMG_0967 (2)


[1] King James Bible, 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, verse 55

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, Connecticut. While his was written regarding the coming battle(s) in North Carolina, the witnesses to his conduct on September 17, 1862 indicate that he continued to face the enemy and perform his duty as a soldier.

[3] IBID. In his letter of January 7, 1862, Oliver wrote these words in describing the death of his friend, Henry D. Sexton aboard a hospital ship in Annapolis harbor.

[4] What follows is a fictionalized account from the perspective of Private Oliver Cromwell Case using actual sources that describe this segment of the battle of Antietam and Oliver’s letters.

[5] “Recollections of Camp and Prison Life” by Alonzo Grove Case (unpublished), Company E, 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers (from the collection of The Simsbury Historical Society).

A Dry Place and My Knapsack for a Pillow

It was long dark by the time the ship transporting the men and equipment of the 8th Connecticut entered the Long Island Sound at the mouth of the Connecticut River. After several hours of excited chatter among his mess mates, Oliver Case had finally managed “to get a dry place…with my knapsack for a pillow” and closed his eyes for what seemed like only a moment but was more like two hours “when I heard my name called loud enough to start any living person…”[1] Private Case had drawn the midnight shift for guard duty and now possessed the privilege of standing watch over the personal equipment, known as traps, and the weapons of the regiment. Guard duty for most of these still inexperienced citizen-soldiers would have been an extremely tedious and pointless activity likely dreaded and maligned in the ranks. As most soldiers learned early on in their guard duty careers, failure to properly perform your duties when on guard could result in punishment such as double shifts that no man wanted to face.

On this first night of shipboard guard duty, Oliver was fortunate that his guard shift lasted only one hour in instead of the normal two-hour tours as was common practice among most of the Union regiments in the Civil War. By the time his relief arrived, Friday morning was already thirty minutes old and the crowded decks had become relatively quiet other than the sounds of the sleeping soldiers. Oliver was forced to make his way carefully through the mass of humanity to avoid the wrath of a disturbed soul roused from slumber and throwing spewing curses at the offender. After finding his previous “dry place” on the floor with his company mates, Oliver was not able to return the restful sleep he enjoyed prior to his guard duty caused by the combine effects of anticipation and the cramped quarters. His inability to sleep was not without some reward as Oliver found himself treated to a spectacular sight at four o’clock in the morning. As the ship made its way out of Long Island Sound and down the East River, the early morning fog began to break up and the lights of New York City came into full view off the starboard side. Oliver expressed his disappointment that the ship will not stop at New York or Brooklyn which also came into view on the port side. Rather, the transport continued southward into the New York Bay and two hours later it seemed that the regiment may have reached its destination as the ship approached a landing on the opposite side of the bay at Staten Island. However, the vessel was not allowed to dock and placed in a holding pattern to wait for another ship to pass that Oliver names as the “Granite State.” There is some historical ambiguity about the identification of this vessel as the U.S.S. Granite State was a wooden ship dating back to 1825 that was not actually placed into operation until the Civil War. Many sources claim that this vessel wasn’t placed into service until 1863 or 1864.

Whatever the name of this ship may have been, it finally passed by Staten Island and the transport carrying the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut was given clearance to put ashore on the island. There arose a great sense of excitement and anticipation throughout the ranks with the possibility of leaving the cramped quarters and returning to dry land. For what may have been the first time in their military service, Oliver and the other troops learned a hard lesson about “hurry up and wait” in the life of a soldier.

Then commenced a great rush for knapsacks, haversacks etc. which was kept up for an hour but no signs of getting off. We stood for two or three hours with our knapsacks on when one by one they commenced to drop off and by nine o’clock they were all lying in piles again. There was strict guard kept so we could not get off the boat.[2]

While the horses were temporarily allowed off the ship, the soldiers remained in position and waited for orders from their officers which they hoped would soon be the command to disembark. The delay would come to end, but not to the satisfaction of the disgruntled troops as the horses were reloaded onto the vessel and the order was given to cast off. The ship, which Oliver now described as a steamer, pulled away from Staten Island and slipped back into the mid-morning sunshine of New York Bay, this time headed north toward the mouth of the East River from which they had traveled just three hours earlier. The full light of midday revealed the entirely of New York with “a splendid view of its shipping, and such steam whistling and cheering I have seldom heard.”[3] The steamer continued back up the East River finally landing at Hunter’s Point on Long Island about three o’clock in the afternoon where the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut were finally allowed to disembark.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case 1861-1862 (unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT (October 20, 1861).

[2] (Case)

[3] (Case)

Farewell to Connecticut: A Very Pleasant Time

Farewell to Connecticut: A Very Pleasant Time

At Camp Buckingham, Colonel Edward Harland and the other officers of the Eighth continued the process of organizing and training the recruits now gathered from various parts of the state. Exceedingly eager about the impending march to fight the rebels and put down the revolt, these young men were far from effective soldiers ready for combat. Those officers of the regiment who like Colonel Harland had gained some experience during the battle of Bull Run, set about to train these young men and begin to form them into a cohesive unit as they waited for word of their first assignment. Their daily training to prepare for the tactics du jour of the Civil War meant one primary activity so critical to combat effectiveness, the drill.

Drilling, which had generally begun at the places of original enlistment, was continued vigorously in the camps. Nearly all the officers, and some of the privates, had seen service; yet at least three-fourths were raw volunteers, who knew no difference between “reverse arms” and “right-shoulder-shift.” The three-months’ veterans put their awkward comrades sternly through the manual, and exercised them in company and battalion drill, morning, afternoon, and evening. Every squad made the most of the few days remaining, and instruction proceeded rapidly. The three regiments received Enfield rifles, the two flank companies of each being armed with Sharpe’s; and succeeding regiments were generally furnished with the same admirable weapons, and the same proportion of each.[1]

Within days of the commencement of equipping, organizing and drilling at Camp Buckingham, orders came from the federal government at Washington regarding the future employment of the 8th Connecticut and many other New England regiments. On October 1, 1861, the United States Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, requested Governor Buckingham to send the two Connecticut regiments to Camp Hempstead, Long Island, New York with instructions to report to Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside for further training. Ambrose Burnside was a man with a mission in great need of troops to carry it out. Like many of his comrades in the Union Army, Burnside’s Civil War service saw a rather rocky first engagement with the Confederates. Although he was a West Point graduate with service in the prewar army, Burnside’s leadership of a brigade at Bull Run, filled with three-month regiments from his native Rhode Island, was somewhat less than impressive. After this first engagement, Colonel Burnside returned to Rhode Island and mustered out of service with his soldiers uncertain as to his future. The jobless Burnside would only wait for a few days as his pre-war business connections with the newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General George B. McClellan, landed him a commission as a Brigadier General. McClellan ordered his friend to return to Washington to receive orders for his next assignment. Once back in the capital city, Burnside assumed command of several brigades filled with untrained regiments of newly minted soldiers. These green units required an immense amount of attention for drilling and equipping.

