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).

Advertisements
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

We had good accommodations and set down to a table and ate like folks instead of hogs.

CW Flag at Pry House (2)

Christmas Eve 1861 brought a real treat for Oliver Case who was in serious need of an uplifting of his spirits after battles with a feverous condition known as Ague. Back to a good state of health, Oliver was assigned to a work detail, but he was first invited. To partake of a Christmas Eve meal at the headquarters of Major General Ambrose Burnside in Annapolis. From his letters, the reader observes that the seemingly trivial things like eating at a table become much more significant events in the life of a soldier.

The entire letter is republished below…Merry Christmas from Oliver Cromwell Case!

Annapolis

Dec. 25th, 1861

Dear Sister,

Yours of the 22nd came at hand today and was very welcome as I had received no letters from you since L.G. Goodrich was here. Monday was a very stormy day, although the storm abated somewhat in the afternoon.

Lieut. Marsh detailed me to go downtown and report to Gen. Burnside’s headquarters with five others from our Regt. I was the only one from our Company. We went down and stayed at Gen. Burnside’s until early dark when we were conveyed aboard the Arneal, a large transport, and took supper and spent the night. We had good accommodations and set down to a table and ate like folks instead of hogs.

It is the first time that I have sat down to a table to eat since I left H(artford). After breakfast we were conveyed ashore and Gen. Burnside made the detail from all the regiments but one commencing with the largest men. When he found that he had four from the 8th Conn. and only one or two from each of the other Regts, he said that it (the 8th) had not ought to furnish any more but her men were the right size. He considered for some time and then picked out the largest from the other regiments and sent us back subject to a detail whenever we shall be wanted. There was ten sent back in all, only two from our Regt. They are detailed one for a ship to be placed in the Magazine and stow away the different size balls in the proper places and keep a memorandum of where and how many of a kind so that when they are wanted they can put their hands on them without any trouble. I should think that they were to deliver out the ammunition in case of an attack. The Gen. said that it needed strong men to handle the large balls etc, etc. Of course I felt somewhat disappointed by being sent back but I had the assurance that it was not because I was not strong enough but because they didn’t want so many from a regiment. The harbor is full of transports and gunboats, all with the exception of 3 or 4 painted black. I should think that there is 30 or more besides some that have not yet arrived. I think I may have a chance upon one yet but do not know.

Our orderly has gone into the Cavalry and W.J. Braddock (?) has taken his place. Our Capt. has also resigned and our 1st Lieut. has taken his place. I do not know who will be 2nd Lieut. yet but guess someone out of the Co.

We shall probably start in the course of a couple of weeks for “way down in Dixie” and I presume wherever we go we shall be warmly received.

As to studies, I should think that you had as many as you can attend to at present. Zonachenhof’s(?) composition I think is a very study. Hope Father is not going to be sick; he must be very careful of himself or he will get down. The boys are out target shooting this afternoon, but as I have a little touch of Ague there would be no use of my going, so I thought I would try to answer your letter. There was a young man from Bridgeport died here yesterday from our Company. His mother came a day or two before he died. His disease was camp fever. He hurt himself while upon drill, getting over a fence double quick. The doctors thought that there was nothing the matter with him and I suppose that he took a hard cold. He was conscious to the last; he was much liked by the Company.

The Rhode Island battery is here. I have just received a letter from Ariel. Excuse writing as “the shakes” are not pleasant to write with. Respects to all inquiring friends, especially to Cousin Mary and Grandmother.

Oliver

The Dread of Death

The Dread of Death

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 Sad Day in Connecticut

A Sad Day in Connecticut

On September 27, 1862, family members and friends of the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut were officially able to confirm what most of them already knew from telegraph messages and letters coming from the regiment. The regiment had fought valiantly but suffered terrible in the Battle of Antietam. Almost 50% of the soldiers marching into the battle on September 17th were now dead, wounded or missing. Major John Ward’s official casualty report listed 399 soldiers as available for duty that day with 194 of them killed, wounded or missing as of the 21st of September 1862.

