The Last Word from Newbern, NC

Beginning in June of 1862, we are unfortunately left with a significant thinning of the letters written by Oliver Case. For June, only one letter written to his sister Abbie on the 3rd and another addressed to an unknown friend from the 6th of June are known to exist. The letter to Oliver’s friend is available for sale at the Excelsior Brigade.

In both letters, Oliver shares some of the happenings of the camp of the 8th CVI which is located just outside the captured Confederate city of Newbern, North Carolina. One of the big recent events is a review of the division by General Burnside conducted on Saturday, May 31, 1862. A review in the Civil War consisted of a parade and drill put on to display the readiness and motivation of the troops for the reviewing officer. Oftentimes, the review included a close inspection of the troops and their equipment by the commanding officer. Oliver describes the review in his letter to Abbie:

We were again ordered to prepare for review and again took up the line of march for metropolis. We were reviewed and inspected by Gen. Burnside and aides and paraded nearly all over the city.[1]

Morning rain showers had significantly increased the humidity and the soldiers standing in the ranks began to feel the effects as they waited for their equipment to be inspected.

Tonight a number fainted and had to be taken out of the ranks during the inspection which was tedious.[2]

Although Oliver did not faint during the inspection, he confesses to Abbie that he is not able to withstand the return march to camp.

As soon as our regiment reached the bridge to go back, I fell out and after resting a short time went back into the city, bought a good supper and then strolled around where I pleased, my gun and equipments being as good as a pass for the patrol took me for one of themselves. I did not arrive in camp until 8 o’clock.[3]

Interestingly, Oliver portrays a much different picture to his friend assuring him that the camp is “under the strict security rules which are now adopted.”[4]

  A review of Union troops early in the war


One of the strong points of agreement between the two letters is another of Oliver’s typical descriptions of southern cities. However, while still not fully impressed with the host city, Oliver’s assessment of Newbern is much kinder than previous evaluations of cities such as Annapolis.

Newbern is one of the pleasantest cities I ever saw for its streets are shaded by large trees which meet overhead which makes the streets pleasant that otherwise would be uninhabitable. The streets are regularly laid out but the houses for the most part are low wooded buildings and would compare unfavorably with any out of the way neighborhood at the North.[5]


The Jerkins-Moulton House in Newbern, NC during the war

(from North Carolina Collection, University of NC Library at Chapell Hill)


Oliver confirms for his friend that this city “would not compare favorably with those in one of our towns” and that the “few nice residences there is are occupied by officers and their waiters.”[6] The white population of the fair city seems to have fled in the face of the invading Union soldiers and the current “population seems to be comprised mostly of Negros.”[7]

Oliver is uncertain as to how long the expeditionary force will remain in this part of North Carolina “and where we shall go to when we leave are all questions for the guessers.”[8] What is certain is that we will not hear from Private Oliver Cromwell Case again for two full months when the regiment is encamped at Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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

[2] IBID.

[3] IBID.

[4] Letter of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), 6 June 1862, accessed from

[5] Case letter, 3 June 1862.

[6] Case letter, 6 June 1862.

[7] IBID.

[8] IBID.


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