“I may not live to get home…”

Bouge Island, April 17th, 1862

I may not live to get home, but I think I stand as good a chance as anyone in the company…

The irony of those words coming from Oliver Case exactly five months before he would lose his life on the fields outside Sharpsburg. Commenting again to his sister Abbie, Oliver expresses the surprise he felt before marching into his first combat experience at New Bern, N.C.

I felt very different upon the battle than I expected. There is not the dread of death that one naturally expects.

What did he expect? Fear? Cowardly? Anger?

In an essay entitled,”How Does One Feel Under Fire?”, Civil War officer Frank Holsinger wrote of the deception of “feelings” upon entering battle:

In presentments of death I have no confidence. While I have seen men go into battle predicting truthfully their own death, yet I believe it is the belief of nine out of ten who go into battle that this is their last. I have never gone into battle that I did not expect to be killed. I have seen those who had no thought of death coming to them killed outright. Thus Corporal George Horton, wounded at South Mountain, wrapped his handkerchief around his wounded arm and carried the colors of our regiment to Antietam. Being asked why he did not make the best of it and go to the hospital, that he was liable to be killed, he answered, “The bullet has not been moulded to kill me.” Alas! he was killed the next day.

Soldiers of Burnside's Expedition come ashore at the Battle of New Bern

This line of discussion by Oliver began as a result of a rumor sent back home by his “friend” Philo Matson who we first met in the letter of 16 March 1862.

Oliver complains to Abbie of Matson’s misinformation:

I do not see what object P.A. Matson can have in representing me sick and “will probably never be able to see Conn. again.” He knows that since I left Annapolis, with the bare exception of a short time upon the “Chasseur”, I have been perfectly healthy. I do not think that there is one in the company but what has had sick spells caused by exposure. I may not live to get home, but I think I stand as good a chance as anyone in the company, P.A. Matson to the contrary notwithstanding.

According to the records of the 8th CVI, Matson may have already deserted by the time this rumor makes its way back to Simsbury. Case is concerned about his family hearing these rumors and worrying about his health. Interestingly, later in the letter Oliver admits that he has “been a little down with a cold for a week or ten days, but since I have got into camp I am all right.”

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One thought on ““I may not live to get home…”

  1. john: keep this stuff up. Important stuff. great that you are so committed to this. Looking forward to getting back to Antietam next week.

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