“I wanted to…try my luck in an engagement.”

Oliver’s letter of February 19, 1862 is one of the most lengthy in the collection and will take several posts to dissect. The illness known as Ague that Oliver has struggled with since December of the previous year returns and causes him to miss the first combat action of the 8th CVI. Oliver is confined to the Chasseur and misses the Battle of Roanoke Island on the 7th and 8th of February 1862. By February 14th, Oliver’s condition has improved to the point that he is allowed to come ashore:

I did not leave the old Chasseur until last Friday for the reason that I was indisposed, and the regiment had not pitched their tents and it was rather damp lying in the open air, especially for one who was not well. It was with feelings of delight that I again set my feet upon “terra firma” after having been upon the briny deep for over six weeks.  

Although Case professes to be much healthier since coming onto the island, his leaders still have concerns about his physical condition to the point that his commander doesn’t allow Oliver to accompany the regiment on a march just three days later.

The Lieut. And Capt. both sent for me unbeknown to each other and told me that as I had been sick so recently I should not be able to go and wanted me to stay in their tents and in case the regiment should not come back to see about packing up their things. It was all very well for them but I wanted to go with the regiment and try my luck in an engagement. Each of them told me as it was such very wet weather and we should have to lie outdoors in the water it would surely bring on the Fever and Ague.

I find the depth of concern on the part of Oliver’s leaders to be noteworthy. Not that commanders in Union regiments didn’t care for their troops, but in Oliver’s case, it seems that they are going to great lengths to ensure they don’t lose him. This may very well be the result of the deaths of Henry Sexton and Duane Brown from illness.

Private Case will have to wait for another day to experience his first taste of combat.


Oliver Returns to the 8th CVI

The next available letter in the Oliver Cromwell Case collection at the Simsbury Historical Society is from January 26, 1862. The internal evidence of this letter seems to indicate Oliver has written at least one other letter to his sister Abbie during the seven day gap since the last letter. Acknowledging the limitations of the postal system created by the operational situation of Burnside’s Expeditionary Force, Oliver writes that he is batch processing several letters with different dates for Abbie “thinking you would like to receive letters of different dates although at the same time.”

Whatever the situation with a possible missing letter, this letter finds the young Soldier still at sea albeit aboard a new vessel. Oliver had arrived off the North Carolina coast aboard the hospital ship “Recruit” but has now been transferred to the steamer “Chasseur” to rejoin his comrades from Company A, 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry along with companies D, F and I in preparation for the coming invasion. He also reports on the other companies in the regiment:

The rest are aboard of a bark and a schooner; I think four companies upon the former and two upon the latter.

His seeming ambivalence about the reunion with his companions may indicate that he provided commentary to Abbie in an earlier letter that is lost to posterity.    

General Burnside is continuing to build and prepare his army for action against the Confederate fortifications along the North Carolina coast. Stormy weather has hampered the gathering of the fleet in Pamlico Sound and several ships have been lost. Oliver confirms that the rough weather has continued to batter the fleet:

Today is the first fair day since our arrival and for the last week we have had a terrible storm at time endangering many of the fleet by causing the vessels to drag anchor and to smash into each other. For the last three or four days there has hardly been a time but what there were two or three signals of distress to be seen flying but of course no relief could be given them until after the abatement of the storm.  

Like most of the Soldiers in Burnside’s expedition, Oliver is longing to go ashore.

It is four weeks today since I came on board ship and I am now finally very anxious to again place my feet on “terra firma” although we enjoy ourselves quite well on ship board.

In this letter, Oliver also returns to one of favorite subjects…the Zouaves. As previously posted, I believe he is referring to the 53rd New York Infantry again in this letter.

I do not know whether the Zouaves are lost or not – certain it is they are not in; such things are kept from us. I think they are sent somewhere else to garrison some fort already in our hands, because they dare not trust them in an engagement with their officers for they have sworn revenge upon them. This is only my opinion.

For those interested in the culinary arts of the Civil War period, Oliver’s letter offers a glimpse of the types of food that the Soldiers enjoyed while aboard the ship.

Eatables are brought from the Sutlers boat but are held at rather high prices; apples $.05 to 10 cents each, figs .02 to .05 each, raisins $.20 per pint, [?], Oysters, Turkey Peaches, tomatoes etc. in quart cans from $1.50 to $2.00, Current, Plum, Rasberry, Grape, Pear and Strawberry jellies $1.50 to $2.00, sweet crackers $.15 per dozen and everything else in the same proportion.

