Referring to the election of Abraham Lincoln two days earlier, the editors of the Charleston Mercury declared on November 8, 1860 “The tea has been thrown overboard. The Revolution of 1860 has been initiated.”
Next to the fight for independence from Great Britain, the American Civil War marked a defining period for us as a nation. That’s why many politicians and military leaders in the south referred to it as the Second War of Independence or the War for Southern Independence. In the north, disunion and slavery were unacceptable terms of existence and could not be allowed to remain. For young men of this generation both north and south, military service was a mark of patriotic duty for your country. Those who purposely avoided service were often ridiculed although conscription would become necessary for both armies to meet manpower requirements later in the war.
The question of why soldiers on both sides of the conflict chose to enlist and fight has long been the subject of discussion among historians and philosophers. Civil War veteran of the 12th Connecticut and post-war novelist John W. De Forest captured one of the primary reasons men not only enlisted, but were willing to march into what seemed to be certain death in spite of their natural instincts:
Self-preservation is the first law of nature. The man who does not dread to die or to be mutilated is a lunatic. The man who, dreading these things, still faces them for the sake of duty and honor is a hero.
In keeping with this line of thought, I’ve often pondered Oliver Case’s motivation for joining and fighting with the 8th Connecticut. By studying his 32 letters to his sister Abbie plus the post-war writings of his brother Alonzo and other sources, I’ve developed a short list of possible reasons. I’ve chosen to compile this list now because of my study of his letter from 28 April 1862 during which Oliver opines of the prospects of being discharged from the Army due to his recurrent episodes of fever.
Possible reasons for Oliver Cromwell Case’s decision to join (and continue serving) the 8th CVI:
1. Patriotic Fervor: Immediately following the July 1861 Union defeat at Bull Run as many politicians, generals and citizens began to realize that this would more than a one-battle war and that sacrifice in serving the nation would require more manpower. The shocking defeat of the first battle in Northern Virginia has only served as a rallying cry for renewed support of the war. President Lincoln’s call for additional volunteers was followed by stirring speeches and rallies in towns across the north. On August 15, 1861, Connecticut Governor William A. Buckingham issued a general call for volunteers to make up the four additional regiments from his state required to answer the president’s call. Enthusiasm for the war effort in Connecticut was running high and the citizen support the governor’s attempt to meet the state’s quota for troops.
Meetings were held in the different towns, at which the citizens flocked to listen, to applaud, to encourage enlistments, and to contribute to the volunteer fund. Immense mass-meetings were held in the cities, — the largest and most excited gatherings ever seen in the State.
Pastors in Connecticut, such Ichabod Simmons of Simsbury, made appeals from the pulpits for young men to do their duty. The 37-year old former cabinet maker has served as the pastor in Simsbury for only about one year coming to the church as his first congregation. In a sermon entitled, Our Duty in the Crisis, Simmons chooses a passage from the Old Testament prophet, Zechariah:
And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God. [Zechariah 13:9]
The sermon is not only a call for humiliation, prayer and fasting as President Lincoln intended when he issued his proclamation for a national day of fasting, but Simmons also stirs the citizens with an urgent appeal to sacrifice in the service on their country.
Loyalty is not mere patriotism; that is love of country, right or wrong; but loyalty is love of country kindled into a brighter glow by the love of principle. It is the soul mounting above mere affection, into the atmosphere of heroic sacrifice. Life is not too sacred for its altars and nothing but duty should keep any from the post of danger.
It is unknown if Oliver Case was in attendance, but it would have been possible since he would likely not have been required to report for duty until the following day. Even though Oliver does not specifically mention any of these factors in his letters (surely this would have been discussed with his family prior to his enlistment), this call for young men to serve their country must have impacted Oliver. The tone and words in his letters indicate a strong sense of duty. Sometime prior to October 13, 1861, Oliver received a pocket Bible which he inscribed the following in his own handwriting:
If you die, die like a man.
2. Tradition of military service: Oliver’s genealogy reveals an almost unbroken tradition of service by his direct male ancestors. This includes colonial militia, revolutionary war service and his father’s term as a captain in the local militia. His home in Terry’s Plain was located very near the parade field were Oliver was sure to have observed the militia drills on a regular basis. Although both of them would later join the 16th Connecticut, in 1861 both of his brothers were married with children and heavily engaged in farming operations making Oliver the more logical candidate to enlist in the Connecticut regiment and carry on the family tradition of military service. Preparing to face his first taste of combat, Oliver writes on March 11, 1862, “A man better die fighting for his country than at home.”
3. To make his mark: Oliver lived in the shadow of his older brothers, Ariel and Alonzo, who had already established themselves prior to the war. While he seems to have maintained a good relationship with both brothers, Oliver’s letters to Abbie indicate a strong desire to establish himself and establish his identity. At one point, Oliver even contemplates joining the regular Army:
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.
Despite his clear desire to serve his country and his proven ability to bravely face combat, Oliver struggles with an old nemesis that has brought him dangerously close to termination of his service before. As he writes to Abbie on April 28, 1862, Oliver expresses doubts about his ability to continue functioning as a soldier due to the return of the feverish condition known as Ague:
I have the Ague about two days out of three; I have an excellent appetite and eat more victuals and “quinine” than two men should. My discharge was made out the Capt. about ten days since; he says he will do all he can to get it through. Don’t think I am hard sick for I am around cooking and shaking, hardly ever contented to be in my tent. Now that I have told you this, don’t think that I am coming for it is not such an easy thing to get a discharge and as far as living is concerned, I could live three years and shake all of the time, but I never should be of any use to the army.
So was life for many a soldier in the Civil War disease often proving more deadly than the enemy’s shot and shell. The aforementioned discharge would never come to realization and Oliver Case would continue to serve with honor right up to the most critical moment of the war paying the ultimate price to help save the Union.
 Quoted from The Inner Civil War: Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union, George M. Fredrickson, University of Illinois Press, 1993, page 167.
 The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, 1868
 Our Duty in the Crisis: A Discourse Delivered on the Occasion of the National Fast, September 26, 1861 in the M.E. Church, Simsbury By Rev. Ichabod Simmons, Hartford: Press of Case, Lockwood and Company, 1861.
 Oliver Cromwell Case Bible, handwritten notes inside front cover.
 Oliver Case letter to Abbie Case, March 11, 1862, Simsbury Historical Society.
 Oliver Case letter to Abbie Case, April 28, 1862, Simsbury Historical Society.