A Prized Possession

155 years ago today, a naive, idealistic young man from Connecticut acting upon his aspirations of becoming a soldier lifted his pencil stub to place his mark on his most valuable piece of personal property. Private Oliver Cromwell Case had received this 1854 edition Thomas Nelson and Sons pocket Bible likely as a gift from someone in his family possibly his sister Abbie. With that pencil, Oliver inscribed these words on the inside of the front page:

If you die, die like a man.

 Oliver C. Case

Co. A. 8th Reg’t


If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will also deny us.

2 Tim. 2 [verse 12]

[unreadable] OCT. 13, 1861

Hartford, Connecticut 

Oliver Cromwell Case had originally enlisted in Company B of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment but at some point prior to October 13, 1862 and for unknown reasons, Oliver Case was transferred to Company A, 8th CVI while still training at Camp Buckingham in Hartford. 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.


One Evening in October 1861

Many of you know that the plan for the Burnside Expedition to North Carolina was hatched by George McClellan and Ambrose Burnside then presented to the Secretary of War before being reluctantly approved by President Lincoln.

What you may not know is the flippant manner in which Burnside described the formation of the plan almost twenty years after the fact. It is somewhat surprising that Burnside remembered the occasion as an almost “by the way, I’ve been thinking about this plan” moment between the two famous Union leaders. Clearly, Burnside had put great thought into the plan that would become the largest amphibious operation to that point in American history. But, looking back on it, the general remembered it as such:

One evening in the following October, General McClellan and I were chatting together over the affairs of the war, when I mentioned to him a plan for the formation of a coast division to which I had given some thought. After giving him a somewhat detailed account of the plan, he asked me to put it in writing as soon as possible, which was done. The next day it was presented to him, and it me his approval. He laid it before the Secretary of War, by whom it was also approved. The general details of the plan were briefly as follows: To organize a division of 12,000 to 15,000 men, mainly from States bordering on the Northern sea-coast, many of whom would be familiar with the coasting trade, and among whom would be found a goodly number of mechanics; and to fit out a fleet of light-draught steamers, sailing vessels, and barges, large enough to transport the division, the armament and supplies, so that it could be rapidly thrown from point to point on the coast with a view to establishing lodgments of the Southern coast, landing troops, and penetrating into the interior, thereby threatening the line of transportation in the rear of the main army then concentrating in Virginia, and holding possession of the inland waters on the Atlantic coast.[1]

Burnside would move out quickly on executing the plan by acquiring the vessels, organizing and the training the troops, and establishing a training base at Annapolis, Maryland. By the first week of January 1862, the troops were loaded on the ships and headed south.

But, it all began on one evening in October 1861…

A “chat” one evening in Washington led to the creation of Burnside’s Coastal Division that would invade North Carolina in early 1862.

Also overheard that evening at dinner, “Burney, this Army’s not big enough for two Napoleonic posers!” (I apologize…that was too easy to pass up!)


[1] From Leaders and Battles of the Civil War, Volume I, The Century Company, New York, 1887 (pages 660-661). Previously from a paper read by Burnside before the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Historical Society of Rhode Island, July 7th, 1880.

A Request for Connecticut Regiments

1 Oct 1861

As the newly formed 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment continues to organize and train in Hartford, the United States Secretary of War Simon Cameron requests that Governor Buckingham send two Connecticut regiments preparing for service to Camp Hempstead, Long Island, with instructions to report to Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside for orders. Eventually, the 8th and 11th Connecticut regiments will be provided to fill this request from the federal government. However, the 8th Connecticut remains at Camp Buckingham in Hartford for two and one-half more weeks as Burnside and his staff make arrangements for the reception of the fresh troops on Long Island. It is a time of both excitement and great preparation for the state of Connecticut as the governor and other leaders struggle to properly equip the influx of volunteers before sending them into federal service.


Governor William Alfred Buckingham of Connecticut

“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.”[1]

Although Burnside was a West Point graduate, his leadership of a brigade at Bull Run was somewhat less than impressive. His pre-war business connections with the newly appointed commander of the Union armies, Major General George B. McClellan, land Burnside a plumb job training and leading an expeditionary force to invade North Carolina. It is this expeditionary force that the 8th Connecticut will be assigned to upon arrival at Long Island. Burnside would continue to lead many of these same troops as a corps and wing commander through the Maryland Campaign in September of 1862.

Burnside wearing a presentation sword

Ambrose Burnside

President Lincoln would go on to select Burnside as the commander of the Army of the Potomac after McClellan’s inability to defeat and destroy Lee’s army during and after the battle of Antietam. Burnside’s stint as the AOP commander would end soon after the humiliating and costly defeat at Fredericksburg in December of 1862 followed by the infamous “Mud March” through northern Virginia.

