Welcome to New York

This continues the series on the movement of Private Oliver Cromwell Case and the 8th CVI toward the fields of Sharpsburg, Maryland in September 1862.

20-26 October 1861

The soldiers of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry find themselves to be welcomed guests among the citizens of Jamaica on Long Island, New York. Oliver describes the New Yorkers as being “very familiar (much more than Conn. People) [and] I should also say generous and hospitable.” He continues with the account of their hospitality in a letter to Abbie:

They gave our Regt. over a thousand  loaves of bread last week besides giving us many apples and welcoming to their houses all who are so fortunate as to get out side of guard.[i]

The 8th settles into camp life, but it doesn’t take long to reveal one of the great disrupters of camp life…alcoholic beverages. Oliver and his fellow witness that alcohol and soldiering don’t always mix. During the Civil War, a drunk soldier was often referred to as being “shot in the neck” or to have “a brick in his hat” and could be subjected to significant disciplinary action for his behavior while intoxicated. One such corporal in Company A of the 8th CVI is returned to the junior enlisted ranks and is made to forfeit one month’s pay as punishment for public intoxication. Based on a study of the company rolls, the offending corporal could possibly be identified as John F. Saundbaum of Hartford.

Commanders were often concerned with the effects of drunkenness on morale and made efforts to improve morale and suppress undisciplined behavior in numerous ways.

The morale of the regiments was correspondingly raised. Gambling and liquor-selling were suppressed; offenders being severely punished, and their stakes and stock confiscated for the regimental fund. Profanity was rebuked. Unnecessary Sunday labor was avoided. Religious meetings were frequent…[ii]

Punishment for a drunken soldier (from Harper’s Weekly, June 28, 1862)

23 October 1861

As newly recruited regiments pour in from the northeastern states, General Burnside establishes his headquarters at Annapolis and prepares to receive the new soldiers and officers for training and equipping as part of his “coastal division” which will be transformed into an expeditionary force bound for the Confederate defenses along the coast of North Carolina.

28 October 1861

Oliver writes to his sister that he is hearing a rumor of the efforts of Joseph R. Toy of Simsbury to raise a new company of volunteers from the town. The tone of Oliver’s letter makes it seem as if he had expected Toy to raise this company for some period of time.[iii]

Toy is a prominent citizen of Simsbury who stirred up patriot fervor in the town to raise the infantry company in which he would serve as commander. Captain Toy’s service to the Union would be a brief one as he died in camp in June of 1862. Interestingly, local history in Simsbury recounts that his body was returned to his hometown for burial packed in a cask of whiskey.  On July 16, 1862, the Reverend Ichabod Simmons delivered the funeral sermon at the Congregational Church in Simsbury inspiring another group of Simsbury men including Oliver’s brothers to join the Union cause on the battlefield.

Oliver spends his Monday afternoon concerned with the domestic chores essential to a soldier’s life including washing and folding his clothes. In a glimpse of his humorous side, Oliver opines to Abbie, “I think I will make a good washerwoman.” Camp life in Civil War regiments will require soldiers to engage in many activities that may have been foreign to them during life back home.

29 – 30 October 1861         

Company A along with all of the soldiers of the 8th CVI are made to stand for physical examinations. Oliver writes that “the men are not troubled with clothes while undergoing this examination.”[iv]

Physical examinations conducted by Army surgeons during the Civil War were often less than thorough in relation to modern physical examination standards. In particular, induction physical examinations used the pass rate as a measure of success ensuring that recruits with all their limbs, good teeth (for tearing rifle cartridges) and adequate sight/hearing would be retained for service. As one regimental surgeon put it, “Many of [the soldiers] ought never to have come out, having broken constitutions or bodily defects which entirely disqualify them for the life of a soldier.”[v]

The purpose of these examinations for the 8th CVI is unclear coming some five weeks after the organization and activation of the regiment. It may be related to the fact that in August of 1861 the Army made an attempt to begin weeding out many of the volunteers who were not physically qualified by requiring additional and more methodical examinations. This included follow up exams for those regiments already in service. Oliver’s emphasis on “this” when referring to the examination may indicate that a previous examination had occurred but it did not include disrobing when standing before the physician. Also, the commander and/or the regimental surgeon may have had concerns about the physical condition of some of the soldiers. Whatever the situation, at least five soldiers were discharged as unfit within a few days of this examination as indicated by the company rolls.

Some officers left on account of ill health ; a few were dismissed;”others,” wrote an officer, “strong men physically, found themselves entirely unfitted for the profession of arms, and bore the mortification of resigning that others might take their places.[vi]

In Oliver’s situation, there was a great deal of concern on his part that he might be dismissed from the regiment due to the lingering signs of some previous illness that he does not specify. He tells his sister, Abbie, that the doctor “questioned me pretty close about that breaking out on my shoulders – there is hardly anything left but the scars.” Obviously, Abbie is familiar with this illness because Oliver writes that “if he had seen it two months ago [which places it prior to his enlistment] I would have gotten thrown overboard…” The crisis of possible discharge is quickly overcome with Oliver telling the examining physician that the scars were “nothing but a little breaking out and had not been there a great while.” This obviously satisfied the doctor and Oliver was allowed to continue his service in the 8th CVI.[vii]

In a tragic irony, this is the first of several recorded instances of Oliver experiencing a close encounter with potential discharge from service.

[i] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT, 1861-1862

[ii] The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, Ledyard Bill, New York, 1868

[iii] (Case)

[iv] (Case)

[v] A Surgeon’s Civil War: The Letters and Diary of Daniel M. Holt, M.D., Holt, Daniel M., Kent State University Press, 1994.

[vi] (Morris, 1869)

[vii] (Case)


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