A Short Stay on Long Island

In reading the history of the 8th Connecticut and the letters of Oliver Case, I’ve often wondered why the 8th and some other regiments designated for Burnside’s Expeditionary Force stayed at their Long Island, New York location for such a brief time. By my reckoning, the 8th resided on Long Island for only 11 or 12 days including their time in transit. Well, it seems that Oliver Case’s letter to his sister, Abbie, holds an important clue that remained hidden until my recent discovery of a period news article.

In his very first letter to Abbie dated October 20, 1861, Oliver writes of finally coming ashore at Hunter’s Point on Long Island where part of the regiment was loaded onto awaiting trains headed east. The balance of the soldiers, including Oliver’s Company A, “waited with our knapsacks on for 2 or 3 hours expecting every moment the train to carry us off.”[1] This apparent unpreparedness by the Long Island Railroad Company was a critical factor in determining the location of the training grounds for Burnside’s troops. According to his staff, the ability to rapidly respond to a call for deployment was an important evaluation criterion for selecting a training site. The Long Island Railroad would prove to be unable and possibly unwilling, to fulfill this requirement for rapid movement of Burnside’s force.

When the 8th Connecticut landed at Hunter’s Point on the East River at the mouth of Newtown Creek on the 21st of October 1861 after a journey from Hartford of almost 24 hours, the railroad employees and managers seem to have been caught by surprise and became annoyed at the nuisance of the situation. A new story published several weeks later in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle recounts that railroad employees acted with an “utter want of a spirit of accommodation…rude language…and provoking delay in transporting the troops.”[2] The unnamed writer of the news story chastises the members of the Long Island Railroad Company as “a very small-minded as well as unpatriotic set of individuals” while General Burnside and his staff characterized the debacle as “gross mismanagement” by railroad officials.[3]

It seems that General Burnside had planned to gather and train his force of regiments from New England states on Long Island before deploying them to the coast of North Carolina for an amphibious operation presented by Burnside and approved by both George McClellan and Abraham Lincoln. From a military viewpoint, Long Island was a logical choice based on locations with good training grounds and availability of rail and water transportation to points south. He had even selected a spot in the northern part of the Hempstead Plains area of the island near a small village known as Mineola located on the main railroad line. However, as the Eight Connecticut arrived at Hunter’s Point and attempted to travel east on the Long Island Railroad toward Mineola, delays caused significant logistical problems and uncomfortable conditions for the soldiers as many of them, like Oliver Case, were “obliged to sleep on the ground, covered only by their blankets and the autumnal sky.”

 

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A Civil War era map of Long Island depicting the Hempstead Branch of the Long Island Railroad

 

I have previously opined on this blog that the same camp was alternately known as the Hempstead Camp of Instruction, Camp Winfield Scott, Camp Sherman and Camp Burnside. The discovery of this article in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle seems to confirm this fact. I believe Ambrose Burnside’s intent was to use the old Camp Winfield Scott location as his expeditionary force training and deployment base because it was “most admirably located on a plain, of several thousand acres…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] In a September 14, 1861 article, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle describes the camp site:

The Camp of Instruction…is located at Hempstead, L.I., covering a large portion of the expansive plain at Hempstead Branch – a plain that approaches nearly the dimensions of a good-sized Western prairie. The camp is laid out according to army regulations, consisting of 225 tents. No less than twelve wells have been dug, affording that most domestic requisite of camp-life – an unlimited supply of pure cold water…altogether, Camp Winfield Scott is a most desirable place…camp is designed to accommodate ten thousand men.[5]

Camp Winfield Scott would be transformed into Camp Burnside but the stay would be a short one. Both the general and his soldiers were pleased with the location and the welcoming spirit of the local citizens. Burnside found himself “much pleased with the camp at Hempstead, with the locality of the Eighth Connecticut, and the kindness of the people.”[6]

 

Camp Burnside

A sketch of the 8th Connecticut at Camp Burnside on Long Island, November 1, 1861[7]

 

