This is the second in a series of posts about Oliver Case and the 8th Connecticut during their time in Annapolis, Maryland during the period November 1861 to January 1862. A recent visit to Annapolis revealed some details along with some photos of the places mentioned by Oliver in his letters.
Of the 360, 000 plus Union causalities in the Civil War, over 250, 000 of those soldiers died from disease and other non-battle injuries while only about 110,000 died of combat injuries. Half of those deaths were caused by typhoid fever, diarrhea and other intestinal disorders with tuberculosis and pneumonia deaths following closely behind. Surgeons and commanders knew little about disease and the germ theory had not yet been discovered. Most of these young men had never been exposed to large populations living in close quarters that were often in filthy condition. Communicable disease outbreaks in the camps were commonplace.
As such, it is no surprise that Oliver Case’s most impactful experience of the war outside of the combat at Antietam would be a close experience with monster of disease. In his letter of January 7, 1862, he describes it as “the most sorrowful time that I ever witnessed.” Oliver watched his fellow soldier and friend, Henry D. Sexton, suffer the effects of a condition that he calls “jaundice.” During the war, Union armies would suffer more than 71,691 reported cases of jaundice likely a manifestation of hepatitis.
Sexton came aboard the ship with Oliver on the 29th of December as his health began to take a turn for the worse until finally he succumbed to the condition around noon on January 7th. Oliver’s brother Alonzo obviously suffered from a similar condition because he describes Henry as looking “much as I have seen Alonzo.” Oliver’s letter describes in great detail his journey of the past three days as Sexton’s condition rapidly declined into unconsciousness, wild spasms, and, finally, to a peaceful death.
I thought that his mind wandered a little. I left him about two. In the morning he was not conscious and repaired nearly all day in the stupid state. About three he had a spasm and rushed out of his bunk. I had no control of him as he could handle me like a child. It was very difficult to get anyone to take hold of him as they seemed to be afraid of him. It took five of us to hold him and keep him from tearing his face with his hands. He would bite at us and froth to the mouth, making a horrid noise all of the time. I stayed over him twenty four hours in succession before his death.
Oliver is appalled by the lack of medical care from the doctor on the ship even after repeated pleas to help. It has a profound impact on Oliver as he writes that he “never saw anything so horrible in my life.” Oliver continues:
I never felt so bad in my life as when I saw that here was no hopes of his recovery. It seemed as though I had lost the only friend I had with me.
The trauma of Henry’s death struggle is coupled with the death of another friend of Oliver, Duane Brown, just the day before Sexton’s passing. According to Oliver, Brown had been taken from the ship and sent to a hospital ashore “with the measles and the Typhus Fever…” In contrast with Sexton’s experience onboard the ship, Brown received “the best of care at the hospital.”
In spite of the traumatic experience with the deaths of his two friends, Oliver is at peace with the passing of Henry Sexton:
Sexton died easy but unconscious…thanks be to God what is our loss is his gain. He was prepared for the final change. Only the day before he was taken unconscious he remarked that there was only one thing that supported him during his illness at the hospital, and now when he got low-spirited, “The religion of Jesus Christ was his sustainer.”
Either physically or emotionally, Oliver is unable to write a letter to Henry’s wife informing her of the circumstances of her husband’s death relegating the task to a fellow soldier. In a letter to his sister, Oliver writes that he could not compose the letter so “I got another man to write to Sexton’s wife…” However, Case quickly adds that he “telegraphed this morning” presumably to Mrs. Sexton.
Henry had married Eliza Naomi Barbour in September 1861 only a few weeks before the departure of the 8th CVI from Hartford. She had received the news of his illness in early January 1862 and had departed for Annapolis immediately. However, before she could reach Annapolis, Sexton died and was hastily buried likely due to the imminent departure of Burnside’s expedition. According to some local Annapolis historians, an area along West Street just outside of the downtown district was a possible temporary burial ground for the Union soldiers who died while Burnside encamped in the city. Today, no visible trace remains of any burial sites in this place. This location pre-dated the national cemetery later established further west of downtown. Due to the speedy exodus of Burnside’s forces, the temporary gravesites and remains may not have been marked to facilitate later removal and identification.
From the record of Oliver’s letters, it appears that Oliver was not present when Mrs. Sexton arrived in Annapolis or was not allowed to leave the ship. Although Oliver had telegraphed her soon after his death, it is likely that when Eliza Sexton came to the capital city of Maryland in search of her husband’s remains, it would have been a daunting task. With the departure of Burnside’s expedition only days before, the Union military presence in the city was greatly reduced and very little official assistance would have been available to Mrs. Sexton.
Modern-day Annapolis Visitor Center – Temporary burial site for Union soldiers was likely just west of this location
When Mrs. Sexton arrived in Annapolis, the grave of her husband was not able to be located and she returned to Connecticut brokenhearted.
Henry Sexton’s unidentified remains may have been relocated to the new national cemetery at a later date.
Annapolis National Cemetery
Case sought to bring the saga to a close by returning Henry’s possessions to his home:
We put all of Henry’s things in a box and sent by express. They would not let me help pay the expenses because they said that I had done my part by being with him all the time.
 Internal Medicine in Vietnam, Volume II, General Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Ognibene and Barrett, Office of the Surgeon General and Center of Military History United States Army, Washington, D.C., 1982, accessed from http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/vietnam/GenMedVN/ch18.html
 Case Letters, 1861-1862. (7 January 1862)
 Reminiscences : Fifty Years a Lawyer, Sylvester Barbour, Case, Lockwood & Brainard, Hartford Press, 1908.
 Case Letters, 1861-1862. (7 January 1862)