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.

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