Missing His First Opportunity for Combat

On the 7th of February 1862, the ships of Burnside’s Expeditionary force had finally made their way north into the Croatan Sound off the western shore of Roanoke Island. Their guns pounded the Confederate fortifications on the island for most of the day as Oliver Case and the other soldiers of the expedition watched and waited for the order to attack. The bombardment continued until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon when Burnside finally gave the order to begin landing the troops. Shallow draft boats ferried the Union troops to the island from the larger transport ships.

landing-at-roanoke

The Troops of Burnside’s Expedition Land on Roanoke[1]

Most of the initial Confederate opposition to the landings quickly faded away as Union gunboats raked the shoreline with fire. The small boats shuttled regiments ashore as the landings went on until about midnight on the 7th. The 8th Connecticut was one of the later units to go shore. Not among their number was Oliver Case who was too sick to accompany his regiment into their first combat action. Oliver later explained why he remained aboard the Chasseur as he was “indisposed, and the regiment had not pitched their tents and it was rather damp lying in the open air, especially for one who was not well.”[2] His indisposition seemed to be a recurrence of the fever he had suffered prior to his departure from Annapolis almost six weeks earlier when he was confined to a hospital ship.

For Case, it seemed that the disappointment of missing the regiment’s first action against the Confederates was minimized by the minor role the 8th Connecticut played in the Battle of Roanoke Island. According to Oliver:

I have written nothing about the battle for the papers will be full of it. Gen. Burnside said the 8th Conn. held as responsibly fast as any upon the field although they did not have to fire a gun. His orders were to hold it even if it took every man. At one time it looked as though the brunt of the battle was coming upon them, but the enemy were flanked and turned in another direction.[3]

It was true that the regiment had played mainly a supporting role, but Oliver’s dismissive words to his younger sister were surely designed to hide his disappointment as well. Due to the combination of Oliver’s physical condition and the damp living among the swamps on the island, the officers of the 8th Connecticut did not allow him to come ashore and join the regiment until one week after the battle. Finally, on Friday, February 14, 1862, Oliver Case left the Chasseur and planted his feet on the firm ground of Roanoke Island. As he often did in his letters, Oliver painted a word picture of what he saw for his sister.

This island is almost all covered with forests, mostly pitch pine, with now and then a clearing of five or six acres with a small house upon it. The land after it is cleared up is very easy of cultivation and produces light crops of corn and sweet potatoes. The forests are a perfect jungle, it being almost impossibility for man and beast to get through them. There are many swamps upon the island which are a perfect mat of green briars about 10 feet high and so thick that there is no guard kept next to them, which is the same as saying that they cannot be passed through.[4]

 

roanoke-island-map2

A Map of Roanoke Island

Oliver and the 8th Connecticut will not call Roanoke Island home for many days as General Burnside already has plans for his next action on the North Carolina coast. The young man will also not have to wait long for his foray into combat with his fellow soldiers to ease the discontent of missing the Battle of Roanoke Island.

Endnotes:

[1] “The Burnside expedition landing at Roanoke Island – February 7th 1862.” Created by E. Sachse & Co., 1862., Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C., call # LC-DIG-ds-00119.  Available from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003655799/

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT, 1861-1862.

[3] IBID.

[4] IBID.

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