“The ball opened this morning…”

As the dawn broke just before 6:00 AM on the morning of September 16, 1862, Oliver Case and his comrades in the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment awoke from what must have been an uncomfortable night of sleep in a stubble field on the Geeting Farm just outside of Keedysville. After viewing the horrifying results of the battle at Fox’s Gap on South Mountain the previous day, the troops marched about five miles from the gap to the Geeting Farm where they arrived after midnight. After the success at the South Mountain gaps, the Union commander George McClellan was now in pursuit of Robert E. Lee’s Army Northern Virginia who found themselves desperately racing to reunite at Sharpsburg before the Union could attack. The soldiers in blue could sense that a renewed battle was now possible at any point along their route of march. The urgency in their commanders’ voices was evident as orders were passed down the line to press onward. As one company commander from the 8th recalled the night of the September 15th, “…we marched quite a number of miles that day and night to the little village called Keedysville (or some such name) where by midnight we got a chance to lie down for night.”[1]

But as daylight broke over South Mountain behind their hastily assembled bivouac, the soldiers would wait for orders to move. The morning of waiting was not to be wasted by the seasoned troops of the 8th Connecticut who quickly made good use of their time at the Keedysville farm by gathering some local products for breakfast. While food for the soldiers may have been “rare” as the regimental historian put it, “the men got corn in prime from the fields and ate roasted ears and green fruit.” Fires were built for cooking using nearby fences for fuel and “the army soon made the area bare from all its needs.”[2] Water was also in good supply on the farm also known as Crystal Spring or Locust Spring. It provided an excellent source of clear, cool water from the spring near the farm house and it’s likely that Oliver Case filled his canteen from the spring as the regiment awaited orders on the 16th of September. Ironically, some of Oliver’s fellow soldiers would return to this farm in less than 36 hours as patients in the Union hospital established in the farmhouse. For more on the hospital and the farm, see John Banks’ excellent post on his blog.

Commonly referred to in military circles as “hurry up and wait,” this period of waiting and inactivity interspersed with orders to prepare to march followed closely by cancelation of those same orders could be very trying on psyche of the average soldier. Veteran units like the 8th Connecticut had considerable experience with this phenomenon and the individual soldiers had developed their own coping mechanisms. Oliver Case often used the downtime to write his sister and others even when the regiment was on the move. “Having a few leisure moments of spare time I thought I could improve them no better than by writing to you” he penned to his sister as the soldiers waited for their ship at Perryville, Maryland in November of the previous year.[3] It’s also possible that Oliver Case turned to another source of comfort and reassurance as the battle loomed close. Oliver very likely opened his pocket Bible for what may have been the final time that morning on the Geeting Farm to find those words invoking courage inside the front cover, “If you die, die like a man.”

Case Bible2Did Oliver Case open his Bible for the final time on the Geeting Farm, September 16, 1862?

There was good reason for the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut to seek words of comfort and courage that morning. Three hours after daybreak around 9:00 AM, “the ball opened” with the Confederate artillery gunners on the far side of Antietam Creek dropping shells among Union forces.[4] As the soldiers of IX Corps had moved off the road to bed down the previous night, long lines of wagon trains containing the supplies and baggage of the corps had moved up on the road toward Sharpsburg. In the light of morning, they became a tempting target for the artillery batteries of the Confederates. Union artillery batteries answered the salvos with counterbattery fire from their positions on the Ecker farm closer to the banks of the Antietam Creek and near the Middle Bridge. Longer range shells from the Confederates fell amongst the baggage trains sending them running for cover. Captain Marsh of the 8th Connecticut reported that the “baggage wagons which had come up during night were soon sent skedaddling to the rear” of the awaiting infantry troops. While damage was minimal, Marsh remembered that “two or three mules were killed and a wagon or two were smashed up and a few soldiers killed and wounded.”[5]

As the artillery duel kept up for most of the day, the Connecticut soldiers continued to wait along the side of the road for orders. Finally, the orders came late in the afternoon at around 4:00 PM by some reports. Harland’s Brigade was to move forward toward the sound of the guns still dueling across the Antietam. It seemed the time for battle could be close but alas it was not to be on this day. After marching only about one mile, the 8th Connecticut and the rest of the brigade took a left turn off of the Porterstown Road onto a road running from Porterstown to the Rohrbach farm along the back side of the Ecker farm.

