A Few Hours in Perryville, Maryland

However, the brief layover in the key transportation hub of Perryville gave the soldiers of the regiment an opportunity to stretch their legs and, as in Oliver’s case, write letters to family and friends. In the first year of the Civil War, Perryville, Maryland was a divided town in a divided state with over 800 slaves in Cecil County and a definitely strong contingent of Confederate sympathizers. The tensions in the eastern portion of Maryland rose considerably after Confederate supporters attacked Union soldiers as they passed through Baltimore on April 19, 1861. Railroads were destroyed and bridges were burned crippling ground transportation to areas south of the city. As a result of this incident and the increased concerns of the federal government, Perryville became a major staging and transportation nucleus for Union material and soldiers moving to Annapolis and other points south. In fact, the city was the southern terminus for the Union-controlled rail transportation network. Upon reaching Perryville, supplies and troops were transferred from rail to water transportation. By the time Oliver Case and the troops of the 8th Connecticut reached the city just before midnight on November 2, 1861, the transportation cross-docking system had become firmly established.

In November of 1861, Maryland was far from being firmly in the control of the Union. It had been a stormy eight months for the border state with Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks attempted to steer the state through the political minefield of a state with divided loyalty. Thomas Hicks was sworn in as governor of Maryland on January 13, 1858 having been elected the previous fall as the nominee of the Know Nothing Party which was also known as the Native American Party for its espousal of an anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic positions. As the oldest of thirteen children, Hicks had been born on a farm in Dorchester County Maryland in 1798 and had been involved in political endeavors since the age of 21. He assumed the post of governor, at the time the oldest man to do so, on the eve of the greatest crisis in the history of the state. As early as November of 1860, many prominent Maryland political figures including a former governor, urged Hicks to call a special session of the state legislators to consider the course to be taken by the state in view of the election of Abraham Lincoln as president. The governor rebuffed these attempts and counseled patience to determine the path the Lincoln would follow regarding slavery in general and the Fugitive Slave Law in particular. Hicks had essentially adopted a policy of neutrality for state even as the other southern states began to leave the Union and pressure began to mount for Hicks to take some action.

         Thomas Hicks

Thomas Holliday Hicks (1798-1865) Governor of Maryland, 1858-1862

It became clear that Hicks was, at best, a politician who attempted to play both sides of the issues deeply dividing the northern and southern states at the beginning of the war. He addressed the citizens of his state in January of 1861:

I firmly believe that a division of this Government would inevitably produce civil war. The secession leaders in South Carolina, and the fanatical demagogues of the North, have alike proclaimed that such would be the result, and no man of sense, in my opinion, can question it.[i]

His attempts to portray Maryland as a sort of neutral state that would not become involved in the dispute could not withstand the calls to bring the legislature into session. Hicks found that this stance became completely untenable after President Lincoln called for volunteers from the northern states including Maryland in April of 1861. The governor also struggled to maintain his credibility with Lincoln after he appeared to side with Confederate supporters during the aftermath of the Baltimore riots which occurred in the same month. After the war, the Confederate historian and general, Bradley T. Johnson, explained the actions of the Maryland governor:

…for Governor Hicks was no fool. He was a shrewd, sharp, positive man. He knew what he wanted and he took efficient means to procure it. He wanted to save Maryland to the Northern States. He believed the Union was gone. In the Southern Confederacy, Maryland must, in his opinion, play a subordinate part and he, himself, fall back into the political obscurity from which he had been recently raised.[ii]

Governor Hicks dealt the final blow to any chance for Maryland to side with the Confederate States during the same month as the Baltimore riots by moving the General Assembly from Annapolis to Frederick. With this action, he found redemption with the Lincoln administration by ensuring that Maryland would not vote for secession, therefore remaining in the Union. The federal government had already imprisoned many of the supporters of secession from the eastern part of the state. Always the clever politician, the governor claimed that he relocated the assembly to Frederick for “safety and comfort of the members.”[iii] Maryland remained in the Union, but in the eastern side of the state, many southern sympathizers continued to live, work and even served as spies for the Confederate government in Richmond.