For his part, Oliver rated the camp and the surrounding community as “one of the pleasantest places I ever saw” and he found the people to be “very familiar (much more than Conn. People).”[8] 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.[9]

Unfortunately for the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut, military considerations were overriding even their general’s pleasure with the people of Long Island and the “gross mismanagement” of the Long Island Railroad officials would shorten their stay. All of the logistical and administrative problems with the railroad had “combined to disgust the General with the corporation and drive him to look for a camping ground in another direction.” Due to these factors, Burnside “felt obliged to abandon his purpose of concentrating his Brigade upon Long Island.” He would turn his search to the south and a far less hospitable citizenry.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] All quotes from Oliver Case taken from the Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case 1861-1862 (unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT (October 20, 1861) unless otherwise noted.

[2] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 13, 1861 edition, quoting a story in The Long Island Farmer. Article accessed from “Brooklyn Newsstand” website, http://bklyn.newspapers.com/ October 24, 2014

[3] IBID.

[4] “The Hempstead Camp of Instruction,” New York Times, September 8, 1861

[5] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 14, 1861 edition. Article accessed from “Brooklyn Newsstand” website, http://bklyn.newspapers.com/ on October 24, 2014

[6] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 13, 1861

[7] Civil War Sketchbook by Corporal Joseph E. Shadek, Company A, 8th Connecticut, from the collection of the Bridgeport History Center, http://bportlibrary.org/hc/ve/vex3/index.htm

[8] Oliver Case letter, October 31, 1861

[9] IBID.

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The laughing stock of the whole brigade…

The Civil War saw scores of politicians and would-be politicians don the uniform of an army officer. Some found success as a military leader such as future President of the United States Rutherford B. Hayes, Colonel of the 23rd Ohio Infantry. Hayes, city solicitor of Cincinnati from 1858 to 1861, was unafraid to stand up for the welfare of his soldiers even when faced with the wrath of a fiery professional officer and he proved himself in battle. On September 6, 1862 during McClellan’s march out of Washington in pursuit of Lee’s invading army, Hayes’ men were readying their camp for the evening by taking straw from the field of a nearby farmer to feed the horses of an artillery battery and making beds for themselves. Hayes confessed in his diary and letters that he saw nothing wrong with the practice as it was a military necessity to accommodate the needs of his regiment. However, the Ninth Corps commanding general, Jesse Reno, had a much different view of the situation as he rode into the camp of the 23rd Ohio.

Hayes did not immediately notice the arrival of the general at his campsite but soon heard a stream of profanity being directed toward his soldiers who were gathering the straw. Reno referred to Hayes’ men as “damned black sons of bitches” and proceeded to lecture them on the evils of pilfering the farms of the friendly state of Maryland. Hayes intervened on behalf of his men explaining to Major General Reno of the need for the straw and even offered to ensure the farmer was properly compensated. Reno would have none of it. Hayes, who claims to have remained respectful throughout the encounter, retorted with “”Well, I trust our generals will exhibit the same energy in dealing with our foes that they do in the treatment of their friends.” Reno departed in a huff as the men of the 23rd Ohio cheered loudly for the moxie of their commander. The general would continue to harbor ill feelings toward Hayes in the days that followed.

 

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Fiery West Point general Major General Jesse Reno (b) met his match in Rutherford B. Hayes (t), commanding officer of the 23th Ohio and future President of the United States

 

However, Hayes’ soldiers now had the highest respect for the young politician turned army colonel. They would fight hard for him just eight days later at the Battle of South Mountain where Hayes would be wounded and Major General Reno would be killed by a Confederate bullet effectively ending the animosity between the politician-soldier and the professional officer.

