Writing from on board the schooner “Recruit” beginning on January 9, 1862, Oliver writes in a journal type of format for the next five days making a short entry on each day. The schooner is being used as one of two hospital ships in Burnside’s expeditionary force. A New York Times article from February 12, 1862 provides a description of the two hospital ships and their surgeons.
Oliver’s entries are short due primarily to the rough seas the vessel is encountering sailing for Fortress Monroe. They are expected to depart on January 9th, but are forced to wait until the 11th before sailing. There are several interesting items from the letter over the five days:
Oliver has “great confidence in our new doctors” and expresses his regret that “we did not have the doctors before and have something done for Sexton.” He offers as evidence of the clinical effectiveness of these new physicians the fact that “the sick are much better; none dangerous.” This is more likely attributed to leaving the preventative medicine nightmare of camp life for the fresh air of the open seas. There is some recognition of this by the doctors who order the soldiers to go out on deck for fresh air at various times while on the schooner. Oliver mentions the head surgeon of hospital ship, Dr. S.A. Green of the 24th Mass.
For his part, Oliver is “in the best of health with a good appetite.” Because of his helpfulness in caring for the sick soldiers, the nurses provide him with extra rations. In fact, he confesses to eating “two rations at every meal…” Oliver does mention that he has a sore throat but attributes it to “smoking strong tobacco.” The revelation that he smokes is not surprising given the fact that his father, Job Case, is a tobacco farmer back in Simsbury.
Oliver also writes about a “Zouave drum major, a Frenchman who cannot understand English, is quite bad off with the rheumatism.” After the patient tries to get up and move around, he falls and can’t get back up. Oliver and another soldier “carried” the drum major back to his bed. He also comments that “the Dr. talks with him in French.”
The food aboard the ship is a problem for Oliver and the other soldiers as a creative cook attempts to make soup from sea water. The soup is so awful that the soldiers not only complain to the doctor, but begin to circulate a petition to go to “the general” likely meaning General Burnside. Oliver is not impressed by the efforts of his shipmates and does not “approve of it; think it will amount to shucks.”
Many of the soldiers become seasick during the journey and the ship finally reaches Fortress Monroe on January 13, 1862. He describes the scene in the harbor as “one forest of masts” and welcomes the opportunity “to send and receive letters now…” Oliver has formed friendships with the other soldiers and is “now acquainted with nearly all on board and enjoy it very much, perhaps more than with our own company.” On the day of their arrival at Fortress Monroe, the soldiers are treated to some fun “seeing the Dr. shoot at ducks with his revolver.”