Taken with the Chill of Ague

Taken with the Chill of Ague

On a “warm as May” Thursday evening, December 5, 1861, Oliver Case sat in the tent of his friend, Lieutenant Wolcott Marsh reading the latest letter from his sister Abbie. Oliver had just finished writing three letters likely meant for Abbie and his two brothers, Ariel and Alonzo, part of his evening routine. For his part, Marsh paid scant attention to Case as he attended to his duties as pay officer for all of the soldiers not in camp. The Lieutenant busily worked his way through a mound of paperwork, associated with making sure the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment were properly paid, and all funds were accounted for to the last penny. As Oliver read Abbie’s letter, he could feel that something wasn’t right. Aches and pains had begun pulsing throughout his young body leaving Case feeling that an “old complaint” was making a return appearance.[1]

That was bad news to Private Oliver Cromwell Case who was no stranger to the fight against disease common among soldiers of the day. During his travels with the 8th Connecticut to Long Island and then to Annapolis, Case struggled with Ague, an illness defined as “malarial or intermittent fever; characterized by paroxysms consisting of chill, fever, and sweating, at regularly recurring times…” and that can also be accompanied by “trembling or shuddering.” Oliver found himself in and out of the hospital or confined to his tent with this condition also known as “chill fever” or “the shakes” in the popular vernacular. One surgeon of another regiment described effects of this condition for which he had no medicine by saying that his soldiers “have to shake it out for all the good we can do them.”[2]

Another contemporary scientific publication described Ague:

For an hour or more the patient is shivering and shaking with cold, frequently so violently as to make his teeth chatter ; and this is as likely to occur in the hottest part of the day as at any other time. Presently the chill subsides and is succeeded by a violent, burning fever, which lasts usually three or four hours, and is followed in the graver forms of the disease by a copious perspiration.[3]

capture

Civil War soldiers line up for treatment of Ague[4]

 

Of the 360, 000 plus Union causalities in the Civil War, over 250,000 of those soldiers died from disease and other non-battle injuries while only about 110,000 died of combat injuries. Half of those deaths were caused by typhoid fever, diarrhea and other intestinal disorders with tuberculosis and pneumonia deaths following closely behind. Surgeons and commanders knew little about disease and the germ theory had not yet been discovered. Most of these young men had never been exposed to large populations living in close quarters that were often in filthy condition. Communicable disease outbreaks in the camps were commonplace.

By the next day, December 6th, Oliver’s condition has worsen from the previous evening to the point where he was “excused from drill by the surgeon and about noon was taken with a chill and went to the hospital.” Oliver found the hospital to his likening “where I have had as good accommodations as could be, good beds and clothes, and every thing as comfortable as at home.” In just three days, young Private Case was up and about and the Ague “has been broken up so that to day (9th of December)” Oliver “came down around the company street” but returned to the hospital “to sleep to night.” After a good night’s sleep, Oliver declared himself “well except weak” so much so that “the nurse let me walk out a little” to enjoy “a very pleasant day…warm as summer.”[5]

His fight against Ague was not over as Oliver Case would face more bouts of this malaria condition over the coming weeks and months including many more days in the confines of a hospital. Ultimately, it would be the enemy’s bullet, not the feverish disease, that would end his life. However, for the last year of his life, Ague would be his enemy in many battles.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Letters to a Civil War Bride: The Civil War Letters of Captain Wolcott Pascal Marsh, compiled by Sandra Marsh Mercer and Jerry Mercer, Heritage Books, 2006; The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT, 1861-1862, (10 December 1861)

[2] “Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms: A Glossary of Archaic Medical Terms, Diseases and Causes of Death,” accessed from http://www.antiquusmorbus.com/Index.htm; A Surgeon’s Civil War: The Letters and Diary of Daniel M. Holt, M.D., Daniel M. Holt, Kent State University Press, 1994

[3] “The Civil War and Malaria: A patriotic appeal to fight against a common scourge in 1861 – malaria”

Scientific American, July 20, 1861, accessed on December 7, 2017 from

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/quinine-the-civil-war-and-malaria/

[4] Hardtack and Coffee, John D. Billings, John M. Smith and Company, Boston, 1887.

