The Balls Rung Tunes

The Balls Rung Tunes

The mud soaked roads and swamps leading the Union forces of Burnside’s Expedition toward the Confederate forces defending Newbern made marching miserable for Oliver Case and the other troops in the 8th Connecticut. Bedding down for the night on March 13, 1862 brought little relief to these boys in blue as the North Carolina coastal weather continued to dump rain. Oliver observed that the milder southern climate granted some relief when the order to move out came at 6 am on the morning of March 14th, although “our blankets were as heavy as 8 ought to be.”

The regiments and brigades of Burnside’s expedition were up and moving again on the morning of 14 February 1862. At 7:00 am the units were advancing toward Confederate breastworks that, unlike those of the first day, were occupied by soldiers in gray and butternut. The First Brigade quickly became engaged by Confederate forces in entrenchments along the Fort Thompson line closer to the river. Colonel Rodman, of the Fourth Rhode Island, discovered an opening in the entrenchments by which the Confederates could be flanked and reported this fact immediately to his brigade commander, General Parke. Parke did not hesitate to order an attack by the entire brigade who were positioned in the center of the Union line of advance. The entrenchments were soon overwhelmed by Parke’s troops and the Confederate defenders were flanked because the center of the Confederate line was manned by green militia units. Seeing the advancing Union regiments of Parke’s Brigade, these militia troops quick broke and ran to the rear.[1]

As the 8th Connecticut approached the still-occupied earthworks, it was the moment of truth for Private Case. “[T]he balls rung tunes over our heads and occasionally played a little nearer our heads than we cared for” as the remaining Confederate defenders fired upon the advancing Union troops. For Oliver, his baptism of fire had finally arrived.

To those who have not experienced it, the emergence of humor while under enemy fire may seem an impossibility. This phenomenon, as difficult as it may be to understand, is real. In the midst of battle there is still room for humor. So it was for Oliver Case and the soldiers of Company A, 8th CVI:

Philo Matson, from out on Firetown mountains, was in the rank ahead of me and was much frightened; he would have fell out if possible. The orders were given to fall down, right up, fix bayonets, fire. As soon as I had fired, I heard Philo say, “Oh, I’m killed”, turned and saw a slight flesh wound on the top of his head. I certainly could not help laughing to see him. He turned to the orderly and asked him if he thought he was killed and, when he found out that he was still in the land of the living, took his gun and made himself missing as soon as possible.[2]

Here stands Oliver Case, with of bullets flying over his head, any one of which could strike him and cause instant death, yet he’s laughing. Obviously, Private Philo A. Matson of Canton, Connecticut was giving verbal or non-verbal indications that he wanted to run away as the regiment marched into the hail of bullets. Certainly, his fellow soldiers were afraid of what was ahead but none would dare let it show and be labeled a coward. Matson had no such inhabitations and made a spectacle of himself after suffering a minor flesh wound. His cowardness manifested itself as Maston “made himself missing” on a permanent basis being listed as a deserter in April 1862.

The humor of the Connecticut troops was short-lived as some of the Confederate rounds found their mark. Two companies of the 8th (G and H, actually K) were sent out as skirmishers as company A and the remainder of the regiment lay on the ground with the bullets buzzing just above them. Oliver reported to Abbie on the first causalities of the battle:

Capt. Epham [This name was unclear to the original transcriber] of Co. H was wounded in the shoulder at this time; it is feared mortally. Howes Phelps from Co. B was killed.[3]

In fact, there is no record of a Capt. “Epham” in the 8th CVI. The company commander of company H at this time appears to have been Capt. Thomas D. Sheffield of Stonington who had replaced Capt. Douglass Fowler. Sheffield originally enlisted in company G as the 1st Lieutenant and it is assumed he was promoted and transferred to company H upon the resignation of Fowler. He was honorably discharged on January 17, 1863. Rolls of the 8th confirm that Houlsey F.D. Phelps (aka “Howes”) of East Windsor (likely a distant cousin of Oliver), was killed at the Battle of Newbern on March 14, 1862. Capt. “Epham” was likely Capt. Charles L. Upham, commander of company K, who was reported as being wounded in the battle by the account of Croffut and Morris, but this status is not found on the company rolls.