And then there were the politicians who fancied themselves as officers leading their men to great victories in battle…

Oliver Case and his comrades in the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment were not so fortunate to have a Hayes-like officer in the person of Peter L. Cunningham of Norwalk. Born in New York City in 1814, Cunningham relocated to Norwalk, Connecticut in 1834 and was always “prominently identified with local public affairs” including becoming an active campaigner in the 1840 elections. He also rose to notoriety in state political matters prior to the war and was elected as both councilman and mayor for post-war Norwalk. Cunningham was heavily involved in both the Odd Fellows and the Masonic Fraternity obtaining several high-ranking positions in both organizations.[1]

Already 47 years old when the Civil War began, Cunningham was appointed by Governor William A. Buckingham as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut. He was not without military experience as he had served in Connecticut state militia organizations for the previous 20 years rising to the rank of Colonel as a member of the governor’s staff prior to his appointment in the 8th Connecticut. These largely ceremonial state positions seem to have done nothing to prepare him for becoming the second-in-command of an infantry regiment with over 1,000 soldiers assigned.

A Lieutenant Colonel’s role in a Civil War regiment included assisting the Colonel of the Regiment with his duties and being prepared to assume command of the regiment should he be killed or wounded. The Lieutenant Colonel was also expected to help command and control the formation during combat situations. In this YouTube clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rvYtoy1NUM) from the movie Gods and Generals, you will see Lieutenant Colonel Chamberlain of the 20th Maine performing the important function of positioning the regimental formation for battle in accordance with instructions given by the commander, Colonel Adelbert Ames. This obviously required the Lieutenant Colonel to be highly proficient in drilling the soldiers (marching and maneuvering the formation) for endless hours on the parade field to be prepared to do the same during battle.

It became clearly evident to all his subordinates that Lieutenant Colonel Cunningham of the 8th Connecticut was no master of the drill. In a letter written Christmas Day of 1861, Oliver Case describes for his sister a camp rumor that his Lieutenant Colonel will soon leave the regiment.

There is a report that our Lieut. Col. [Cunningham] is soon to resign, I hope it is true for he does not now, nor ever did and I think never will learn about the military. He is the laughing stock of the whole brigade when he tries to drill the Regt. There are very few orders that he can give correctly.[2]

Peter L Cunningham

Peter L. Cunningham whose service as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut would only last four months due to his lack of military skill particularly in drilling troops

 

So, after only four months of service, the politician-soldier returned to Connecticut. His official biographical sketch puts a better face on his military service with only one sentence, “…he was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers, resigning the latter office, however, after a service of four months and receiving an honorable discharge.”[3] Cunningham’s lack of success in the military arts did not deter his success in business or his political career when he returned to Norwalk. In business, he became a director in two local banks and for the Norwalk Gas Company. His elected political career consisted of multiple terms as a city councilman in the 1870s and he was elected as the mayor of Norwalk for one term in 1883.

In modern military terms, Peter Cunningham failed to adapt to military service which in today’s Army can get you discharged within the first 180 days of your service. Even in the civil war, military service was much more than just a job; it was truly a way of life. Rules, regulations, traditions and customs all helped to shape a culture that required adaptation by men who only weeks before lived in a different world. For an officer like Peter Cunningham, this meant additional pressures created by an expectation that you would become inculcated in this new culture and that you could step forward to lead your subordinates in learning its ways.

Oliver Case viewed Lieutenant Colonel Cunningham’s problem as a failure to learn himself so that he could teach others. This failure manifested itself publicly on the parade field as Cunningham could give the correct orders to his men thereby making himself the brigade’s laughing stock.

Parade Annapolis Burnside

Soldiers of Burnside’s Expedition on parade at Annapolis in December 1861

 

This certainly must have been a leadership challenge for his regimental commander, Colonel Edward Harland. Harland’s previous military experience was limited to service as a company commander at First Bull Run in a three-month Connecticut regiment. However, his time directing troops under combat conditions prepared him for the challenges of higher level command. Harland and the brigade commander, John Parke (a West Point graduate), must have approached Cunningham with the cold, hard truth that he was not compatible with military service and should offer his resignation immediately. To his credit, Cunningham may have realized this himself and preempted such a conversation.