Due to the potential threat from Confederate loyalists and the need for operational security, the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut were kept “confined in and about the depot with a guard, some different from what we used to having, that is, much more strict.”[iv] This came as a surprise to the Union soldiers who had been greeted so warmly both in New York and at Philadelphia. The Perryville depot and transportation hub was bustling with activity from Union units and equipment being positioned to support future operations in the south. During his short stay at Perryville, Oliver Case observed:

…a regiment encamped near here beside our camp containing 900 trunks [or troops] and 900 horses. This place is situated upon the NE bank of the Susquehannah, upon the Baltimore, Wilmington and Philadelphia RR about thirty miles from the former place. This is a steam ferry boat which carries over a whole train of cars at once so there is no change of cars at this place for the south.[v]

While Oliver was “writing standing amid a great deal of noise” and the soldiers were waken from just a few hours of sleep in the depot in Perryville, the command to “fall in” was given signaling that it was time to board the transport ships for the trip down the Chesapeake. The Connecticut boys were “never…in better spirits than we are at present” and there was “great excitement and cries of ‘fall in’ [with] almost everyone…strapping on their knapsack.” The soldiers of the 8th Connecticut had now been told that “Annapolis [was] suppose[d] to be our destination” and “[w]e expect to leave on the boat every minute.”[vi] For the third time since they were mustered into federal service just over one month earlier, the soldiers of the regiment were herded into a crowded a vessel for a journey across a body of water. The weather was much better than the previous trip from Hunters Point to South Amboy two days earlier and Oliver describes this voyage as “a very pleasant trip down the Chesapeake.”[vii]

While the passage may have seemed “pleasant” to Oliver and his comrades, the Chesapeake Bay was far from securely in Union control at this point in the war. In May of 1861, the United States Navy had created the Potomac Flotilla or Potomac Squadron to help root out Confederate gun boats and shore gun emplacements that threaten Union shipping along this vital waterway. Secured lines of communications along the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River were absolutely essential for Union commanders to carry out operations in Virginia and other points to the south. It was impossible to provide the logistical support required for Union armies to threaten the Confederate capital of Richmond without clear sailing on the bay. In November of 1861, Union Navy Commander Thomas Tingey Craven led a fleet of approximately six ships charged with the security of cargo and personnel moving up and down the bay. The Potomac Flotilla ensured that vessels like the one carrying the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut could make it safely to their destination along the Chesapeake Bay.

USS Yankee Potomac Flotilla

USS Yankee, a ship of the Potomac Flotilla in 1861

[i] (Frank F. White, 1970)

[ii] (Johnson, 1994)

[iii] (Radcliffe, 1901)

[iv] (Case)

[v] (Case)

[vi] (Case)

[vii] (Case)

The Journey to Maryland Begins – November 1861

On the morning after a melodious gathering in Oliver’s tent on the 31st of October 1861, daybreak for the first day of November brought reveille and the command to break camp for movement to a new home still mysterious to most of the Connecticut soldiers. After breakfast and the packing of personal gear and unit equipment, the regiment marched to the Jamaica train station and loaded onto rail cars to backtrack the journey across Long Island they had made just 14 days ago. At Hunter’s Point, the soldiers were forced to sit in a warehouse for several hours waiting for an unnamed steamer to arrive in order to ferry them to a point unknown in the south. The lounging soldiers were thankful for the shelter provided by the depot building as a hard rain had begun to pound New York City. According to Oliver Case, among the Connecticut boys awaiting the arrival of the ship was a Mrs. Thompson who was presumably the wife of fellow Company A soldier Charles Thompson of Fairfield, Connecticut. Since they arrived at the Camp of Instruction on Saturday, October 26, 1861, Mrs. Thompson and the wife of Lieutenant Wolcott Marsh had spent their days visiting their husbands in camp and, at least on one occasion, being escorted to tour Brooklyn by Lieutenant Marsh.[i] After the departure of the regiment from Hunter’s Point, Mrs. Thompson returned to Connecticut, but Mrs. Marsh continued to follow her husband travelling south through an unknown route and conveyance reappearing in Oliver’s letters at the regiment’s camp in Annapolis.

