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]

 

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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.

 

 

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A Silent and Sleeping Host

The Aftermath of the Battle of South Mountain

It is after dark on September 14th before the trading of rounds ceases atop the pass at Fox Gap. Confederate General D.H. Hill moved his troops away from the summit as the night becomes fully dark realizing that no reinforcements will be available for another defense tomorrow.  On the Union side of the line at the gap, it is a long and anxious night as wounded men are slowly moved back down the mountain and on to Middletown for treatment. It is also a night of uncertainty for those units that were not committed to the previous day’s fight. The officers and soldiers of the 8th Connecticut lie in their battle positions throughout the night with no idea of what the morning will bring.

The sun rises from behind the Union troops lying in their positions on east face of South Mountain as they wake early with orders to make coffee and prepare to assemble for movement. A significant logistical challenge is presented by the narrow mountain road leading through Fox Gap and the thousands of soldiers from IX Corps that will have to make the passage. As the generals attempt to determine the best method of moving the units through the narrow mountain road, the 8th Connecticut is ordered to move to the far side of the Old Sharpsburg Road and then returned to the eastern side of the road. Along with the rest of Harland’s Brigade, the 8th conducts a movement toward Fox’s Gap at the top of South Mountain in preparation for the passage. At the time, the strength and disposition of the Confederate forces is unknown. As a precaution, all of the regiments of Rodman’s Division form a line of battle and prepare for possible resistance from the Confederate forces. However, there will be no more fighting here this day because the Confederates are gone except those who now lie where they fell the day before among the rocks and trees.

The soldiers of the 8th Connecticut would never forget this ghastly scene as they passed through the Fox Gap and passed the area of the previous day’s fighting.

Croffut and Morris, official historians for the Connecticut Civil War regiments described it:

For miles, the fields on both sides were crowded; the waning fires at least revealing in quaint light and shadow the almost count-less bivouacs of a silent and sleeping host.[1]


The historian of one of the other regiments in Harland’s Brigade remembered that “the dead and wounded lay here and there on each side of the road, torn to pieces and mangled in all shapes, and left by the retreating rebels in their hasty flight.”[2]

Captain Marsh of the 8th remembered the day this way:

…we came out of our hideing[sic] place and we marched across road to left into another piece of woods and there waited 2 or 3 hours see attack but they did not make any. Then we marched back and on over mountain and such sights I never saw. Hundreds of dead rebels laid piled up in a small narrow lane and behind on rd stone wall. The victory was ours… we passed by hundreds of dead sccesh lying beside stone walls in narrow lanes and scattered through the wood.[3]

Sadly, many of the dead Confederates were hastily tossed down the well of Daniel Wise, a local farmer whose farm had been at the center of the fighting.

Wise Cabin and field at Fox GapThe Wise farm and cabinet at Fox Gap

Charles S. Buell of the 8th Connecticut recounted the movement over South Mountain:

The dead rebels were strewed all along the road in scores. Up to 12 ock all has been quite with the exception of a few random shots. We lay on our arms about 2 hours. Probably too allow the Artillery to change their position…the rebels are on the skedaddle our Reinforcements are coming[sic] up and we are persuing[sic] them right up to the handle. Afternoon and all is quite on the East side of the Blue Ridge. Troups[troops] are pouring on to a great rate.[4]

Another foot soldier of the 8th Connecticut recorded his impression of the scene years after the war:

Near the summit of the County road on our left, the slaughter was fearful. Our batteries were posted at the top and the rebels made repeated attempts to retake the position by charging straight up the road in face of a storm of grape and canister. The next morning before our artillery could pass down the road it was necessary to pile out dead rebels like cordwood on the sides of the road.[5]



[1] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[2] Allen, 1887.

[3] Marsh

[4] Buell

[5] Pratt.