 

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Ambrose Burnside

 

With grand ideas on how he could be more useful in his service to the Union, Ambrose Burnside did not hesitate to present his plans to his old buddy, George McClellan. His idea was to raise several brigades filled with regiments from the New England states to form a new amphibious assault force. Burnside proposed to acquire his ships from the northern coastal cities to both transport the troops south and provide indirect fire support to the coastal operations. The Rhode Island general believed he would be able to rely on the maritime knowledge many of these New England men to help navigate the lighter boats though the inland waterways of the southern coast.

As to the specific targets of this amphibious force, Burnside would consult with McClellan and make that determination at a later date as the operational situation dictated. After receiving General McClellan’s approval of the plan, Burnside turned his attention to recruiting soldiers and procuring ships. His initial staging area for the soldiers pouring in from the north would be Camp Hempstead on Long Island, New York.

Seventeen days after Oliver Case made the inscription in his bible, on October 17, 1861 at four o’clock in the afternoon, the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry regiment was officially transferred to federal service and departed Camp Buckingham. Leaving Hartford via ship bound for command of Ambrose Burnside at the Camp of Instruction on Long Island, New York, the regiment stood at a strength of 1,016 of Connecticut’s finest young men. The regiment would never again have this many soldiers standing in its ranks, dressed in new uniforms of blue receiving the well wishes of a host of friends, family and citizens of Hartford. Crowds of cheering citizens gathered along the docks as the ship made its way from the Hartford pier and steamed slowly but steadily down the Connecticut River. The scene was an inspiring sight for the young soldiers and their officers, a stirring event as “the departing soldiers were greeted with waving flags and resounding cheers from proud relatives and friends, and grateful strangers, who only knew them as a part of the grand Union army going eagerly forth to offer vicarious atonement for the sins of the nation.”[2] As he later picked up his pencil and paper for the first time to write to his sister, Private Oliver Cromwell Case described the martial scene as a “very pleasant time going down the river cheering and being cheered continually.” As the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut watched the crowds and the city slip out of sight, the setting sun began to chase the daylight away.[3]

Although the flame of rumors burned hot through the ranks, Oliver and the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut had no reliable information regarding their destination upon departing Hartford. If they knew where the steamer was bound or what the future assignment of the regiment might hold, the officers of the regiment chose to keep the secret for the present time. As darkness began to set in, the hundreds of young Connecticut boys did their best to settle into the cramped quarters of the ship. Much to the delight of Oliver Case and the soldiers of Company A, they were assigned some of the better accommodations aboard the boat located “in the gangway forward of the shaft.”[4] In his letter to Abbie written several days later, Oliver described how the soldiers “spread our beds all over the floor and bunked in like a mess of pigs” and that some of the boys “were in the water shoe deep.”[5] Such were the accommodations for the first of many shipboard journeys these troops would experience over the next year.

The soldiers of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment were now on their way to the great adventure of fighting the rebels. Sadly, many of Connecticut’s sons crowded on the ship this day had seen their native state for the last time. Among that number was Oliver Cromwell Case of Simsbury.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Morris, W.A. Croffut and John M., (1869), The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, New York, Ledyard Bill.

[2] (Morris, 1869)

[3] Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case 1861-1862 (unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT (October 20, 1861).

[4] (Case)

[5] (Case)

Edward Harland: A man of great executive ability and boundless energy

Edward Harland: A man of great executive ability and boundless energy

Edward Harland2

As the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry gathered at Camp Buckingham in Hartford in late September of 1861, the Connecticut Governor William A. Buckingham selected Edward “Ned” Harland of Norwich to serve as the regimental commander. Captain Harland, now appointed to the rank of Colonel by the Governor, had just returned from serving in the 3rd Connecticut Infantry Regiment, one of the three-month regiments raised at the beginning of the war. Ned Harland, an 1853 graduate of Yale University, was already a prominent citizen of his home state. Upon graduation from Yale, he studied for the Connecticut bar in the law offices of John Turner Wait, father of the future Lieutenant Marvin Wait of the 8th Connecticut and, in 1855, Harland was elected as secretary of the Connecticut State Democratic Convention. By 1860, Ned Harland’s political involvement had transitioned to the new Republican party as he served as one of the floor managers for the Lincoln-Hamlin Ball.

Within a few short months, Harland made another transition that would define the remainder of his full life. In April 1861, Edward Harland joined the 3rd Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment in response to President Lincoln’s call for volunteers to put down the rebellion in the southern states. Harland threw himself into the work of recruiting a company of volunteers in his hometown of Norwich attaining a commission as a captain of volunteers commanding Company D of the 3rd Connecticut. On Monday, April 29, 1861, Captain Harland marched his company through the streets of Norwich enroute to the training grounds in the state capital of Hartford. He halted his company long enough for a ceremony to present the new captain a sword.  The beautiful sword was described as “a handsome piece of steel…with gold hilt in an eagle design” with an inscription on the scabbard that read:

We commit you to good hands, we know you will be true. Capt. Edward Harland from his personal friends of Norwich, Ct., Apr. 29, 1861[1]   

In July of 1861, Harland would carry that sword into his first combat experience as he commanded Company D of the 3rd Connecticut in the Battle of Bull Run. Despite the disastrous Union loss at the hands of the Confederate army, Captain Harland proved himself to be an able combat leader. One of the soldiers of the 3rd Connecticut described the scene as Union forces broke and ran from the field:

…Col. Chatfield [regimental commander] ordered his men, broken by the woods and almost dead with exhaustion, to form in such order as they could and cover the retreat. The majority of the regiment were now moving toward Centreville in some confusion, too worn out to do anything else; but Tyler and Keyes, with Col. Chatfield, Captains Harland and Lewis…formed a line of fifty or seventy-five men, in the extreme rear, to resist the enemy’s cavalry, which now swept down the road to harass them. Five or six times the horse charged upon that handful of brave men, and each time were repulsed by a determined fire, which emptied many a saddle.[2]

By the following month, the 29-year old Harland found himself without a unit to command since the 3rd Connecticut was at the end of its three-month term of service. However, Edward Harland was not done with his career as a soldier. His desire for continued service coupled with his reputation as a competent leader of troops and his pre-war standing as a bright young lawyer and budding politician brought him multiple opportunities to lead soldiers. On September 3, 1861, the Hartford Daily Courant announced his appointment as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 6th Connecticut Infantry Regiment serving under Colonel John Chatfield, previously the commander of the 3rd Connecticut.[3]

