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.

 

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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)

 

A Short Stay on Long Island

In reading the history of the 8th Connecticut and the letters of Oliver Case, I’ve often wondered why the 8th and some other regiments designated for Burnside’s Expeditionary Force stayed at their Long Island, New York location for such a brief time. By my reckoning, the 8th resided on Long Island for only 11 or 12 days including their time in transit. Well, it seems that Oliver Case’s letter to his sister, Abbie, holds an important clue that remained hidden until my recent discovery of a period news article.

In his very first letter to Abbie dated October 20, 1861, Oliver writes of finally coming ashore at Hunter’s Point on Long Island where part of the regiment was loaded onto awaiting trains headed east. The balance of the soldiers, including Oliver’s Company A, “waited with our knapsacks on for 2 or 3 hours expecting every moment the train to carry us off.”[1] This apparent unpreparedness by the Long Island Railroad Company was a critical factor in determining the location of the training grounds for Burnside’s troops. According to his staff, the ability to rapidly respond to a call for deployment was an important evaluation criterion for selecting a training site. The Long Island Railroad would prove to be unable and possibly unwilling, to fulfill this requirement for rapid movement of Burnside’s force.

When the 8th Connecticut landed at Hunter’s Point on the East River at the mouth of Newtown Creek on the 21st of October 1861 after a journey from Hartford of almost 24 hours, the railroad employees and managers seem to have been caught by surprise and became annoyed at the nuisance of the situation. A new story published several weeks later in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle recounts that railroad employees acted with an “utter want of a spirit of accommodation…rude language…and provoking delay in transporting the troops.”[2] The unnamed writer of the news story chastises the members of the Long Island Railroad Company as “a very small-minded as well as unpatriotic set of individuals” while General Burnside and his staff characterized the debacle as “gross mismanagement” by railroad officials.[3]

It seems that General Burnside had planned to gather and train his force of regiments from New England states on Long Island before deploying them to the coast of North Carolina for an amphibious operation presented by Burnside and approved by both George McClellan and Abraham Lincoln. From a military viewpoint, Long Island was a logical choice based on locations with good training grounds and availability of rail and water transportation to points south. He had even selected a spot in the northern part of the Hempstead Plains area of the island near a small village known as Mineola located on the main railroad line. However, as the Eight Connecticut arrived at Hunter’s Point and attempted to travel east on the Long Island Railroad toward Mineola, delays caused significant logistical problems and uncomfortable conditions for the soldiers as many of them, like Oliver Case, were “obliged to sleep on the ground, covered only by their blankets and the autumnal sky.”

 

bhs_L_I_-186-_Fl_

A Civil War era map of Long Island depicting the Hempstead Branch of the Long Island Railroad

 

I have previously opined on this blog that the same camp was alternately known as the Hempstead Camp of Instruction, Camp Winfield Scott, Camp Sherman and Camp Burnside. The discovery of this article in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle seems to confirm this fact. I believe Ambrose Burnside’s intent was to use the old Camp Winfield Scott location as his expeditionary force training and deployment base because it was “most admirably located on a plain, of several thousand acres…easy of access by Long Island Railroad, being but a short distance from the depot, and, it is understood, extra trains will be run as soon as the wants of the military or the public demand them.”[4] In a September 14, 1861 article, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle describes the camp site:

The Camp of Instruction…is located at Hempstead, L.I., covering a large portion of the expansive plain at Hempstead Branch – a plain that approaches nearly the dimensions of a good-sized Western prairie. The camp is laid out according to army regulations, consisting of 225 tents. No less than twelve wells have been dug, affording that most domestic requisite of camp-life – an unlimited supply of pure cold water…altogether, Camp Winfield Scott is a most desirable place…camp is designed to accommodate ten thousand men.[5]

Camp Winfield Scott would be transformed into Camp Burnside but the stay would be a short one. Both the general and his soldiers were pleased with the location and the welcoming spirit of the local citizens. Burnside found himself “much pleased with the camp at Hempstead, with the locality of the Eighth Connecticut, and the kindness of the people.”[6]

 

Camp Burnside

A sketch of the 8th Connecticut at Camp Burnside on Long Island, November 1, 1861[7]

 

For his part, Oliver rated the camp and the surrounding community as “one of the pleasantest places I ever saw” and he found the people to be “very familiar (much more than Conn. People).”[8] In fact, the citizens of the town proved to be gracious hosts and were unconstrained in welcoming the Connecticut soldiers to their Long Island community. During the first week the 8th Connecticut occupied the camp; many of the townspeople turned out to greet the soldiers and supplied them with over a thousand loaves of freshly baked bread plus fruit and other food stuffs. Some of the Nutmeggers who were fortunate enough to sneak past the camp guard found the families Jamaica opening their homes to share meals and conversation. By the 31st of October during his second week in camp, Oliver is willing to go even further in his comparison to Connecticut:

We are treated much better here than in Connecticut by the citizens. They think there is nothing to[o] good for the soldiers. We are treated with respect wherever we go, and apples and turnips are free to us, that is if we can run the guard or can get passed off, which is not often.[9]

Unfortunately for the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut, military considerations were overriding even their general’s pleasure with the people of Long Island and the “gross mismanagement” of the Long Island Railroad officials would shorten their stay. All of the logistical and administrative problems with the railroad had “combined to disgust the General with the corporation and drive him to look for a camping ground in another direction.” Due to these factors, Burnside “felt obliged to abandon his purpose of concentrating his Brigade upon Long Island.” He would turn his search to the south and a far less hospitable citizenry.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] All quotes from Oliver Case taken from the Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case 1861-1862 (unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT (October 20, 1861) unless otherwise noted.