Casualty Report 8th CVI 21 Sep 1862

Ten days after the terrible fight had ended, Major Ward’s report was published in the Connecticut Courant with not only the numbers but the name of every soldier killed, wounded or missing in the regiment. It was a sad day for many homes across Connecticut. In the home of Job Case of Simsbury, it was a day of mixed emotions for the family. A sense of relief came over them as the report confirmed that their two older sons, Ariel and Alonzo of the 16th Connecticut, had survived the battle and were not wounded or missing. However, the report also gave them the news they had likely first receive several days earlier…their youngest son Oliver has been killed in action.

wpid-2015-11-03-08.21.21.jpg.jpeg

Taken with the Chill of Ague

Taken with the Chill of Ague

On a “warm as May” Thursday evening, December 5, 1861, Oliver Case sat in the tent of his friend, Lieutenant Wolcott Marsh reading the latest letter from his sister Abbie. Oliver had just finished writing three letters likely meant for Abbie and his two brothers, Ariel and Alonzo, part of his evening routine. For his part, Marsh paid scant attention to Case as he attended to his duties as pay officer for all of the soldiers not in camp. The Lieutenant busily worked his way through a mound of paperwork, associated with making sure the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment were properly paid, and all funds were accounted for to the last penny. As Oliver read Abbie’s letter, he could feel that something wasn’t right. Aches and pains had begun pulsing throughout his young body leaving Case feeling that an “old complaint” was making a return appearance.[1]

That was bad news to Private Oliver Cromwell Case who was no stranger to the fight against disease common among soldiers of the day. During his travels with the 8th Connecticut to Long Island and then to Annapolis, Case struggled with Ague, an illness defined as “malarial or intermittent fever; characterized by paroxysms consisting of chill, fever, and sweating, at regularly recurring times…” and that can also be accompanied by “trembling or shuddering.” Oliver found himself in and out of the hospital or confined to his tent with this condition also known as “chill fever” or “the shakes” in the popular vernacular. One surgeon of another regiment described effects of this condition for which he had no medicine by saying that his soldiers “have to shake it out for all the good we can do them.”[2]

Another contemporary scientific publication described Ague:

For an hour or more the patient is shivering and shaking with cold, frequently so violently as to make his teeth chatter ; and this is as likely to occur in the hottest part of the day as at any other time. Presently the chill subsides and is succeeded by a violent, burning fever, which lasts usually three or four hours, and is followed in the graver forms of the disease by a copious perspiration.[3]

capture

Civil War soldiers line up for treatment of Ague[4]

 

Of the 360, 000 plus Union causalities in the Civil War, over 250,000 of those soldiers died from disease and other non-battle injuries while only about 110,000 died of combat injuries. Half of those deaths were caused by typhoid fever, diarrhea and other intestinal disorders with tuberculosis and pneumonia deaths following closely behind. Surgeons and commanders knew little about disease and the germ theory had not yet been discovered. Most of these young men had never been exposed to large populations living in close quarters that were often in filthy condition. Communicable disease outbreaks in the camps were commonplace.

By the next day, December 6th, Oliver’s condition has worsen from the previous evening to the point where he was “excused from drill by the surgeon and about noon was taken with a chill and went to the hospital.” Oliver found the hospital to his likening “where I have had as good accommodations as could be, good beds and clothes, and every thing as comfortable as at home.” In just three days, young Private Case was up and about and the Ague “has been broken up so that to day (9th of December)” Oliver “came down around the company street” but returned to the hospital “to sleep to night.” After a good night’s sleep, Oliver declared himself “well except weak” so much so that “the nurse let me walk out a little” to enjoy “a very pleasant day…warm as summer.”[5]

His fight against Ague was not over as Oliver Case would face more bouts of this malaria condition over the coming weeks and months including many more days in the confines of a hospital. Ultimately, it would be the enemy’s bullet, not the feverish disease, that would end his life. However, for the last year of his life, Ague would be his enemy in many battles.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Letters to a Civil War Bride: The Civil War Letters of Captain Wolcott Pascal Marsh, compiled by Sandra Marsh Mercer and Jerry Mercer, Heritage Books, 2006; The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT, 1861-1862, (10 December 1861)

[2] “Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms: A Glossary of Archaic Medical Terms, Diseases and Causes of Death,” accessed from http://www.antiquusmorbus.com/Index.htm; A Surgeon’s Civil War: The Letters and Diary of Daniel M. Holt, M.D., Daniel M. Holt, Kent State University Press, 1994

[3] “The Civil War and Malaria: A patriotic appeal to fight against a common scourge in 1861 – malaria”

Scientific American, July 20, 1861, accessed on December 7, 2017 from

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/quinine-the-civil-war-and-malaria/

[4] Hardtack and Coffee, John D. Billings, John M. Smith and Company, Boston, 1887.