With the deluge of rain continuing, the soldiers were finally marched out of the depot at 8 o’clock in the evening and loaded onto a steamer that had just arrived at the Hunter’s Point pier. The Connecticut boys soon realized that they would be traveling in extremely close quarters. Oliver writes that he and his comrades “were stowed into a steamer that was not large enough to accommodate more than half that number; every available niche of room was occupied, many of us lying with our heads upon each other.”[ii] The one thousand troops of the 8th Connecticut packed tightly into the ship were comforted only by the fact that this was scheduled to be a short trip of only about two hours. The hope for a quick journey to their next destination was shattered as soon as the steamer pushed away from Hunter’s Point. The storm that had produced the hard rain all afternoon and into the evening had since intensified and the captain of the vessel was unwilling to risk moving through open waters in the heavily burdened ship. The ship traversed the short distance down the East River rounding Manhattan before being “hauled up to Pier No. 1 N. River to wait for the storm to abate.”[iii] For next four hours, the collective groans of the Connecticut boys were heard throughout the packed ship as men struggled to find some rest in the midst of their buddy’s elbows and the constant pitching of the boat. One hour after midnight, the ship’s bell rang out as the crew casted off from the lower Manhattan pier and the captain steered the vessel into the North River heading south toward New Jersey.

Hunters Point to South Amboy route

Passing Staten Island through most of the journey, the planned two-hour journey marked its eighth hour as the ship reached the piers at South Amboy, New Jersey. It was now 4 o’clock in the morning of November 2, 1861 and Oliver described the soldiers as “a jollier, happier, set you never saw” when they were finally able to dislodge themselves from the cramped vessel and prepare for the next phase of their excursion overland. There was no time to relax as the regiment continued the journey to the south.

We were got upon the cars with but little delay and tried to start for Philadelphia which was not so easy a job as you might imagine as we had on 19 passenger cars, but with the help of another engine we got under way…[iv]

For the next seven hours, the passenger cars of the train offered a welcomed change from the confined craft of the previous eight hours. At 11:30 in the morning of November 2, 1861, the large train arrived at Philadelphia to a warm welcome from the city’s citizens. As in New York, the people of the city turned out in large numbers with heartfelt hospitality that the Connecticut soldiers received gladly.

 …we had a huge dinner and if anyone ever did justice to a dinner, we did to that. I think I never tasted anything so good in my life. We stayed there until nearly five talking and shaking hands with everyone.[v]

Unfortunately, the cordiality would be short lived because Philadelphia was not the final destination of the regiment. Around 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the 8th Connecticut reloaded the 27-car passenger and cargo train that strained to make about four miles per hour as it moved through the city. The soldiers scrambled to take advantage of the slow speed and stood “upon the platform, or with our arms out the window shaking hands and bidding every Goodbye.”[vi] As the train left Philadelphia, the combined weight of the soldiers, equipment and horses began to cause delays for mechanical problems as car couplings broke at least eleven times. It would be almost midnight before the regiment reached the town of Perryville, Maryland where for the fourth time in just over 24 hours, a change in transportation mode was required before continuing the voyage south.

[i] (Case)

[ii] (Case)

[iii] (Case)

[iv] (Case)

[v] (Case)

[vi] (Case)

The Physical Examination

One of the last major events to take place at the Camp of Instruction at Jamaica was the physical examinations of the soldiers of the Eighth Connecticut.  Oliver writes to Abbie that “the men are not troubled with clothes while undergoing this examination.”[i] Civil War Surgeons faced a daunting challenge when attempting to weed out those recruits not fully medically fit for duty with the limited nature of the physical examinations in relation to modern physical examination standards. One former soldier, writing after the war, described the process:

The next step was a medical examination to determine physical fitness for service. Each town had its physician for this work. The candidate for admission into the army must first divest himself of all clothing, and his soundness or unsoundness was then decided by causing him to jump, bend over, kick, receive sundry thumps in the chest and back, and such other laying-on of hands as was thought necessary. The teeth had also to be examined, and the eyesight tested, after which, if the candidate passed, he received a certificate to that effect.[ii]

This old soldier’s memory notwithstanding, during the early part of the war filling the ranks of the regiments was more important than the medical readiness of the recruits and physicians often turned a blind eye to many disqualifying conditions. Induction physical examinations used the pass rate as a measure of success ensuring that recruits with all their limbs, good teeth (for tearing rifle cartridges) and adequate sight/hearing would be retained for service. As one regimental surgeon put it, “Many of [the soldiers] ought never to have come out, having broken constitutions or bodily defects which entirely disqualify them for the life of a soldier.”[iii] In fact, some of the examinations were so superficial that women were able to enlist pretending to be men.

NOTE: The National Museum of Civil War Medicine  has an excellent exhibit on physical examinations for recruits.


recruiting station

The excitement of the recruiting station often obscured the need for a thorough physical examination.

The purpose of these examinations for the Connecticut troops was unclear coming some five weeks after the organization and activation of the regiment. It may have been related to the fact that in August of 1861 the Army began to make an attempt to weed out many of the volunteers who were not physically qualified by requiring additional and more methodical examinations. This included follow up exams for those regiments already in service. Oliver’s emphasis on “this” when referring to the examination seems to indicate that a previous examination had occurred at some point in the past likely during the recruiting of the companies of the regiment. However, it is clear from his letter that the earlier examination did not include disrobing when standing before the physician. Also, the commander and/or the regimental surgeon may have had concerns about the physical condition of some of the soldiers. Whatever the situation driving the requirement for the new physical scrutiny of Oliver and his comrades, at least five soldiers from the Eighth Connecticut were discharged for being found to be physically unfit within a few days of this examination as indicated by the company rolls.

Some officers left on account of ill health ; a few were dismissed;”others,” wrote an officer, “strong men physically, found themselves entirely unfitted for the profession of arms, and bore the mortification of resigning that others might take their places.[iv]

In the case of Private Case’s physical examination, he expressed a great deal of concern about the possibility of being dismissed from the regiment due to the lingering signs of some previous illness that he does not specify. He wrote to his sister, Abbie, that the doctor “questioned me pretty close about that breaking out on my shoulders – there is hardly anything left but the scars.” Obviously, Abbie was familiar with this illness because Oliver wrote that “if he had seen it two months ago [which places it prior to his enlistment while he was still living at home in Simsbury] I would have gotten thrown overboard…”[v] It’s unclear from the information that Oliver provides in his surviving letters the exact cause of the “breaking out” on Oliver’s shoulders. Based on the common aliments of the time, several possibilities exist including something as simple as dermatitis or a more complex condition such as a past bout of chicken pox which would explain the presence of scarring during the exam.

Whatever the condition, the crisis of possible discharge was quickly overcome by Oliver explaining to the examining physician that the scars were “nothing but a little breaking out and had not been there a great while.”[vi] This obviously satisfied the doctor and Oliver was allowed to continue his service in the 8th CVI. In a tragic irony, this would be the first of several recorded instances of Oliver experiencing a close encounter with potential discharge from service.


[i] (Case)

[ii] (Billings, 1887)

[iii] (Holt, 1994)

[iv] (Morris, 1869)

[v] (Case)

[vi] (Case)

Vice in the Camp and Rumors from Home

Two cigar soldiers

Vice in the Camp (Library of Congress)


Oftentimes Oliver Case’s companion in attending church services is his fellow soldier, Benejah Holcomb who was assigned to Company C of the regiment. In addition to being his fellow soldier, Holcomb is also Oliver’s distant cousin from Granby, Connecticut, a town only a short distance from Simsbury. Holcomb enlisted in the Eighth Connecticut on September 11, 1861 and was discharged for unknown reasons on January 1, 1863. He was a descendant of Lieutenant Benejah Holcomb, a Revolutionary War hero from Connecticut. It is impossible to be certain that Abbie and Oliver knew Benejah to be a cousin or had some other association with him as Oliver never refers to him as a cousin in any of his 34 letters. Throughout many of Oliver’s letters to Abbie, he is mentioned in an acquainted manner leaving the impression that Benejah Holcomb was well known to Abbie.