8th Route of March 4PM 16 Sep 624:00 PM September 16, 1862 – Harland’s Brigade and the 8th CVI move forward to the sound of the guns

As the troops filed off onto this road leading to the Rohrbach farm, the artillery battle continued but now Oliver Case and his comrades could see the Union batteries doing their work. The 8th Connecticut moved “forward to the line of hills on which our artillery was posted when filed off to left and kept on undercover of hills as much as possible for mile or more but not unobserved by our foe for they shelled us continually but doing no damage.”[6] The movement by the Connecticut troops was slow as the entire Union IX Corps prodded along the Ecker farm with wagon trains, artillery batteries and infantry troops clogging the small farm road forcing many to resort to cross country marching.

During this movement, the hurriedly assembled and hastily transported to the front 16th Connecticut Infantry Regiment joined Harland’s Brigade giving it four infantry regiments. It had been a long journey for the green regiment.

“…Adjutant Burnham, who had been absent, returned with the order that we were wanted at the front. This took us a little by surprise as we did not expect to go into battle so soon. But on went the bundles, and after a tedious march through ploughed fields and forests, passing brigades and divisions, the booming of artillery and bursting of shells sounding louder and louder, we finally joined a brigade consisting of the 4th R. I., and the 8th and 11th C.V.”[7]

With the brigade now complete, Edward Harland would now prepare to emplace his troops for the night on their new home, the Rohrbach farm.



[1] Letters of Wolcott P. Marsh (unpublished), accessed from The Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers at Antietam website, http://home.comcast.net/~8cv/8cv-frame.html

[2] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

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

[4] Diary of Charles S. Buell, 8th Connecticut, as published on Antietam on the Web, http://antietam.aotw.org/exhibit.php?exhibit_id=369

[5] Marsh.

[6] Marsh.

[7] History of the Sixteenth Connecticut Volunteers, B.F. Blakeslee, The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company, 1875.

Oliver Case on the Rohrbach farm: Some opening thoughts…

I have always been committed to determining the routes, camps and battle positions of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry and Oliver Case. I strive to be as accurate as possible in the hopes of not only being true in the telling of Oliver’s story but also in the hopes that I can physically walk in his footsteps. The location at the top of my list has always been the fields and woods around Sharpsburg where Oliver gave “his last full measure of devotion” on September 17, 1862. I’ve had the good fortune of living a short distance from the battlefield for a number of years and getting to know people interested in and knowledgeable about the battle. Somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty hikes, solo and with a few other brave souls, have allowed me a much closer study of the terrain. Also, it has been my privilege to develop and lead a number of military staff rides at Antietam over the past few years that brought me onto the field and into Oliver’s footsteps. No person has been more helpful in the process of understanding what Oliver Case and his fellow Connecticut soldiers faced at Antietam than John Banks, the author of two outstanding books on Connecticut soldiers and CW blogger of the highest order. A man I am now privileged to call a friend.

About two weeks ago, I was able to join John and Bob Anderson (ancestor of Corporal Robert Ferriss, a member of the 8th CVI color guard killed at the battle) to retrace, to the extent possible, the steps of Corporal Ferriss and Private Case of the 16th and 17th of September 1862. It was a wonderful day as detailed by John Banks.

This outing caused me to revisit the route of the 8th Connecticut during these two days. I have studied in great detail and am very familiar with the actions and route of the 8th after 1:00pm on September 17,1862 as all this property from Snavely’s Ford to the 8th Connecticut’s monument is part of the Antietam National Battlefield and accessible (or at least viewable) from the trail system in the park. I believe I have a solid handle on the last four to five hours of Oliver’s young life and John Banks and I have covered this ground on many occasions.

However, since the property is not accessible by the general public, I’ve always made assumptions about the actions of the 8th Connecticut on the day before the battle and the morning of the battle as they marched in from the Geeting Farm near Keedysville onto the Rohrbach farm near the famous bridge that now bears the name of Ambrose Burnside, their commanding general that day. Since our visit to part of the Rohrbach farm two weeks ago made possible by its current owner, Ann Corcoran, I’ve become determined to pinpoint the locations of the 8th with much a greater specificity. In conducting the research and taking into account what I learned during Ann’s tour of the farm, I may have raised more questions for myself than I answered.

Over the next few posts, I will attempt to lay out my best guess as to the locations of the 8th using Ezra Carmen’s maps as a starting point then modifying them to best represent the information from reports and letters of the men who walked the ground over those two days. Some may dispute my conclusions and additional information may help improve my accuracy which I welcome.

Daybreak September 17 Overview Carman

Daybreak, September 17, 1862 on the southern end of the Antietam Battlefield from Ezra Carman’s map (LOC)

“…nothing too good for the soldiers.”

From Oliver Cromwell Case’s letter to his sister dated October 31, 1861 written at Camp Buckingham, Jamaica, Long Island, New York

This phrase caught my eye for the first time even though I’ve read this letter at least a dozen times. It caused me to go back and ponder some previous posts on this subject.