[5] Case Letters, 10 December 1861; Mercer, 2006.

John Parke Receives the Mission to Invest Fort Macon

John Parke Receives the Mission to Invest Fort Macon

The preparations for the siege of the Confederate stronghold of Fort Macon and its eventual capitulation were foremost in the minds of Ambrose Burnside and his subordinate commanders as spring arrived along the Carolina shore in 1862. The expedition commander had always placed the reduction of Fort Macon as one of his highest priorities in order to open a deep-water port on the North Carolina coast for the Union fleet. To complete this important mission, Burnside entrusted his brigade commander, Brigadier General John Grubb Parke, with the task of investing and reducing Fort Macon.

Parke is as closely tied to the Civil War service of Ambrose Burnside as any other officer who served during the conflict. An 1849 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Parke ranked second in his class just behind classmate and fellow Union general Quincy A. Gilmore who in the spring of 1862 was, ironically, preparing an assault against the Confederate-held Fort Pulaski near Savannah, Georgia. After serving as one of Burnside’s brigade commanders for the operations in North Carolina, Parke was promoted to Major General and served as Burnside’s Chief of Staff for the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Fredericksburg. He would later succeed Burnside in command of IX Corps following the debacle at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg in 1864.

John Grubb Parke photo

Brig Gen John Parke, charged by Burnside with seizing Fort Macon

 

Only three days following the capture of Newbern in March of 1862, General Burnside conducted a reconnaissance to the south toward the Bogue Banks with the purpose of assessing the feasibility of moving at least one of his brigades toward Fort Macon. On that very day, the Confederate command, likely anticipating Burnside’s next move, had burned a railroad bridge spanning the Newport River. This prevented any force of Union troops from being quickly resupplied in an action against Fort Macon. It also hindered Burnside from moving the required heavy siege guns and ammunition to support an assault against the fort. However, the Confederates had failed to destroy the road bridge over the Newport River which would allow passage of troops and wagons until the railroad bridge was repaired.

General Parke’s advanced guard of troops was able to reach Carolina City by March 22nd with the main body and the general close behind them. Leaving the 5th Rhode Island to repair the railroad bridge, Parke and the remainder of his brigade including Oliver Case and his fellow troops in Company A of the 8th Connecticut occupied Carolina City preparing for operations against Fort Macon. The soldiers were glad to be done with the marching as it was “a hard march…raining most of the time the road was full of mud & water & we had to march through one continual swamp…”

Parke’s first action was to send the Confederate commander of Fort Macon, Colonel Moses White, a note under a flag of truce demanding the surrender of the fort and its garrison. Even in the face of a certain capitulation, even after a potentially lengthy siege, Colonel White refused Parke’s terms and prepared his garrison for the attack.

Beaufort NC Ft Macon in distance

Beaufort, North Carolina after capture by Parke’s troops; Fort Macon in distance at right

 

For his part, General Parke immediately took actions aimed at getting all required troops and armament into position. He secured approaches to Carolina City from Morehead City but decided to wait until the railroad bridge was operational and more troops arrived to attempt an attack on Beaufort. By the 26th of March, one company each from the 4th Rhode Island and 8th Connecticut had conducted a secret night crossing of the Newport River and seized Beaufort fully surrounding the garrison at Fort Macon. As Lieutenant Wolcott Marsh of the 8th Connecticut put it, “Our being here completely cuts the rebels in Ft. Macon off from all communications with the rest of seceshion…although they say they will fight to the last.”
Soon enough, Lieutenant Marsh and her friend Oliver Case plus the rest of Parke’s Brigade would see if the rebels could hold true to their promise.

ENDNOTES:

  1. Letters to a Civil War Bride: The Civil War Letters of Captain Wolcott Pascal Marsh,” Compiled by Sandra Marsh Mercer and Jerry Mercer, Heritage Books, Westminster, Maryland, 2006.
  2. From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 26, 1862.
  3. Mercer, 2006.