[5] Case Letters, 10 December 1861; Mercer, 2006.

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John Parke Receives the Mission to Invest Fort Macon

John Parke Receives the Mission to Invest Fort Macon

The preparations for the siege of the Confederate stronghold of Fort Macon and its eventual capitulation were foremost in the minds of Ambrose Burnside and his subordinate commanders as spring arrived along the Carolina shore in 1862. The expedition commander had always placed the reduction of Fort Macon as one of his highest priorities in order to open a deep-water port on the North Carolina coast for the Union fleet. To complete this important mission, Burnside entrusted his brigade commander, Brigadier General John Grubb Parke, with the task of investing and reducing Fort Macon.

Parke is as closely tied to the Civil War service of Ambrose Burnside as any other officer who served during the conflict. An 1849 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Parke ranked second in his class just behind classmate and fellow Union general Quincy A. Gilmore who in the spring of 1862 was, ironically, preparing an assault against the Confederate-held Fort Pulaski near Savannah, Georgia. After serving as one of Burnside’s brigade commanders for the operations in North Carolina, Parke was promoted to Major General and served as Burnside’s Chief of Staff for the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Fredericksburg. He would later succeed Burnside in command of IX Corps following the debacle at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg in 1864.

John Grubb Parke photo

Brig Gen John Parke, charged by Burnside with seizing Fort Macon

 

Only three days following the capture of Newbern in March of 1862, General Burnside conducted a reconnaissance to the south toward the Bogue Banks with the purpose of assessing the feasibility of moving at least one of his brigades toward Fort Macon. On that very day, the Confederate command, likely anticipating Burnside’s next move, had burned a railroad bridge spanning the Newport River. This prevented any force of Union troops from being quickly resupplied in an action against Fort Macon. It also hindered Burnside from moving the required heavy siege guns and ammunition to support an assault against the fort. However, the Confederates had failed to destroy the road bridge over the Newport River which would allow passage of troops and wagons until the railroad bridge was repaired.

General Parke’s advanced guard of troops was able to reach Carolina City by March 22nd with the main body and the general close behind them. Leaving the 5th Rhode Island to repair the railroad bridge, Parke and the remainder of his brigade including Oliver Case and his fellow troops in Company A of the 8th Connecticut occupied Carolina City preparing for operations against Fort Macon. The soldiers were glad to be done with the marching as it was “a hard march…raining most of the time the road was full of mud & water & we had to march through one continual swamp…”

Parke’s first action was to send the Confederate commander of Fort Macon, Colonel Moses White, a note under a flag of truce demanding the surrender of the fort and its garrison. Even in the face of a certain capitulation, even after a potentially lengthy siege, Colonel White refused Parke’s terms and prepared his garrison for the attack.

Beaufort NC Ft Macon in distance

Beaufort, North Carolina after capture by Parke’s troops; Fort Macon in distance at right

 

For his part, General Parke immediately took actions aimed at getting all required troops and armament into position. He secured approaches to Carolina City from Morehead City but decided to wait until the railroad bridge was operational and more troops arrived to attempt an attack on Beaufort. By the 26th of March, one company each from the 4th Rhode Island and 8th Connecticut had conducted a secret night crossing of the Newport River and seized Beaufort fully surrounding the garrison at Fort Macon. As Lieutenant Wolcott Marsh of the 8th Connecticut put it, “Our being here completely cuts the rebels in Ft. Macon off from all communications with the rest of seceshion…although they say they will fight to the last.”
Soon enough, Lieutenant Marsh and her friend Oliver Case plus the rest of Parke’s Brigade would see if the rebels could hold true to their promise.