In typical fashion, Oliver closes the letter with questions about happenings and people back home in Simsbury.

Is Mr. Stockwell living? I heard a short time since that the Dr. had given him over. Alonzo wrote me that he was going to move in the spring. I think he will do well to keep Public House…Is Mr. Holbrook going to leave Tarrifville? I have heard so somewhere. I have forgotten where.

The deaths of Henry Sexton and Duane Brown continue to weigh heavy on the young man’s mind and it’s clear that he is concerned with the impact on their families.

How do Mr. Sexton’s people take Henry’s death? How do Mr. Brown’s people take Duane’s death?

Knowing how important it will be to the family’s ability to bring some closure to the death of their husband and son, Oliver is concerned about the disposition of Sexton’s remains. He asks Abbie a question that is movingly prophetic regarding the circumstances of his own future death and burial.

Have they sent to Annapolis after his body?

Nine months later, Job Case will not just send for the body of his son, but he will personally go and recover his remains from fields near Sharpsburg, Maryland to ensure that Oliver returns home. Did Abbie share Oliver’s concern for the disposition of Henry’s remains with her father? Did this influence Job Case’s decision about his son nine months later?

Sadly, according to my research, Henry Sexton’s wife attempted in vain to locate his body in Annapolis.

The Zouave Drum Major

In the previous two posts, I discussed Oliver’s references to the “Zouave Drum Major” which left me a bit puzzled. At first glance, it appeared that this “drum major” might have been connected with the 9th New York known as “Hawkins’ Zouaves.” However, after more research, I’ve discovered another New York Zouave Regiment that fits with the description given by Oliver in some of his letters of November/December 1861.

In those letters, Oliver makes mention of a regiment of Zouaves at Annapolis that is a rowdy bunch of troublemakers. Although I have not blogged on these references, in his letter of November 28, 1861 Oliver writes:

It has been rumored that we shall spend the winter here but the last rumor is that the 51st N.Y. is the one to be left. If they stay, I guess the citizens will get enough of the soldiers before winter is over for they are the hardest set of boys that encamp here (not excepting the zouaves which are bad enough in a conscience [word unclear]).

The 51st NY was known for its fondness for alcohol, but the Zouave regiment referenced here by Oliver is likely the 53rd New York Infantry.

The 53rd New York Infantry was organized at organized at New York City August 27 to November 15, 1861. The regiment left New York bound for Washington, D. C. on the 18th of November 1861, but apparently never made it there and continued on to Annapolis which is where Oliver Case first encountered them. The regiment was known as D’Epineuil’s Zouaves after their commanding officer, Colonel Lionel Jobert D’Epineuil, a Frenchman with a colorful story put forward in the interest of self-promotion, but lacking in truthfulness. D’Epineuil claimed to have served in the French army for 17 years prior to his recent arrival in America. However, it appears that he never served a day in the French army, but possibly had some limited service in the French naval forces. 

The colonel seems to have struggled to fill the regiment with Frenchmen from New York, but vigorously defended his efforts to the New York Times in a letter published October 9, 1861. Due to his lack of success in finding a large number of French recruits, D’Epineuil signed up many recruits from various ethnic groups in New York City including one company of Tuscarora Indians from upstate New York.

In outward appearance, the Zouaves were impressive sporting one of the most colorful versions of the Zouave uniform. In demeanor and bearing, the officers and soldiers of the 53rd seemed to have been undisciplined and insubordinate. It all started at the top. Colonel D’Epineuil appears to have known little to nothing about command of a regiment and was described by one of his officers as “a gentleman, but no officer and knew nothing of military matters.” Although many of the officers and soldiers fought with Burnside’s Expedition in battle of Roanoke Island in early February 1862, the commanding officer lost all control of his command creating a situation so bad that General McClellan finally published Special Order No. 42 to disband the regiment on February 26, 1862.

So what about Oliver’s drum major who died aboard the hospital ship on January 18, 1862? Although I have been unable to confirm his identity with a complete roster for the 53rd, I believe he may have been Victor Dubigney who is often listed a Band Master or Chief Musician. Two other individuals listed as drum majors don’t seem to fit the description for various reasons. I would appreciate assistance from anyone with more complete info on this individual or the D’Epineuil’s Zouaves.