Storming of Fort Thompson Battle of New Bern

The Union assault on Fort Thompson at the Battle of Newbern

 

These causalities occurred during the assault of the Confederate battery known as Fort Thompson described by Oliver:

At this time, word came that the 21st Mass. had charged upon the battery and were repulsed. We were ordered on double quick through [word unreadable] until we reached the rail road where was a high embankment where we halted to form.[4]

Moving quietly down the railroad, Colonel Harland had positioned his regiment to assault the battery from the flank. Oliver observed some deception in the works:

We were then ordered to fall and by mistake our colors fell too, and the rebels, deceived by our gray coats, took us to be rebel reinforcements arriving by rail road and ceased firing upon us; this mistake probably saved many lives.[5]

The soldiers were ordered to fix bayonets and the charge was then directed by Colonel Harland:

“…with a clear, shrill voice, and the emphasis of coming victory, rang the orders, “By company into line!” An advancing front of forty men appeared before the astonished rebels. ” Fix bayonets ! ” It was done at a rapid walk. ” Forward into line ! ” Up the embankment, and across the railroad, dashed the rear companies, coming into line within a hundred paces of the works. “Steady, guide center, forward, double quick !”[6]

And here is one of those points of disputed history. From Oliver’s view:

When we started from there we went double quick to charge their battery, but as they did not like the look of cold steel they left in a hurry. The color guard immediately ran up to the battery and planted the colors which were the first upon the battery.[7]

At least three regiments including the 8th CVI would claim the title of “First to Plant the Flag” upon the Confederate works. The 11th CVI and the 4th Rhode Island would also declare that they were the first regiment to the top. Croffut and Morris reported it this way:

The Eighth contests the claim of the 4th Rhode- Island to having first entered the enemy’s works; and it is certain that the flag of the Eighth was first displayed therein.[8]

Of course, the 8th CVI had a significant advantage here as “Morris” was the Rev. John M. Morris who would become the regimental chaplain just over one month after the Battle of Newbern.

Writing after the battle, General Parke reported that all the regiments “were under fire, and the officers seemed proud of the men they were leading and the men showed they had full confidence in their officers.”  Two soldiers are killed in action and four are wounded.

The attack upon the defenses of Newbern (March 14th) was made at an early hour, and the Eighth assisted in the capture of about five hundred Confederate troops. This was the regiment’s first baptism of blood. Its killed were privates Phelps of Company B and Patterson of Company I, with four wounded. The personal bravery of Colonel Harland amid the whistling bullets at Newbern, together with his skill and cool-headedness as a tactician, and his evident desire to shield his men from harm whenever possible, gave them a confidence in him which was never afterward shaken.[9]

The 8th was first in the battle in which they fought bravely…Gen Burnside came along up side of our Regt an[d] order[ed] us to charge on them in which we did in double quick time in which they fired upon us killing 8; wound[ed] several. It was a bold attempt but we won the victory driving the rebels in every direction.[10]

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] OR, Parke and Harland March 22, 1862.

[2] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 March 1862)

[3] IBID

[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[7] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 March 1862)

[8] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[9] History of the Eighth Regiment C. V. Infantry, J.H.Vaill, Case, Lockwood, and Brainard Co, Hartford, 1889.

[10] Letters of Cyrus B. Harrington, Connecticut Historical Society, March 15, 1862.

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The Landing at Slocum’s Creek

The Landing at Slocum’s Creek

Ambrose Burnside’s second objective in his expeditionary campaign against the Confederates on the North Carolina coast was the city of Newbern. Newbern was located on the Neuse River about 35 miles above the interior entrance to Pamlico Sound and access by rail to the interior rail network that fed the Army of Northern Virginia from the deeper parts of the southern states.  A Confederate stronghold and logistical base, the city provided an opportunity to cut the rebel supply line and provide a linkage by rail to Burnside’s third objective, Fort Macon.