ENDNOTES:

  1. Letters to a Civil War Bride: The Civil War Letters of Captain Wolcott Pascal Marsh,” Compiled by Sandra Marsh Mercer and Jerry Mercer, Heritage Books, Westminster, Maryland, 2006.
  2. From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, April 26, 1862.
  3. Mercer, 2006.
The Two Burials of Oliver Cromwell Case

The Two Burials of Oliver Cromwell Case

As morning broke on the morning of September 19, 1862, Captain Wolcott P. Marsh, Commander of Company F, 8th Connecticut awoke to discover the rebels gone and that he was now assigned to lead the remains recovery detail for the regiment. Appropriately, Marsh, the former lieutenant and friend of Oliver Case, is the first member of the regiment to learn Oliver’s disposition:

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…[1]

These soldiers of Company A are well known to Captain Marsh from his tenure as a lieutenant of the Company prior to being promoted and transferred to Company F. Captain Marsh’s detail goes about their work and the commander “had all body’s brought from hill down by several straw stacks.”[2]

This description taken with Marsh’s report of the unit positions on the day of the battle make it clear that the remains were removed from the “high water mark” area near the present-day monument. The area of the hay stacks is located to the north of the 40-acre cornfield in the area where the 8th CVI step off for the final assault on the day of the battle.

 

Brothers

(Photos courtesy of John Banks and Matt Reardon)

By afternoon, Oliver’s two brothers are allowed on the field to search for their younger brother. This will begin a chain of events which results in two burials and two graves for Oliver. Alonzo writes of seeking information about Oliver on the night after the battle and their journey onto the field two days later:

I went with my Brother to the Eighth Regiment to learn the fate of my younger Brother Oliver and found only eight or 10 of his company left from about 40 they had in the morning. Was told by a comrade that stood beside him that he fell and he called him by name but no reply. Said he was no doubt killed. The next morning we were marched down near the bridge and lay there all day. No one was allowed on the field as it was held by sharpshooters on both sides. The next day September 19 myself and brother had permission to go over the field and what for our brothers body being very sure he was dead we each took our canteens filled with water and commenced that awful sickening tramp and if I could picture to you the sad sites that we beheld. 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 but some time that afternoon we found the body of our brother we were looking after. He was no doubt killed instantly the bullet having passed through his head just about the top of his ears. 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.[3]

 

img_0721.jpg

The Grass Field behind the Otto Farmhouse, Site of Oliver’s First Burial

 

This was not the final resting place for Oliver. Alonzo continues:

His body lay there until December when father went there and brought the body to Simsbury where it now lies to mingle with the sole of his native town.[4]

case3

Oliver’s Final Resting Place, the Cemetery in His Hometown of Simsbury, Connecticut

(Photo credit: John Banks)

 

ENDNOTES:

  1. Letters of Captain Walcott Marsh
  2. IBID.
  3. “Recollections of Camp and Prison Life” by Alonzo Grove Case, Company E, 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers (from the collection of The Simsbury Historical Society)
  4. IBID.

 

 

A New Home for Independence Day

A New Home for Independence Day

By the end of May 1862, Ambrose Burnside and his expeditionary force had spent five difficult, but rewarding months conducting operations against the Confederates on the North Carolina coast. Combat success at Roanoke Island, Newbern and Fort Macon had battle hardened Burnside’s troops who now turned their attention to occupation duty as the Union high command contemplated their next mission. Oliver Case and his comrades in the 8th Connecticut where given various missions in and around the city of Newbern. In late June 1862, after enjoying an extended stay in what Oliver called “one of the pleasantest cities I ever saw for its streets are shaded by large trees which meet overhead which makes the streets pleasant,” the expeditionary force commander received an urgent telegram from the Secretary of War.

WASHINGTON CITY, June 28, 1862.
Major-General BURNSIDE,
New Berne, via Fort Monroe:

We have intelligence that General McClellan has been attacked in large force and compelled to fall back toward the James River. We are not advised of his exact condition; but the President directs that you shall send him all the re-enforcements from your command to the James River that you can safely do without abandoning your own position. Let it be infantry entirely, as he said yesterday that he had cavalry enough.

EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War.

Ambrose Burnside was now forced to change his focus from future offensive operations toward the inland of North Carolina and the monotony of occupation duty. His force had a new mission that would eventually bring them to northern Virginia to support the embattled forces of Union commander George B. McClellan. During the past four months, McClellan had deliberately marched his army from Fortress Monroe up the Virginia peninsula to the gates of the Confederate capital city. The Union army stalled outside of Richmond as its commander prepared for a long siege against an enemy force that he believed to be 2 to 3 times its actual size.