[1] Buckingham, Samuel G., The Life of William A. Buckingham, Adams Company, Springfield, 1894.

The Birth of the 8th Connecticut 

​27 September 1861   
The 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment is organized at Camp Buckingham in Hartford, Connecticut with Colonel Edward Harland of Norwich as Commander. Colonel  Harland had recently returned from three months’ service as a Captain in the 3rd CVI and is a veteran of the First Battle of Bull Run. Harland is a Yale-educated attorney with no military experience prior to Bull Run.

…the first fractional companies of the Eighth began to move to their camp, — the grounds the Fifth had vacated, — just outside of Hartford.[1]


[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

Our Duty in the Crisis

​26 September  1861

On August 12, 1861, President Lincoln, acting in response to a Joint Committee of the Congress, declared “a day of public humiliation, prayer and fasting, 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” to be observed on the last Thursday of the following September.[1] 

In response to the request of the president 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, Connecticut on this day gather in the Methodist Episcopal Church to hear a sermon by the Reverend Ichabod Simmons. The 37-year old former cabinet maker has served as the pastor in Simsbury for only about one year coming to the church as his first assignment to a congregation. In a sermon entitled, Our Duty in the Crisis, Simmons chooses a passage from the Old Testament prophet Zechariah for the observance:

“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.”[2] [Zechariah 13:9]

The sermon is not only a call for humiliation, prayer and fasting as Lincoln intended, but Simmons stirs the citizens 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.” [3]

It is unknown if Oliver Case was in attendance, but it would have been possible since he did not have to report for duty with the 8th Connecticut until the following day at Hartford.


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

[2] Holy Bible, King James Translation, 1609.

[3] Our Duty in the Crisis: A Discourse Delivered on the Occasion of the National Fast. An Unpublished Sermon by Ichabod Simmons, September 26, 1861.

A Yard Sale Bargain (Reprise)

Twenty three years ago this spring, I stumbled upon a bargain I couldn’t pass up. Little did I realize the power of the story behind my three dollar purchase. As I walk the fields of America’s bloodiest day this Saturday, I’ll be constantly reminded of the man, the soldier behind that yard sale bargain and what he endured 154 years ago. The story is worth telling again.

People will buy anything that is one to a customer. –Sinclair Lewis

The noise of the crowd faded away as my eyes sharpen focus on the rough, but ornate brown leather marred by a small repair in the upper right corner. I forgot my paternal duties as I lifted the book from its resting place on the blanket to perform a close examination. Having now summoned the powers of both sight and feel, I immediately gained a sense that this was no ordinary yard sale artifact. At the time, I could not appreciate the understatement of that thought.

Some bargains gain value over time. Other bargains have their true value hidden in the history of the item. So it would be for this bargain of an artifact discovered a sunny Saturday morning in Germantown, Maryland. Simply along for the ride with my wife as we moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, we were in search of bargains for the immediate needs of our young family. As she searched for children’s clothing in one multifamily yard sale, my eye caught a glimpse of two items that were out of place. One was an old violin, but it was the beautifully aged leather cover of a small book of some type that fixed my interest.

My interest and expertise, such as it was, would not let me turn away from the book. The visual appeal was enhanced by the feel of the old leather cover in my hand as I examined it closely. Realizing this small book must be an old bible, I carefully opened the cover in an effort to confirm my assessment and determine its age. As I turned to the title page, my initial evaluation was validated. In fact, this was an 1854 edition of a King James Bible printed by the famous Thomas Nelson Publishers in London.

“How much for this?” I asked the proprietor of the collection standing by his goods laid out on the front lawn. His response of three dollars stunned me for a moment but I worked my best yard sale face not to reveal it. Considering the fact that this almost hundred and forty year old bible had to be worth much more than the asking price, I determined to forgo the normal haggling routine and quickly accept the price. As I handed over the three greenbacks and firmly gripped my new possession, I had no foreshadowing of the journey upon which I would now embark, making the purchase price seem even more of a yard sale bargain.

The rest of that Saturday was spent at dozens of other yard sale locations. After arriving home in the afternoon, the cares of family life quickly supplanted my curiosity about the new purchase and I put the bible aside with the resolution that I would explore it when time permitted. Time would not permit a proper examination of the artifact for another two weeks.

When the moment came to again pick up the bible, I careful began to turn through the opening pages which are normal left blank by the publisher. In this case, someone had written in script on some of these pages. My heart leaped as I read the words on the first page with writing:

Oliver C. Case

Co. A. 8th Reg’t



If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will also deny us.

2 Tim. 2

[unreadable] OCT. 13, 1861



Well, I now knew this belonged to a soldier likely of the Civil War era based on the publication date of the bible. The following page revealed additional writing in another hand:

If you diedie like a man.

