Rest with Honor: The Burial of Oliver Case

“Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.” – Tecumseh

In her classic work on death in the Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust expresses the challenge of burying the dead of the battle as “an act of improvisation, one that called upon the particular resources of the moment and circumstance; available troops to be detailed, prisoners of war to be deployed, civilians to be enlisted.”[1] For Private Oliver Cromwell Case, the circumstances and resources aligned favorably for a personalized and honorable burial on the morning of September 19, 1862. As the morning sun revealed the absence of the Confederate defenders on the hills outside of Sharpsburg, a grim task lay before a group of soldiers from the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The responsibility for the collection and burial of the remains of the 8th Connecticut soldiers killed in the intense combat of Wednesday afternoon was given to Captain Wolcott Marsh for the 8th Connecticut. As soon as the field was determined to be clear of Confederate soldiers, Marsh and his detail of soldiers set about their work.

wpmarsh

Captain Wolcott Marsh of the 8th Connecticut

(Photo courtesy of John Banks and Matt Reardon)

 

Captain Marsh recounted the gruesome work for his team that morning:

We stacked arms and details were sent from different to pick up the dead so that could be buried together. I went up where our regit. was engaged and there what a sight. 30 men from our regit. alone lay dead in a little field and near by was 42 Zouaves (9th N. Y.) and many more from other regit. The first man I came to of my company was Charles E. Louis my acting orderly. Then Corp. Truck my color corporal and close by them lay Dwight Carry, Herbert Nee, Horace Rouse and Mr. Sweet all of my company then passing on to Co. A. were the body’s of Olive[r] Case, Orton Lord, Martin Wadhams and Lucius Wheeler then to Co. K. saw Jack Simons body the only one whose name remember…[2]

Captain Marsh’s discovery of Oliver’s lifeless remains would confirm the worst fears of Alonzo and Ariel Case, Oliver’s older brothers and members of the 16th Connecticut, after hearing the report of Oliver’s friend on the night of September 17th. For the moment, the handling of Oliver’s remains was a responsibility of Captain Marsh’s detail composed of Oliver’s comrades from the regiment. The soldiers went about their work as Marsh directed that “all body’s brought from hill down [be laid out] by several straw stacks.”[3] The bodies were removed from the regiment’s “high water mark,” the portion of the battlefield near the present-day 8th Connecticut monument and transported across the rolling hills to a field of haystacks located to the north of the 40-acre cornfield and just south of the Otto farmhouse. This staging area was possibly used as Marsh awaited guidance from his commander on the location of the temporary burial grounds.

As Captain Marsh sought direction for the interment of the regiment’s dead, the two surviving Case brothers were planning for the worst-case scenario but hoping for the best. By afternoon, Ariel and Alonzo secured “permission to go over the field and [look] for our brother’s body being very sure he was dead…” On the evening following the battle, Alonzo and Ariel had gone “to the Eighth Regiment to learn the fate of my younger Brother Oliver” and were told by a friend of Oliver “that stood beside him that he fell and he called him by name but no reply…no doubt killed.” However, they could not let go of the faint anticipation that, two days after the battle, he might be alive as “each took our canteens filled with water.” The field revealed a scene Alonzo Case would never forget, an “awful sickening tramp and if I could picture to you the sad sites that we beheld,” he wrote many years later.[4]

Alonzo Case Photo uniform CROPPEDAriel Case

Alonzo and Ariel Case

(Photos courtesy of John Banks and Matt Reardon)

 

Alonzo continued his description of battlefield as the two brothers searched for Oliver’s body:

The ground for acres and miles in length were strewn with dead and wounded. The wounded crying for water they having lain there the whole day before and two nights — but everyone was looking for some comrade of their own Regiment…[5]

Hope of finding Oliver alive quickly faded for the Case brothers and it wasn’t long until they discovered the body of their youthful brother, carefully laid out near the haystacks with the other members of the 8th Connecticut killed in the battle of two days ago. They conducted a thorough inspection of the remains and determined that Oliver “was no doubt killed instantly the bullet having passed through his head just about the top of his ears.” This undoubtedly gave some measure of comfort to the Ariel and Alonzo as they could report to their parents of a relatively quick and painless death for their youngest son.[6]

In an act of brotherly love and honor for a fallen hero, Alonzo and Ariel evacuated and buried their dead brother:

We wrapped him in my blanket and carried him to the spot where the 16th dead were to be buried having first got permission from the Colonel of the Eighth and the 16th to do so. The 16th men were buried side by side in a trench and they dug a grave about 6 [feet] from them and we deposited the remains of my brother and that having first pinned a paper with his name and age on the inside of the blanket. Then they put up boards to teach with name and Regiment on them.[7]

On September 27, 1862, the Hartford Courant published an article about the battle of Antietam primarily focused on the 16th Connecticut but also including a listing of all Connecticut causalities from the battle of Antietam. From this article, we know that this was likely not the first time that Job Case and his family discovered that Oliver had been killed in action. The article alludes to prior public knowledge of the battle via unidentified “letter writers” and we know that Captain Marsh had written letters to his wife and others in the days immediately following the battle (some of which were shared with the Courant) which would have included the news of Oliver’s demise. Ariel and Alonzo may have also written letters home that arrived in Simsbury prior to this date describing the discovery and burial of Oliver remains.

Only three days later, the Courant published a letter written by the adjutant of the 16th Connecticut, Lieutenant John Burnham. In his letter, Burnham provided a detailed account of the grave sites of all the soldiers in his regiment buried on the field at Antietam. Mentioned specifically among the soldiers of the 16th CVI was the body of Oliver Case buried by his brothers in the same location on September 19th.  Burnham noted that each grave was carefully marked by a headboard containing the name and the unit of the soldier.

The bodies lie near a large tree standing alone, and which I had blazed on all sides so that it can be easily discovered. [The bodies] are all together and lie as follows: South of the tree are Jesse O. Barnes and James McGarth of Co. E, of our own regiment [16th], and Oliver C. Case of the 8th, a brother of Ariel J. Case of the 16th.[8]

Burial site of OC Case on Otto Farm

Otto Farm viewed from the north with the site of Oliver Case’s burial

Modern View of Otto Farm from West.png

Modern view of the Otto Farm from the West with the site of Oliver Case’s burial

For three months, Oliver’s body would rest on the Otto Farm until December of 1862 when Oliver’s father, Job Case, traveled from Simsbury to the battlefield at Antietam for the purpose of recovering the remains of his son. The elder Case may have enlisted the services of a well-known Hartford undertaker, William W. Roberts, who assisted many Connecticut families with returning the remains of their loved ones killed at Antietam (HT: John Banks). Job Case had the remains of his son exhumed from the temporary grave on the Otto farm and returned his body to Simsbury. Oliver was laid to rest with multiple generations of his ancestors in the Simsbury Cemetery located in the heart of town.

OliverCaseGrave2

The Final Resting Place of Oliver Cromwell Case, Simsbury Cemetery, Hopmeadow Street, Simsbury, Connecticut

 

Nearly 15 months after he departed his hometown, Private Oliver Cromwell Case had now returned home to rest with honor.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust, 2008.

[2] Letters to a Civil War Bride: The Civil War Letters of Captain Wolcott Pascal Marsh, Sandra Marsh Mercer and Jerry Mercer, 2006.

[3] IBID

[4] “Recollections of Camp and Prison Life” by Alonzo Grove Case, Company E, 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers (from the collection of The Simsbury Historical Society)

[5] IBID.

[6] IBID.

[7] IBID.

[8] Hartford Daily Courant, September 30, 1862

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