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)


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