After the Confederate commander, Joseph Johnston was wounded by an artillery shell on June 1, 1862 during the fighting outside of Richmond, he was replaced by the more aggressive Robert E. Lee. Lee began to reinforce the defensive positions surrounding Richmond during a long lull in the fighting for most of the month of June. On June 25, 1862, Lee began a series of bold attacks that caught McClellan’s divided forces by surprise and began a series of events that would lead to a change of mission for the Burnside expedition. Known as the Seven Days Battles, this series of engagements caused McClellan to panic and he soon began the withdrawal of his army back down the peninsula toward Fort Monroe. The “large force” referred to in Secretary Stanton’s telegraph message to Burnside was a Confederate force of about 50,000 troops attacking a total Union force of over 100,000. McClellan’s proclivity for overestimating the enemy troop numbers and calling for reinforcements caused the Lincoln administration to recall Burnside from the coast of North Carolina.

The previous evening, McClellan had sent an urgent message to the Secretary of War creating the urgency to act on the part of the administration.

McCLELLAN’S HEADQUARTERS,
June 27, 1862-8 p.m.

Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War:

Have had a terrible contest. Attacked by greatly superior number in all directions on this side; we still hold our own, though a very heavy fire is still kept up on the left bank of Chickahominy. The odds have been immense. We hold our own very nearly. I may be forced to give up my position during the night, but will not if it is possible to avoid it. Had I 20,000 fresh and good troops we would be sure of a splendid victory to-morrow.
My men have fought magnificently.

GEO. B. McCLELLAN,
Major-General.

Unknown to “Little Mac,” the President sent a personal message to General Burnside the following morning to warn him that his forces were needed in Virginia.

WASHINGTON CITY, June 28, 1862.

General BURNSIDE:
I think you had better go with any re-enforcements you can spare to General McClellan.
A. LINCOLN.

A few days earlier, McClellan had issued conflicting guidance to Burnside with the warning that “every minute is a great crisis” while simultaneously prescribing an overland route that could take up to two weeks for the troops of Burnside to cover. McClellan’s suggested route of march would take the three divisions initially to the northwest and then to the north crossing into Virginia approaching Petersburg from the south. It’s certainly possible that McClellan believed that Confederate intelligence reports of Burnside’s movement from the south could cause Lee to suspend offensive operations and focus on defending Richmond and Petersburg against this new threat.

Whatever McClellan’s logic, Burnside would not use the overland route. Within the week, the expeditionary force would begin loading ships for a trip to Virginia. On the 2nd of July, the 8th Connecticut and other regiments of Burnside’s Expeditionary Force were transported by rail to Morehead City, NC where they boarded the steamer “Admiral” and travel to Newport News, VA.

Croffut and Morris, historians of the Connecticut regiments described the movement and the soldiers’ new home at Newport News:

On July 2, the Eighth moved to Morehead City, and thence on the transport Admiral to Newport News, where a camp was set on an exposed sandy plain. The Eleventh followed closely. The beach of Hampton Roads, near at hand, protracted the delight of bathing. A few oysters were scattered along the clean bottom; and the boys felt out with their bare feet, dived down, and captured enough of the toothsome bivalves to break the monotony of salt pork and hard-tack.[1]

Another regimental historian of Burnside’s force offered a detailed view of Newport News:

At first view, Newport News had the appearance of a place where nothing new ever occurred or was likely to happen. A sandy plain, fifteen or twenty feet above the river, with a few old barracks, and some earthworks and ditches, constructed by General Butler’s troops; a gray sky, with spits of rain, made up the desolate picture. Beyond the plain was a swamp, with immense southern pitch-pines…[2]

Newport News 1861

View of Civil War Newport News from the James River

 

Oliver Case and all of Burnside’s Expedition would now have a new home from which to celebrate the 86th year of the Nation’s independence. For the next month, Burnside’s troops would sit at Newport News and wait for the call that would never come to assist the embattled Army of the Potomac.