Whatever the case, the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut must have felt relief that “the laughing stock of the whole brigade” would not be leading them into battle.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Adapted from Commemorative Biographical Record of Fairfield County, Connecticut, J.H. Beers & Company, Chicago, 1899.

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, Connecticut.

[3] Commemorative Biographical Record, page 12.

A Very Pleasant Time

From Oliver Case’s letter to his sister Abbie dated October 20, 1861

An air of excitement spread throughout the ranks of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry on the morning of October 17, 1861 as they rose to the strains of reveille echoing across the grassy fields of Camp Buckingham. For most of these men, the camp located in the Barry Square area of Hartford had been their home since at least September 27th when the regiment was formally established after the 5th Connecticut had vacated the grounds. They had learned to wear their new uniforms, march in formation and conduct the daily tasks associated with maintaining the camp of over 1,000 members of the regiment. But, the green recruits needed more intensive training particularly in drilling before they would be ready to face the Confederates.

Location of Camp Buckingham Hartford CT

The modern-day location (near 10 Campfield Avenue) of Camp Buckingham in Hartford

 

The excitement had continued to build since early in the month of October when word spread about the camp concerning the directive from the United States Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, for Governor Buckingham to send two regiments forward for federal service. Many administrative and logistical tasks remained to be completed prior to the 8th being transferred to federal service. However, the eagerness in the ranks only grew as rumors flew concerning service in what Oliver Case called “the grand Union army going eagerly forth to offer vicarious atonement for the sins of the nation.”[1] Most of the regiment’s soldiers remained ignorant as to their destination upon leaving the camp, but all knew the day of departure had arrived that morning as sergeants and officers barked commands to prepare baggage for movement.

By four o’clock that afternoon, Oliver and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut had marched the short distance to board awaiting ships on the Connecticut River. The official transfer to federal service had been announced to the regiment earlier in the day by Colonel Edward Harland, the regimental commander. Now it seemed as if all of Hartford and half of the rest of Connecticut had turned out to wish the soldiers well. The sendoff encouraged the young soldiers as they “were greeted with waving flags and resounding cheers from proud relatives and friends, and grateful strangers.” The celebration continued for a considerable time as Oliver described it to be “a very pleasant time going down the river cheering and being cheered continually.” The official strength of the regiment was listed as 1,016 including officers and soldiers who departed Hartford on that day. Many would never see Hartford again.

Oliver found the quarters aboard the ship, which he did not name, to be cramped but he made the best of the situation. His company was fortunate to be assigned a spot “in the gangway forward of the shaft” where a bit more room could be found to relax. The conditions were still far from ideal as the soldiers of Company A “spread our beds all over the floor and bunked in like a mess of pigs; some were in the water shoe deep.” Oliver managed to find a dry spot amongst the wallow and with his “knapsack for a pillow [he] slept soundly for about two hours.” Using your knapsack or rucksack as we call it in the modern Army is a longstanding tradition among soldiers of all armies. A new recruit quickly learns to sleep when the opportunity arises and to pack their rucksack to be a “pillowly” as possible. So, I’m sure Oliver learned this lesson quickly after his night in the “pig pen.”

While not exactly comfortable in his situation, it still didn’t prohibit Oliver from sleeping so soundly that when he was called “to stand guard for an hour” it was “loud enough to start any living person.” Although the threat of theft or damage to personal baggage while enroute on the water would seem to be minimal, guards were rotated to watch the “traps and guns” just the same and Oliver stood his one hour watch beginning at about 11:30 pm. When he returned to his sleeping spot shortly after midnight, Oliver would not find the same restful sleep as he “did much get much sleep after that [guard duty].” Oliver doesn’t directly attribute his lack of sleep to any particular factor, but anticipation must have been at least as causative as the cramped quarters.