What sounds familiar about those words? It took a little research to pinpoint where I had heard a similar phase…

…from none other than William Tecumseh Sherman!

WT Sherman

There is nothing too good for the soldiers who wear the blue.

Of course, Cump Sherman’s words came about two years after Oliver penned the phrase. Both understood the sentiment of the military leadership and the people of the north. However, Oliver’s declaration from Long Island came at a time when public support for the war effort remained high in the north, the Copperheads notwithstanding. With only about four months worth of significant combat action, the public had yet to grow wearily of the toll the war would soon begin to exact upon the lives of their young men. New Yorkers were among the most enthusiastic supporters of the boys in blue in the fall of 1861.

We are treated much better here than in Connecticut by the citizens. They think there is nothing to good for the soldiers. We are treated with respect wherever we go…[1]  

However, after departing from Long Island on November 1, 1861, Oliver and comrades of the 8th Connecticut would find an even warmer reception awaiting them in the city of brotherly love. We pick up on Oliver’s retelling of the story from his letter of November 3rd:

We were got upon the cars with but little delay and tried to start for Philadelphia which was not so easy a job as you might imagine as we had on 19 passenger cars, but with the help of another engine we got under way and arrived safely at ½ after eleven o’clock where we had a huge dinner and if anyone ever did justice to a dinner, we did to that. I think I never tasted anything so good in my life. We stayed there until nearly five talking and shaking hands with everyone.

On November 2, 1861 from 11:30 in the morning until 5 o’clock in the afternoon, Private Oliver Cromwell Case and his fellow soldiers were hosted by the citizens of Philadelphia. My twenty-five years of service as an Army officer has taught me well that Soldiers with free time in a major population center can spell trouble if not properly occupied and supervised. Chief among the activities of these Soldiers is always the pursuit of food. In fact, when serving as a young lieutenant in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, I was told that one of the rules of the Cavalry Trooper was “never pass up the opportunity for a meal because you never know when you might eat next.” So it was with the nutmeggers on that November day. When Oliver writes that “we had a huge dinner” after arriving in Philadelphia, it’s likely that he had no idea that the keen observations of one of the city’s businessmen and the efforts of a group of ladies was to thank for that meal.

Only six months prior to the arrival of the 8th Connecticut, the citizens of the Philadelphia took action to support the growing number of troops transiting the city. During the closing week of April and the first week of May, Union regiments from the New England states began arriving by both ship and train. Most of these troops proceed along Washington Avenue to board trains bound for Perryville, Maryland, the southernmost location in Maryland accessible by railroad. After noticing the hundreds of soldiers sitting along the streets of the city waiting for their trains, a group of women in the city “formed themselves into a committee, and, with the assistance of their friends and neighbors, distributed coffee and refreshments among the hungry and grateful troops.”[2] These modest efforts to provide refreshments continued for several weeks until the last week of May 1861 when a Philadelphia businessman became involved.

William M. Cooper was a merchant with a store located on Otsego Street just off Washington Avenue when he also noticed the large number of soldiers lounging on the streets of Philadelphia. He managed to convince his partner, Henry Pearce, that their barrel making business could be used to advance the mission to the soldiers started by the ladies of the city. As a result, on May 26, 1861, the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon opened its doors to serve the Union soldiers passing through the city. Mr. Cooper took the lead role in the effort and served as the committee’s president and chief fundraiser for the duration of the war. A friendly rival, the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon, began operating nearby shortly after the establishment of Cooper’s saloon.

The two refreshment saloons provided a welcomed relief for the weary soldiers. As the ladies had first realized, a soldier’s first longing after the long boat or train ride was a cup of hot coffee and so Mr. Cooper converted the large fireplace in his shop into an enormous stove. With this setup, it was possible for the volunteers to brew one hundred gallons of coffee per hour! According to a history of the saloon written immediately following the war, the “coffee was made good and strong, and served up in a purely democratic manner.”[3] I would assume this means that it was one cup for each man.

Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon LOC (exterior view)

Exterior view of the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon (Library of Congress)

According to the records of the saloon, the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut were divided equally between the Union and Cooper saloons. Oliver does not indicate in which establishment he partook of the “huge dinner” but when he entered the building, he found:

…each table was laid with a clean white linen cloth, on which were arranged plates of white stone china, mugs of the same, knives and forks, castors, and all that was necessary to table use. Bouquets of flowers, the gifts of visitors, were frequently added, and lent their fragrance to the savory odors. The bill of fare consisted of the best the market could supply, and was not, in the articles provided, inferior to that of any hotel in the country. At all meals the fare was abundant; consisting of ham, corned beef, Bologna sausage, bread made of the finest wheat, butter of the best quality, cheese, pepper-sauce beets, pickles, dried beef, coffee and tea, and vegetables.[4]

Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon LOC (inside view)

Interior view of the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon (Library of Congress)

The Cooper and Union saloons provided an incredible setting for the soldiers to enjoy their meal. One Union Army surgeon provided a detailed description his experience at the Cooper saloon:

We are stopping over Sabbath in Philadelphia, at the above named saloon, where we have been treated with the kindest hospitality. We were met at the ferry by one of the committees, who conducted us to the saloon, where we found tables groaning beneath the real substantials of life. The hall is 150 feet long, by 30 wide, and will accommodate about 350 persons at a time. It is splendidly decorated with wreaths of evergreens, and a great variety of paintings and flags, and is well lighted with gas. At the further end of the hall is a large eagle, stuffed and perched upon a frame enclosing the Declaration of Independence. We were supplied with every thing we could possibly wish.[5]

In September of 1990, I found myself in much the same position as Oliver and the Connecticut boys…waiting around for transportation on my way to war. The USO with many volunteers had established a “saloon” at Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany providing food, entertainment and, yes, coffee for soldiers deploying to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Shield. The facility was operated in a German “feast tent” just off the tarmac of the airbase. I don’t believe we enjoyed the same meal as Oliver, but the food was fantastic and represented the last taste of home for many months. Upon return to the United States after the conflict in 1991, we found the same reception waiting for us in both New York and our home base in El Paso, Texas. Today, a USO reception center is found in every major airport in the country and at United States military airbases around the world providing that same warm welcome and food (among many other services) that greeted Oliver Case and the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut in Philadelphia over 150 years ago.

The facility at Cooper expanded to include a hospital on the second floor of the building and both saloons hosted upwards of one million troops during the four years of the war. Mr. Cooper poured his heart, soul and finances into the venture. Sadly, in March of 1880, he died in a condition of debt so abysmal that friends and former soldiers assisted by the Cooper saloon had to come to his rescue to prevent his home from being sold at public auction. William Cooper was fondly remembered as the man who “used his private mean liberally, and no soldier was ever turned away hungry.”[6]

In addition to the History of the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon by James Moore written in 1866, the following sites provided useful background information on this subject:

The House Divided site of Dickinson College Essay on Philadelphia

Civil War Philadelphia – Volunteer Refreshment Saloons


[1] All quotes from Oliver Case taken from the Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case 1861-1862 (unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT (October 31, 1861 and November 3, 1861) unless otherwise noted.

[2] History of the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon, James Moore, James B. Rodgers, Philadelphia, 1866.

[3] Moore, 1866

[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] “A Patriot’s Family in Distress,” New York Times, March 18, 1880.

A Short Stay on Long Island

In reading the history of the 8th Connecticut and the letters of Oliver Case, I’ve often wondered why the 8th and some other regiments designated for Burnside’s Expeditionary Force stayed at their Long Island, New York location for such a brief time. By my reckoning, the 8th resided on Long Island for only 11 or 12 days including their time in transit. Well, it seems that Oliver Case’s letter to his sister, Abbie, holds an important clue that remained hidden until my recent discovery of a period news article.

In his very first letter to Abbie dated October 20, 1861, Oliver writes of finally coming ashore at Hunter’s Point on Long Island where part of the regiment was loaded onto awaiting trains headed east. The balance of the soldiers, including Oliver’s Company A, “waited with our knapsacks on for 2 or 3 hours expecting every moment the train to carry us off.”[1] This apparent unpreparedness by the Long Island Railroad Company was a critical factor in determining the location of the training grounds for Burnside’s troops. According to his staff, the ability to rapidly respond to a call for deployment was an important evaluation criterion for selecting a training site. The Long Island Railroad would prove to be unable and possibly unwilling, to fulfill this requirement for rapid movement of Burnside’s force.

When the 8th Connecticut landed at Hunter’s Point on the East River at the mouth of Newtown Creek on the 21st of October 1861 after a journey from Hartford of almost 24 hours, the railroad employees and managers seem to have been caught by surprise and became annoyed at the nuisance of the situation. A new story published several weeks later in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle recounts that railroad employees acted with an “utter want of a spirit of accommodation…rude language…and provoking delay in transporting the troops.”[2] The unnamed writer of the news story chastises the members of the Long Island Railroad Company as “a very small-minded as well as unpatriotic set of individuals” while General Burnside and his staff characterized the debacle as “gross mismanagement” by railroad officials.[3]

It seems that General Burnside had planned to gather and train his force of regiments from New England states on Long Island before deploying them to the coast of North Carolina for an amphibious operation presented by Burnside and approved by both George McClellan and Abraham Lincoln. From a military viewpoint, Long Island was a logical choice based on locations with good training grounds and availability of rail and water transportation to points south. He had even selected a spot in the northern part of the Hempstead Plains area of the island near a small village known as Mineola located on the main railroad line. However, as the Eight Connecticut arrived at Hunter’s Point and attempted to travel east on the Long Island Railroad toward Mineola, delays caused significant logistical problems and uncomfortable conditions for the soldiers as many of them, like Oliver Case, were “obliged to sleep on the ground, covered only by their blankets and the autumnal sky.”