 

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] History of the Thirty-Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, 1862-1865; Mills, Knight and Company, Boston, 1884.

 

A Perfect Rain of Shot and Shell: The Surrender of Fort Macon

A Perfect Rain of Shot and Shell: The Surrender of Fort Macon

The rebels came out with a white flag about four o’clock… – Oliver Cromwell Case

By the middle of April 1862, John Parke’s Brigade of the Burnside Expeditionary Force began the slow, steady work of investment to close the noose around Fort Macon on the Bogue Banks of North Carolina. Parke’s troops earlier captured the coastal towns of Morehead City and Beaufort before crossing the Bogue Sound to fulfill Burnside’s objective of taking the fort. General Burnside understood the fort prevented full Union control of the Beaufort Inlet, a key route for facilitating the sustainment of operations in North Carolina.

Located on the eastern tip of the 21-mile long Bogue Banks barrier island, the fort was strategically placed to protect the approach through the Beaufort Inlet Channel to the mainland of North Carolina. The pentagon shaped masonry fort contained twenty-six casemates and its outer wall averaged better than four feet of thickness. Construction on the structure had begun in 1826 with the first garrison arriving in 1834. Robert E. Lee had been assigned to help correct the erosion control problem faced by the fort in the 1840s. Within two days of the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861, North Carolina forces had seized the fort and claimed it for the Confederacy.

As Parke positioned his forces for a final assault against the fortification, a 27-year old Confederate Colonel named Moses J. White prepared his 400 defenders to meet the Union troops. Colonel White, a native of Mississippi, held an impressive record as a student at the U.S. Military Academy for the Class of 1858 graduating second. Originally assigned to the western theater at the beginning of the war, he was given command of Fort Macon on October 5, 1861. During the siege, White struggled with health problems that had first appeared during his time at West Point. However, he continued to encourage his officers and soldiers during the Union bombardment until he was completely exhausted. Even though he was hopelessly surrounded and his men were exhausted, Colonel White refused to surrender the fort.

James Parke

Moses White

The opposing commanders at Fort Macon, James Parke and Moses White.

Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut were given a key role in the investment of the fort. However, they were missing their leader during this important work. Like Confederate Colonel White, the commanding officer of the 8th Connecticut, Colonel Edward Harland, was sick and, by mid-March of 1862, he had become bed-ridden with typhoid fever. Under the command of Major Hiram Appelman, the regiment was divided into three parts to support the operations against Fort Macon and the coastal cities. Two companies were sent to occupy Beaufort and a few of the other companies were sent to secure Morehead City. The remaining companies including Company A crossed over from Carolina City to the Bogue Banks to begin movement toward Fort Macon. Private Oliver Case of Company A had been on picket duty seven miles away from camp near Carolina City when his company departed without him. As Case caught up to his fellow soldiers over on the Bogue Banks, there was much work to be done in preparation to lay siege to Fort Macon and its Confederate garrison.

On April 12th, the 8th Connecticut, still under the command of Major Appelman, led Parke’s Brigade in forcing the Confederate defenders to withdraw into the confines of the fort.

Connecticut regimental historians, Croffut and Morris describe the action:

Major Hiram Appelman, now in command, marched his regiment by the right flank up the beach, and, when within three miles of the fort, filed across the island in line of battle. Company G, Capt. James L. Russell, was thrown out as skirmishers; and the regiment waded forward knee-deep in the yielding sand. The rebel skirmishers contested the advance, but were driven steadily back; and, while they retreated, they shouted, with absurd inaptness, “Come on, you d__d Yankees! we are enough for you !” Company H, Capt. Sheffield, was now deployed to skirmish; and the captain was severely wounded in the body. The exultant rebels continued to move back until they entered the fort; the Eighth having passed through a cedar-jungle, about a mile from the fort.[1]

Colonel White, likely realizing that he was being trapped in the fort, took the unusual step of conducting a night attack in an attempting at breaking the developing siege. As the 8th Connecticut began to construct defensive positions in case of a counterattack, the Confederates stuck the regiment with the cannons from the fort.

