An 8th Connecticut Thanksgiving with Private Oliver Case

Old Simon photo

152 Years Ago…Thanksgiving with the 8th Connecticut and Private Oliver Case:

Camp Burnside


Nov. 28th, 1861

Dear Sister,

Not having heard from you for over a week and thinking that your letters must either have been miscarried or that you were away from home or possibly sick, I have taken this opportunity of writing another letter hoping that the receipt of this may have the effect to induce same of you to write in reply. I received a letter from Alonzo last Friday and also received one from Ariel Thursday. I wrote to Ariel that 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. I talked with one of Sexton’s friends who told me he was much better and expected to be around before long. The next day I succeeded in getting in where they were for a few moments. Brown is getting better also. Sexton was asleep. I heard from them Friday and presume by this time they are around. I should go to see them everyday but I am tired after patrolling the city eight hours a day besides keeping my gun clean. The camp is situated 1 ½ miles from our quarters and it is seldom that I can get into the hospital when I get there. I am particular in writing this because you hear such exaggerated accounts and reports about everything that happens here. We are fast filling up here with soldiers, 1200 cavalry and 800 zouaves having arrived within the last week. Part of Cavalry have left for Fortress Monroe and others are expecting to leave soon. We shall probably leave in the course of 2 weeks but may leave any day, or we may stay 6 weeks. We have comparatively quiet times on patrol. We take up but four or five daily and those are mostly sober. We have spilled several casks of liquor to say nothing of jugs, demijohns, and bottles, which we have thrown out. Major Hathaway arrived here yesterday from Washington. He left on the 3PM. train for the north. I saw him a short time before he started. He told me that our people were well, and that he was going to be at L.G. Goodrich’s for Thanksgiving. He says he shall be here again two weeks if we do not leave before that time; he thinks that Lucius may come with him. I wear my mittens every night and find them very comfortable too. Those gloves I received from Ariel, but he says I can thank you for them also, as father paid for them. I have not worn them yet but think that they will be very warm. It has been rumored that we shall spend the winter here but the last rumor is that the 51st N.Y. is the one to be left. If they stay, I guess the citizens will get enough of the soldiers before winter is over for they are the hardest set of boys that encamp here (not excepting the zouaves which are bad enough in a conscience[?]). Nine tenths of the arrests we make are of that 51st regiment. Our chaplain preached to us in our quarters this morning. He delivered an excellent discourse from John 18th [chapter] 38th [verse]. “What is truth”. He is a very talented man and is very familiar with the soldiers. He is liked very much by them all.

We are treated with much respect by the citizens and they often send in some shortcakes, gingersnaps, cookies etc; of course, only a bite for each but enough to know that we have their good will. If they found out that any of our number are complaining they will send in a cup of tea, biscuit and butter, and other little knickknacks to them. When we first came here they were very shy of us always avoiding us if possible, but now they are quite familiar with us at almost anytime. The soldiers that had been here before were a pretty rough set. It was reported that the people of this place had sent to Gen. Burnside requesting him to let us stay here this winter. I do not know whether it is true or not. We have been expecting to be paid off ever since we came from Jamaica but have not got it yet. The time now set is next Thursday when we may be paid and then again we may not. Where are you expecting to go to school this winter? I see by the Hartford papers that Joe R. Toy has gone into camp. Is it at Hartford or New Haven? I have forgotten. Alonzo says they got their corn all into the barn. I suppose you have all of your corn and other crops before this time, have you not? There is some corn out here but it is pretty much all gathered. The weather is quite cold so that it froze a little last night. We have much wet weather but thanks to our rubber blankets we keep dry. The general impression here is that the war will not last more than six months at fartherest; but I do not believe that it is to be finished so soon; perhaps it may not last more than a year or a year and a half but that is as soon as I expect it will be ended. Of course we do not care how soon we go south notwithstanding we have good quarters here and much more freedom than we shall have there. News is scarce here as you will see by reading my letter. Do you ever see Georgie and Elsworth? I hope they enjoy themselves north.

How is grandmother? Give her my best respects. I shall not write again until I get paid off as I shall have used up all the stamps you sent me in buying paper, writing letters and for a few other notions that I could not well do without; but we shall probably be paid off this week so that it will make no difference. I have just stopped writing to get some Ginger snaps that a negro woman is giving to the boys. They are excellent. Respects to all inquiring friends and [unreadable].

Your Brother, Oliver

Thoughts on the Gettysburg Address


A Gettysburg Address article in this morning’s Frederick News Post caught my attention.

It’s written by an AP writer, Hillel Italie, who appears to be a somewhat partisan political writer for AP and other publications. That said, he does a decent job of covering some of the issues surrounding the speech and I believe the article is worth consideration.