A Civil War era map of Long Island depicting the Hempstead Branch of the Long Island Railroad


I have previously opined on this blog that the same camp was alternately known as the Hempstead Camp of Instruction, Camp Winfield Scott, Camp Sherman and Camp Burnside. The discovery of this article in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle seems to confirm this fact. I believe Ambrose Burnside’s intent was to use the old Camp Winfield Scott location as his expeditionary force training and deployment base because it was “most admirably located on a plain, of several thousand acres…easy of access by Long Island Railroad, being but a short distance from the depot, and, it is understood, extra trains will be run as soon as the wants of the military or the public demand them.”[4] In a September 14, 1861 article, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle describes the camp site:

The Camp of Instruction…is located at Hempstead, L.I., covering a large portion of the expansive plain at Hempstead Branch – a plain that approaches nearly the dimensions of a good-sized Western prairie. The camp is laid out according to army regulations, consisting of 225 tents. No less than twelve wells have been dug, affording that most domestic requisite of camp-life – an unlimited supply of pure cold water…altogether, Camp Winfield Scott is a most desirable place…camp is designed to accommodate ten thousand men.[5]

Camp Winfield Scott would be transformed into Camp Burnside but the stay would be a short one. Both the general and his soldiers were pleased with the location and the welcoming spirit of the local citizens. Burnside found himself “much pleased with the camp at Hempstead, with the locality of the Eighth Connecticut, and the kindness of the people.”[6]


Camp Burnside

A sketch of the 8th Connecticut at Camp Burnside on Long Island, November 1, 1861[7]


For his part, Oliver rated the camp and the surrounding community as “one of the pleasantest places I ever saw” and he found the people to be “very familiar (much more than Conn. People).”[8] In fact, the citizens of the town proved to be gracious hosts and were unconstrained in welcoming the Connecticut soldiers to their Long Island community. During the first week the 8th Connecticut occupied the camp; many of the townspeople turned out to greet the soldiers and supplied them with over a thousand loaves of freshly baked bread plus fruit and other food stuffs. Some of the Nutmeggers who were fortunate enough to sneak past the camp guard found the families Jamaica opening their homes to share meals and conversation. By the 31st of October during his second week in camp, Oliver is willing to go even further in his comparison to Connecticut:

We are treated much better here than in Connecticut by the citizens. They think there is nothing to[o] good for the soldiers. We are treated with respect wherever we go, and apples and turnips are free to us, that is if we can run the guard or can get passed off, which is not often.[9]

Unfortunately for the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut, military considerations were overriding even their general’s pleasure with the people of Long Island and the “gross mismanagement” of the Long Island Railroad officials would shorten their stay. All of the logistical and administrative problems with the railroad had “combined to disgust the General with the corporation and drive him to look for a camping ground in another direction.” Due to these factors, Burnside “felt obliged to abandon his purpose of concentrating his Brigade upon Long Island.” He would turn his search to the south and a far less hospitable citizenry.



[1] All quotes from Oliver Case taken from the Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case 1861-1862 (unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT (October 20, 1861) unless otherwise noted.

[2] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 13, 1861 edition, quoting a story in The Long Island Farmer. Article accessed from “Brooklyn Newsstand” website, http://bklyn.newspapers.com/ October 24, 2014

[3] IBID.

[4] “The Hempstead Camp of Instruction,” New York Times, September 8, 1861

[5] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 14, 1861 edition. Article accessed from “Brooklyn Newsstand” website, http://bklyn.newspapers.com/ on October 24, 2014

[6] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 13, 1861

[7] Civil War Sketchbook by Corporal Joseph E. Shadek, Company A, 8th Connecticut, from the collection of the Bridgeport History Center, http://bportlibrary.org/hc/ve/vex3/index.htm

[8] Oliver Case letter, October 31, 1861

[9] IBID.