Harland’s assignment as the second in command of the 6th Connecticut was extremely short. Within two days of his appointment, the Hartford Daily Courant would again announce a new position for the Norwich lawyer as Colonel of the newly forming 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment.[1] In testament to Edward Harland’s status and character, he was presented with an expensive sword by the New-London County bar upon his commissioning as the Colonel of the 8th Connecticut.[2] One month later, Harland received another useful gift, this time from his alma mater. In early October of 1861, Ned Harland was “presented with an elegant field glass by members of the Yale Class of 1853, who were associated with him in the ‘Owl Club’” at the school.[4]

Edward Harland would serve as the commander of the 8th Connecticut throughout the North Carolina campaign as part of the Burnside Expedition before winning an appointment to the command of a Brigade that included three Connecticut regiments (8th, 11th and 16th) as well as the 4th Rhode Island for the Maryland Campaign. Commanding the Second Brigade of Isaac Rodman’s Division at the Battle of    Antietam, Harland would find his regiments dangerously separated as they moved to meet the Confederate defenders on hills outside Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862. As Harland and General Rodman attempted to hurry along the other two regiments trailing behind the 8th Connecticut, Rodman was mortally wounded, and Harland’s horse was shot from under him. Edward Harland would assume temporary command of the division until after the battle. In November of 1862, Harland was promoted to Brigadier General of volunteers before commanding the brigade at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December. Harland would never again see major combat operations as his brigade was transferred to the Department of Virginia and later the Department of North Carolina spending most of the time in garrison-type duty. He resigned from the Army on June 22, 1865 returning to his native Norwich, Connecticut.

Back home, Harland resumed his law practice and made a foray into politics serving several terms in the Connecticut state legislature and as a judge of probate court. The former officer continued his ties to the military with his appointment as the adjutant general for the state militia of Connecticut. Known as “a man of great executive ability and boundless energy,” Harland delved into the banking industry working as the president of the Chelsea Savings Bank and helped to establish the W.W. Backus Hospital in Norwich.[5]

Edward Harland never married, but lived a long and productive life, dying of emphysema on March 9, 1915 at his home in Norwich at the ripe old age of eighty-two where he was buried in the Yantic Cemetery.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Norwich Morning Bulletin, October 19, 1915.

[2] From an article written by an unnamed private in the Third Connecticut recounting the Battle of Bull Run, New London Daily Chronicle, Tuesday, Aug 13, 1861.

[3] Hartford Daily Courant, September 3, 1861.

[4] Hartford Daily Courant, September 5, 1861; Morris, W. C. (1869). The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865. New York: Ledyard Bill; Columbian Register, October 5, 1861, New Haven, CT.

[5] Cutter, W. R. (1913). New England Families, Genealogical and Memorial: Volume 3. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing.

A Gift for the Ages: Oliver Case’s Bible

A Gift for the Ages: Oliver Case’s Bible

casebiblecollage

Throughout the Civil War, most of the camps for mustering Union regiments were located in major urban areas where resources including transportation and communication were more readily available to commanders. The location of these camps also allowed access by members of the public curious to observe the daily training. So it was for Oliver Case and his fellow recruits in the fledging 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment during their time of organization and equipping at Camp Buckingham. As the few veterans among the officer corps of the regiment continued to drill and equip the regiment, the newly minted soldiers were visited by many friends, family members and other well-wishers.

Our relatives and friends who desired to see us had to come to see where we were, instead of expecting us to be calling upon them, and every day, by the time of evening dress parade, the camp was well crowded with visitors. It was the season of flowers and there were very few tents which did not have at all times a profuse supply of flowers, the gift of the lady friends of some one of the occupants.[1]

Based the dating and unit identification from Oliver’s bible, he was visited while in residence at Camp Buckingham by several family members and at least one young lady who was either a friend of his younger sister, Abbie, or a possible romantic interest. Written on one of the front pages of Oliver’s Bible are two names in script not inscribed by Oliver’s hand. The first name is that of Miss Abbie J. Case, Oliver’s sister and the other is a Miss Jennie A. Hartford. Jennie Hartford was a young lady approximately the same age as Oliver who may have been a love interest although that is pure speculation and the relationship was quite possibly nothing more than a friendship. Love interest or not, the year following Oliver’s death, she married James Wesley Latimer who was likely a distance cousin of the Case siblings and her relationship with Oliver Case is lost to history.

On the same day as Governor Buckingham received the orders for his two regiments to report to Burnside, Private Oliver Cromwell Case received orders of his own. On October 1, 1861, Private Case was ordered to transfer from his original company of enlistment, Company B, to Company A of the 8th Connecticut. The reason for the transfer is unclear, but only one other soldier from Simsbury, George W. Lewis, appears on the rolls for Company A. As indicated by many of his letters, Oliver seems to have adapted well to the new company making friends and joining in the extracurricular activities of the troops. He also appears to have maintained a very positive relationship with the officers of his new company mentioning them positively throughout his correspondence. In particular, Oliver formed a close association with Second Lieutenant Wolcott P. Marsh of Hartford who would appear as a subject in many of his letters. Walcott, who was married to the sister of Ariel Case’s wife, also appeared to develop a great fondness for Oliver mentioning him in many of the letters to his wife during the war.

On that same day, Oliver received a pocket-sized, leather-bound Thomas Nelson and Sons Bible printed in 1854. The origin of this bible is unclear but there are several likely scenarios for its appearance on October 1st of 1861. It is possible that Oliver obtained the bible from one of the Christian aid societies that operated in the Union camps during this period. However, it seems the more likely explanation is that someone in his family or a friend gave it to him as a gift during a visit with Oliver at Camp Buckingham. Although Oliver never mentions this bible in his wartime letters, one set of inscriptions in the bible is a definite match with his handwriting in several of the letters he wrote to his sister.

case-bible2-2

The inscription on the bible of Oliver Case

Whatever the origin of this Thomas Nelson pocket-size bible, one hundred and thirty-two years later, it appeared at a community yard sale in Germantown, Maryland where another soldier procured it for the sum of three dollars. It forever connected the two soldiers and became a gift for the ages.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Marvin, Edwin E., The Fifth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, 1889, Hartford, Wiley, Waterman & Eaton.

