“I expect like everyone else to come out alive”

On March 7, 1862, the 8th CVI is still aboard the ships awaiting their destination on this day. According to Oliver’s letter on March 11th, General Burnside issues orders to all three brigades to stand by for orders to march with a one hour notice. This will entail a landing at some location and marching into a fight. The orders also include instructions for the individual soldiers to prepare them for possible combat:

…each man to carry one woolen blanket, one days rations in his haversack (two others to be cooked and carried in bulk,) 40 rounds of ammunition in the cartridge boxes and twenty more in pockets. Each man is to be held responsible for his blanket and the excitement of an engagement or of a charge will not be deemed a reasonable excuse for their loss.

Oliver’s letter to Abbie is a mixture of operational rumors and soldier speculation along with some very personal thoughts and deliberations. The hottest rumor around the unit deals with the destination of the expeditionary force which Oliver seems to believe (correctly) is Newbern. Oliver gives himself allowance for possibility of missing the location by using the caveat, “as likely to be some other place.” Whatever the final destination might be, the men “are eager for a start and shall probably go today and we expect to make a hole somewhere when we move.” The prospect of once again spending weeks on a ship in the Hatteras Inlet is not exciting to them.

This letter reveals that Oliver has an amazing grasp of some of the major operational and strategic issues surrounding the upcoming campaign.

It is likely that the fleet and land forces will act in conjunction and while the former peppers them in front, we shall attack them in the rear…We want to do a big thing here as well as the army in Tennessee, and if we succeed in cutting railroad communication between north and south Secession it will be a big thing.

In fact, this is General Burnside’s plan to conduct a joint Army and Navy operation with the ships of the Navy providing supporting fire against Confederate forts and earthworks as the Army troops attack.

Having missed the relatively light combat action at Roanoke Island, Oliver along with his fellow soldiers seems to sense that this operation will bring more intense fighting. For the first time in his letters, Oliver opines on the prospect of facing death:

There will doubtless be a large number killed on both sides, but will it not be a good time to die? A man better die fighting for his country than at home. 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.

His wording is reminiscent of the inscription found in the Bible.

If you die, die like a man.

 Although it had been almost one year since the capture of Fort Sumter signaling the beginning of the conflict, the full impact of the horror of war with its death and destruction had yet to be felt by the majority of the soldiers fighting for both armies and certainly not by the general public. The bond of soldiers living in community enforced a code of bravery to face death and dying that Oliver would soon see tested. For now, as they rode the seas headed for New Bern, all were of “high hopes and good spirits” and expecting to survive the coming combat action.

As he continues to write, Oliver reveals that he is facing a decision that is revealing about the man he is:

There has been some talk of enlisting in the regulars. The recruiting officer has been around in some regiments and many have enlisted. He has not been here and probably not in this division, but doubtless will be. I should like very much to enlist but will not until I hear from home, and know what you think about it. As for me, I should like it better than anything else I can do. Write what Father and Mother think about it when you receive this.

These two paragraphs are enlightening about the man, Oliver Cromwell Case. Although the youngest son of a highly capable and upstanding Connecticut family, Oliver stands tall in the cause of his country and is fully prepared to do his duty. He is the man who believes that it is “better [to] die fighting for his country than [to die] at home.” Oliver has not only left the comforts of home in the service of his country, but he now expresses a depth of commitment that is leading him to enlist in the Regular Army. He wants a level of permanence expressed by his desire to become a career soldier. In fact, he writes that “I should like it better than anything else I can do.” Despite his recurrent illness and the horrible death of two friends from disease, Oliver wants to enlist in the Regular Army.

However, he is concerned about Abbie’s opinion and will not make a commitment until she relays to him her opinion and the feelings of his father and mother concerning his desire to join the Regular Army.

On the eve of his first combat experience, Private Oliver Case seems to be mentally prepared and committed to die if necessary in the service of his country. But, like all his fellow soldiers in the 8th CVI, he expects “to come out alive.”

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