Farewell to Connecticut: A Very Pleasant Time

At Camp Buckingham, Colonel Edward Harland and the other officers of the Eighth continued the process of organizing and training the recruits now gathered from various parts of the state. Exceedingly eager about the impending march to fight the rebels and put down the revolt, these young men were far from effective soldiers ready for combat. Those officers of the regiment who like Colonel Harland had gained some experience during the battle of Bull Run, set about to train these young men and begin to form them into a cohesive unit as they waited for word of their first assignment. Their daily training to prepare for the tactics du jour of the Civil War meant one primary activity so critical to combat effectiveness, the drill.

Drilling, which had generally begun at the places of original enlistment, was continued vigorously in the camps. Nearly all the officers, and some of the privates, had seen service; yet at least three-fourths were raw volunteers, who knew no difference between “reverse arms” and “right-shoulder-shift.” The three-months’ veterans put their awkward comrades sternly through the manual, and exercised them in company and battalion drill, morning, afternoon, and evening. Every squad made the most of the few days remaining, and instruction proceeded rapidly. The three regiments received Enfield rifles, the two flank companies of each being armed with Sharpe’s; and succeeding regiments were generally furnished with the same admirable weapons, and the same proportion of each.[1]

Within days of the commencement of equipping, organizing and drilling at Camp Buckingham, orders came from the federal government at Washington regarding the future employment of the 8th Connecticut and many other New England regiments. On October 1, 1861, the United States Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, requested Governor Buckingham to send the two Connecticut regiments to Camp Hempstead, Long Island, New York with instructions to report to Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside for further training. Ambrose Burnside was a man with a mission in great need of troops to carry it out. Like many of his comrades in the Union Army, Burnside’s Civil War service saw a rather rocky first engagement with the Confederates. Although he was a West Point graduate with service in the prewar army, Burnside’s leadership of a brigade at Bull Run, filled with three-month regiments from his native Rhode Island, was somewhat less than impressive. After this first engagement, Colonel Burnside returned to Rhode Island and mustered out of service with his soldiers uncertain as to his future. The jobless Burnside would only wait for a few days as his pre-war business connections with the newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General George B. McClellan, landed him a commission as a Brigadier General. McClellan ordered his friend to return to Washington to receive orders for his next assignment. Once back in the capital city, Burnside assumed command of several brigades filled with untrained regiments of newly minted soldiers. These green units required an immense amount of attention for drilling and equipping.

 

burnside-hand

Ambrose Burnside

 

With grand ideas on how he could be more useful in his service to the Union, Ambrose Burnside did not hesitate to present his plans to his old buddy, George McClellan. His idea was to raise several brigades filled with regiments from the New England states to form a new amphibious assault force. Burnside proposed to acquire his ships from the northern coastal cities to both transport the troops south and provide indirect fire support to the coastal operations. The Rhode Island general believed he would be able to rely on the maritime knowledge many of these New England men to help navigate the lighter boats though the inland waterways of the southern coast.

As to the specific targets of this amphibious force, Burnside would consult with McClellan and make that determination at a later date as the operational situation dictated. After receiving General McClellan’s approval of the plan, Burnside turned his attention to recruiting soldiers and procuring ships. His initial staging area for the soldiers pouring in from the north would be Camp Hempstead on Long Island, New York.

Seventeen days after Oliver Case made the inscription in his bible, on October 17, 1861 at four o’clock in the afternoon, the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry regiment was officially transferred to federal service and departed Camp Buckingham. Leaving Hartford via ship bound for command of Ambrose Burnside at the Camp of Instruction on Long Island, New York, the regiment stood at a strength of 1,016 of Connecticut’s finest young men. The regiment would never again have this many soldiers standing in its ranks, dressed in new uniforms of blue receiving the well wishes of a host of friends, family and citizens of Hartford. Crowds of cheering citizens gathered along the docks as the ship made its way from the Hartford pier and steamed slowly but steadily down the Connecticut River. The scene was an inspiring sight for the young soldiers and their officers, a stirring event as “the departing soldiers were greeted with waving flags and resounding cheers from proud relatives and friends, and grateful strangers, who only knew them as a part of the grand Union army going eagerly forth to offer vicarious atonement for the sins of the nation.”[2] As he later picked up his pencil and paper for the first time to write to his sister, Private Oliver Cromwell Case described the martial scene as a “very pleasant time going down the river cheering and being cheered continually.” As the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut watched the crowds and the city slip out of sight, the setting sun began to chase the daylight away.[3]

Although the flame of rumors burned hot through the ranks, Oliver and the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut had no reliable information regarding their destination upon departing Hartford. If they knew where the steamer was bound or what the future assignment of the regiment might hold, the officers of the regiment chose to keep the secret for the present time. As darkness began to set in, the hundreds of young Connecticut boys did their best to settle into the cramped quarters of the ship. Much to the delight of Oliver Case and the soldiers of Company A, they were assigned some of the better accommodations aboard the boat located “in the gangway forward of the shaft.”[4] In his letter to Abbie written several days later, Oliver described how the soldiers “spread our beds all over the floor and bunked in like a mess of pigs” and that some of the boys “were in the water shoe deep.”[5] Such were the accommodations for the first of many shipboard journeys these troops would experience over the next year.

The soldiers of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment were now on their way to the great adventure of fighting the rebels. Sadly, many of Connecticut’s sons crowded on the ship this day had seen their native state for the last time. Among that number was Oliver Cromwell Case of Simsbury.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Morris, W.A. Croffut and John M., (1869), The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, New York, Ledyard Bill.

[2] (Morris, 1869)

[3] Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case 1861-1862 (unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT (October 20, 1861).

[4] (Case)

[5] (Case)

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