As they had done earlier in the days before Burnside’s assault on Roanoke Island, Confederate officials were lackadaisical in their defensive preparations at Newbern. While it had been over a month since the fall of Roanoke Island, the government in Richmond did very little in the way of providing additional manpower or supplies to the forces defending the approaches to Newbern. Although a “political general,” Confederate commander Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch recognized the deficiencies of the Newbern defenses and began lobbying Richmond soon after assuming command in January 1862. His calls for reinforcements and materiel fell on deaf ears in the Confederate capital.

Branch_Lawrence_O_Bryan_LoC_26684u

Confederate Brigadier General Lawrence Branch lead the resistance to Burnside’s Expedition[i]

 

On March 13, 1862, Burnside’s fleet of ships had made their way up the Neuse River to the mouth of Slocum’s Creek only 16 miles below the Trent River which formed the border of the city of Newbern. The strip of land between Slocum’s Creek and the Trent River was fortified by General Branch and the Confederates with earthworks, trenches and obstacles to form successive defensive positions. However, Branch did not have an adequate number of troops and artillery pieces with ammunition to properly man these positions. The small Confederate Navy along this part of the North Carolina coast was rendered totally ineffective by the Union Navy following the Battle of Roanoke Island so no naval gunfire support was available to Branch.

As the ships of Burnside’s fleet arrived at the mouth of Slocum’s Creek on March 13th, Oliver Case the 8th Connecticut soldiers loaded onto smaller, shallow draft boats to make their way toward the landing site. The 8th Connecticut under the command of Colonel Edward Harland remained assigned to the brigade of Brigadier General John Grubb Parke. Parke’s Third Brigade consisted of the 11th Connecticut, 4th and 5th Rhode Island as well as the 8th Connecticut. It was a tedious operation to ferry the troops onto the beaches and organize them for movement but it was soon completed.

Landing of Troops Battle of New Bern

The Troops of Burnside’s Expedition come ashore at the mouth of Slocum’s Creek[ii]

 

Oliver described the landing site as “a small cove” where troops were pushed forward by their commanders “and immediately commenced marching up the river.” Slocum’s Creek probably seemed more like a river to Oliver and many of the boys from Connecticut as the 8th marched along the creek’s edge on what Oliver called “the beach” for about two miles before turning to head inland. Not long after heading away from the water, the regiment came upon a welcome sight that was just too good to resist for some of the troops.

In a short time we came up to an encampment of cavalry which had been evacuated but a short time. Some of the boys fell out and helped themselves to chickens, ham, biscuits etc.[iii]

Good things cannot last and so it was for the feasting troopers who were soon given the order to move out. In a scene that would be a preview of Burnside’s infamous “mud march” in Virginia almost one year later, the troops struggled against terrible conditions. Oliver described it this way:

We travelled till after sundown over the muddiest road (if road it could be called) that I ever saw.[iv]

The Confederate commander closest to the landing, Colonel R. P. Campbell, in command of the Confederate right wing, had interpreted the supporting gunfire from the Union ships as an indicator that another landing of Union troops would follow the first and orders his troops to pull back to the defense line near Fort Thompson. When the Union regiments reach the entrenchments on the 13th, they find them abandoned.

Oliver observed the abandoned enemy camps and fortifications realizing that the soldiers of Parke’s Brigade may have dodged the bullet for this day.

About the middle of the afternoon we came to the first battery, which had just been evacuated and the barracks set on fire, which were still burning as we passed. We found out afterward that if we had been a day later the rebels would have had their forces there and mounted and it would have taken the lives of many men to have dislodged them for it is a very strong point. The fortification is a mile long, with a large ditch in front protected in the rear by breast works of huge trees felled top of one another. It would have been almost impossible to have flanked them and they would undoubtedly have had to be charged upon to have dislodged them.[v]

The expedition continued to march until nightfall when they halted and prepared for follow on operations at daylight the next morning. General Parke reported that “roads generally were in bad order, and the men marched in many localities through water and mud. In addition, heavy showers fell at intervals during the day and night, and although the men had their overcoats and blankets the bivouac was extremely trying.”[vi]

After struggling against the terrible road conditions, the troops were allowed to make camp for the night to include building fires using the available pitch pine wood which burned even in the wet conditions. That night, wrote Oliver, the rain “commenced in good earnest” creating miserable conditions for the soldiers who found that “after 12 o’clock very little sleeping was done by the soldiers in this division.” Oliver and his comrades knew that tomorrow would bring battle.

