Life at Camp Hicks – Hospitals, Inspections and Court Martials

This is the fifth 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 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 and the previous one, 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.


Disease and illness were hard facts of life in Civil War camps. For thousands of soldiers, sickness was a pathway to death often longer and more painful than mortal wounds sustained in combat. Oliver experienced sickness himself and death in the case of two of his friends.

After the battle of Bull Run in July of 1861, a hospital was established in Humphreys Hall on the campus of St. John’s College. The building was designed by the famous Baltimore architect Robert Cary Long, Jr. and opened in 1837 making it one of the oldest existing buildings on campus. I was informed by the college staff during my visit that the basement of Humphreys Hall, currently housing the college bookstore, was used as a morgue during the time the building was being utilized as a hospital.

Soon after establishing Camp Hicks to receive and train the soldiers of Burnside’s expedition, an Army hospital was established presumably in the same location used by the Union Army after the Battle of Bull Run, Humphreys Hall. Oliver’s letter of November 28, 1861 seems to confirm that it was located in a building:

…Duane Brown and H.D. Sexton were sick at the hospital. I went to see them as soon as I heard of it, but could not get in where they were, but I looked in and saw their hall. (28 Nov 61)


Humphreys Hall2 St Johns College                       Humphreys Hall at St. John’s College in Annapolis – it housed the Union Army hospital after the First Battle of Bull Run through the occupation of Burnside’s Expeditionary Force


Oliver had more than his share of time in the hospital at Camp Hicks from recurring bouts of a condition known as Ague. This illness is defined as “malarial or intermittent fever; characterized by paroxysms consisting of chill, fever, and sweating, at regularly recurring times…” and can also be accompanied by “trembling or shuddering.”[1] The condition was also known as “chill fever” or “the shakes” in the popular vernacular. One surgeon of another regiment described effects of this condition for which he had no medicine by saying that his soldiers “have to shake it out for all the good we can do them.”[2] This description is fully consistent with information gleaned from the letters of Oliver around this time where he apologizes for his trembling hand.

An interesting, but somewhat ineffective, array of treatments were used to fight this condition. Oliver writes:

I received a letter from Ariel today trying to cheer me up. Lieutenant Marsh wrote to him that I had gone to the hospital with an attack of fever and ague. I had only two good shakes and they gave me spirits of turpentine and broke it up. I had to take quinine for three or four days and then was discharged as well as ever. That was all that my sickness amounted to.[3]

When not combating the effects of fever, Oliver was subjected to numerous inspections and reviews along with his fellow soldiers in the 8th Connecticut. General Ambrose Burnside used the time in camp at Annapolis to train his green regiments for future combat operations. Inspections of quarters, personal equipment and weapons were a key ingredient of this training regimen.  For example, on December 14, 1861, the 8th Connecticut participated in a division-level inspection along with ten other regiments. On the day prior to the inspection, the 8th had stood for a lower level brigade review as a preparation for the division inspection.

Drills were conducted on an almost daily basis, but Oliver’s bouts of fever often prevented him from participating.

I was not feeling very well at the time and had just finished writing three letters in the Lieut’s tent. The next day I was excused from drill by the surgeon…[4]

Apparently, other soldiers were not always fond of participating in drill. Benejah Holcomb, Oliver’s cousin and companion during his time in the 8th Connecticut was one of those soldiers

Benejah is here in the tent while I am writing. He has been over here to shirk drill this morning.[5]

Unknown to the rank and file soldiers of his expeditionary force, General Burnside was operating on an intended deployment timeline that required the units to be ready by the New Year. As Christmas Day approached, the reviews and inspections grew to a crescendo with Burnside appearing to make his own assessment.

The boys are nearly all gone gathering evergreens to trim the streets as Gen. Burnside is going to inspect the camp today. Gen. Burnside reviewed the whole division yesterday consisting of 12,000 men. We were reviewed the day before by the Brigadiers so that by all appearances we shall leave for “Dixie” before many weeks.[6]

The discipline of the troops was also a primary concern for Burnside and his commanders. Having men form into close order formations and marching them straight into artillery and rifle fire required a high level of discipline. Commanding officers used various forms of punishment to dealt with offenses that while petty, where also indicators of discipline. At Camp Hicks, Oliver Case observed the workings of military discipline and the associated punishment for many crimes.

There has been several court martials held since we have been here and the sentences are very severe for running the guard, insulting officers, committing nuisances, etc. One man has to forfeit ½ months pay and be in the guard tent for fifteen days, another has had 30 lbs. of dirt put in his knapsack and made to do regular duty. The punishment of being in the guard tent is more severe than you might think this season of the year, for they have no fire nor any chance to exercise and their food and drink consists of bread and water. A man is very foolish to think of breaking the rules for they are not any more galling than the civil law, but the penalties are much more severe. There is a fellow in our company close to our tent standing upon a barrel with a guard around him for insulting his corporal. If I had been in his place I would not have borne half as much from him for he insulted him every way possible before the corporal reported.[7]


Three of the types of punishment used by commanders at Camp Hicks as mentioned by Oliver Case[8]


[1] “Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms: A Glossary of Archaic Medical Terms, Diseases and Causes of Death,” accessed from

[2] A Surgeon’s Civil War: The Letters and Diary of Daniel M. Holt, M.D., Daniel M. Holt, Kent State University Press, 1994.

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

[4] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (10 December 1861)

[5] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (13 December 1861)

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

[7] IBID

[8] Hardtack and Coffee, John D. Billings, George M. Smith and Company, Boston, 1888.


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