Around 4 o’clock in the morning of October 8th, Oliver’s insomnia was rewarded with a first view of New York City as the early morning fog began to clear allowing the lights of the city to come into view. But New York City was not the destination of the crowded ship and the journey continued after a brief pause to allow another ship to pass. Just a short time later, great excitement among the soldiers as the ship began to put ashore at Staten Island. In anticipation of leaving their cramped quarters, the soldiers of the 8th scrambled to find their knapsacks and other equipment in order to leave the ship. The horses were taken off the ship first prompting the troops to don their knapsacks and prepare to disembark. Much to their disappointment after standing for hours, the troops were not allowed to leave the ship and again waited for instructions.

By 9 o’clock, the soldiers were disappointed to learn that they would not be ashore at Staten Island. The horses were reloaded and the ship headed out on the same route by which it came to Staten Island, passing New York City again bound for a destination as yet unknown to most of the passengers.          

Finally, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and after almost twenty-four hours on the water, Oliver’s ship arrived at Hunter’s Point, Long Island where some of the members of the regiment were allowed to leave the ship. The troops of Company A were told they would have to wait for another two to three hours they were finally able to disembark the ship. The delay was caused by a shortage of trains being used to transport the soldiers to their new home, the Camp of Instruction at Jamaica, Long Island. As Oliver viewed the long day of delays with a sense of humor that would appear many times in his future letters writing, “All things must have an end and so did our waiting.”

A heavy rain fall and the lateness of the hour by the time Oliver and Company A reached their camp on the evening of October 18th prevent the soldiers from the proper assembly of their tents. So, Oliver Case’s first night away from Connecticut would be spent “on the ground with the sky for a covering.”

[1] All quotes and other information taken from Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case 1861-1862 (unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT (October 20, 1861) unless otherwise noted.

A Tale of 3 Cornfields and What Ifs

A bit off the normal subject of this blog I know, but this was too good to resist.

During my Columbus Day hike across the Antietam National Battlefield, I made an interesting observation that lead to a little historical speculation. First, I observed that growing in D.R. Miller’s 22-acre cornfield, otherwise known to history as the Bloody Cornfield, was a fine crop of soybeans…yes, soybeans. Something struck me as a bit hypocritical about this discovery, but I soon remembered the necessity of crop rotation to preserve the soil and then I was on my merry way hiking down the Hagerstown Pike.

 

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The D.R. Miller cornfield growing soybeans in 2014

 

Next stop, the much larger cornfield of John Otto. Forty acres of corn stood tall here on September 17, 1862, but today there stands a much smaller field of sorghum. Again, seems the park service could be a bit more historically accurate, crop rotation notwithstanding. It’s also very rocky terrain causing me to wonder how Mr. Otto ever made a go of corn and giving the modern farmers who lease the land a good reason to seek another hardier crop. Ok, I’m satisfied for the moment and it’s time to move on to the last of Antietam’s three famous fields of corn.

 

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Sorghum stands tall in John Otto’s cornfield, 2014

 

Last stop, the Bloody Lane and Mr. Piper’s cornfield. Whew…it’s still there albeit smaller and growing corn! The park service has done a great job in replanting Piper’s orchard and the farmer leasing the land has a nice small field of harvest-ready corn just in front of the orchard. While the field extended all the way to the sunken farm lane in 1862, the tour access road doesn’t allow for that in 2014. I couldn’t resist a short hike around the cornfield and orchard before making my way back across the Bloody Lane and toward my waiting car at the visitors center.

 

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It’s smaller, but still growing corn in Piper’s field

 

So, now the historical speculation. In both the Otto and Miller cornfields, absent the corn, I observed how easy it would have been for opposing sides to view the movements of the other from their side of the fields. How would this have changed the actions of the commanders engaged that day? Of that, one can only guess. Would Hooker change his approach if he observed that he was facing a much smaller force? How would the loss of the element of surprise have affected Hood’s decision-making and the morale of his troops? Would Rodman have spread his division across a wider front to meet the threat of Hill’s approaching troops? Could the 16th Connecticut and 4th Rhode Island have refused the flank to meet the threat of the arriving Confederates? All good questions that will remain unanswered but often pondered in the mind of a wanderer of the Antietam National Battlefield…