The Endless Work: Mustering, Equipping and Drilling

The Endless Work: Mustering, Equipping and Drilling

If he did attend the Reverend Simmons’ sermon on September 26, 1861, Oliver Case didn’t have long to bask in the patriotic afterglow of the Simsbury pastor’s inspiring discourse because by mid-September of 1861, “the first fractional companies of the Eighth began to move to their camp…just outside of Hartford.” On the day following the National Day of Humiliation, Prayer and Fasting and the Simsbury sermon from Ichabod Simmons, the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry was formal organized at Camp Buckingham in Hartford, Connecticut. It was another step toward fulfilling the directive of Governor Buckingham for four additional regiments and, ultimately, meeting the terms of President Lincoln’s call for 13,000 more Connecticut troops.(1)

Camp Buckingham, named for the state’s popular governor, was a training ground located at modern-day Barry Square on Campfield Avenue in Hartford. It was formerly known as Camp Putnam while it served as the training grounds for the 5th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry until being vacated shortly before the arrival of the 8th Connecticut in September. Once in camp, a transformational process started for Oliver and his comrades in the regiment:

After enlistment, what? This deed done, the responsibility of the citizen for himself ceased in a measure, and Uncle Sam took him in charge…before leaving the State these volunteers were mustered into service. This often occurred soon after their enlistment, before they had been provided with the garb of Union soldiers.(2) 

location-of-camp-buckingham-hartford-ct

Modern-day Barry Square on Campfield Avenue, the Location of Camp Buckingham in Hartford

      The time spent in camp at Hartford allowed the officers and state officials to round out the ranks and raise funds for equipping the soldiers with weapons, tents and other individual items. The task of turning citizens into soldiers ready for combat duty and functioning as part of the regiment was no small feat for the officers. While the patriotic fervor brought in the recruits, the hard work began in the camps as the regiments gathered. The green recruits were taught to wear their new uniforms, march in formation and conduct the daily tasks associated with maintaining the camp of over 1,000 members of the regiment.

Then came the endless work of mustering, equipping and drilling recruits, before they could be sent into the field. Camps were established at Hartford, New Haven, Norwich and Meriden. Every city government and the selectmen of every town were enlisting men, and stimulating enlistment by generous bounties and promising to take care of families that were left behind, engagement that were well kept. Everything was to be provided.(3)

As part of the process of mustering into their regiment, the recruits were required to swear an oath. This oath dated from the very birth of the United States Army on June 14, 1775 when the Continental Congress passed the act creating the Continental Army. Congress included the text of the oath in the act and required it for all citizens enlisting as soldiers with the officers taking a similar oath. The wording evolved somewhat between the American Revolution and the beginning of the Civil War and Congress would change it again in July of 1862. The oath that Oliver Case and the recruits of the 8th Connecticut swore to on September 27, 1861, likely read as follows:(4)

I, Oliver Cromwell Case, do solemnly swear that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies and opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me according to the rules and articles for the government of the armies of the United States.

Mustering In_edited

Recruits are sworn into the United States Army as part of the mustering process[v]

Oliver Case was now a soldier in the Army of the United States of America and on his way to fighting President Abraham Lincoln’s war to preserve the Union.

 

ENDNOTES:

1. Morris, W.A. Croffut and John M., (1869), The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, New York, Ledyard Bill.

2. Billings, John D., (1887), Hard Tack and Coffee or The Unwritten Story of Life in the Army, Boston, George M. Smith and Company.

3. Buckingham, Samuel Giles, 1812-1898. The Life of William A. Buckingham, the War Governor of Connecticut. Springfield, Mass.: The W.F. Adams Company, 1894.

4. “Oaths of Enlistment and Oaths of Office,” U.S. Army Center of Military History, https://history.army.mil/html/faq/oaths.html, accessed 12 January 2020.

[v] (Billings, 1887)

Our Duty in the Crisis: The Soul-Stirring Sermon of Ichabod Simmons

Only ten days after Oliver Case’s enlistment in the 8th Connecticut, his hometown of Simsbury was buzzing with the news of a special service to be held that day in the local Methodist church. Just a few week earlier, acting in response to the Union Army’s defeat at Bull Run, President Lincoln, in concert with a Joint Committee of the Congress, declared the last Thursday of the following September to be observed as “a day of public humiliation, prayer and fasting.” The President proclaimed this day was “to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnities, and the offering of fervent supplications to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessings on their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace.” Answering Lincoln’s request for “all ministers and teachers of religion of all denominations, and to all heads of families, to observe and keep that day according to their several creeds and modes of worship, in all humility and with all religious solemnity,” the citizens of Simsbury gathered in the wood-framed Methodist Episcopal Church to hear a sermon delivered by the Reverend Ichabod Simmons.[1]

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Lincoln’s Proclamation for a Day of National Humiliation, Prayer, and Fasting

 

The 37-year old cabinet maker turned preacher had served as the pastor in Simsbury for only about a year, coming to the church as his first congregation in 1860. Simmons was born on Christmas Eve, 1831 in the town of Duxbury, Massachusetts, a direct descendant of one of the founding fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. After serving in the Simsbury church, the Reverend Simmons would go on to serve as the pastor of churches in New York City and across the state of Connecticut. He became known for his powerful preaching and many were convicted and converted through his sermons including Jacob Riis who became the most prominent news reporter in early 20th century. Simmons last assignment was as the pastor of the First Methodist Church in Hartford where at the age of 66, Simmons died in 1898 leaving behind his wife and three daughters.[2]

 

Ichabod-SimmonsEsmall

The only known image of Reverend Ichabod Simmons, date unknown

 

On the 26th day of September 1861, Ichabod Simmons stood before the people of Simsbury to deliver the most important sermon of his young preaching career. He entitled the sermon, Our Duty in the Crisis, selecting a passage from the Old Testament prophet, Zechariah:

And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.[3]

While his sermon was a call for humiliation, prayer and fasting as Lincoln intended, Simmons also used the occasion to stir the citizens of Simsbury with an urgent appeal to sacrifice in the service on their country.

