“How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” – King David, 2 Samuel 1:27
Friday 19 Sep 1862
Daylight reveals the gray skies of the previous day are gone and McClellan has missed his opportunity to renew the attack against Lee’s battered army. During the night, General Lee has moved his entire force away from Sharpsburg in a retreat across the Potomac and back into Virginia. The Army of Northern Virginia has slipped away leaving the field to the Union forces. This is cause enough for “Little Mac” to claim a great victory for his army and salvation for the Union. President Lincoln is not fooled by the flowery rhetoric of the young general who will eventually be relieved of his command for failing to pursue Lee’s greatly reduced army as they escaped back into Virginia.
With the Confederate forces gone from the field and moving across the Potomac, Union units now begin to enter the contested ground from Wednesday’s battle in order to evacuate the wounded and bury the dead. While details are assigned the duty for each unit, many individual soldiers begin looking for their friends and relatives. On the Union left, it is a gruesome scene with hundreds of dead and dying of both sides strewn across the rolling hills between the Antietam Creek and the Harpers Ferry Road.
It becomes clear that the fight between the 8th CVI and the Confederate troops was as severe as any of the action on other parts of the battlefield that day. The intensity of the fight in this area of the field is captured by Chaplain Morris’ description of the scene on the 19th as the search for remains was conducted:
“In passing over the hill,” wrote Chaplain Morris, “we pause amazed when we reach the point where the Eighth met the enemy, and delivered their first tremendous volley at a distance of five or six rods. In a short lane running down to a little house near the road, within a space of a dozen rods, I counted one hundred and four dead rebels.” [Croffut and Morris]
Captain Wolcott P. Marsh, Commander of Company F is assigned to lead the remains recovery detail for the 8th CVI. Marsh will be the first member of the regiment to learn Oliver’s disposition:
We stacked arms and details were sent from different to pick up the dead so that could be buried together. I went up where our regit. was engaged and there what a sight. 30 men from our regit. alone lay dead in a little field and near by was 42 Zouaves (9th N. Y.) and many more from other regit. The first man I came to of my company was Charles E. Louis my acting orderly. Then Corp. Truck my color corporal and close by them lay Dwight Carry, Herbert Nee, Horace Rouse and Mr. Sweet all of my company then passing on to Co. A. were the body’s of Olive[r] Case, Orton Lord, Martin Wadhams and Lucius Wheeler then to Co. K. saw Jack Simons body the only one whose name remember…[Marsh]
These soldiers of Company A are well known to Captain Marsh from his tenure as a lieutenant of the Company prior to being promoted and transferred to Company F. Captain Marsh’s detail goes about their work and the commander “had all body’s brought from hill down by several straw stacks.”[Marsh]
This description taken with Marsh’s report of the unit positions on the day of the battle make it clear that the remains were removed from the “high water mark” area near the present-day monument. The area of the hay stacks is located to the north John Otto’s 40-acre cornfield in the area where the 8th regrouped for the final assault on the day of the battle.
Ariel and Alonzo Case of the 16th CVI are given permission by their commander to search for the body of their brother Oliver Case of Company A, 8th CVI. The brothers believe that Oliver was killed in action based on the conversation with Oliver’s friend onthe night after the battle. Despite their ominous feelings about the fate of their younger brother, Alonzo and Ariel fill their canteens prior to starting the search.
The Case brothers find Oliver on the battlefield likely near the haystacks where Captain Marsh’s detail moved the bodies earlier in the day. Alonzo assesses that Oliver was “no doubt killed instantly the bullet having passed through his head just about the top of his ears.” The brothers evacuate his remains to an area where the 16th CVI is gathering their dead. After obtaining permission from both regimental commanders, Ariel and Alonzo bury their younger brother with members of the 16th on the hill behind John Otto’s farmhouse and orchard. To ensure he can be properly identified, they write a note containing Oliver’s identifying information and pin it to the inside of his coat. Members of the 16th “put up boards to each with name and Regiment on them.” [Alonzo’s recollections]
The backyard of John Otto’s farmhouse
John M. Morris, chaplain of the 8th CVI, says that “the dead of the Eighth and the Sixteenth were laid side by side on the ridge just above the point where the gallant charge began…” He continues, “The graves were marked with pine headboards, to tell where each patriot rested.” [Croffut and Morris]
Location, removal and burial of the remains of Oliver Cromwell Case at Antietam
Private Oliver Case would now lie silently behind Otto’s farmhouse awaiting his final journey…home.