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)


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