In spite of the efforts of the chaplains and organizations like the USCC, many of the troops did succumb to the temptations of negative moral influences. Alcohol abuse was chief among the culprits that lead some of the soldiers astray as a drunk soldier was often referred to as being “shot in the neck” or to have “a brick in his hat.” While at Long Island, one corporal in Company A of the Eighth found himself reduced to the junior enlisted ranks and given the forfeiture of one month’s pay as punishment for public intoxication. Based on a study of the company rolls, the offending corporal was most likely John F. Saundbaum of Hartford who would also find himself discharged from service for failing his physical examination with days of committing this offense.[i]

Corporal Saundbaum’s example left an impression upon the soldiers like Private Case. The concentrated efforts of chaplains and commanders alike to improve morale and suppress undisciplined behavior were numerous and seemed to have had an impact upon the Connecticut soldiers.

The morale of the regiments was correspondingly raised. Gambling and liquor-selling were suppressed; offenders being severely punished, and their stakes and stock confiscated for the regimental fund. Profanity was rebuked. Unnecessary Sunday labor was avoided.[ii]

Back in Simsbury, rumors made their way around town and back to the camp of the Eighth at Long Island. Oliver writes to his sister that he has heard a rumor on the camp grapevine that the prominent citizen, Joseph R. Toy of Simsbury is working to raise a new company of volunteers. The tone of Oliver’s letter makes it seem as if he had expected Toy to raise this company for some period of time or that he is sarcastically asking the question.

Joseph R. Toy, Jr. was born in 1836 in England and moved to Simsbury with his family when his father was sent to America by his boss William Bickford to help operate his safety fuse company. The business thrived under the elder Toy’s influence and Joseph, Sr. assumed a more prominent role in the company of which he soon became the principal operating officer and partner. The name of the firm was changed to Toy, Bickford and Company in 1852 to reflect Joseph, Sr.’s leadership position. Although his father desired for him to follow a career in medicine or law, Joseph Jr.’s ambition was to become an engineer and he eventually came to be employed by his father in the safety fuse factory.

On December 20, 1859, an explosion at the factory in Simsbury killed eight of the female workers who comprised the majority of the workforce. Joseph Toy, Jr., who was working in the factory’s machine shop, was severely injured in the blast and spent many months recuperating from burns. His wounds were so significant that he continued to suffer long-term effects for years to come. In spite of these injuries, Toy was elected to the state legislature of Connecticut in 1860 becoming the youngest member of the body at 24 years old. After the Civil War began, he began to recruit men from the Simsbury area to join a new regiment and, although still in poor health, Toy decided to join the company as well.[iii]

Joseph Toy2

Captain Joseph R. Toy, Jr. (Simsbury Historical Society)


On January 1, 1862, Joseph R. Toy, Jr. was mustered into Company H, 12th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment as the Captain.  Captain Toy’s service to the Union would be a brief one as he contracted both typhoid fever and malaria while the regiment was in camp at Carrollton, Louisiana near New Orleans where he later died on June 21, 1862. Interestingly, local history in Simsbury recounts that his body was returned to his hometown for burial packed in a cask of whiskey.[iv]  On July 16, 1862, the Reverend Ichabod Simmons delivered the funeral sermon for Captain Toy at the Congregational Church in Simsbury inspiring another group of Simsbury men including Oliver’s two brothers to join the Union cause on the battlefield.

[i] (Ingersoll, 1869)

[ii] (Morris, 1869)

[iii] (Meyer, 2011)

[iv] (Meyer, 2011)