Miss Abbie J Case



Miss Jennie A Hartford

Oliver C. Case

The first words on this page would hold my curiosity captive for years to come, “If you die, die like a man.” Who could this person be, Oliver C. Case? Who would write should a phrase? As an Army officer who had just returned from war only two years earlier, I could not imagine using these words to encourage a modern American soldier. I had to find out more about this man and his story. It was the beginning of my calling that would only grow stronger with the passage of time. One factual discovery would beg for two more. Never satisfied to accept that learning about this man and his bible had reached their terminal point, I pressed on.

“If you die, die like a man.”

These are the prophetic words written inside the front cover of Oliver Case’s pocket Bible that he carried into battle as he ascended the rolling hills toward the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17, 1862. Oliver and many of his fellow soldiers in the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry would die on those hills just short of the Harpers Ferry Road at the end of the bloodiest day in American history. But, as Lincoln put it, “these dead shall not have died in vain” and this site is dedicated to the memory of one of those “honored dead,” Private Oliver Cromwell Case of Simsbury, Connecticut.

The chroniclers of Connecticut’s involvement in the Civil War, W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, envisioned the challenge in telling the stories of the foot soldiers:

…there is a sense of pain and profound sorrow in the consciousness that it is impossible to render justice to the nameless rank and file who never wore even a corporal’s chevron, but held to their duty with sublime patience. The last of the color-guard, who seized the standard that had dropped from the relaxed grasp of his 3 comrades, and bore it on, and planted it and stood by it on the edge of the rebel rifle-pit; the martyr who perished in prison, and ever since has been marked “missing” upon the roll of regimental casualties; the thousand glorious obscure, who were mown down by the flaming blade of battle, and died singing songs of triumph, and praying for the establishment of Liberty and Law, — these are the true heroes and martyrs of all the wars of the world.1

The great American poet and volunteer Civil War nurse in the Union hospitals of Washington, D.C. was moved to tell the world of this kind of soldier. On August 10th of 1863, Whitman sat down to compose “a few lines” to the parents of Erastus Haskell, a soldier of Company K, 141st New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The poet wanted to relay information about their son who had recently died in the Armory Square Hospital where Whitman had provided him comfort, care and companionship during his last days. One line in his last paragraph gives voice to my purpose in telling the story of Oliver Cromwell Case. Whitman writes, “He is one of the thousands of our unknown American young men in the ranks about whom there is no record or fame, no fuss made about their dying so unknown, but I find in them the real precious & royal ones of this land, giving themselves up, aye even their young & precious lives, in their country’s cause…”2

So, I tell the story of Private Oliver Cromwell Case, one of the real precious and royal ones of this land…

For more on info, please visit John Banks’ excellent blog and the interview he did with me in January 2012.

Also, watch the YouTube video: Return of Oliver Case’s bible to the place where he died.


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

(2) Letter of Walt Whitman to Mr. and Mrs. S.B. Haskell, dated August 10, 1863, access from the Walt Whitman Archive, http://whitmanarchive.org, January 23, 1863.

Henry Benning meets the 8th Connecticut

Henry Benning meets the 8th Connecticut

Colonel Henry Benning, in command of Toombs’ Brigade on the morning of September 17, 1862, had mounted a very impressive defense and delaying action at the Rohrbach Bridge. His “brigade” consisted of the 2nd and 20th Georgia infantry regiments with “not more than 350 men and officers, the Second having only 97, and the Twentieth not more than 250.”[1] A small contingent of the 50th Georgia Infantry from Drayton’s Brigade guarded Snavely’s Ford the intended crossing site for Rodman’s Division of the Union IX Corps. By one o’clock in the afternoon, the matter was decided both at the bridge and the ford. A final assault of the bridge found success coming more as a result of the Confederate’s loss of men and short supply of Georgians. Colonel Benning had mounted an impressive defensive effort against Burnside’s corps, but now it was time for a hasty withdraw of his shrinking band of infantrymen toward Sharpsburg.

Henry Lewis Benning had struggled to prove to the professional officers of the Army of Northern Virginia that he was not simply another politician turned officer trying to gain votes through his service. Benning wanted to do his duty to the southern cause as his record of service to the Army of Northern Virginia would clearly prove to all. On September 17, 1862, the ardent secessionist and former associate justice of the Georgia Supreme Court was still viewed as fighting more for his own political aims than victory on the battlefield. Soon after raising the 17th Georgia Infantry in his hometown of Columbus, Georgia, Benning had joined the Army of Northern Virginia and immediately found controversy by openly opposing the Conscription Act of the Confederate government as violating states’ rights. Benning had even faced the threat of court martial for his refusal to obey certain orders he felt to be unconstitutional.

