A “rather cheeky” incident on Roanoke Island

Oliver’s letter of February 19, 1862 is one of the most lengthy in the collection and this is the second post on the letter.

Oliver gives a wonderful description of Roanoke Island whose forests he finds to be “a prefect jungle” which he believes to be “almost an impossibility for man and beast to get through them.” He continues his portrait of the island:

There are many swamps upon the island which are a perfect mat of green briars about 10 feet high and so thick that there is no guard kept next to them, which is the same as saying that they cannot be passed through. How that any force under the Gen’s command could have taken the place with its numerous fortifications together with its natural advantages for repelling an attack is a wonder to many.  

There is no want of produce and livestock on the island for the hungry Union troopers to sample and, according to Oliver, they help themselves to the bounty. In the cleared areas, Oliver observes “light crops of corn and sweet potatoes” which are enjoyed by the soldiers.  

They found hogs, chickens, calves, sweet potatoes etc. in abundance which they made the most of. Any way if you take a stroll over the island you will find hog skins and innards etc. scattered all about in considerable quantities.

Once again, Oliver’s favorite unit, the Zouaves are up to their usual activities taking the plunder of livestock to a new level.

The Zouaves went and killed a man’s chickens, dressed them, carried them in and made the owner cook them for them. Was not that rather cheeky?

You have to love that language… “rather cheeky?” The word cheeky originated in the 1850s and carried the meaning of being audacious or bold which certainly seems to be the context in which Oliver uses it to refer to the actions of the Zouaves.

In this letter, Oliver also describes some of the military happenings on Roanoke Island. It appears that many of the North Carolina troops taken prisoner on the island are Unionists to the point that some of them “enlisted into the Mass. Regiments.” The Georgia troops are another story and appear to be loyal to the Confederate cause. They accused the North Carolina units of not fighting and Oliver is glad to see these prisoners taken to the ships as “there are some fine looking men amongst them” and they “might be troublesome in case of an attack.” As a Georgian, I’ll be sure to rib my NC friends about this one!

Even though he missed the previous battle due to illness, Oliver describes the performance of the 8th CVI:

I have written nothing about the battle for the papers will be full of it. Gen. Burnside said the 8th Conn. held as responsibly fast as any upon the field although they did not have to fire a gun. His orders were to hold it even if it took every man. At one time it looked as though the brunt of the battle was coming upon them, but the enemy were flanked and turned in another direction.

 It appears that Private Case did not miss out on much fighting this time.

Oliver also describes the Confederate defenses on the island as five forts with 40 cannons of large caliber and a complex of barracks that can accommodate upward of 15,000 soldiers.

It seems that the operations on Roanoke Island have been successful for General Burnside and Oliver Case is healthy and ready to join the fight in the future.


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