Why this blog?

Many folks ask me why I would want to spend all this time and energy researching and writing about an individual soldier in the Civil War. This extract from the “About this Blog” page may help explain why I choose to write about one soldier…

A Yard Sale Bargain

People will buy anything that is one to a customer. – Sinclair Lewis

The noise of the crowd faded away as my eyes sharpen focus on the rough, but ornate brown leather marred by a small repair in the upper right corner. I forgot my paternal duties as I lifted the book from its resting place on the blanket to perform a close examination. Having now summoned the powers of both sight and feel, I immediately gained a sense that this was no ordinary yard sale artifact. At the time, I could not appreciate the understatement of that thought.

Some bargains gain value over time. Other bargains have their true value hidden in the history of the item. So it would be for this bargain of an artifact discovered a sunny Saturday morning in Germantown, Maryland. Simply along for the ride with my wife as we moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, we were in search of bargains for the immediate needs of our young family. As she searched for children’s clothing in one multifamily yard sale, my eye caught a glimpse of two items that were out of place. One was an old violin, but it was the beautifully aged leather cover of a small book of some type that fixed my interest.

My interest and expertise, such as it was, would not let me turn away from the book. The visual appeal was enhanced by the feel of the old leather cover in my hand as I examined it closely. Realizing this small book must be an old bible, I carefully opened the cover in an effort to confirm my assessment and determine its age. As I turned to the title page, my initial evaluation was validated. In fact, this was an 1854 edition of a King James Bible printed by the famous Thomas Nelson Publishers in London.

“How much for this?” I asked the proprietor of the collection standing by his goods laid out on the front lawn. His response of three dollars stunned me for a moment but I worked my best yard sale face not to reveal it. Considering the fact that this almost hundred and forty year old bible had to be worth much more than the asking price, I determined to forgo the normal haggling routine and quickly accept the price. As I handed over the three greenbacks and firmly gripped my new possession, I had no foreshadowing of the journey upon which I would now embark, making the purchase price seem even more of a yard sale bargain.

The rest of that Saturday was spent at dozens of other yard sale locations. After arriving home in the afternoon, the cares of family life quickly supplanted my curiosity about the new purchase and I put the bible aside with the resolution that I would explore it when time permitted. Time would not permit a proper examination of the artifact for another two weeks.

When the moment came to again pick up the bible, I carefully began to turn through the opening pages which are normally left blank by the publisher. In this case, someone had written in script on some of these pages. My heart leaped as I read the words on the first page with writing:

Oliver C. Case

Co. A. 8th Reg’t

C.V.

If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will also deny us.

2 Tim. 2

[unreadable] OCT. 13, 1861

[unreadable]

Well, I now knew this belonged to a soldier likely of the Civil War era based on the publication date of the bible. The following page revealed additional writing in another hand:

If you die, die like a man.

Miss Abbie J Case

Hartford

Conn

Miss Jennie A Hartford

Oliver C. Case

The first words on this page would hold my curiosity captive for years to come, “If you die, die like a man.” Who could this person be, Oliver C. Case? Who would write should a phrase? As an Army officer who had just returned from war only two years earlier, I could not imagine using these words to encourage a modern American soldier. I had to find out more about this man and his story, as I immediately felt the connection. It was the beginning of my calling that would only grow stronger with the passage of time. One factual discovery would beg for two more. Never satisfied to accept that learning about this man and his bible had reached their terminal point, I pressed on.

“If you die, die like a man.”

These are the prophetic words written inside the front cover of Oliver Case’s pocket Bible that he carried into battle as he ascended the rolling hills toward the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland on September 17, 1862. Oliver and many of his fellow soldiers in the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry would die on those hills just short of the Harpers Ferry Road at the end of the bloodiest day in American history. But, as Lincoln put it, “these dead shall not have died in vain” and this site is dedicated to the memory of one of those “honored dead,” Private Oliver Cromwell Case of Simsbury, Connecticut.

The chroniclers of Connecticut’s involvement in the Civil War, W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, envisioned the challenge in telling the stories of the foot soldiers:

…there is a sense of pain and profound sorrow in the consciousness that it is impossible to render justice to the nameless rank and file who never wore even a corporal’s chevron, but held to their duty with sublime patience. The last of the color-guard, who seized the standard that had dropped from the relaxed grasp of his 3 comrades, and bore it on, and planted it and stood by it on the edge of the rebel rifle-pit; the martyr who perished in prison, and ever since has been marked “missing” upon the roll of regimental casualties; the thousand glorious obscure, who were mown down by the flaming blade of battle, and died singing songs of triumph, and praying for the establishment of Liberty and Law, — these are the true heroes and martyrs of all the wars of the world. 1

The great American poet and volunteer Civil War nurse in the Union hospitals of Washington, D.C. was moved to tell the world of this kind of soldier. On August 10th of 1863, Whitman sat down to compose “a few lines” to the parents of Erastus Haskell, a soldier of Company K, 141st New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The poet wanted to relay information about their son who had recently died in the Armory Square Hospital where Whitman had provided him comfort, care and companionship during his last days. One line in his last paragraph gives voice to my purpose in telling the story of Oliver Cromwell Case. Whitman writes, “He is one of the thousands of our unknown American young men in the ranks about whom there is no record or fame, no fuss made about their dying so unknown, but I find in them the real precious & royal ones of this land, giving themselves up, aye even their young & precious lives, in their country’s cause…”2

So, I tell the story of Private Oliver Cromwell Case, one of the real precious and royal ones of this land…

For more on info, please visit John Banks’ excellent blog and the interview he did with me in January 2012.

NOTES:

(1) Croffut, W.A. and Morris, John M., The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, Ledyard Bill, New York, 1868.