ENDNOTES:

[i] Prewar photograph from Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2010649184/

[ii] From Harper’s Weekly, April 5, 1862

[iii] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (16 March 1862)

[iv] IBID.

[v] IBID.

[vi] OR, Parke, March 22, 1862.

Hurry Up and Wait

Anyone with military service is familiar with the concept called, “hurry up and wait.” It’s a fact in the life of a soldier to be told to quickly prepare for something big and then find yourself in a waiting pattern until your leaders are satisfied with conditions and the command is given to move out. This time is often spent by young soldier speculating and reflecting especially when the hurry up and wait is in anticipation of combat operations. There are many such days in the life of a soldier.

 

fall-in-for-roll-call

“Hurry Up and Wait” – A Fact of Life for Civil War Soldiers[1]

 

March 4, 1862 was one of those days for Private Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. As the day dawned, they scrambled to prepare for movement only to find themselves waiting for the final orders to load the ships and move out to what they all believed would be their second battle experience. As the soldiers waited, the rumors flew and Oliver passed the time in one of his favorite activities, writing letters. This time he speculated to his sister Abbie about the regiment’s destination:

As to our destination we are entirely ignorant, some say one place – some another, but none know.[2]

As Ambrose Burnside planned the next move for his expeditionary force, the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut tried to anticipate their next movement. For several days, leaders had also anticipated the movement by ordering the troops “to keep three days rations cooked in advance so as to be ready to start at a moment’s warning.” Just the day before he wrote this letter, Oliver and his fellow soldiers were told that tomorrow, March 4th, would be the big day only to experience more disappointment after scrambling to ready themselves in the morning.

But when the reveille was beat the order to strike tents was not given as had been expected, and it was shortly given out that we should not be able to go aboard this forenoon on account of the wind which was blowing a strong northeaster at the time.[3]

The volatile North Carolina weather had once again caused more hurry up and wait for the Union forces of Burnside’s Expedition. Oliver used this occasion to rely the latest news from camp to Abbie including the word of several resignations among the officers of the regiments. In addition to the resignation of Capt. Fowler already mentioned in his letter of February 27, 1862, Oliver also includes that “Capt. Nash and a couple of Lieut’s. have gone home.” Captain Charles W. Nash from New Hartford enlisted on 25 September 1861 as the Commanding Officer of Company C, 8th CVI. He resigned 2 March 1862 at Roanoke Island, NC.

Based on the regimental rolls, the resigning Lieutenants may have included some or all of the following:

Lieutenant Robert H. Burnside

Enlisted 25 September 1861, New Hartford

Company C, 8th CVI

Resigned 1 March 1862

1st Lieutenant Henry N. Place

Enlisted 25 September 1861, Waterbury

Company E, 8th CVI

Resigned 18 March 1862

2nd Lieutenant Luman Wadhams

Enlisted 25 September 1861, Waterbury

Company E, 8th CVI

Resigned April 8, 1862

1st Lieutenant Noah P. Ives

Enlisted 23 September 1861, Meriden

Company K, 8th CVI

Resigned 18 March 1862

Oliver does not give the reason for these resignations, but there are other troubling rumors spreading through the camp about officers of the regiment:

It is rumored that the Col. and the Chaplain are both going home, also several others. The reason assigned for the resignation of the Col. was that Gen. Burnside had given him particular fits about the way he had conducted the regiment.[4]

The regimental commander, Colonel Edward Harland, did not resign and would rise to command the entire brigade by the Maryland Campaign. Whatever performance deficiency that may have existed in the mind of Ambrose Burnside was obviously corrected and Harland was well respected as a leader.