The laughing stock of the whole brigade…

The Civil War saw scores of politicians and would-be politicians don the uniform of an army officer. Some found success as a military leader such as future President of the United States Rutherford B. Hayes, Colonel of the 23rd Ohio Infantry. Hayes, city solicitor of Cincinnati from 1858 to 1861, was unafraid to stand up for the welfare of his soldiers even when faced with the wrath of a fiery professional officer and he proved himself in battle. On September 6, 1862 during McClellan’s march out of Washington in pursuit of Lee’s invading army, Hayes’ men were readying their camp for the evening by taking straw from the field of a nearby farmer to feed the horses of an artillery battery and making beds for themselves. Hayes confessed in his diary and letters that he saw nothing wrong with the practice as it was a military necessity to accommodate the needs of his regiment. However, the Ninth Corps commanding general, Jesse Reno, had a much different view of the situation as he rode into the camp of the 23rd Ohio.

Hayes did not immediately notice the arrival of the general at his campsite but soon heard a stream of profanity being directed toward his soldiers who were gathering the straw. Reno referred to Hayes’ men as “damned black sons of bitches” and proceeded to lecture them on the evils of pilfering the farms of the friendly state of Maryland. Hayes intervened on behalf of his men explaining to Major General Reno of the need for the straw and even offered to ensure the farmer was properly compensated. Reno would have none of it. Hayes, who claims to have remained respectful throughout the encounter, retorted with “”Well, I trust our generals will exhibit the same energy in dealing with our foes that they do in the treatment of their friends.” Reno departed in a huff as the men of the 23rd Ohio cheered loudly for the moxie of their commander. The general would continue to harbor ill feelings toward Hayes in the days that followed.


R_B Hayes CW uniformJesse Reno CW uniform

Fiery West Point general Major General Jesse Reno (b) met his match in Rutherford B. Hayes (t), commanding officer of the 23th Ohio and future President of the United States


However, Hayes’ soldiers now had the highest respect for the young politician turned army colonel. They would fight hard for him just eight days later at the Battle of South Mountain where Hayes would be wounded and Major General Reno would be killed by a Confederate bullet effectively ending the animosity between the politician-soldier and the professional officer.

And then there were the politicians who fancied themselves as officers leading their men to great victories in battle…

Oliver Case and his comrades in the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment were not so fortunate to have a Hayes-like officer in the person of Peter L. Cunningham of Norwalk. Born in New York City in 1814, Cunningham relocated to Norwalk, Connecticut in 1834 and was always “prominently identified with local public affairs” including becoming an active campaigner in the 1840 elections. He also rose to notoriety in state political matters prior to the war and was elected as both councilman and mayor for post-war Norwalk. Cunningham was heavily involved in both the Odd Fellows and the Masonic Fraternity obtaining several high-ranking positions in both organizations.[1]

Already 47 years old when the Civil War began, Cunningham was appointed by Governor William A. Buckingham as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut. He was not without military experience as he had served in Connecticut state militia organizations for the previous 20 years rising to the rank of Colonel as a member of the governor’s staff prior to his appointment in the 8th Connecticut. These largely ceremonial state positions seem to have done nothing to prepare him for becoming the second-in-command of an infantry regiment with over 1,000 soldiers assigned.

A Lieutenant Colonel’s role in a Civil War regiment included assisting the Colonel of the Regiment with his duties and being prepared to assume command of the regiment should he be killed or wounded. The Lieutenant Colonel was also expected to help command and control the formation during combat situations. In this YouTube clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rvYtoy1NUM) from the movie Gods and Generals, you will see Lieutenant Colonel Chamberlain of the 20th Maine performing the important function of positioning the regimental formation for battle in accordance with instructions given by the commander, Colonel Adelbert Ames. This obviously required the Lieutenant Colonel to be highly proficient in drilling the soldiers (marching and maneuvering the formation) for endless hours on the parade field to be prepared to do the same during battle.

It became clearly evident to all his subordinates that Lieutenant Colonel Cunningham of the 8th Connecticut was no master of the drill. In a letter written Christmas Day of 1861, Oliver Case describes for his sister a camp rumor that his Lieutenant Colonel will soon leave the regiment.

There is a report that our Lieut. Col. [Cunningham] is soon to resign, I hope it is true for he does not now, nor ever did and I think never will learn about the military. He is the laughing stock of the whole brigade when he tries to drill the Regt. There are very few orders that he can give correctly.[2]

Peter L Cunningham

Peter L. Cunningham whose service as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut would only last four months due to his lack of military skill particularly in drilling troops


So, after only four months of service, the politician-soldier returned to Connecticut. His official biographical sketch puts a better face on his military service with only one sentence, “…he was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers, resigning the latter office, however, after a service of four months and receiving an honorable discharge.”[3] Cunningham’s lack of success in the military arts did not deter his success in business or his political career when he returned to Norwalk. In business, he became a director in two local banks and for the Norwalk Gas Company. His elected political career consisted of multiple terms as a city councilman in the 1870s and he was elected as the mayor of Norwalk for one term in 1883.

