The Dread of Death

The Dread of Death

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. Per week, that’s more Americans killed than died on September 11, 2001 and the fact that this continued for four years is a difficult reality for most of us in modern America to firmly grasp. 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.

Any Civil War soldier who had faced combat, understood that his death could be just over the next hill. Marching over the rolling hills south of Sharpsburg and into the jaws of battle, Oliver Case fully understood that he faced his own morality. He had been here before and he knew the danger…

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 death was not his friend…it was his foe as much as any Confederate soldier he might face. Meeting death was the encounter Private Oliver Case wanted to avoid, but knew that, sooner or later, he would face this enemy and death would come calling for the young soldier from Simsbury, Connecticut. For the Civil War soldier death was part of life and it could not be avoided.

For himself, Oliver Case had resolved long before this mid-September day 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 as the bullets began to fly in his direction. Oliver, rather than choose dishonor, would rely on the mercy of God to choose his fate. He would not face 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 this as a clear line of battle from which he would not retreat.

Make no mistake, fear of the unknown always hovered about him. Like the fever Oliver had struggled against for so many of the past months, fear would always return, unwelcomed and inescapable.  Oliver must have realized that if fear was an inevitable visitor, then he must face it head on and chase it from his mind. It was analogous to leaping into the swiftly flowing Farmington River back in Connecticut and trying to fight upstream against the current. No, rather than struggle against it, Oliver knew that he must ride the strong current of his fear to go where he did not want. Strength came from those men on his left and right who faced the same fear of dying but men with whom Oliver trusted his life. Oliver knew that only his God held the destiny of his young life and that must be his comfort.

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

Late in the afternoon of September 17, 1862, the strength of honor bore up the hopes and spirits of Private Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut as the order was given to advance toward the Confederate lines outside Sharpsburg, Maryland. Their courage would now be sorely tested in these fields and across the rolling hills…[4]

 How long can this continue? Over every one of these hills lies another storm of lead from those Johnnies. The boys are in fine fighting spirits today, so maybe just one more push over that next hill in front of us and then, we’ll make the Harper’s Ferry Road and the town of Sharpsburg. This will all be over if we can just make one more push. I can see 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! I want to bury my face in the earth. No, it’s ours…over our heads. Hitting all around the rebel cannons. There’s Captain Upham and his company moving up on our left; closing up quick on those guns. The smoke is clearing; rebels have abandoned their battery. Maybe we have a chance…we can win a great victory. The war will be over!

Wait…beyond those brave Confederate gunners, I can hear those officers in gray shouting at disoriented troops milling around the road. I hear the cries on the officers to “rally on the colors” and “stand your ground.” The sea of graybacks are swelling and the rebels in front of us are firing into our ranks or mostly above our heads. I’m sure glad this swale is protecting us from their Minnie balls. I see the Zouves to our right…those New York boys are firing hot but many are falling. Now they are beginning to slowly move back down the slope. Lieutenant Colonel Appelman is giving the order for the regiment to move forward followed by the echoes of the captains. Nobody hesitates; not one of us. All 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 now want to make myself missing from this field. Orton, Martin, Lucius…they jump to their feet…I must go with them. I will not leave them. I cannot disgrace my family. This may be my 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 but he’s on foot and not riding his horse. What a fine officer and a brave man. More firing and a rebel yell rising from that cornfield Ariel and Alonzo marched into…God protect my brothers. What would our mother think if she knew all three of her boys were in the thick of the fight on the same field?

It seems like we’ve barely started to move when old Colonel Appelman falls to our front. Four men (I don’t recognize them) are bearing him rearward. There stands Chaplain Morris loading a rifle as the cartridge box dangles from his neck like he’s a common soldier. What is happening? 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 here comes another one behind themforming 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. It’s bad for our boys. 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…his eyes wide open toward the sky. This is the moment I knew would come. No turning back…if I die, I die like a man. I stand, aim at the rebel color bearer, squeeze the trigger…darkness, silence…

The dread of death is no more for Oliver Case…he has 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]

IMG_0967 (2)


[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] What follows 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.

[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).

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A Sad Day in Connecticut

A Sad Day in Connecticut

On September 27, 1862, family members and friends of the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut were officially able to confirm what most of them already knew from telegraph messages and letters coming from the regiment. The regiment had fought valiantly but suffered terrible in the Battle of Antietam. Almost 50% of the soldiers marching into the battle on September 17th were now dead, wounded or missing. Major John Ward’s official casualty report listed 399 soldiers as available for duty that day with 194 of them killed, wounded or missing as of the 21st of September 1862.

Casualty Report 8th CVI 21 Sep 1862

Ten days after the terrible fight had ended, Major Ward’s report was published in the Connecticut Courant with not only the numbers but the name of every soldier killed, wounded or missing in the regiment. It was a sad day for many homes across Connecticut. In the home of Job Case of Simsbury, it was a day of mixed emotions for the family. A sense of relief came over them as the report confirmed that their two older sons, Ariel and Alonzo of the 16th Connecticut, had survived the battle and were not wounded or missing. However, the report also gave them the news they had likely first receive several days earlier…their youngest son Oliver has been killed in action.

wpid-2015-11-03-08.21.21.jpg.jpeg

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.

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.

 

 

Just before the battle…

Just before the battle, mother,

I am thinking most of you,

While upon the field we’re watching

With the enemy in view.

