Life at Camp Hicks – Tents, Wives and Goodie Boxes

This is the fourth 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.

 

In the 18 months since I obtained copies of Oliver’s transcribed letters from the Simsbury Historical Society, I have primarily addressed the people and events of his letters in a chronological manner. However, recently I’ve been able to weave together some common threads throughout the letters centered on themes or aspects of his life as a soldier in the 8th Connecticut. So it is with this series of posts on the two months the regiment spent in Annapolis. In researching this post, I sought to create a mental picture of life at Camp Hicks for Oliver and his fellow soldiers minus the time Oliver was assigned as a provost guard in downtown Annapolis.

After spending a couple of days sleeping in the buildings of St. John’s College, the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut were marched to an open field on the campus near College Creek and established their tent city. Several other contemporary accounts confirm Oliver’s description of the camp as being “situated one and one half miles from the city, upon an elevated piece of ground, near the camp of the 10th Conn, 25th and 27th Mass, 51st N.Y. and a N.H. regiment.”[1]

The weather on the eastern shore of Maryland was beginning to turn cold quickly and the encampment was filling up fast. With thousands of relatively green recruits flowing into Annapolis pitching their tents on the grounds of St. John’s College and the nearby Naval Academy which had relocated its operations to Rhode Island, things were busy for Oliver and his fellow soldiers. There was a great concern on his part about the rumors being circulated back home about activities in Annapolis.

I am particular in writing this because you hear such exaggerated accounts and reports about everything that happens here. We are fast filling up here with soldiers, 1200 cavalry and 800 zouaves having arrived within the last week…weather is quite cold so that it froze a little last night. We have much wet weather but thanks to our rubber blankets we keep dry.[2]

 

St Johns College grounds photos

                       The grounds of St. John’s College in Annapolis home to the camp of Burnside’s Expeditionary Force November 1861 to January 1862

 

However, Oliver was soon assigned to provost guard duty in downtown Annapolis where he lived in a brick building, but returned to the camp in less than one month. The soldiers worked hard to make life in the camp as close to home as possible and were constantly attempting to improve their living quarters. In December 1861, Oliver describes for his sister Abbie some of the “improvements” to the tent which have elevated these lowly foot soldiers to ranks of royalty:

We have been flooring over part of our tent and dug the dirt away in front of it so as to make a good place to sit upon. Our tent at present is as convenient as any house. I tell you we live like kings.[3]

Some of the officers even brought their wives to live with them in the camp. Lieutenant Walcott P. Marsh, often mentioned in Oliver’s letters and possibly a friend of his two older brothers, Ariel and Alonzo, decided that he could not stand to be apart from his wife.

Lieut. Hoyt is down town upon patrol and Lieut. Marsh, with the assistance of Corp. Porter’s brother, has floored the tent and made it quite comfortable to receive his wife.[4]

After the arrival of Mrs. Marsh, she quickly joined in the efforts to make life more tolerable for the soldiers under her husband’s command.

Mrs. Lieut. Marsh offers to mend any clothes for the soldiers that they wish. I think she may have some sewing for a day or two.[5]

From Oliver’s many accounts of Lieutenant Marsh and his wife, they played a large role in his life as a soldier and even provided a link to the Case family back in Simsbury. Ironically, it would be Captain Marsh, then commanding officer of Company F, 8th CVI who would first discover the body of Oliver Case among the other dead soldiers of Company A on the field at Sharpsburg on September 19, 1862.

Another favorite activity of the soldiers at Camp Hicks was to receive and share packages from home. Sometimes these packages came through the mail and others were personally delivered by official visitors from Connecticut. The food inside was a welcomed change of pace from the salt pork and hardtack served in the camp. One of those visitors came bearing a wonderful load of treats from home just over one week before Christmas.

I have just received a carpet bag of goodies per L.G. Goodrich and I can assure your if ever anything was welcome, that was. The things were good, better, best. Those nutcakes tasted like home and were better [?]. The cranberries, cider and wine were just what I wanted at the present time. In fact, everything hit just the spot. A man that would not be a soldier and have such a living must be beside himself.[6]

On other occasions, packages delivered through the mail could be delayed by the movement of troops or other important supplies causing some of the once delightful contents to become somewhat less than desirable.

I received the long expected Thanksgiving dinner Saturday. The chicken looked rather old although I tasted a few pieces near the inside that were good. The walnuts, chestnuts and some of the apples were nice and we have been having quite a feast. A.H. Thomas, a tent mate that opened the box, says “tell your folks that I tasted of everything that there was in the box and found it very nice only getting rather old.” The pudding and Chickenpie looked as if they were good in their day but their flavor was rather strong when they opened the box.[7]

And so was life at Camp Hicks in Annapolis for Oliver and the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut.

Next time, more on camp life…hospitals, inspections and Court Martials.

 


[1] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (11 November 1861)

[2] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 November 1861)

[3] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (21 December 1861)

[4] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 December 1861)

[5] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (17 December 1861)

[6] IBID

[7] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 December 1861)

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