As for the chaplain, Oliver’s information was much more accurate. The 8th Connecticut chaplain was Joseph J. Woolley of Norwalk who mustered into the 8th on October 5, 1861 and did resigned on March 13, 1862. The roster of the regiment lists health problems as the reason for his resignation.

Oliver also gives an interesting assessment of the leadership abilities of the Commanding General, Ambrose Burnside:

The Gen. looks out for this men and woe be to the officer under him that tries to “rough it” on them. When we first came here we had some salt junk that was cooked up for two or three days rations and put hot into barrels, and before we ate it up it was a little tainted around the bones. The Gen. found it out and gave the commissary to understand if it happened again he could march. His men were not going to eat stinking meat.[5]

After all the rumors and reflection, it seemed that the soldiers of the 8th were moving much closer to ending this episode of hurry up and wait.

I think in all probability we shall not go aboard before morning although we are prepared to hear the order any moment to “strike tents in fifteen minutes.” I have just stopped writing to take some cartridges from the orderly to make up my forty rounds.[6]

According to a later letter penned by Oliver, the regiment did finally break camp on this day and were loaded aboard their former home on the steamer, “Chasseur.”

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Hardtack and Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life, John D. Billings, George M. Smith and Company, Boston, 1887

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

[3] IBID.

[4] IBID.

[5] IBID.

[6] IBID.

Douglass Fowler: What Might Have Been

Douglass Fowler: What Might Have Been

Douglass Fowler 8CVI and 17CVI

Studying the Civil War and its participants inevitably leads one to the “what might have been” questions. This is acutely true when focusing on the experiences of the soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict. I cannot count the number of times I’ve asked this question regarding Oliver Case. His life held so much promise for great things beyond his service to the Union.

So it is with the subject of one of Oliver’s letters, Captain Douglass Fowler of Norwalk, Connecticut. Fowler had originally enlisted in the 3rd Connecticut Infantry, a three-month regiment, as the commander of Company A on May 14, 1861. While in the 3rd Connecticut, Fowler served alongside the future 8th Connecticut regimental commander Edward Harland during the First Battle of Bull Run and was honorably discharged on August 12, 1861 at the expiration of the regiment’s term of service.

Fowler soon returned to service with the 8th Connecticut as Commander of Company H on September 23, 1861. The records for the 8th indicate that he resigned on January 20, 1862. Based on Oliver Case’s letters to his sister, this was likely the date that Fowler submitted his letter of resignation for approval up through his chain of command. Oliver’s letter dated February 27, 1862 relates that Captain Fowler’s approved resignation had recently been returned from Washington and he would be heading home soon.

Most fascinating is the reason Oliver provides for the sudden resignation. Oliver writes to Abbie that “Capt. Fowler got into a fuss with the Lieut. Col. at Annapolis and sent in his resignation.” Arguments and rivalries between officers in Civil War volunteer regiments were not uncommon and the 8th Connecticut had it’s share of issues especially during the first few months of service. Trying to identify the Lieutenant Colonel that caused Douglass Fowler to resign is difficult to determine with exact certainty. The two Lieutenant Colonels that served in the 8th Connecticut during this period were Peter L. Cunningham followed by Andrew Terry.  

Peter Cunningham became Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut soon after its formation. However, he was not a man well suited for the duties or for military service. As Oliver Case writes, Cunningham became the “laughing stock of the whole brigade” due to his lack of military presence and drilling acumen. Likely pressured by the regimental commander, Colonel Edward Harland, and possibly other senior leaders, Peter Cunningham submitted his resignation from the 8th Connecticut on the 23rd of December 1861 and soon returned to Connecticut.

cunningham

Peter H. Cunningham, Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut, October 5, 1861 to December 23, 1861

 