Comrades brave are ’round me lying,

Filled with thoughts of home and God

For well they know that on the morrow,

Some will sleep beneath the sod.[1]

As the dawn broke on the morning of September 16, 1862, Oliver Case and his comrades in the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment awoke from what must have been an uncomfortable night of sleeping “on their arms” in a stubble field on the Geeting Farm just outside of Keedysville. After viewing the horrifying results of the battle at Fox’s Gap on South Mountain, the troops had marched about five miles from the gap to the Geeting Farm arriving around midnight. McClellan was in pursuit of Lee’s army and a renewed battle was anticipated at any point along the way. As one company commander from the 8th recalled the night of the September 15th, “…we marched quite a number of miles that day and night to the little village called Keedysville (or some such name) where by midnight we got a chance to lie down for night.[2]

The Geeting Farm, also known as Crystal Spring or Locust Spring, provided an excellent source of clear, cool water from the spring near the farm house and it’s highly likely that Oliver Case filled his canteen from the spring as the regiment prepared to move out on the morning of the 16th. Some of Oliver’s fellow soldiers would return to this farm in less than 36 hours as patients in the Union hospital established in the farmhouse. For more on the hospital and the farm, see John Banks’ excellent post on his blog.

As the 8th Connecticut and the rest of the IX Corps began to move toward the Antietam Creek that morning, the soldiers could hear the artillery duel which had already begun between opposing forces from opposite sides of the creek. The movement by the Union corps was slow as the wagon trains had continued to move up during the night and now clogged the roads.

Finally, around 1:00 pm, the 8th Connecticut was placed into a line of battle behind a hill opposite the Rohrbach Bridge. Confederate artillery continued to rain down on the Union formations and several wagon trains were destroyed plus as many as four soldiers were reported as being fatally injured although it is unclear as to their regimental attachment. This reference in found in the writings of Captain Marsh of the 8th Connecticut writing that “a few soldiers [were] killed and wounded.”[3] However, the official regimental history written by Croffut and Morris, simply states that the Confederate “guns dropped shells among the men” with no reference to any soldiers from the 8th being wounded or killed.[4] Since both of these are primary, eyewitness accounts (Morris being the regimental chaplain of the 8th), it would seem that the causalities may have been from other regiments in the vicinity.

 Burnside Bridge looking toward Rohrbach farm
Burnside Bridge view looking toward the Rohrbach farm and the position of the 8th Connecticut (hill on the upper right corner) on the night of 16 September 1862

 

As nightfall neared, the regiment finally settled into their battle positions for the night on ridge behind the Henry Rohrbach farm house and about 300 yards from the Antietam Creek. Captain Marsh described the night as “dark and misty.”[5] The Union regiments were not allowed to light fires. However, the glow from the fires of the Confederate soldiers across the Antietam could be clearly seen. All the officers and men seem to understand that tomorrow there will be a large battle.[6]

Although Croffut and Morris indicate that Harland’s Brigade was joined by the new 16th CVI at nightfall on the 16th of September, other primary sources such as the letter of Charles E. House, Wagoner for Company B, 16th CVI, seem to suggest that the regiment might have joined the brigade at a much earlier date.[7] For his part, Captain Marsh recorded that on this day “that the 16th Connecticut Volunteers were with us having overtaken the brigade the day before.”[8]

The historian of the 16th CVI puts the date of the reunion as the 16th of September:

Colonel Beach, with his experienced eye, first spied the distant jets of white smoke. All were watching the peculiar puffs of smoke with great interest, when Adjutant Burnham, who had been absent, returned with the order that we were wanted at the front. This took us a little by surprise as we did not expect to go into battle so soon. But on went the bundles, and after a tedious march through ploughed fields and forests, passing brigades and divisions, the booming of artillery and bursting of shells sounding louder and louder, we finally joined a brigade consisting of the 4th R.I., and the 8th and 11th C.V.[9]

Whatever the case, by dark on the 16th of September, Harland’s Brigade was now in its final form by the addition of the 16th Connecticut. There is no way of determining if Oliver Case was reunited with his two brothers, Ariel and Alonzo, who were both members of the 16th. If the 16th joined the brigade on the day before the battle, a reunion is an unlikely possibility due to the regiments being placed in battle formations. Soldiers would not have been allowed to leave their regiments for other than official business. Alonzo Case does not mention a reunion with his brother in his post-war writings.[10] It is possible that the brothers could have caught a glimpse of each other during the numerous movements of the regiments.

ENDNOTES:

[1] Root, George Frederick, “Just Before the Battle, Mother,” public domain

[2] Letters of Wolcott P. Marsh (unpublished), accessed from The Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers at Antietam website, http://home.comcast.net/~8cv/8cv-frame.html

[3] IBID.

[4] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[5] Marsh.

[6] Diary of Charles S. Buell, 8th Connecticut, as published on Antietam on the Web, http://antietam.aotw.org/exhibit.php?exhibit_id=369

[7] Civil War Manuscripts Project, The Connecticut Historical Society, access from http://www.chs.org/finding_aides/kcwmp/exams/McnaughtonR.html

[8] Marsh.

[9] History of the Sixteenth Connecticut Volunteers, B.F. Blakeslee, The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company, 1875.

[10] Recollections of Alonzo Case (full citation pending)

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 Burial of Oliver Case

The following passage is taken from “Recollections of Camp and Prison Life” by Alonzo Grove Case, Company E, 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers (from the collection of The Simsbury Historical Society):

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. 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.