Loyalty is not mere patriotism; that is love of country, right or wrong; but loyalty is love of country kindled into a brighter glow by the love of principle. It is the soul mounting above mere affection, into the atmosphere of heroic sacrifice. Life is not too sacred for its altars and nothing but duty should keep any from the post of danger.[4]

Many of the most prominent citizens of Simsbury sat in the church along with a “large and appreciating audience…[listening] with rapt attention to [the] eloquent and patriot discourse.” As with many preachers throughout both the North and South, Ichabod Simmons transformed his appeal for service to country into a plea for fighting a righteous war on God’s behalf. He continued his Simsbury discourse by admonishing those who would answer the call to military service to “pray before the battle, pray in the battle, and when you fire, take good aim and fire for the glory of God!”[5]

Simmons’ sermon seemed to hit the mark that day with both those in attendance and the larger Simsbury community. In fact, it was so effective and well-received that a committee of Simsbury leaders in conjunction with a Connecticut printer published it less than one month later. After its publication in a booklet form, a Hartford newspaper declared the sermon to be a “truly eloquent discourse…so vigorous in tone and thought, and so eloquent in expression, that we hardly know what to quote from it; it is all good.”[6]

The sermon was also effective in swelling the ranks of volunteers from that small Connecticut community. Less than one month after it was delivered, Joseph R. Toy, a member of both the state legislature and the committee of Simsbury leaders who published Simmons’ discourse, began his efforts to raise a regiment of Simsbury men to preserve the Union. Toy would go on to command Company H of the 12th Connecticut dying of disease at Camp Carollton, Louisiana near New Orleans on June 21, 1862. Ironically, less than 10 months after delivering the sermon that stirred Joseph Toy to recruit and lead his company of Simsbury men, the Reverend Ichabod Simmons was now called upon to provide “a very appropriate address, alluding in the most affecting terms to the many virtues of the deceased.”[7]

While it is unknown if Oliver Case was personally in attendance for Simmons’ stirring sermon on September 26, 1861, it is certainly possible since he was not required to report for duty with the 8th Connecticut until the following day at Hartford. What is also possible with the aid of hindsight is to read Simmons’ discourse and realize the prophetic nature of his words as Oliver and the members of the 8th Connecticut moved over the hills toward Sharpsburg, Maryland just one year later.

But that flag will not fall. Where one sailor or soldier falls, another to avenge him shall seize the weapon from his relaxing grasp; the ranks shall close up and the battle move on. Hundreds will fall, but thousands will return to disband amid happy wives and mothers and jubilant children…the banner may be bullet riddled and bayonet torn, – this will only evince the inspired heroism that defended it, and its scars will be our glory.[8]

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Proclamation 85 – Proclaiming a Day of National Humiliation, Prayer, and Fasting. Abraham Lincoln, August 12, 1861.

[2] Adapted in part from the 1900 Yearbook of the Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution by Sons of the American Revolution Connecticut Society.

[3] Zechariah 13:9, Holy Bible, King James Translation, 1609.

[4] Our Duty in the Crisis: A Discourse Delivered on the Occasion of the National Fast, Ichabod Simmons, Delivered September 26, 1861 in Simsbury, Connecticut, Case, Lockwood and Company, Hartford, 1861.

[5] IBID.

[6] Hartford Daily Courant, October 23, 1861.

[7] Connecticut Courant, July 19, 1862.

[8] Simmons, 1861.

Oliver Case: Answering the Call

Oliver Case: Answering the Call

Old men for counsel, young men for war. – Unknown

 

Three months after the surrender of Fort Sumter in April of 1861, the public outcry in the northern states had reached a fevered pitch in demanding that President Abraham Lincoln do something about the rebellious southern states to put down the insurrection and preserve the Union. For his part, Lincoln grew exasperated with Union commanders who continued to request more time and resources to prepare their troops for battle. By July 1861, the clamor grew louder calling for the Commander-in-Chief to order his newly established Union Army to move against the Confederate forces in northern Virginia and continue the march on to Richmond bringing this mutiny to a quick end. In response to the hullabaloo and his own desire for action, Lincoln ordered Brigadier General Irvin McDowell to move his 30,000 mostly green troops, under the leadership of relatively inexperienced officers, toward the numerically inferior forces of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard gathered near Manassas Junction. The two sides engaged in a day-long battle that, at first, appeared to be a Union victory. Only timely reinforcements from General Joseph Johnston’s western forces allowed the Confederates to push back the Union troops who then panicked and fled for Washington in complete disarray. The capital fell into a widespread anxiety and stories abounded of southern troops standing ready to storm the gates of Washington. Most northern citizens had expected a quick resolution to the southern rebellion manifested by a rousing Union victory on the battlefield. They now found themselves in a state of shock caused by the stunning Union defeat at the hands of the rebels.

 

First Bull Run painting

Battle of Manassas in July 1861 (Library of Congress)

 

The embarrassment of the rout at Manassas Junction brought President Lincoln and the national leadership to a hard realization that this war would be much longer and costlier in blood and treasure than originally thought. Having followed the advice of his commanders and cabinet members, Lincoln found himself facing a considerable challenge in the manning of his army as many of the regiments with three-month enlistments were expiring in August of 1861. To counter this problem, he directed the call up of additional volunteer troops from the states for longer periods of enlistment. On August 3, 1861 General Order No. 49 was published by the War Department directing the formation of additional regiments from the states with Connecticut tapped for over 13,000 additional soldiers to join the Union Army.

On August 15, 1861, Connecticut Governor William A. Buckingham issued a general order for volunteers to make up the four additional regiments from his state required to answer the president’s call. Although the shocking defeat of the first battle in Northern Virginia has caused the Nutmeggers to make a more realistic assessment of the war, enthusiasm for the war effort continued to be strong and the citizens of Connecticut generally supported the governor’s attempt to meet the state’s quota for troops. Buckingham remained one of Lincoln’s most ardent supporters in the war effort as Connecticut took the lead among northern states in recruiting and outfitting regiments to fulfill Lincoln’s initial call for 75,000 volunteers.

 

William Buckingham

Governor William A. Buckingham of Connecticut (U.S. Senate Historical Office)

 

Now, with the three-month enlistments expiring and the appalling defeat serving as a rallying cry, a public campaign was quickly waged to fill the four additional regiments with Connecticut men.

Meetings were held in the different towns, at which the citizens flocked to listen, to applaud, to encourage enlistments, and to contribute to the volunteer fund. Immense mass-meetings were held in the cities, — the largest and most excited gatherings ever seen in the State.[1]

In the fall of 1861, the small town of Simsbury near Hartford was swept over by the patriotic fervor calling for young men to enlist in cause of defeating the rebels and preserving the Union. One of those young men was twenty-one-year-old Oliver Case. Even though he was the youngest of the three brothers in his family, Oliver was a single young man with a nose for adventure and a deep desire to make his name in the world making him the perfect candidate to enlist in response to the call for volunteers to fill the new Connecticut regiments. On September 16, 1861, the young Case decided it was his time to leave the family farm fulfilling his patriotic duty and beginning to live the adventurous life of a soldier. Oliver became the first member of his family to volunteer for service in the Union Army by enlisting in Company B of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry (CVI) Regiment. Company B was formed under the leadership of Captain Patrick K. Ruth of Enfield with the majority of the officers and enlisted men recruited from Enfield although Oliver was among the few men hailing from Simsbury, Suffield and East Windsor, towns, like Enfield, also located in Hartford County.

