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.” 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.” 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.
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.”
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.” 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.
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.”
A sketch of the 8th Connecticut at Camp Burnside on Long Island, November 1, 1861
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).” 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.
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.
 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.
 “The Hempstead Camp of Instruction,” New York Times, September 8, 1861
 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 13, 1861
 Oliver Case letter, October 31, 1861