The enemy made two ineffectual attempts at night to dislodge us from our advanced position, in one of which Lieutenant Landers and a private of the Fifth Rhode Island Battalion were slightly wounded, and in the other Major Appleman and a private of the Eighth Connecticut Regiment received severe contusions from a discharge of grape while digging rifle pits within 750 yards of the fort.[2]

On April 17th, Oliver’s tone about his fate in the impending battle had softened considerably from his first combat experience only one month earlier at New Bern. The “dread of death that one naturally expects” had morphed into a feeling that “I may not live to get home…”[3] However, the optimistic tone found throughout Oliver’s letter had not completely escaped him as he professed, “but I think I stand as good a chance as anyone in the company…”[4]

Oliver’s letter of 17 April 1862 does not comment on this operation carried out by the 8th. He does describe the work being done to affect the siege of Fort Macon.

Some of the companies are detailed each night to help build entrenchments and I think that by three or four days at farthest we shall open fire upon the fort. The mortars and field pieces are nearly all in position, and part of the howitzers.[5]

Oliver’s prediction is fairly accurate because the siege will begin in about 7 days. In the meantime, life on Bogue Banks is filled with the work of preparing positions for mortars being floated across the sound. The guns were moved up the island at night to avoid detection by the Confederates within Fort Macon. Protected firing positions were constructed for the guns using sandbags. Conditions were difficult for Oliver and his fellow soldiers as they worked.

The Eighth Connecticut Volunteers and 4th Rhode-Island were alternately on duty; when off duty, occupying an uncomfortable camp down the island. Rifle-pits were dug at night within two thousand feet from the fort, and constantly occupied. In front of them, in storms, the sea surged over the island. The sand was so movable, that the men were sometimes half covered.[6]  

The firing positions constructed by the 8th Connecticut and the 4th Rhode Island would prove to be very effective during the final attack against the fort and by the 23rd of April, Burnside determined that it was time for the final assault. He once again offered Colonel White the opportunity to surrender the fort with generous terms including the parole of all the Confederate defenders. As with previous demands for surrender, the young Confederate commander refused to accept the terms and prepared his soldiers to defend the fort. In the early morning hours of April 25, Parke ordered the bombardment to begin in earnest.

bombardment of fort macon harpers weekly

The bombardment of Fort Macon, April 25, 1862

For the next eleven hours, the Union artillerymen with assistance from the soldiers of the 8th CVI kept up the bombardment. The masonry fort was no match for the modern rifled artillery and several large openings appeared in the walls and gun after gun was disabled. Through it all, the 8th CVI was in the thick of the action. Oliver writes to Abbie:

The work was completed Thursday night and the bombardment commenced early the next morning and continued without intermission until four in the P.M., our regiment meanwhile lying behind the breastworks while a perfect rain of shot and shell came upon all sides of them, many times caving the banks upon them so it was necessary to dig one another out with shovels. Several of our men were hit by balls rolling into the trench upon them, but none were wounded. The artillery lost one killed and two wounded.[7]

Croffut and Morris confirm the role of the 8th during the bombardment:

The Eighth was alone in the rifle-pits, between the thundering cannon, shooting the rebel gunners and infantry whenever a head was visible.[8]

As the land-based Union guns began to fire on Fort Macon, several ships from the Blockading Squadron appeared near the fort and attempted to participate in the shelling. While the Navy had not been included in the planning for the reduction of the fort, Commander Samuel Lockwood responded to the sound of the artillery. However, the four ships were unable to bring effective fire on the fort due to rough seas and soon abandoned the effort after two of the ships received minor damage from Confederate counter fire.

The Union guns ashore were initially wildly inaccurate doing little damage to Fort Macon during the few first hours of the assault. After Union Signal Corps officers in Beaufort established communication with the gun commanders on Bogue Banks, they were able to accurately direct the mortar fire so that by noon almost all shots were on target and the fort walls began to crumble. In response, Confederate gunners attempt to counter the fire from the mortars, but the protected positions among the sand dunes limited damage to the Union guns. As the bombardment continued into the early afternoon, Confederate guns in the fort were damaged and destroyed and Colonel White realized that he could not hold out much longer as the powder magazine was in great danger of being hit.

Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it was evident that the fort and its garrison could not withstand much more of the devastating fire from the Union guns. After meeting with his commanders, Colonel White ordered the flag of surrender to be raised.

The rebels came out with a white flag about four o’clock and a messenger was sent for. Gen. Burnside, also, arrived in the evening. Capitulations were agreed upon before morning…[9]

The Union forces entered the fort and raised the national colors igniting a controversy between two of the regiments.

…early the next day the “Stars and Stripes” were run up by the 4th R.I. Regiment. The 8th Conn. were not very well suited to do all the work and have the 4th R.I. hoist their flag, but that is all right; it is “Uncle Sam”, anyhow.[10]

Croffut and Morris identify the Rhode Island regiment as the 5th and give additional details on the honor bestowed on them in lieu of the 8th.

…the 5th Rhode-Island; and to this fragment of a regiment the rebel flag was given as a trophy next morning, when the formal surrender was made, and the regiment took possession of the fort. The Eighth considered itself again defrauded of its just rights; and the Tribune’s narrative said, “But for the accident that the 5th Rhode-Island had relieved the Eighth Connecticut the previous evening, the captured flag would have gone to grace the legislative halls at Hartford.” Gen. Parke justifies giving the preference to the Rhode-Island regiment by the fact that the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers had no field-officer present to receive the surrender.[11]

after siege of Fort Macon

The Surrender of Fort Macon, April 26, 1862

In a happier ending to the story for the Confederate officers and soldiers of Fort Macon, Oliver relates that many of them, after their parole, were reunited with their family members.

The prisoners were discharged on parole, much to their gratification and some of our boy’s displeasure. Sightseers say that they had a great time over in Beaufort Saturday when the garrison was set free. Children looking for their parents, wives for their husbands, fathers for their children and when they were recognized in the crowd such a hugging and kissing as was not often seen was carried on.[12]

ENDNOTES:

[1] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[2] OR, Parke, May 9, 1862.

[3] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (17 April 1862)

[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[7] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 April 1862)

[8] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[9] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 April 1862)

[10] IBID.

[11] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[12] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (28 April 1862)

 

The Common Fate of Two Soldiers

The Common Fate of Two Soldiers

War brings the strangest of twists of fate. It also brings a common destiny between its participants even among two men from opposing sides of the conflict. At the battle of Newbern, so began this shared fate for Private Oliver Cromwell Case of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment and Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch who would command a brigade at the Battle of Antietam.

First, the fallout over losing the city of Newbern would bring the two men together for the second time on the field of battle.

Blame for a military defeat is always messy business in time of war. The Civil War was no different. The military and political leaders plus the general citizenry of both the Union and Confederacy wanted someone to accept blame and its ugly consequences for a defeat on the field of battle. This phenomenon gives historians to this day a rich trove of study and cause for extensive opining. Among the most famous of these incidences is the defeat of Lee’s army at Gettysburg for which James Longstreet would take a large share of the responsibility among the post-war Confederate writing.

The Battle of Newbern was no different albeit one of the least known in the blame game. The total defeat of Confederate forces defending Newbern was a severe loss for the leadership in Richmond and especially for the state of North Carolina. Only a few weeks before this battle, the Confederates troops defending Roanoke Island quickly gave way to the first of Ambrose Burnside’s amphibious assaults. Now, one of the gateway cities controlling the inland approaches to the transportation hubs of North Carolina had fallen with seemingly little resistance from the Confederate and state troops stationed in a series of fortifications below Newbern.

The immediate commander on the field was Brigadier General Lawrence O’Bryan Branch, a former United States Congressman from North Carolina. Branch had succeeded Brigadier General Daniel Harvey Hill as the commander for the district covering this part of the North Carolina coast but, much like Hill, had no success in convincing the Confederate government in Richmond of the importance of defending this area. While Branch continued to send requests for reinforcements, ammunition and other supplies, Burnside began his assault against the undermanned Confederate defenses. Branch had only 4,000 poorly trained and armed troops with no naval support while Burnside’s forces numbered over 10,000 with gunboat support from the Union Navy. The result of the battle should have been a foregone conclusion.