Death Comes Calling

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?[1]

The American Civil War connected death and dying to the country’s citizens like no other war before or since with an average of 600 men dying in the conflict every day. That’s more Americans killed than were killed on September 11, 2001 per week for four years. Two percent of the entire population of the United States (31 million in 1860) were killed, died of wounds or died of other non-combat causes during the war. Everyone, north and south, was touched by the death of a soldier or sailor either directly or indirectly.

Marching over the rolling hills south of Sharpsburg and into the jaws of battle, Oliver Case fully understood that he faced his own morality…

There is not the dread of Death here as there; but I expect like everyone else to come out alive. I have yet to see the man that did not. It is much the best way on the men to go into action with high hopes and good spirits instead of feeling low and depressed.[2]

Oliver had witnessed the sting of death first-hand. He had seen his friends and fellow soldiers killed in battle. He stood with them as they fought horrible disease to the point of death. Death was familiar to Oliver, but not his friend. It was the encounter he wanted to avoid, but knew that, sooner or later, death would come calling. That was part of life especially the life of a Civil War soldier.

For himself, Oliver resolved that he would not run in the face of his own death because a far worse fate would await him. As a witness to the dishonorable behavior of others as death began to stalk them, he wanted no part of such conduct. As he had done before on the coast of North Carolina, he would not falter. Oliver would rather rely on the mercy of a sovereign God that the judgments of a pitiless people who would surely sentence him to a lifetime of shame for cowardly bearing before the enemy. In his letters to his sister and brothers, Oliver had drawn a clear line from which he could not retreat.

Make no mistake, fear always hovered about him. Like the fever Oliver had struggled against for so many of the past months, fear would always return, unwelcomed, but inescapable.  Oliver must have realized that if fear was an inevitable visitor, then he must overcome it. It was analogous to leaping into the swiftly flowing Farmington River back in Connecticut and trying to fight upstream against the current. No, he had to ride the current of fear to the destination of his choosing. Strength came from those men on his left and right – those he could trust with his life. The ultimate power to overcome the fear of death was a gracious gift of the Creator and Sustainer who made the river of this present life flow to the sea of life hereafter.

But thanks be to God what is our loss is his gain.[3]

The hopes and spirits of Private Case and the other soldiers of the 8th Connecticut would be harshly tested in the fields outside of Sharpsburg on that late afternoon in September 1862…[4]

 Just one more push over that next rolling hill and then, the Harper’s Ferry Road and the town of Sharpsburg. I can see the two cannons of the enemy guarding the road at the top of that final hill. At least, I can see the business end of the guns as they begin to spew the deadly canister into our ranks.  Artillery incoming! No, ours…over our heads. Hitting all around the rebel cannons. There’s Captain Upham and his company within 20 feet of the guns. The smoke is clearing; rebels have abandoned the battery. Maybe we have a chance…we can win a great victory.

Beyond those brave Confederate gunners, officers in gray are shouting at disoriented troops milling around to rally and stand their ground. The reorganizing rebels in front are now firing into our ranks or above our ranks. This swale is protecting us from their Minnie balls. I see the Zouves to our right…many firing but many falling. Now they are beginning to fall back down the slope. Lieutenant Colonel Appelman orders the regiment forward followed by the echoes of the captains. The boys are rising up all around me. Now I know how Philo Matson felt at Newbern. God forgive me for my ridicule of Philo because I want to make myself missing from this field. Orton, Martin, Lucius…I must go with them. I will not leave them. I cannot disgrace my family. This may be the end, but I will not be branded a coward. God give me courage to face the enemy and, if needs be, my own death!

      106 (2)         

The field where the 8th Connecticut made their desperate stand just short of the Harpers Ferry Road

 

I haven’t seen the other Connecticut boys in the 16th since they stepped off into that big cornfield. Lots of firing coming from that direction. I can’t look back…Colonel Harland is urging us forward from atop his horse. What a fine officer. More firing and a rebel yell rising from that cornfield. God protect my brothers.

