Oliver’s first taste of battle – Part II
The work was not finished with the 8th CVI planting the colors on top of the captured Confederate battery. The Eighth plus the rest of Parke’s Brigade would go on to seize control of a second battery and continue toward Newbern before making camp for the night.
The brigade including the 8th had wounded and dead men to show for their efforts this day.
Our loss is about 100 killed and 200 or 300 wounded. There are two wounded in our company, one in the wrist and one in the head…
Another Connecticut, the 11th CVI, regiment had suffered losses as well.
Capt. Lee from Hartford was killed and two of his company by the same ball.
For his sister Abbie, Oliver offered the good news that “no one of your acquaintances [was] killed in the battle.”
The spoils of conquest would be enjoyed heartily by the Union forces that evening as commissary tents and other supplies were captured from “three secesh camps…” It would be good living for soldiers who had spent weeks aboard cramped ships, participated in long marches in the mud and fought their first real battle of the war.
We have been living some since we came here upon what the secesh left. We have found molasses, sugar, rice, coffee, etc. which we cook ourselves. Just imagine a soldier having his griddlecakes for breakfast, fresh meat for dinner, boiled rice and coffee for supper and you have an idea of the way we are living at present.
Oliver explored other treasures of a more personal nature left behind by the Confederate soldiers in their hasty retreat:
There were lots of clothes left that had never been worn, also double barrel shot guns, carpet bags full of trinkets, letters, daguerreotypes, etc. I have read about a dozen of the letters, but find nothing interesting in them and of no interest in themselves except as specimens of poor spelling.
As with most units in the Civil War, cowardice was not treated lightly. The immediate humor of the Philo Matson “Oh, I am killed” situation was given a dim view in the long run by these now battle-hardened soldiers. Oliver painted a picture for Abbie of the attitude toward those like Matson who failed to do their duty before the enemy.
There were a few of our boys that fell out before the battle and have thus made themselves the laughing stock of the company. I tell you it does not play well to play coward here.
Oliver also related a most unusual incident to Abbie in this letter of 16 March 1862. While there were women who served dressed as men in Civil War units and wives who followed their husband’s regiment, Oliver devotes two paragraphs to this “one thing I forgot to tell you.”
There is one thing I forgot to tell you. It is that in the Rhode Island 4th there is a woman that goes with them wherever they go. I saw her first upon the Island, but have seen her often since. She dresses in bloomer costume with black pants, a closely fitting bodice with a skirt coming nearly to the knees, men’s boots with her pants tucked inside and a nice velvet hat. There, that is the first time I ever described a lady’s dress and I hope you will not criticize it too much. I saw her with the regiment Thursday straining through the mud with her blanket on her shoulder, equal to the best of them. There was one of the officers’ aides riding one horse and leading another one when he came up to where she was. She jumped on to the horse as easy as any man. It was the first time I ever saw a woman ride a horse like a man.
This was a seriously devoted wife! This unnamed woman was also very protective of her husband as Oliver continues in the second paragraph:
In the morning when we got up to start, the regiment formed in the road close by her; she was ahead carrying the flag. She went with them into the battle field and ran some very near chances of being hit, the shell of one bursting close by her side. She begged the Col. to let her kill one of the wounded rebels to pay for her husband being wounded. She looks, a little way off, like a young girl of twelve or fourteen years. She was out in the three months campaign. Her husband is now the Lieut; he was orderly when she was married. There are not many men with more pluck than she has.
How had his first taste of combat action affected Oliver? In this letter, he seems more determined than ever to do duty and always show courage in the midst of the fight. Oliver also appears to value his relationships more than before as he changed his normal parting tag line of “regards to all” into “love to all” and “your ever affectionate brother.”
Battle had changed Private Case.