Promoted from his initial rank of Major upon the resignation of Peter Cunningham, Andrew Terry assumed the duties of Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut on or about December 24, 1861. According to the official records, Terry hailed from Plymouth, Connecticut and enlisted in the 8th Connecticut on October 5, 1861. He served as Lieutenant Colonel for the regiment until March 28, 1862 when he resigned. Andrew Terry was born on December 29, 1824 and married Susan H. Orr sometime before 1847. He died on August 26, 1877 and is buried in the Hillside Cemetery in Terryville, Connecticut.

andrew-terry-photo

Andrew Terry, Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut, December 24, 1861 to March 28, 1862

 

So, will the offending Lieutenant Colonel please step up? Oliver gives us the one clue to solving the mystery that the incident happened at Annapolis. This means it could have involved either officer since the regiment did not sail from Annapolis until after the new year. However, it is more likely that Andrew Terry was the reason behind Fowler’s resignation since the resignation and departure of Cunningham would have removed the officer from having an impact of Fowler’s future service. The other clue that may support this theory of Terry as the offending party is found in Oliver’s statement “[Fowler] should have been Maj. Instead of Capt. Appleton.” When Andrew Terry was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, this left a vacancy in the position of Major for the 8th Connecticut, the third highest ranking officer in the regiment. As the new Lieutenant Colonel for the regiment, Terry’s opinion would have carried great sway with the regimental commander, Colonel Harland. The “fuss” that Oliver writes about could have been a dispute between Fowler and Terry regarding the recommendation for promotion to Major.

Douglass Fowler 8CVI and 17CVI

Douglass Fowler resigned from the 8th Connecticut on January 20, 1862

 

Whatever the issue, Douglass Fowler wanted no more of the officer politics in the 8th Connecticut and so he resigned and returned to Connecticut by the end or February or early March of 1862. He would not stay home for long as Fowler joined the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry to serve as the commanding officer of Company A on July 14, 1862. He participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Fowler would finally get his promotion to Lieutenant Colonel after the wounding and death of the regimental commander. Lieutenant Colonel Fowler found himself in command of the 17th on the first day of Gettysburg leading his regiment into action on Blocher’s Knoll. As Fowler bravely rode forward on his white horse, he encouraged his men to keep moving into the fight. Many of his soldier remembered his fearless example with Fowler urging the soldiers to “Dodge the big ones Boys” as the Confederate artillery reigned in on their position. Only moments after these words of encouragement, Fowler was partially decapitated by a Confederate solid shot. His remains were never recovered, but he is memorialized in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. John Banks has an excellent post about Lieutenant Fowler at Gettysburg.

The what might have been for the Douglas Fowler in the 8th Connecticut remains unknown…

NOTES:

Information on Douglas Fowler from the 17th Connecticut website (http://seventeenthcvi.org/blog/) and John Banks’ excellent Civil War site (http://john-banks.blogspot.com/2014/05/gettysburg-death-of-17th-connecticut-lt.html)

Photo and other information regarding Andrew Terry: From Find-A-Grave (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=82779851)

 Lieut. Col. Douglass Fowler, 17th CVI , Photo courtesy of Bobby Dobbins/17thcvi.org

From THE MILITARY AND CIVIL History of Connecticut THE WAR OF 1861-65, BY W. A. CROFFUT AND JOHN M. MORRIS:

Lieut.-Col. Douglass Fowler of Norwalk was shot dead during the first day’s fight. He had been in the war from the beginning ; having led a company in the Third Regiment through the three-months’ service, and afterwards raised a company for the Eighth. When he resigned his commission in the latter, he recruited a company for the Seventeenth. He was sick before the battle of Chancellorsville, and was borne to the fight in an ambulance ; but he afterwards fought with great endurance, being among the last to retreat. He was by nature a true soldier, brave and skillful ; and his genial temper, generous disposition, and buoyant spirits, united with a fervent interest in the loyal cause, had won for him an enthusiastic regard ; and the men followed him willingly into the deadly strife. He was struck down while leading them in a charge ; and still he sleeps in his unknown grave upon the battle-field of Gettysburg.

Additional info on Douglass Fowler can be found at:

17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry

The American Civil War: Battle of Gettysburg (17th CVI page)