A Reunion of Brothers

As Ariel and Alonzo Case drilled with the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Fort Ward just outside Washington D.C. during the first week of September 1862, they probably did not realize how close they were to their younger brother Oliver. They had last laid eyes on him almost 11 months earlier as the ship bearing him and the other soldiers of the 8th Connecticut moved down the Connecticut River headed for their Camp of Instruction on Long Island, New York. On the evening of September 3, 1862, the 8th arrived in Washington from Aquia Landing in Virginia rushed to the bolster the remnants of John Pope’s Army of Virginia still limping into the capitol from their defeat at the Battle of Manassas, Part II. The regiment camped on the grounds of the White House near the Washington Monument the first night later moving up 7th Street to a military encampment on Meridian Hill.

On the night of September 5th, soldiers of the 8th Connecticut received a shipment of mail including a letter addressed to Captain Walcott Marsh from his brother in-law, Ariel Case, in the 16th Connecticut that had been mailed on September 1st from their encampment at Fort Ward.[1] It would be a safe assumption that among the letters in the mailbag that evening would have been one or more addressed to Oliver Case from one or both of his brothers. As Marsh and Case read their letters that evening, they may have become aware for the first time of the close physical proximity of the Case brothers and the 16th Connecticut. Fort Ward was only about six or seven miles from Meridian Hill across the Potomac River just west of modern-day Reagan National Airport. Now the challenge for these brothers on both sides of the Potomac would be arranging a reunion in midst of the chaos created by the demoralizing defeat of the Union Army at Manassas Junction.

Enter George McClellan to the rescue of the Army, the Capital City and the Case brothers.

With Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s troops moving toward Frederick, MD, his hope is to draw the Union army out of the defenses of Washington. President Lincoln responded to the poor performance of John Pope by bringing back McClellan to oversee the defense of Washington, but McClellan knew he must react to the Army of Northern Virginia’s move into Maryland. In the absence of clear orders directing him to move the army to meet Lee’s invasion, McClellan began to reorganize the army and prepare it to meet the threat from the Army of Northern Virginia. Within two days after Captain Marsh and Private Case received their letters; McClellan decided to start the slow movement of his 84,000 troops out of the confines of Washington. Initially, his action was only intended to expand the defensive perimeter for Washington and potentially react to any Confederate threat to Baltimore. The operation soon turned into a forced march of the entire army toward Frederick and the invading Army of Northern Virginia.

Early on the morning of September 7, 1862, Walcott Marsh, Oliver Case and the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut received orders to march north out of Washington, DC. General McClellan’s newly formed army is slow in leaving the capital city and once on the road, the 8th CVI is delayed until 10:00 am. Roads are crowded with the wagon trains of the Army of the Potomac and thousands of soldiers in hundreds of regiments. The early September Sunday is particularly hot and the sun is beating down on a march route that is covered with a dust cloud stifling the mass of soldiers. The 8th along with the other two regiments of Harland’s Brigade, the 11th Connecticut march a total of 10 miles for the day. A halt is called at Leeboro, Maryland were the brigade will make camp and rest for almost two full days.[2]

It is near the village of Leesboro that the reunion of the Case brothers and Walcott Marsh occurred on Monday, September 8, 1862 on the march from Washington. Leesboro is the modern-day unincorporated town of Wheaton, Maryland.

Leesboro or Leesborough received its name in 1826 and served as a hub for business that naturally developed near the junction of three major roads. Modern Maryland Route 97 was known as the Brookeville Pike or the Washington-Brookeville Pike and ran from Washington to Brookeville, Maryland and then to Baltimore. The Old Bladensburg Road was the second major route through Leesboro now known as Maryland Route 193, University Boulevard connecting the cities of Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Georgetown and Bladensburg. The last route was Veirs Mill Road, Maryland Route 586. During the Civil War it was known as the New Cut Road and ran from the sawmill of Samuel Veirs on Rock Creek to Rockville and then across the Potomac River into Virginia.

Early Monday morning as the 8th began to prepare for their day of marching, a soldier from the 16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment appeared in their ranks declaring that his regiment “was but a short distance back” along the route of march. Captain Marsh took leave of his company and journeyed to the location where he believed he would find the 16th with his brother in law, Ariel Case. When he found the Connecticut regiment, Ariel and his brother Alonzo, also a soldier in the 16th, were not there. Ironically, the two Case brothers had struck out early that morning moving north in search of the 8th Connecticut and their brother in law, Captain Marsh, and younger brother, Private Oliver Case. In the dust and confusion of thousands of marching soldiers along with a seemingly endless line of supply wagons, Marsh and the Case brothers had passed each other.

Walcott Marsh immediately recognized the situation and hurried back to his regiment after a few quick greetings to some of the familiar Connecticut men in the 16th. Upon returning to the 8th, Marsh found a glorious Case family reunion in progress. The 8th Connecticut and the other two regiments of Harland’s Brigade were stalled on the side of the road awaiting orders to continue (or start) the march giving the brothers a golden opportunity to visit one another. Marsh recounts the scene, “I had a fine time visiting with Ariel, Alonzo, Oliver & self went off in woods & roasted corn, potatoes, picked and eat grapes, peaches, apples & c.”[3]

Brothers The Reunion of the three Case brothers and brother in-law, Walcott Marsh occurred on September 8, 1862 near Leesboro, Maryland

(Photos courtesy of John Banks and Matt Reardon)

During the time of the reunion, the group heard the rumor that the 16th would be assigned to Harland’s Brigade, so as Ariel and Alonzo returned south to their regiment, all in the group parted with the hope that another reunion would soon occur. It would be another week of hard marching through Frederick and over South Mountain before the 16th Connecticut would catch up to Harland’s Brigade and that reunion would occur under the dark clouds of looming battle near Sharpsburg.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Mercer, Sandra Marsh and Jerry, Letters to a Civil War Bride: The Civil War Letters of Captain Wolcott Pascal Marsh, Heritage Books, Westminster, Maryland, 2006.

[2] IBID.

[3] IBID.

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