Oliver Cromwell Case was born on December 22, 1839 to Job and Abigail Case each a member of two of the founding families of Simsbury, Connecticut. He was the youngest of three sons (Ariel – 1831 and Alonzo – 1834) with one younger sister, Abbie, born in 1846. An older sister, Rachel, died as an infant in 1830. The family lived on a small farm just outside of Simsbury in a simple frame, colonial style two-story house built around 1790 likely by Oliver’s great grandfather, Job Case. His father’s one-hundred-acre farm primarily produced tobacco with other products such as rye, Indian corn, oats, Irish potatoes, hay and fruit.

The Case family was prominent in the area representing one of the founding families of Simsbury starting with John Case (1616-1703/04), a direct ancestor of Oliver Case, who immigrated to the colonies from England and served as the first Constable for the new town of Simsbury. Multiple ancestors served in various capacities in military organizations during periods of peace and conflict since the founding of Simsbury in the late 17th century. Job Case, Oliver’s great-grandfather, was a captain of the militia in the French and Indian War followed by command of a company of militia from Simsbury during the Revolutionary War. His grandfather, Ariel Case, served in the 18th Militia Regiment follow by Oliver’s father, Job Case, who served as a captain of the cavalry for the state militia. As a boy, Oliver Case likely watched the men of Simsbury including his father and other family members participating in militia drills on the training field in the Terry’s Plain area of Simsbury located close to the Case family farm. The early militia of Simsbury, known as the Traine Band, had used this same drill field in Terry’s Plain since the 1670s. It is possible that as a young man in the years just prior to the Civil War, Oliver himself may have even trained with the militia on this field.

Education was obviously a high priority for the Case family as evidenced by the quality of Oliver’s letters and his concern for his younger sister’s educational advancement. The historical record shows that Alonzo Case spent his early education year in a one room schoolhouse near the family farm. He moved on to continue his education at the Connecticut Literary Institute, Suffield and Wilbraham Academies. It is likely that Oliver followed much the same educational path as his older brothers. On several occasions during the war, Oliver made pleas to his younger sister Abbie to continue her pursuit of a classical education and even sent part of his military pay to assist her. Oliver wrote to Abbie on December 13, 1861 from Annapolis, Maryland:

I see by your last letter that you are attending school in Weatogue, Mary A. Weston (?) teacher. That is what I should have advised you to do, so as to review the new books that they have now in the town of S[imsbury] as well as to continue your studies in Algebra and Latin or, if not, in French. If you want money to buy books take what I have in the bank or any other of mine and use it. I shall probably send home about $30.00 the first of January. That you can have.[2]

In the Case family, Oliver’s enlistment, while not taken lightly, was probably viewed as the only option for the three sons of Job Case. Both Alonzo and Ariel had already established families and Alonzo was engaged with the father in the family farming operations. Ariel had established himself as a partner in a business known as “The People’s Boot and Shoe Store” located at 407 Main Street in Hartford.  From a purely economic standpoint, Oliver would be the most logical choice to provide the Case family contribution to the war effort.

 

Ariel Case ad 

1856 Advertisement for Ariel Case’s Shoe Business

 

The wartime letters of Oliver demonstrate that he was fully committed to the war effort and was caught up in the fervor with many of his peers from the Simsbury area. It is also apparent from Oliver’s letters that this young soldier possessed a deep desire to be recognized for his achievements as a man doing his duty to the Union. These factors and others probably created the ripe conditions for Oliver’s enlistment in the 8th Connecticut on September 16, 1861.

 

Endnotes:

[1] The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, Ledyard Bill, New York, 1868.

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT, 1861-1862. (13 December 1861)

Remembering Antietam: The Final Attack by the 8th Connecticut

Remembering Antietam: The Final Attack by the 8th Connecticut

Several years ago, I wrote a post entitled “The Dread of Death” where I partly fictionalized the last moments of Oliver Case’s young life as he bravely joined his regiment in the final attack at Sharpsburg. While I was more concerned for this exercise about the emotions of the moment, I did my best to remain true to the historical facts from that episode. It still serves as a fitting tribute to Oliver Case and the other fighting men of the 8th Connecticut on any anniversary of the battle.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?[1]

The American Civil War connected death and dying to the country’s citizens like no other war before or since with an average of 600 men dying in the conflict every day. Per week, that’s more Americans killed than died on September 11, 2001 and the fact that this continued for four years is a difficult reality for most of us in modern America to firmly grasp. Two percent of the entire population of the United States (31 million in 1860) were killed, died of wounds or died of other non-combat causes during the war. Everyone, north and south, was touched by the death of a soldier or sailor either directly or indirectly.

Any Civil War soldier who had faced combat, understood that his death could be just over the next hill. Marching over the rolling hills south of Sharpsburg and into the jaws of battle, Oliver Case fully understood that he faced his own morality. He had been here before and he knew the danger…

There is not the dread of Death here as there; but I expect like everyone else to come out alive. I have yet to see the man that did not. It is much the best way on the men to go into action with high hopes and good spirits instead of feeling low and depressed.[2]

Oliver had witnessed the sting of death first-hand. He had seen his friends and fellow soldiers killed in battle. He stood with them as they fought horrible disease to the point of death. Death was familiar to Oliver, but death was not his friend…it was his foe as much as any Confederate soldier he might face. Meeting death was the encounter Private Oliver Case wanted to avoid, but knew that, sooner or later, he would face this enemy and death would come calling for the young soldier from Simsbury, Connecticut. For the Civil War soldier death was part of life and it could not be avoided.

For himself, Oliver Case had resolved long before this mid-September day that he would not run in the face of his own death because a far worse fate would await him. As a witness to the dishonorable behavior of others as death began to stalk them, he wanted no part of such conduct. As he had done before on the coast of North Carolina, he would not falter as the bullets began to fly in his direction. Oliver, rather than choose dishonor, would rely on the mercy of God to choose his fate. He would not face the judgments of a pitiless people who would surely sentence him to a lifetime of shame for cowardly bearing before the enemy. In his letters to his sister and brothers, Oliver had drawn this as a clear line of battle from which he would not retreat.

Make no mistake, fear of the unknown always hovered about him. Like the fever Oliver had struggled against for so many of the past months, fear would always return, unwelcomed and inescapable.  Oliver must have realized that if fear was an inevitable visitor, then he must face it head on and chase it from his mind. It was analogous to leaping into the swiftly flowing Farmington River back in Connecticut and trying to fight upstream against the current. No, rather than struggle against it, Oliver knew that he must ride the strong current of his fear to go where he did not want. Strength came from those men on his left and right who faced the same fear of dying but men with whom Oliver trusted his life. Oliver knew that only his God held the destiny of his young life and that must be his comfort.