(2) Letter of Walt Whitman to Mr. and Mrs. S.B. Haskell, dated August 10, 1863, access from the Walt Whitman Archive, http://whitmanarchive.org, January 23, 1863.

 

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“Ere it was light”

Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut awoke at daybreak on the morning of September 17th, 1862 to find themselves facing the enemy just a short distance away on the far side of Antietam Creek. “Ere it was light on Wednesday we were aroused blankets rolled up and every man in his accustomed place,” wrote Captain Walcott Marsh of the 8th. (Marsh) With the daylight came the Confederate gunners ability to range the soldiers in blue emerging from the darkness on the Rohrbach farm. It seems that some inexperienced troops from Rodman’s Division when “looking for a glimpse of the rebels” and served as a range marker for the Confederate artillerists. (C&M) The artillery fire had “good range” and quickly found its mark “as they had obtained the exact range [of Rodman’s Division]” positioned on the Rohrbach farm. This artillery fire would exact several causalities in the 8th Connecticut including Sergeant George Marsh of Oliver’s company (A) and three privates assigned to Company K.

So what Confederate artillery units ranged Rodman’s Division at daybreak and where were the guns located? After some research and a couple of terrain walks, I believe I may have a plausible answer to those questions.

The Confederate artillery opposing IX Corps crossing the Antietam included Eubank’s (Va) Artillery Battery. It was assigned to 2nd Battalion of Longstreet’s Corps Artillery which was also known as the Reserve Artillery during the battle of Antietam. This battalion was commanded by Colonel Stephen D. Lee famous for his defense of the Confederate forces in the northern part of the battlefield and for his description of the area as “artillery hell.” Stephen Lee’s battalion arrived at Sharpsburg on the morning of September 15th and after crossing the Antietam Creek, Lee detached Eubank’s Battery which was previously known as Bath Battery, from the battalion and sent them to the right side of the Confederate line to assist with defending against the Union IX Corps in their attempt to cross the Rohrbach Bridge. The battery was commanded by John L. Eubank of Bath County, Virginia and consisted of four different types of guns, a 3-inch ordnance rifle, a 12-pound howitzer, a 6-pound gun and another rifled gun of an unknown type.

The four guns of Eubank’s Battery, according to Ezra Carman’s maps, was situated on high bluff well above the bend in the creek that pointed directly toward Rohrbach’s cornfield and the brigades of Fairchild and Harland which belong to Rodman’s Division. Carman writes that Rodman’s Division “had been put in position in the darkness and when morning came, found itself exposed to the fire of Eubank’s Battery across the Antietam…” (Carman) So, it seems reasonably clear that it was Eubank’s Battery that fired on Rodman’s Division at daybreak, but what about the location of the guns?

Actually, I believe it was one gun from Eubank’s Battery that initially fired on the Union troops that morning and it was located much closer than the battery is depicted on Carman’s map. The first clue is in the letter of Captain Walcott Marsh describing the events of the morning. As daylight began to break “Objects had scarcely become distant around us” wrote Marsh. As the soldiers began to stir, Marsh noted that “the flash of a gun was seen a short distance in front of us on a little hill and in a moment a shell burst over our heads…” (Marsh) This phrase, “a short distance in front of us on a little hill,” is key to understanding the position of the Confederate artillery piece that fired on Rodman’s Division. Several terrain walks quickly revealed that Marsh could not have been describing the location of Eubank’s Battery on the Carman map for it was located on a high bluff at a greater than “a short distance” but still in range.

Lieutenant Matthew Graham of the Ninth New York Volunteers, part of Fairchild’s Brigade, wrote many years after the war that he had observed “considerable activity among some men in grey on the top of one of the hills in our front.” He continued to watch as the Confederate gunners were “apparently shoveling and leveling the ground…preparing a place for their battery to stand.” Graham deduced that the rebels “had gotten their guns up there and were obliged to prepare a platform or level space for them so that the recoil would not force them down the hill.” (Graham)

Eubanks Btty daybreakPossible location of Eubanks’ gun that fired on Rodman’s troops

I set off on another terrain walk to try and locate the precise position of Eubanks’ gun or guns that fired that morning. Interestingly, I stumbled across the site annotated on Carman’s map above by the bright red line. I believe early on the morning of September 17th, 1862, Captain Eubanks, likely acting on information provided by Confederate skimmers positioned near the Antietam Creek or from his own reconnaissance, moved at least one of his artillery pieces to the knoll that formed the inside of the bend in the creek directly opposite the Rohrbach farm. During my terrain walk, I made an interesting discovery.

Eubanks gun positionCould this be the remnants of an emplacement for one of Eubanks’ guns?

I located what appear to be the remnants of fighting position or potentially a gun emplacement in the most likely position as I was able to determine by the accounts of the incident and Carman’s map. Now, I understand this to be somewhat of a stretch since there are many other possible explanations for this site. However, having seen many of these types of positions from Civil War battle sites and having dug a number of modern battle positions myself, this clearly appears to be man-made for the purpose of emplacing an artillery piece. It could well be the result of the Confederate work party observed by Lieutenant Graham preparing a “platform or level space” for a gun to perfectly range the Rodman’s troops on the opposite side of the Antietam.

Eubanks gun viewThe view from the possible location of Eubanks’ gun looking toward the position of Rodman’s Division on the morning of September 17, 1862

Even with the modern growth of trees, this location offers an incredible view of the area occupied by Rodman’s troops that morning. This site is located just below the Georgians Overlook site off the Snavely’s Ford trail and afforded me the opportunity to contemplate the view of the Confederate gunners that morning as “ere it was light.”