However, Colonel Benning’s performance in battle during the Seven Days and Second Manassas battles had proven his leadership abilities to his soldiers who knighted him as “Old Rock.” On this day on the banks of the Antietam Creek, Benning had again proven his steadfastness in battle. His troops had suffered serious losses and now the disappointment of giving up the bridgehead, but they had accomplished their mission. The successful defense of the Rohrbach bridge for over four hours enabled General Lee to “the advance troops of General A. P. Hill” saving the Confederate right flank and possibly the entire Army of Northern Virginia.[2]


Henry Lewis Benning

The change of position also brought two pieces of good news for Benning. His battered troops would get a well-deserved rest behind the new defensive line being established by Hill’s Division plus the 15th and 17th Georgia regiments had just arrived from their mission in Shepherdstown. Along with a battalion of troops from the 11th Georgia reassigned to Benning by Robert Toombs, the colonel once again had a respectable fighting force. The relief would not last long.

Before Benning could move his newly reinforced, but completely exhausted brigade to their resting location, all hell broke loose on the right side of the Confederate line. After two plus hours of dilatory preparations, Burnside finally had IX Corps organized and moving forward toward the Harpers Ferry Road and the town of Sharpsburg beyond. Even as A.P. Hill’s Division began to arrive to reinforce the Confederate right, it was all hands to the line to meet Burnside’s assault. Henry Benning’s Brigade was halted and turned around to plug a gap in the line along the Harpers Ferry Road.

Benning describes the actions of his brigade and the Union soldiers in front of them:  

The pace was accelerated to a double-quick, which in a short time carried the head of the line beyond the corn-field and in sight of the enemy. A brigade of them was standing composedly in line of battle not 200 yards from the road, apparently waiting for the nearer approach of supports, and neither in their front nor far to their right (our left) was a man of ours to be seen, but three abandoned pieces of ours were conspicuous objects about mid-way between the road and the enemy’s line. Major Little, with his battalion, was in advance. The Seventeenth, under Captain McGregor, was next, the Fifteenth, under Colonel Millican, was next, and a large part of the Twentieth, under Colonel Cumming, again ready for action, notwithstanding the severe work of the morning, brought up the rear. All, however, made but a short line. I carried the head of the line opposite to the right of the enemy, and ordered it to commence firing on the enemy without waiting for the rest of the line to come up. It did so with promptness and spirit. The rest of the line as it came up joined in the fire. The fire soon became general. It was hot and rapid. The enemy returned it with vigor, and showed a determination to hold their position stubbornly.[3]

The “brigade” described as standing in front of Benning’s troops was actually the 8th Connecticut Infantry Regiment who had advanced to within a few hundred yards of the gap in the Confederate line. After the debacle of the 16th Connecticut and the 4th Rhode Island in John Otto’s 40-acre cornfield, the 8th Connecticut found themselves as the lone advancing regiment from Harland’s Brigade. With the three regiments of Fairchild’s Brigade locked in a deadly fight on their right, the Connecticut regiment began to veer to the right in an attempt to maintain contact with Fairchild while continuing to leverage the shelter of the draw they had followed since crossing the Antietam three hours earlier. Each swale brought relief from the Confederate small arms and artillery now focusing on them. Euphoria set in the ranks as one company of the regiment successfully attacked and seized the artillery pieces of McIntosh’s Battery only a hundred yards from the Harpers Ferry Road.

However, timing was not on the side of the Connecticut troops. Benning’s division commander, D.R. Jones, recognizing the hazard of the advancing Union soldiers moving toward the gap in the Confederate line, hastily moved into action. Jones’ order given through Toombs served as the impetus to rush Benning’s Brigade forward in order to prevent a tragic outcome to the battle even while the 8th Connecticut celebrated the capture of McIntosh’s Battery. Just as one highly excited member of the Connecticut regiment sat astride one of the captured cannons waving his kepi, Benning began to bring his troops on line giving the order to commence firing even before the entire line was situated. The Confederate commander’s quick and aggressive action helped save the right of Lee’s line and allowed them to retake McIntosh’s Battery as the Connecticut unit assumed a defensive posture in what now became a desperate fight.


Benning (commanding Toombs’ Brigade) checks the advance of the 8th Connecticut

One can easily speculate on what might have happened without Benning’s immediate compliance with his orders from Toombs and Jones. The 8th Connecticut could have reached the Harpers Ferry Road and enfiladed the Confederate right. Although, without support, it is unlikely the lone Union regiment on this part of the field could have held for very long. What is clear is that Benning’s Brigade moved quickly and aggressively to help halt the advance of the 8th Connecticut and possibly a much different outcome to the Battle of Antietam. “Old Rock” Benning and his Georgia troops had held the line.


[1] The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (OR), 128 vols., Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1880-1901, Vol. 51/Part1 (Ser #107), pp. 161-165

[2] IBID.

[3] IBID.