But thanks be to God what is our loss is his gain.[3]

Late in the afternoon of September 17, 1862, the strength of honor bore up the hopes and spirits of Private Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut as the order was given to advance toward the Confederate lines outside Sharpsburg, Maryland. Their courage would now be sorely tested in these fields and across the rolling hills…[4]

 How long can this continue? Over every one of these hills lies another storm of lead from those Johnnies. The boys are in fine fighting spirits today, so maybe just one more push over that next hill in front of us and then, we’ll make the Harper’s Ferry Road and the town of Sharpsburg. This will all be over if we can just make one more push. I can see two cannons of the enemy guarding the road at the top of that final hill. At least, I can see the business end of the guns as they begin to spew the deadly canister into our ranks.  Artillery incoming! I want to bury my face in the earth. No, it’s ours…over our heads. Hitting all around the rebel cannons. There’s Captain Upham and his company moving up on our left; closing up quick on those guns. The smoke is clearing; rebels have abandoned their battery. Maybe we have a chance…we can win a great victory. The war will be over!

Wait…beyond those brave Confederate gunners, I can hear those officers in gray shouting at disoriented troops milling around the road. I hear the cries on the officers to “rally on the colors” and “stand your ground.” The sea of graybacks are swelling and the rebels in front of us are firing into our ranks or mostly above our heads. I’m sure glad this swale is protecting us from their Minnie balls. I see the Zouves to our right…those New York boys are firing hot but many are falling. Now they are beginning to slowly move back down the slope. Lieutenant Colonel Appelman is giving the order for the regiment to move forward followed by the echoes of the captains. Nobody hesitates; not one of us. All the boys are rising up all around me. Now I know how Philo Matson felt at Newbern. God forgive me for my ridicule of Philo because I now want to make myself missing from this field. Orton, Martin, Lucius…they jump to their feet…I must go with them. I will not leave them. I cannot disgrace my family. This may be my end, but I will not be branded a coward. God give me courage to face the enemy and, if needs be, my own death!

     106 (2)The field where the 8th Connecticut made their desperate stand just short of the Harpers Ferry Road

I haven’t seen the other Connecticut boys in the 16th since they stepped off into that big cornfield. Lots of firing coming from that direction. I can’t look back…Colonel Harland is urging us forward but he’s on foot and not riding his horse. What a fine officer and a brave man. More firing and a rebel yell rising from that cornfield Ariel and Alonzo marched into…God protect my brothers. What would our mother think if she knew all three of her boys were in the thick of the fight on the same field?

It seems like we’ve barely started to move when old Colonel Appelman falls to our front. Four men (I don’t recognize them) are bearing him rearward. There stands Chaplain Morris loading a rifle as the cartridge box dangles from his neck like he’s a common soldier. What is happening? Our position is desperate. The Major screams above the din for the regiment to lie down again. I must reload, aim, and fire. May be ten rounds left in my box. What’s that on our left beyond the enemy battery now abandoned by Captain Upham and his men? Soldiers in blue? But, wait…a flag. The colors are red, white and blue, but not the national colors. I know that flag. I remember from Roanoke Island. It’s a North Carolina regiment and here comes another one behind themforming into double file. God help us, we are done for.

The bullets are hitting our ranks thick as flies now from our front and the left. It’s bad for our boys. Thud…Orton is hit on my right and crumbles to the ground. I’m kneeling and reloading but Lucius stands to fire in front of me…he shouldn’t. Too late, he’s shot twice in the chest and spins around falling at my feet…his eyes wide open toward the sky. This is the moment I knew would come. No turning back…if I die, I die like a man. I stand, aim at the rebel color bearer, squeeze the trigger…darkness, silence…

The dread of death is no more for Oliver Case…he has finally met death, but on his terms.

I went with my Brother to the Eighth Regiment to learn the fate of my younger Brother Oliver and found only eight or 10 of his company left from about 40 they had in the morning. Was told by a comrade that stood beside him that he fell and he called him by name but no reply. Said he was no doubt killed. The next morning we were marched down near the bridge and lay there all day. No one was allowed on the field as it was held by sharpshooters on both sides. The next day September 19 myself and brother had permission to go over the field and look for our brothers body being very sure he was dead we each took our canteens filled with water and commenced that awful sickening tramp and if I could picture to you the sad sites that we beheld. The ground for acres and miles in length were strewn with dead and wounded. The wounded crying for water they having lain there the whole day before and two nights — but everyone was looking for some comrade of their own Regiment but some time that afternoon we found the body of our brother we were looking after. He was no doubt killed instantly the bullet having passed through his head just about the top of his ears. We wrapped him in my blanket and carried him to the spot where the 16th dead were to be buried having first got permission from the Colonel of the Eighth and the 16th to do so. The 16th men were buried side by side in a trench and they dug a grave about 6 [feet] from them and we deposited the remains of my brother and that having first pinned a paper with his name and age on the inside of the blanket. Then they put up boards to teach with name and Regiment on them. His body lay there until December when father went there and brought the body to Simsbury where it now lies to mingle with the sole of his native town.[5]

IMG_0967 (2)


[1] King James Bible, 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, verse 55

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, Connecticut. While his was written regarding the coming battle(s) in North Carolina, the witnesses to his conduct on September 17, 1862 indicate that he continued to face the enemy and perform his duty as a soldier.

[3] IBID. In his letter of January 7, 1862, Oliver wrote these words in describing the death of his friend, Henry D. Sexton aboard a hospital ship in Annapolis harbor.

[4] What follows is a fictionalized account from the perspective of Private Oliver Cromwell Case using actual sources that describe this segment of the battle of Antietam and Oliver’s letters.

[5] “Recollections of Camp and Prison Life” by Alonzo Grove Case (unpublished), Company E, 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers (from the collection of The Simsbury Historical Society).