In modern military terms, Peter Cunningham failed to adapt to military service which in today’s Army can get you discharged within the first 180 days of your service. Even in the civil war, military service was much more than just a job; it was truly a way of life. Rules, regulations, traditions and customs all helped to shape a culture that required adaptation by men who only weeks before lived in a different world. For an officer like Peter Cunningham, this meant additional pressures created by an expectation that you would become inculcated in this new culture and that you could step forward to lead your subordinates in learning its ways.

Oliver Case viewed Lieutenant Colonel Cunningham’s problem as a failure to learn himself so that he could teach others. This failure manifested itself publicly on the parade field as Cunningham could give the correct orders to his men thereby making himself the brigade’s laughing stock.

Parade Annapolis Burnside

Soldiers of Burnside’s Expedition on parade at Annapolis in December 1861


This certainly must have been a leadership challenge for his regimental commander, Colonel Edward Harland. Harland’s previous military experience was limited to service as a company commander at First Bull Run in a three-month Connecticut regiment. However, his time directing troops under combat conditions prepared him for the challenges of higher level command. Harland and the brigade commander, John Parke (a West Point graduate), must have approached Cunningham with the cold, hard truth that he was not compatible with military service and should offer his resignation immediately. To his credit, Cunningham may have realized this himself and preempted such a conversation.

Whatever the case, the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut must have felt relief that “the laughing stock of the whole brigade” would not be leading them into battle.



[1] Adapted from Commemorative Biographical Record of Fairfield County, Connecticut, J.H. Beers & Company, Chicago, 1899.

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, Connecticut.

[3] Commemorative Biographical Record, page 12.

A Very Pleasant Time

From Oliver Case’s letter to his sister Abbie dated October 20, 1861

An air of excitement spread throughout the ranks of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry on the morning of October 17, 1861 as they rose to the strains of reveille echoing across the grassy fields of Camp Buckingham. For most of these men, the camp located in the Barry Square area of Hartford had been their home since at least September 27th when the regiment was formally established after the 5th Connecticut had vacated the grounds. They had learned 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. But, the green recruits needed more intensive training particularly in drilling before they would be ready to face the Confederates.

Location of Camp Buckingham Hartford CT

The modern-day location (near 10 Campfield Avenue) of Camp Buckingham in Hartford


The excitement had continued to build since early in the month of October when word spread about the camp concerning the directive from the United States Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, for Governor Buckingham to send two regiments forward for federal service. Many administrative and logistical tasks remained to be completed prior to the 8th being transferred to federal service. However, the eagerness in the ranks only grew as rumors flew concerning service in what Oliver Case called “the grand Union army going eagerly forth to offer vicarious atonement for the sins of the nation.”[1] Most of the regiment’s soldiers remained ignorant as to their destination upon leaving the camp, but all knew the day of departure had arrived that morning as sergeants and officers barked commands to prepare baggage for movement.

By four o’clock that afternoon, Oliver and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut had marched the short distance to board awaiting ships on the Connecticut River. The official transfer to federal service had been announced to the regiment earlier in the day by Colonel Edward Harland, the regimental commander. Now it seemed as if all of Hartford and half of the rest of Connecticut had turned out to wish the soldiers well. The sendoff encouraged the young soldiers as they “were greeted with waving flags and resounding cheers from proud relatives and friends, and grateful strangers.” The celebration continued for a considerable time as Oliver described it to be “a very pleasant time going down the river cheering and being cheered continually.” The official strength of the regiment was listed as 1,016 including officers and soldiers who departed Hartford on that day. Many would never see Hartford again.

Oliver found the quarters aboard the ship, which he did not name, to be cramped but he made the best of the situation. His company was fortunate to be assigned a spot “in the gangway forward of the shaft” where a bit more room could be found to relax. The conditions were still far from ideal as the soldiers of Company A “spread our beds all over the floor and bunked in like a mess of pigs; some were in the water shoe deep.” Oliver managed to find a dry spot amongst the wallow and with his “knapsack for a pillow [he] slept soundly for about two hours.” Using your knapsack or rucksack as we call it in the modern Army is a longstanding tradition among soldiers of all armies. A new recruit quickly learns to sleep when the opportunity arises and to pack their rucksack to be a “pillowly” as possible. So, I’m sure Oliver learned this lesson quickly after his night in the “pig pen.”

