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.

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