Rest with Honor: The Burial of Oliver Case

Rest with Honor: The Burial of Oliver Case

“Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.” – Tecumseh

In her classic work on death in the Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust expresses the challenge of burying the dead of the battle as “an act of improvisation, one that called upon the particular resources of the moment and circumstance; available troops to be detailed, prisoners of war to be deployed, civilians to be enlisted.”[1] For Private Oliver Cromwell Case, the circumstances and resources aligned favorably for a personalized and honorable burial on the morning of September 19, 1862. As the morning sun revealed the absence of the Confederate defenders on the hills outside of Sharpsburg, a grim task lay before a group of soldiers from the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The responsibility for the collection and burial of the remains of the 8th Connecticut soldiers killed in the intense combat of Wednesday afternoon was given to Captain Wolcott Marsh for the 8th Connecticut. As soon as the field was determined to be clear of Confederate soldiers, Marsh and his detail of soldiers set about their work.

wpmarsh

Captain Wolcott Marsh of the 8th Connecticut

(Photo courtesy of John Banks and Matt Reardon)

 

Captain Marsh recounted the gruesome work for his team that morning:

We stacked arms and details were sent from different to pick up the dead so that could be buried together. I went up where our regit. was engaged and there what a sight. 30 men from our regit. alone lay dead in a little field and near by was 42 Zouaves (9th N. Y.) and many more from other regit. The first man I came to of my company was Charles E. Louis my acting orderly. Then Corp. Truck my color corporal and close by them lay Dwight Carry, Herbert Nee, Horace Rouse and Mr. Sweet all of my company then passing on to Co. A. were the body’s of Olive[r] Case, Orton Lord, Martin Wadhams and Lucius Wheeler then to Co. K. saw Jack Simons body the only one whose name remember…[2]

Captain Marsh’s discovery of Oliver’s lifeless remains would confirm the worst fears of Alonzo and Ariel Case, Oliver’s older brothers and members of the 16th Connecticut, after hearing the report of Oliver’s friend on the night of September 17th. For the moment, the handling of Oliver’s remains was a responsibility of Captain Marsh’s detail composed of Oliver’s comrades from the regiment. The soldiers went about their work as Marsh directed that “all body’s brought from hill down [be laid out] by several straw stacks.”[3] The bodies were removed from the regiment’s “high water mark,” the portion of the battlefield near the present-day 8th Connecticut monument and transported across the rolling hills to a field of haystacks located to the north of the 40-acre cornfield and just south of the Otto farmhouse. This staging area was possibly used as Marsh awaited guidance from his commander on the location of the temporary burial grounds.

As Captain Marsh sought direction for the interment of the regiment’s dead, the two surviving Case brothers were planning for the worst-case scenario but hoping for the best. By afternoon, Ariel and Alonzo secured “permission to go over the field and [look] for our brother’s body being very sure he was dead…” On the evening following the battle, Alonzo and Ariel had gone “to the Eighth Regiment to learn the fate of my younger Brother Oliver” and were told by a friend of Oliver “that stood beside him that he fell and he called him by name but no reply…no doubt killed.” However, they could not let go of the faint anticipation that, two days after the battle, he might be alive as “each took our canteens filled with water.” The field revealed a scene Alonzo Case would never forget, an “awful sickening tramp and if I could picture to you the sad sites that we beheld,” he wrote many years later.[4]

Alonzo Case Photo uniform CROPPEDAriel Case

Alonzo and Ariel Case

(Photos courtesy of John Banks and Matt Reardon)

 

Alonzo continued his description of battlefield as the two brothers searched for Oliver’s body:

The ground for acres and miles in length were strewn with dead and wounded. The wounded crying for water they having lain there the whole day before and two nights — but everyone was looking for some comrade of their own Regiment…[5]

Hope of finding Oliver alive quickly faded for the Case brothers and it wasn’t long until they discovered the body of their youthful brother, carefully laid out near the haystacks with the other members of the 8th Connecticut killed in the battle of two days ago. They conducted a thorough inspection of the remains and determined that Oliver “was no doubt killed instantly the bullet having passed through his head just about the top of his ears.” This undoubtedly gave some measure of comfort to the Ariel and Alonzo as they could report to their parents of a relatively quick and painless death for their youngest son.[6]

In an act of brotherly love and honor for a fallen hero, Alonzo and Ariel evacuated and buried their dead brother:

We wrapped him in my blanket and carried him to the spot where the 16th dead were to be buried having first got permission from the Colonel of the Eighth and the 16th to do so. The 16th men were buried side by side in a trench and they dug a grave about 6 [feet] from them and we deposited the remains of my brother and that having first pinned a paper with his name and age on the inside of the blanket. Then they put up boards to teach with name and Regiment on them.[7]

On September 27, 1862, the Hartford Courant published an article about the battle of Antietam primarily focused on the 16th Connecticut but also including a listing of all Connecticut causalities from the battle of Antietam. From this article, we know that this was likely not the first time that Job Case and his family discovered that Oliver had been killed in action. The article alludes to prior public knowledge of the battle via unidentified “letter writers” and we know that Captain Marsh had written letters to his wife and others in the days immediately following the battle (some of which were shared with the Courant) which would have included the news of Oliver’s demise. Ariel and Alonzo may have also written letters home that arrived in Simsbury prior to this date describing the discovery and burial of Oliver remains.

Only three days later, the Courant published a letter written by the adjutant of the 16th Connecticut, Lieutenant John Burnham. In his letter, Burnham provided a detailed account of the grave sites of all the soldiers in his regiment buried on the field at Antietam. Mentioned specifically among the soldiers of the 16th CVI was the body of Oliver Case buried by his brothers in the same location on September 19th.  Burnham noted that each grave was carefully marked by a headboard containing the name and the unit of the soldier.

The bodies lie near a large tree standing alone, and which I had blazed on all sides so that it can be easily discovered. [The bodies] are all together and lie as follows: South of the tree are Jesse O. Barnes and James McGarth of Co. E, of our own regiment [16th], and Oliver C. Case of the 8th, a brother of Ariel J. Case of the 16th.[8]

Burial site of OC Case on Otto Farm

Otto Farm viewed from the north with the site of Oliver Case’s burial

Modern View of Otto Farm from West.png

Modern view of the Otto Farm from the West with the site of Oliver Case’s burial

For three months, Oliver’s body would rest on the Otto Farm until December of 1862 when Oliver’s father, Job Case, traveled from Simsbury to the battlefield at Antietam for the purpose of recovering the remains of his son. The elder Case may have enlisted the services of a well-known Hartford undertaker, William W. Roberts, who assisted many Connecticut families with returning the remains of their loved ones killed at Antietam (HT: John Banks). Job Case had the remains of his son exhumed from the temporary grave on the Otto farm and returned his body to Simsbury. Oliver was laid to rest with multiple generations of his ancestors in the Simsbury Cemetery located in the heart of town.

OliverCaseGrave2

The Final Resting Place of Oliver Cromwell Case, Simsbury Cemetery, Hopmeadow Street, Simsbury, Connecticut

 

Nearly 15 months after he departed his hometown, Private Oliver Cromwell Case had now returned home to rest with honor.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust, 2008.

[2] Letters to a Civil War Bride: The Civil War Letters of Captain Wolcott Pascal Marsh, Sandra Marsh Mercer and Jerry Mercer, 2006.

[3] IBID

[4] “Recollections of Camp and Prison Life” by Alonzo Grove Case, Company E, 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers (from the collection of The Simsbury Historical Society)

[5] IBID.

[6] IBID.

[7] IBID.

[8] Hartford Daily Courant, September 30, 1862