Oliver Case: Answering the Call

Old men for counsel, young men for war. – Unknown

 

Three months after the surrender of Fort Sumter in April of 1861, the public outcry in the northern states had reached a fevered pitch in demanding that President Abraham Lincoln do something about the rebellious southern states to put down the insurrection and preserve the Union. For his part, Lincoln grew exasperated with Union commanders who continued to request more time and resources to prepare their troops for battle. By July 1861, the clamor grew louder calling for the Commander-in-Chief to order his newly established Union Army to move against the Confederate forces in northern Virginia and continue the march on to Richmond bringing this mutiny to a quick end. In response to the hullabaloo and his own desire for action, Lincoln ordered Brigadier General Irvin McDowell to move his 30,000 mostly green troops, under the leadership of relatively inexperienced officers, toward the numerically inferior forces of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard gathered near Manassas Junction. The two sides engaged in a day-long battle that, at first, appeared to be a Union victory. Only timely reinforcements from General Joseph Johnston’s western forces allowed the Confederates to push back the Union troops who then panicked and fled for Washington in complete disarray. The capital fell into a widespread anxiety and stories abounded of southern troops standing ready to storm the gates of Washington. Most northern citizens had expected a quick resolution to the southern rebellion manifested by a rousing Union victory on the battlefield. They now found themselves in a state of shock caused by the stunning Union defeat at the hands of the rebels.

 

First Bull Run painting

Battle of Manassas in July 1861 (Library of Congress)

 

The embarrassment of the rout at Manassas Junction brought President Lincoln and the national leadership to a hard realization that this war would be much longer and costlier in blood and treasure than originally thought. Having followed the advice of his commanders and cabinet members, Lincoln found himself facing a considerable challenge in the manning of his army as many of the regiments with three-month enlistments were expiring in August of 1861. To counter this problem, he directed the call up of additional volunteer troops from the states for longer periods of enlistment. On August 3, 1861 General Order No. 49 was published by the War Department directing the formation of additional regiments from the states with Connecticut tapped for over 13,000 additional soldiers to join the Union Army.

On August 15, 1861, Connecticut Governor William A. Buckingham issued a general order for volunteers to make up the four additional regiments from his state required to answer the president’s call. Although the shocking defeat of the first battle in Northern Virginia has caused the Nutmeggers to make a more realistic assessment of the war, enthusiasm for the war effort continued to be strong and the citizens of Connecticut generally supported the governor’s attempt to meet the state’s quota for troops. Buckingham remained one of Lincoln’s most ardent supporters in the war effort as Connecticut took the lead among northern states in recruiting and outfitting regiments to fulfill Lincoln’s initial call for 75,000 volunteers.

 

William Buckingham

Governor William A. Buckingham of Connecticut (U.S. Senate Historical Office)

 

Now, with the three-month enlistments expiring and the appalling defeat serving as a rallying cry, a public campaign was quickly waged to fill the four additional regiments with Connecticut men.

Meetings were held in the different towns, at which the citizens flocked to listen, to applaud, to encourage enlistments, and to contribute to the volunteer fund. Immense mass-meetings were held in the cities, — the largest and most excited gatherings ever seen in the State.[1]

In the fall of 1861, the small town of Simsbury near Hartford was swept over by the patriotic fervor calling for young men to enlist in cause of defeating the rebels and preserving the Union. One of those young men was twenty-one-year-old Oliver Case. Even though he was the youngest of the three brothers in his family, Oliver was a single young man with a nose for adventure and a deep desire to make his name in the world making him the perfect candidate to enlist in response to the call for volunteers to fill the new Connecticut regiments. On September 16, 1861, the young Case decided it was his time to leave the family farm fulfilling his patriotic duty and beginning to live the adventurous life of a soldier. Oliver became the first member of his family to volunteer for service in the Union Army by enlisting in Company B of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry (CVI) Regiment. Company B was formed under the leadership of Captain Patrick K. Ruth of Enfield with the majority of the officers and enlisted men recruited from Enfield although Oliver was among the few men hailing from Simsbury, Suffield and East Windsor, towns, like Enfield, also located in Hartford County.

Oliver Cromwell Case was born on December 22, 1839 to Job and Abigail Case each a member of two of the founding families of Simsbury, Connecticut. He was the youngest of three sons (Ariel – 1831 and Alonzo – 1834) with one younger sister, Abbie, born in 1846. An older sister, Rachel, died as an infant in 1830. The family lived on a small farm just outside of Simsbury in a simple frame, colonial style two-story house built around 1790 likely by Oliver’s great grandfather, Job Case. His father’s one-hundred-acre farm primarily produced tobacco with other products such as rye, Indian corn, oats, Irish potatoes, hay and fruit.

The Case family was prominent in the area representing one of the founding families of Simsbury starting with John Case (1616-1703/04), a direct ancestor of Oliver Case, who immigrated to the colonies from England and served as the first Constable for the new town of Simsbury. Multiple ancestors served in various capacities in military organizations during periods of peace and conflict since the founding of Simsbury in the late 17th century. Job Case, Oliver’s great-grandfather, was a captain of the militia in the French and Indian War followed by command of a company of militia from Simsbury during the Revolutionary War. His grandfather, Ariel Case, served in the 18th Militia Regiment follow by Oliver’s father, Job Case, who served as a captain of the cavalry for the state militia. As a boy, Oliver Case likely watched the men of Simsbury including his father and other family members participating in militia drills on the training field in the Terry’s Plain area of Simsbury located close to the Case family farm. The early militia of Simsbury, known as the Traine Band, had used this same drill field in Terry’s Plain since the 1670s. It is possible that as a young man in the years just prior to the Civil War, Oliver himself may have even trained with the militia on this field.

Education was obviously a high priority for the Case family as evidenced by the quality of Oliver’s letters and his concern for his younger sister’s educational advancement. The historical record shows that Alonzo Case spent his early education year in a one room schoolhouse near the family farm. He moved on to continue his education at the Connecticut Literary Institute, Suffield and Wilbraham Academies. It is likely that Oliver followed much the same educational path as his older brothers. On several occasions during the war, Oliver made pleas to his younger sister Abbie to continue her pursuit of a classical education and even sent part of his military pay to assist her. Oliver wrote to Abbie on December 13, 1861 from Annapolis, Maryland:

I see by your last letter that you are attending school in Weatogue, Mary A. Weston (?) teacher. That is what I should have advised you to do, so as to review the new books that they have now in the town of S[imsbury] as well as to continue your studies in Algebra and Latin or, if not, in French. If you want money to buy books take what I have in the bank or any other of mine and use it. I shall probably send home about $30.00 the first of January. That you can have.[2]

In the Case family, Oliver’s enlistment, while not taken lightly, was probably viewed as the only option for the three sons of Job Case. Both Alonzo and Ariel had already established families and Alonzo was engaged with the father in the family farming operations. Ariel had established himself as a partner in a business known as “The People’s Boot and Shoe Store” located at 407 Main Street in Hartford.  From a purely economic standpoint, Oliver would be the most logical choice to provide the Case family contribution to the war effort.

 

Ariel Case ad 

1856 Advertisement for Ariel Case’s Shoe Business

 

The wartime letters of Oliver demonstrate that he was fully committed to the war effort and was caught up in the fervor with many of his peers from the Simsbury area. It is also apparent from Oliver’s letters that this young soldier possessed a deep desire to be recognized for his achievements as a man doing his duty to the Union. These factors and others probably created the ripe conditions for Oliver’s enlistment in the 8th Connecticut on September 16, 1861.

 

Endnotes:

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

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT, 1861-1862. (13 December 1861)

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