While not exactly comfortable in his situation, it still didn’t prohibit Oliver from sleeping so soundly that when he was called “to stand guard for an hour” it was “loud enough to start any living person.” Although the threat of theft or damage to personal baggage while enroute on the water would seem to be minimal, guards were rotated to watch the “traps and guns” just the same and Oliver stood his one hour watch beginning at about 11:30 pm. When he returned to his sleeping spot shortly after midnight, Oliver would not find the same restful sleep as he “did much get much sleep after that [guard duty].” Oliver doesn’t directly attribute his lack of sleep to any particular factor, but anticipation must have been at least as causative as the cramped quarters.

Around 4 o’clock in the morning of October 8th, Oliver’s insomnia was rewarded with a first view of New York City as the early morning fog began to clear allowing the lights of the city to come into view. But New York City was not the destination of the crowded ship and the journey continued after a brief pause to allow another ship to pass. Just a short time later, great excitement among the soldiers as the ship began to put ashore at Staten Island. In anticipation of leaving their cramped quarters, the soldiers of the 8th scrambled to find their knapsacks and other equipment in order to leave the ship. The horses were taken off the ship first prompting the troops to don their knapsacks and prepare to disembark. Much to their disappointment after standing for hours, the troops were not allowed to leave the ship and again waited for instructions.

By 9 o’clock, the soldiers were disappointed to learn that they would not be ashore at Staten Island. The horses were reloaded and the ship headed out on the same route by which it came to Staten Island, passing New York City again bound for a destination as yet unknown to most of the passengers.          

Finally, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and after almost twenty-four hours on the water, Oliver’s ship arrived at Hunter’s Point, Long Island where some of the members of the regiment were allowed to leave the ship. The troops of Company A were told they would have to wait for another two to three hours they were finally able to disembark the ship. The delay was caused by a shortage of trains being used to transport the soldiers to their new home, the Camp of Instruction at Jamaica, Long Island. As Oliver viewed the long day of delays with a sense of humor that would appear many times in his future letters writing, “All things must have an end and so did our waiting.”

A heavy rain fall and the lateness of the hour by the time Oliver and Company A reached their camp on the evening of October 18th prevent the soldiers from the proper assembly of their tents. So, Oliver Case’s first night away from Connecticut would be spent “on the ground with the sky for a covering.”

[1] All quotes and other information taken from Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case 1861-1862 (unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT (October 20, 1861) unless otherwise noted.

A Tale of 3 Cornfields and What Ifs

A bit off the normal subject of this blog I know, but this was too good to resist.

During my Columbus Day hike across the Antietam National Battlefield, I made an interesting observation that lead to a little historical speculation. First, I observed that growing in D.R. Miller’s 22-acre cornfield, otherwise known to history as the Bloody Cornfield, was a fine crop of soybeans…yes, soybeans. Something struck me as a bit hypocritical about this discovery, but I soon remembered the necessity of crop rotation to preserve the soil and then I was on my merry way hiking down the Hagerstown Pike.



The D.R. Miller cornfield growing soybeans in 2014


Next stop, the much larger cornfield of John Otto. Forty acres of corn stood tall here on September 17, 1862, but today there stands a much smaller field of sorghum. Again, seems the park service could be a bit more historically accurate, crop rotation notwithstanding. It’s also very rocky terrain causing me to wonder how Mr. Otto ever made a go of corn and giving the modern farmers who lease the land a good reason to seek another hardier crop. Ok, I’m satisfied for the moment and it’s time to move on to the last of Antietam’s three famous fields of corn.



Sorghum stands tall in John Otto’s cornfield, 2014


Last stop, the Bloody Lane and Mr. Piper’s cornfield. Whew…it’s still there albeit smaller and growing corn! The park service has done a great job in replanting Piper’s orchard and the farmer leasing the land has a nice small field of harvest-ready corn just in front of the orchard. While the field extended all the way to the sunken farm lane in 1862, the tour access road doesn’t allow for that in 2014. I couldn’t resist a short hike around the cornfield and orchard before making my way back across the Bloody Lane and toward my waiting car at the visitors center.



It’s smaller, but still growing corn in Piper’s field


So, now the historical speculation. In both the Otto and Miller cornfields, absent the corn, I observed how easy it would have been for opposing sides to view the movements of the other from their side of the fields. How would this have changed the actions of the commanders engaged that day? Of that, one can only guess. Would Hooker change his approach if he observed that he was facing a much smaller force? How would the loss of the element of surprise have affected Hood’s decision-making and the morale of his troops? Would Rodman have spread his division across a wider front to meet the threat of Hill’s approaching troops? Could the 16th Connecticut and 4th Rhode Island have refused the flank to meet the threat of the arriving Confederates? All good questions that will remain unanswered but often pondered in the mind of a wanderer of the Antietam National Battlefield…