The Last Letter 7 August 1862

From Fredericksburg, Virginia on August 7, 1862, Oliver Cromwell Case will write his last letter…at least the last letter known to exist 150 years later. He is worried that Abbie and the rest of his family would be reading the news of the movement of Burnside forces with apprehension regarding Oliver’s safety.

Knowing you would be anxious to know of my whereabouts, I take the first opportunity of addressing a few lines to you.[1]

Over one month earlier, the regiment, as part of Burnside’s expeditionary force, had relocated from their base of operations on the coast of North Carolina to Newport News, Virginia awaiting orders to potentially support George McClellan’s push to Richmond. However, things have gone sour for Little Mac as Robert E. Lee has taken command of the Army of Northern Virginia leading his troops to a series of victories causing McClellan to back away from Richmond. Burnside is once again ordered to relocate his force to Fredericksburg.

We left camp at Newport News, Saturday, August 2nd about 10 o’clock P.M. and went aboard the steamer “Columbia.” I was one of a detail of 75 men to load and unload baggage and convey it aboard. We were detail at 4 P.M. and finished at 3 A.M. Wednesday morning. I can tell you we felt like sleep about the time we finished our work.[2]

A pre-war view of the steamer Columbia, 1860

For Oliver and his fellow soldiers, the journey from Newport News to Acquia Creek via Fortress Monroe is not pleasurable. A crowded ship and the hot summer weather make conditions miserable.

We were all put upon one small steamer – baggage, horses and all – and the weather was hot, hotter, hottest. You can judge of the room we had but I was fortunate enough to get a place upon the hurricane deck and got all the breeze there was. We left the dock, or rather the steamer started the trip, about noon. We left Fortress Monroe at 4 P.M., arriving Aquia Creek next P.M. Went ashore next (Tuesday) morning, took the cars for the South. Here again I was fortunate enough to get on top of a box car and was quite comfortable while the train was in motion.[3]

Oliver and the 8th CVI made their camp on the grounds of the famous Lacy House (aka Chatham Manor) across the river from the city.[4] Previous guests of the Chatham Manor included George Washington and Abraham Lincoln who had visited for a meeting with Union General Irvin McDowell just four months prior to the arrival of the 8th Connecticut.

Lacy House (Chatham Manor) – 1863

 

Oliver’s keen eye for the details of the geography and landscape is once again at work in this letter.

The road runs through the finest country I ever saw and contrasts strangely with the country we have seen heretofore. The place where we at last brought up is the pleasantest place I ever saw. The railroad runs through a fertile valley with low hills upon each side. We toiled up one of these hills to the east with our knapsacks and accoutrements on under a blazing sun, many falling out by the way. After supper, on reaching the top of the hill, we had a splendid view of the city of Fredericksburg and the village of Falmouth which lie west of the railroad upon either side of the Rappahannock.[5]

His assessment of the new surroundings continues with his usually comparison to something familiar back in Connecticut.

There are very many nice farm houses surrounded by any quantity of shade and fruit trees – some built the same style as Chester Seymour’s, but nicer. One peculiarity about the hilly land here is that it is so free from stones of any size and the land is comparatively smooth and the hills nearly regular. I saw some that were perfect cones and others that are in ranges so the sides are like the sides of a huge roller.[6]

Toward the end of the letter, Oliver reminds Abbie that the beautiful countryside is beset by a dangerous situation.

There are picketing skirmishes nearly every —— (words missing) —— We shall probably advance in a short time.[7]

His last words to his sister are of a practical nature dealing with the disposition of money he is enclosing for her. However, Oliver is unsuccessful in having the package containing the letter and the money sent via the Chaplain so he adds a note to the bottom of the letter dated August 9th that he is removing the money. So ends the last known letter of Oliver Cromwell Case.


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

[2] IBID.

[3] IBID.

[4] History of the Eighth Regiment C. V. Infantry, J.H.Vaill, Case, Lockwood, and Brainard Co, Hartford, 1889.

[5] Case Letters.

[6] IBID.

[7] IBID.

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