Branch_Lawrence_O_Bryan_LoC_26684u

A pre-war photograph of Lawrence O’Bryan Branch [1]

 

Branch’s immediate superior commander was Brigadier General Richard Caswell Gatlin, a West Point graduate and native of North Carolina, commanding the Confederate Department of North Carolina responsible for the overall coastal defense of the state. From his headquarters in Goldsboro, Gatlin also requested reinforcements for the coastal defenses to no avail. Born in 1809, the aging Gatlin was suffering from an illness at the time of the battle and was relieved of his command just five days later making it convenient for the Confederate government to pin their scapegoat. Gatlin’s report on the battle admitted the failure of leadership to stop Burnside and “maintain the ascendancy on Pamlico sound, and thus admitted Burnside’s fleet without a contest; we failed to put a proper force on Roanoke island, and thus lost the key to our interior coast, and we failed to furnish General Branch with a reasonable force, and thus lost the important town of New Bern. What I claim is that these failures do not by right rest with me.”

Richard Gatlin

Brigadier General Richard Caswell Gatlin took the fall for the Confederate defeat at Newbern instead of Lawrence Branch

 

The North Carolina press was not kind to either of the generals in command during the Battle of New Bern. One newspaper, in a backhanded jab at Gatlin, wrote, “Schooling never puts brains in a man’s head, nor can West Point make a General who was not born with it in him.”[2] While the paper claimed to believe Gatlin was competent for command, it also stated that “the government should investigate the matter, and if he be found incompetent or derelict, he should be removed.” [3]

On the subject of Branch’s leadership, the same newspaper was even more direct about his responsibility for the defeat at New Bern. Claiming to have originally opposed his appointment to the command position, the paper opined that they “knew he would try, and we had no doubt that he would do his very best to make a General; but we knew, at the same time, that it was not in him, as the disaster at Newbern plainly proves.” [4] The call was for Gatlin, Branch or any other individual or party responsible for the loss of New Bern to “be dealt with promptly and deservedly.” [5]

Gatlin was relieved of his command and formally resigned in September of 1862. Branch was moved north to join the division of A.P. Hill where he would successfully lead troops in the battles of Hanover Courthouse, Seven Days, Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, Chantilly, and Harper’s Ferry. After pushing his soldiers through a 17-mile roadmarch from Harper’s Ferry directly onto the field in Sharpsburg, Branch helped save Robert E. Lee’s Army of North Virginia from defeat on the afternoon of September 17, 1862.

Branch’s Brigade pushed back forces from Ambrose Burnside’s IX Corps attacking toward Sharpsburg, most notably they poured a galling fire into the flank of the 8th Connecticut Infantry Regiment. Based on my research, there is a high probability that one of Branch’s regiments, the 7th or 37th North Carolina Infantry, fired the shot that struck and killed Oliver Case during their desperate stand near the Harper’s Ferry Road. In a twist of fate, Oliver Case had faced the troops of Lawrence O’Bryan Branch in his first and last combat action.

General Branch would also share another experience with Oliver Case that day. After the timely arrival of his brigade and repelling the attack of the Union IX Corps, Branch and the two other brigade commanders in A.P. Hill’s Division gathered with their division commander and General Lee just east of the Harper’s Ferry Road to confer on the next action of the Confederate forces. As the discussion ensued, an opportunistic Union soldier on a distant hill fired a single shot that hit General Branch in the face and slightly injured fellow brigade commander Maxcy Gregg. The shot was instantly mortal for Branch who fell into the arms of a staff officer.

McIntosh Battery (3)

In the fields beyond this gun, Oliver Case and Lawrence Branch met their shared fate

 

Within mere minutes and a few hundred yards of each other, Oliver Case and Lawrence Branch had sealed their shared fate by a deadly single shot.

 

NOTES:

1. Library of Congress collection.

2 through 5. Semi-Weekly Standard (Raleigh, North Carolina), March 22, 1862 from the Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers collection in the Library of Congress

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.