It seems like we’ve barely started to move when Appelman falls to our front. Four men (I don’t know them) are bearing him rearward. There stands Chaplain Morris loading a rifle as the cartridge box dangles from his neck. Our position is desperate. The Major screams above the din for the regiment to lie down again. I must reload, aim, and fire. May be ten rounds left in my box. What’s that on our left beyond the enemy battery now abandoned by Captain Upham and his men? Soldiers in blue? But, wait…a flag. The colors are red, white and blue, but not the national colors. I know that flag. I remember from Roanoke Island. It’s a North Carolina regiment and another forming into double file. God help us, we are done for.

The bullets are hitting our ranks thick as flies now from our front and the left. Thud…Orton is hit on my right and crumbles to the ground. I’m kneeling and reloading but Lucius stands to fire in front of me…he shouldn’t. Too late, he’s shot twice in the chest and spins around falling at my feet. No turning back…I stand, aim at the rebel color bearer, squeeze the trigger…darkness, silence…

Oliver Case had finally met death, but on his terms.

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 look 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. 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.[5]

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[1] King James Bible, 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, verse 55

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, Connecticut. While his was written regarding the coming battle(s) in North Carolina, the witnesses to his conduct on September 17, 1862 indicate that he continued to face the enemy and perform his duty as a soldier.

[3] IBID. In his letter of January 7, 1862, Oliver wrote these words in describing the death of his friend, Henry D. Sexton aboard a hospital ship in Annapolis harbor.

[4] The following is a fictionalized account from the perspective of Private Oliver Cromwell Case using actual sources that describe this segment of the battle of Antietam and Oliver’s letters written October 1861 to August 1862.

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

The Final Journey Home: December 1862

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

 

(Huge hat tip to John Banks for his research on the Connecticut dead at Antietam!)

On September 27, 1862, the Hartford Courant published an article about the battle of Antietam focused on the 16th CVI along with a listing of all Connecticut causalities from the battle of Antietam. From this article it is clear 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 the common practice of the day was to post (or read) the casualty list in a public place. Also, Ariel and Alonzo may have written letters home that arrived in Simsbury prior to this date.

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. Among these 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.

From Alonzo Case’s recollections written after the war, we know that in December of 1862, 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.

 

The Simsbury Cemetery off Hopmeadow Street in Simsbury, Connecticut

 

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

In modern times, two gravestones stand for Oliver Cromwell Case, one at the Antietam National Cemetery and the other at the Simsbury cemetery. It is possible that after Job Case removed his son’s remains from the burial site on the battlefield in December of 1862 that the temporary grave marker was left in place. Hence, when the removal of the dead soldiers from their battlefield gravesites to the new national cemetery began in October of 1866, the workers may have found this marker and established a grave in the new cemetery even though remains were not present. As described by those who traveled over the battle in subsequent years, many of the dead soldiers’ remains were dug up by swine feeding in the fields. This means that the absence of actual remains may not have been considered unusual by those teams exhuming the bodies for burial in the national cemetery. In fact, the remains of an unidentified New York soldier were discovered by a park visitor in October of 2008.

However, the official report on the establishment of the cemetery creates the impression that each deceased soldier was properly identified before his internment in the cemetery.

They were exhumed, placed in coffins, and delivered to the Superintendent, who buried them at the expense of the Association. In the burial of the dead every coffin was numbered, and a corresponding number entered in a book kept for this purpose, with the name, company, regiment and State, when they could be ascertained, so that, at any time, by reference to the records, the location of any grave can at once be found. The dead were buried under the immediate supervision and eye of the President, who held the tape line over every coffin deposited, and entered the name, number and company in his field-book, before any earth was replaced. By his record, therefore, any body can be identified at any time, when called for. [History of the Antietam National Cemetery, 1869]

The grave of Oliver C. Case in Simsbury, Connecticut

 

The grave of O.C. Case in the Antietam National Cemetery