More Rumors and News from Newbern (24 May 1862)

Oliver’s letter of May 24, 1862 continues with more rumors and news plus speculation on the future of Burnside’s forces. The health and readiness of the regiment is also a concern to Oliver and leads him to predict that future service is unlikely for the sickly regiment.

I do not think this regiment will see any more service, but everyone has his own opinion. The Colonel reported to the Gen. yesterday that we had but 350 men upon duty and they were not fit for a long march or heavy fatigue. We are thrown out of position in the brigade and are not brigaded at all at present. Many think that we shall never again until we move for Conn.[1]

Considering that the regiment departed Hartford with over a thousand members only eight months before and causalities had been relatively light to this point, disease non-battle injuries inflicted a heavy toll on the unit during these weeks at Newbern.

The regiment history confirms that this was a difficult situation for the soldiers with many suffering from various illnesses.

June brought much bilious fever, particularly to the Eighth, which had been seriously worn down by the laborious siege. Here many men of defective constitutions died, worn out in service. Convalescents obtained furloughs to recruit in the bracing air and kind care of home. The tents were often chilly and very damp.[2]

Personal hygiene was also a concern for Union commanders who took measures to ensure cleanliness amongst the rank and file. As did most people during that era, bathing was seen a cure for a variety of ills.

Bathing became a great luxury. The regiments had, after dress-parade, a regular bathing-call; and hundreds ran to plunge into the cooling and healthful stream, — to them almost a Siloam. This was the merriest hour of the day. Many bathed at morning also; but none were allowed to go into the water under the burning sun of mid-day.[3]

Possibly in reaction to the failing health of the command, two new surgeons joined the ranks of the 8th CVI during this time. Oliver shares this news with Abbie although he is incorrect about the term of service.

We have 2 new Surgeons; 1 hired for 30 days, the other for 60. Dr. Please from Thompsonville is one and Dr. Holcomb from somewhere near New Haven is the other.[4]

Dr. H.V.C. Holcomb was appointed as the 1st Assistant Surgeon of the 8th on May 2, 1862. At the beginning of the war, Dr. Holcomb had been actively involved in the effort to recruit new regiments to including giving a recruiting speech in his hometown of Branford, Connecticut in April of 1861. In August of 1862, he was appointed as Surgeon for the 15th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

Dr. Levi S. Pease of Enfield was appointed as 2nd Assistant Surgeon of the regiment on April 30, 1862. He was born in 1824, at Wilbraham, Massachusetts, the son of Wilder C. Pease and Ruth Cadey. The family would later settle in Enfield and Pease would go on to medical school and later serve as Surgeon in the 7th Connecticut for the remainder of the war.

Oliver also told Abbie of new spiritual care in the regiment.

We also have a new Chaplain; he appears to be a very nice man. I do not think he will come up to Dr. Woolley.[5]

As good as Dr. Woolley might have been, the Reverend John M. Morris of New Haven would go on to even greater service. He was appointed Chaplain on April 26, 1862 and would serve in some of the bloodiest action of the war until September of 1863. At Antietam, Chaplain Morris would become famous for his heroic actions during the final assault where he “takes a musket and cartridge box of a dead man and fires to save his life.”[6]

Oliver also uses his letter to Abbie to share his answer to a question posed by his brother Alonzo.

Alonzo asked me what was going to the next news of Burnside. We do not know as much of his movements or intended movements as you do. He has at and around Newbern 20,000 men which are able with the immense fortifications to resist a force of 100,000 men if they should slip through Mac’s fingers.[7]

Interesting that from Oliver’s view, the purpose of Burnside’s force on the North Carolina coast has become much more defensive in nature. At the time Oliver wrote this letter, McClellan still held the upper hand against the Confederate forces around Richmond. However, this will soon change as Robert E. Lee will replace the wounded Joseph Johnston as the commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862 setting in place a series of events that will eventually lead to Lee’s invasion of Maryland.

 

Major General George Brinton McClellan, Commanding General, Army of the Potomac

 

Oliver is also interested in the operations of other units from Connecticut.

Do you get any news of Gen. Hunter’s division? We have heard nothing from them since the taking of Fort Pulaski. We are daily looking for the taking of Charleston and Savannah.[8]

The 6th and 7th regiments from Connecticut both played major roles in preparing and executing the siege of Fort Pulaski located on the Georgia coast protecting the city of Savannah. Although the preparations for the siege required months of work digging trenches and emplacing guns, the actual siege was over in less than 24 hours when the Confederate defenders surrendered the fort on April 11, 2012.

 

Damage at Fort Pulaski, Georgia after siege by Union forces including the 6th and 7th CVI

 

Oliver continues the letter with some family news and a rare revelation of his homesickness.

I was very much surprised and rejoiced to hear that Father attended church again. He will enjoy it much better than heretofore. I should like very much to take a look into the kitchen and see you all if only for a short time but that is not possible at present, but I trust it will be in a few weeks. I was glad to hear Elfrida Case was getting better.

The kitchen in the Case home was obviously a place where everyone gathered and Oliver longed to look into that scene, if only for a brief moment. His spiritual orientation is evident here as it is in several of his letters as Oliver rejoices over his father’s return to church attendance after some unexplained period of absence. Oliver also expresses his pleasure with the recovery of one of his Simsbury cousins, Elfrida Case (spelled Elfeda in some records; born 11 Dec 1840, died 25 Jul 1918).

Then comes one of the most chilling and foretelling passages in all of Oliver’s letters:

You asked me to name Alonzo’s boy. I have thought over the whole category of names from Adam to the last edition and I do not find any to suit me. I think if Alonzo wishes to hand his name down to posterity, it is a good time to do it, but I should adopt some other name in the place of Grove. If I was going to name a child I think I should take some fashionable name and pick out the most frenchified different name it was possible to find but everyone to their notion. You might name him after some of our great Generals now in the field.[9]

Alonzo and Julia Case would follow Oliver’s advice in both life and death. They named their son, Alonzo Chaffee Case, the middle name coming from Julia’s maiden name. He was born on April 1, 1862 and would die of unknown causes just two short years later on August 1, 1864. In the naming of their next son born on January 19, 1866, they would again follow Oliver’s advice in this letter to Abbie.  Alfred Terry Case, the namesake of General Alfred Howe Terry (former commander of the 7th Connecticut and future Army commander in the western Indian campaigns) would live much longer than his older brother or his uncle. He died in 1938 in Simsbury. Interestingly, Alonzo and Julia would name their third son, Oliver Phelps Case, in honor of Oliver Cromwell Case.

Oliver begins to bring this letter to an end with some personal inquiries.

How does Col. Case take his wife’s death? I reckon it would go rather hard with him, feeble as he is.[10]

Oliver is referring to Simsbury resident and distant relative Colonel Aurora Case (20 March 1787 – 26 December 1866) who was a former officer and commander in the Connecticut Militia, Brigade of Artillery, Light Artillery, Second Regiment. His wife, Betsy, died on May 7, 1862 and was interned in the same cemetery that Oliver would be laid to rest in only eight months later.

Oliver’s closing paragraph is again very personal as he mentions his hair, asks about the fruit of the season and passes his well wishes to Julia, his sister in-law, and a friend named James.

My hair is growing out fast; it will be fit to cut in a few weeks. How is fruit this season? Is there going to be many apples? Write soon. Give my love to Julia. Remember me to all inquiring friends, James in particular.[11]


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

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

[3] IBID

[4] Case Letters, 1862.

[5] IBID

[6] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[7] Case Letters, 1862.

[8] IBID

[9] IBID

[10] IBID

[11] IBID

 

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