One part that I focused on right away is concerning Lincoln’s evolving views on the war:

Lincoln’s reasons for fighting the Civil War were steadily evolving. By Gettysburg, the original goal of preserving the union had been displaced by the profound and politically risky statement that democracy itself rested upon “the proposition that all men are created equal.” Slavery and the doctrine of states’ rights would not hold in the “more perfect union” of Lincoln’s vision.

Rather than evolving reasons, I would say Lincoln was simply pragmatic in his approach to winning the war. As he clearly articulated early on in his presidency, he was willing to do whatever was necessary to win the war thus preserving the Union. He said he would free the slaves if it that will preserve the Union and he would not free the slaves if that will preserve the Union.

What had happened by September 1862 (the time of the battle of Antietam) is that Lincoln had come to the realization that he must consolidate his political power among the factions in the northern states which included those opposed to the war (Copperheads), abolitionists and supporters of Lincoln’s approach to the war. The first year of the war had gone very badly for the Union. In the eastern theater (Northern Virginia), the Union Army had lost almost every major battle. Support for the war was quickly eroding and the Copperheads were gaining momentum heading toward the mid-term elections of 1862. Abolitionists were angry that Lincoln did not move to free the slaves and make abolition one of the major war aims. Lincoln knew his only hope for breaking the growing power of the Copperheads was to bring the abolitionists into his camp.

Thus, by the summer of 1862, Lincoln already started a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. He then waited for a Union battlefield victory to issue the proclamation so it would not seem an act of desperation but a deliberate action to further clarify his war aims. The Emancipation Proclamation which became effective on January 1, 1863, only freed slaves in the states currently in rebellion and it would take the 13thAmendment, passed near the end of war, to totally abolish slavery in the United States. By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3.1863), freeing the slaves had become a conduit to winning the war and preserving the Union.

The larger point that emerges in this article is “the doctrine of states’ rights” which Italie clearly identifies as a casualty of Lincoln’s war. While the Constitution never codified or endorsed slavery, it does, in a very purposeful manner, enshrine the concept of the limit power of the federal government. In my opinion, the most significant impact of Lincoln’s approach to the war was the manner in which he set aside parts of the Constitution in order to prosecute the war. Ironically, there is no mention in the Constitution of a method for a state to exit the Union, but there is also no prohibition for state to leave. Italie’s article addresses this issue:

“Up to the Civil War ‘the United States’ was invariably a plural noun: ‘The United States are a free country.’ After Gettysburg it became a singular: ‘The United States is a free country,'” Wills wrote. “This was a result of the whole mode of thinking that Lincoln expressed in his acts as well as his words, making union not a mystical hope but a constitutional reality.”
[Quoted from Garry Wills, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg”]

At the beginning of his presidency, Lincoln approached the problem of states leaving the Union by declaring a constitutional prohibition against it. Yet, this was nothing more than a “mystical hope” ungrounded in the reality of the Constitution. Returning to the Gettysburg Address itself, the singular nature of the “United States” is clearly laid out in the last line of the speech.

… this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

The freeing of the slaves (…the proposition that all men are created equal.) was only a means to an end for Lincoln. This is not a commentary on Lincoln’s view of slavery as a moral issue but more of an ordering of priorities driven by the realities of secession. By the time of the Gettysburg Address in November of 1863, Lincoln plainly knew that he was guiding the United States toward a “new birth” that would forever change the governmental construct. The federal government had been created by the states which pre-existed the national government and remained supreme less those powers specifically given to the federal government by the Constitution. Only by changing this view of the United States as a nation, thus changing that balance of power, could Lincoln justify the war and make it, first and foremost, a struggle to preserve the Union.

In my opinion, the address remains an amazing literary example of taking a complex set of issues and weaving them into a concise and coherent message that would stand the test of time. Italie cities Willis again as an example of this:

Wills noted that the Gettysburg Address came at a time of great technological change, when communication was hastened by the rise of the telegraph, an innovation that demanded concise language…

Rather than being a dumb rail splitter as many of his opponents often dubbed him, Lincoln knew that the public would “little note nor long remember what we say here” if it was delivered as a two-hour speech such as the key note address given that day by Edward Everett. I believe he was a man ahead of his time with respect to the packaging and delivery of his message. Sadly, political leaders today run away from this style using either sound bites which fail to deliver a coherent message or long, boring policy speeches that ignore the need to be concise.

Just my thoughts on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address..

…and, with consideration to his writing style, I think Oliver Case would have been pleased with Mr. Lincoln’s speech!