Camp of Instruction, Jamaica, Long Island, New York

On October 18, 1861 as Oliver and the last of the troops of the Eighth Connecticut arrived at their Camp of Instruction in Jamaica on Long Island, New York, they were greeted by encroaching darkness and a lack of tents which had not yet arrived at the camp. The soldiers found themselves “obliged to sleep on the ground, covered only by their blankets and the autumnal sky.”[1] As the sun began to rise over the Atlantic on the morning of the 19th, the Long Island skies had added moisture to the equation as Oliver discovered “a very heavy dew and thick fog…blankets were very wet and our guns covered with rust.”[2] The dew falling on the unprotected weapons and equipment quickly caused rust and mildew to form which meant that the soldiers spent the entirety of their first day at the camp cleaning rifles and drying out equipment. These efforts were hinder by an afternoon downpour which once again soaked their equipment and delayed their efforts to erect tents. The soldiers would spend their second night in camp again sleeping in the open but this time with beds of “cut cedar boughs (of which there is an abundance) for our beds and lay quite comfortable.”[3]

This camp located in the town of Jamaica on Long Island, New York was alternately known as the Hempstead Camp of Instruction, Camp Winfield Scott, Camp Sherman and Camp Burnside. General Ambrose Burnside had obtained permission to use the camp primarily as a staging area to gather the regiments being actively recruited from New England for his future amphibious operations. He intended to use it as a temporary facility with plans to move further south once the regiments were brought together as a unified command and a permanent training location was selected. A New York Times article in September of 1861 describes the camp and the preparations which had been made for receiving the troops of General Burnside:

The American Telegraph Company have opened a telegraph office at this place for the accommodation of the camp and the public. The military encampment is most admirably located on a plain, of several thousand acres. It is easy of access by Long Island Railroad, being but a short distance from the depot, and, it is understood, extra trains will be run as soon as the wants of the military or the public demand them.[4]

                Oliver rated Jamaica as “one of the pleasantest places I ever saw” and he found the people to be “very familiar (much more than Conn. People).”[5] In fact, the citizens of the town proved to be gracious hosts and were unconstrained in welcoming the Connecticut soldiers to their Long Island community. During the first week the 8th Connecticut occupied the camp; many of the townspeople turned out to greet the soldiers and supplied them with over a thousand loaves of freshly baked bread plus fruit and other food stuffs. Some of the Nutmeggers who were fortunate enough to sneak past the camp guard found the families Jamaica opening their homes to share meals and conversation. By the 31st of October during his second week in camp, Oliver is willing to go even further in his comparison to Connecticut:

We are treated much better here than in Connecticut by the citizens. They think there is nothing to[o] good for the soldiers. We are treated with respect wherever we go, and apples and turnips are free to us, that is if we can run the guard or can get passed off, which is not often.

The most common hospitable expressions by the citizens of Long Island came in the form of food which, as famously noted by Napoleon Bonaparte, represents the fuel to move the foot soldiers.  Army-provided meals were not favored among the troops and as Oliver expressed to Abbie, homegrown food (and home cooked food for that matter) was normally obtained by making oneself absent from the camp. The shortcoming in this system was that most of these soldiers were removed themselves from the camp without the permission of the regimental or company commander which made it a punishable offense. Still, this did not deter the Billy Yank in his pursuit of “real” food:

A great many did leave for a few hours at a time, however, and took their chances of being missed and reported for it. In some companies, when it was thought that several were absent without a permit, a roll-call was ordered simply to catch the culprits.[6]  

   Soldier frying hardtack

Union soldier frying hardtack to make it more palatable

Oliver Case himself seems to have inadvertently admitted to participating in making himself absent from the camp without permission. On October 30, 1861, Oliver and a large group of 8th Connecticut soldiers were given approval to attend a lecture by the regiment chaplain, Joseph J. Woolley, in an undisclosed location in Jamaica. The purpose of the lecture was to raise money for a regimental library to be used by the soldiers during their training at the camp of instruction and at future locations. It seems that after the lecture ended, Oliver found it was about 9:15 PM and that “it was no use then to start for camp as it was after roll call.” However, he does not comment on how or where he spent the next hour and forty-five minutes until he “went back to camp and ran the guard.”[7] It’s likely that Oliver saw fit to share in some of the culinary hospitality being offered by the citizens of Long Island.

[1] (Morris, 1869)

[2] (Case)

[3] (Case)

[4] (The Hempstead Camp of Instruction, 1861)

[5] (Case)

[6] (Billings, 1887)

[7] (Case)


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