[2] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 13, 1861 edition, quoting a story in The Long Island Farmer. Article accessed from “Brooklyn Newsstand” website, http://bklyn.newspapers.com/ October 24, 2014

[3] IBID.

[4] “The Hempstead Camp of Instruction,” New York Times, September 8, 1861

[5] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 14, 1861 edition. Article accessed from “Brooklyn Newsstand” website, http://bklyn.newspapers.com/ on October 24, 2014

[6] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 13, 1861

[7] Civil War Sketchbook by Corporal Joseph E. Shadek, Company A, 8th Connecticut, from the collection of the Bridgeport History Center, http://bportlibrary.org/hc/ve/vex3/index.htm

[8] Oliver Case letter, October 31, 1861

[9] IBID.

The laughing stock of the whole brigade…

The Civil War saw scores of politicians and would-be politicians don the uniform of an army officer. Some found success as a military leader such as future President of the United States Rutherford B. Hayes, Colonel of the 23rd Ohio Infantry. Hayes, city solicitor of Cincinnati from 1858 to 1861, was unafraid to stand up for the welfare of his soldiers even when faced with the wrath of a fiery professional officer and he proved himself in battle. On September 6, 1862 during McClellan’s march out of Washington in pursuit of Lee’s invading army, Hayes’ men were readying their camp for the evening by taking straw from the field of a nearby farmer to feed the horses of an artillery battery and making beds for themselves. Hayes confessed in his diary and letters that he saw nothing wrong with the practice as it was a military necessity to accommodate the needs of his regiment. However, the Ninth Corps commanding general, Jesse Reno, had a much different view of the situation as he rode into the camp of the 23rd Ohio.

Hayes did not immediately notice the arrival of the general at his campsite but soon heard a stream of profanity being directed toward his soldiers who were gathering the straw. Reno referred to Hayes’ men as “damned black sons of bitches” and proceeded to lecture them on the evils of pilfering the farms of the friendly state of Maryland. Hayes intervened on behalf of his men explaining to Major General Reno of the need for the straw and even offered to ensure the farmer was properly compensated. Reno would have none of it. Hayes, who claims to have remained respectful throughout the encounter, retorted with “”Well, I trust our generals will exhibit the same energy in dealing with our foes that they do in the treatment of their friends.” Reno departed in a huff as the men of the 23rd Ohio cheered loudly for the moxie of their commander. The general would continue to harbor ill feelings toward Hayes in the days that followed.

 

R_B Hayes CW uniformJesse Reno CW uniform

Fiery West Point general Major General Jesse Reno (b) met his match in Rutherford B. Hayes (t), commanding officer of the 23th Ohio and future President of the United States

 

However, Hayes’ soldiers now had the highest respect for the young politician turned army colonel. They would fight hard for him just eight days later at the Battle of South Mountain where Hayes would be wounded and Major General Reno would be killed by a Confederate bullet effectively ending the animosity between the politician-soldier and the professional officer.

And then there were the politicians who fancied themselves as officers leading their men to great victories in battle…

Oliver Case and his comrades in the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment were not so fortunate to have a Hayes-like officer in the person of Peter L. Cunningham of Norwalk. Born in New York City in 1814, Cunningham relocated to Norwalk, Connecticut in 1834 and was always “prominently identified with local public affairs” including becoming an active campaigner in the 1840 elections. He also rose to notoriety in state political matters prior to the war and was elected as both councilman and mayor for post-war Norwalk. Cunningham was heavily involved in both the Odd Fellows and the Masonic Fraternity obtaining several high-ranking positions in both organizations.[1]

Already 47 years old when the Civil War began, Cunningham was appointed by Governor William A. Buckingham as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut. He was not without military experience as he had served in Connecticut state militia organizations for the previous 20 years rising to the rank of Colonel as a member of the governor’s staff prior to his appointment in the 8th Connecticut. These largely ceremonial state positions seem to have done nothing to prepare him for becoming the second-in-command of an infantry regiment with over 1,000 soldiers assigned.

A Lieutenant Colonel’s role in a Civil War regiment included assisting the Colonel of the Regiment with his duties and being prepared to assume command of the regiment should he be killed or wounded. The Lieutenant Colonel was also expected to help command and control the formation during combat situations. In this YouTube clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rvYtoy1NUM) from the movie Gods and Generals, you will see Lieutenant Colonel Chamberlain of the 20th Maine performing the important function of positioning the regimental formation for battle in accordance with instructions given by the commander, Colonel Adelbert Ames. This obviously required the Lieutenant Colonel to be highly proficient in drilling the soldiers (marching and maneuvering the formation) for endless hours on the parade field to be prepared to do the same during battle.

It became clearly evident to all his subordinates that Lieutenant Colonel Cunningham of the 8th Connecticut was no master of the drill. In a letter written Christmas Day of 1861, Oliver Case describes for his sister a camp rumor that his Lieutenant Colonel will soon leave the regiment.

There is a report that our Lieut. Col. [Cunningham] is soon to resign, I hope it is true for he does not now, nor ever did and I think never will learn about the military. He is the laughing stock of the whole brigade when he tries to drill the Regt. There are very few orders that he can give correctly.[2]

Peter L Cunningham

Peter L. Cunningham whose service as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 8th Connecticut would only last four months due to his lack of military skill particularly in drilling troops

 

So, after only four months of service, the politician-soldier returned to Connecticut. His official biographical sketch puts a better face on his military service with only one sentence, “…he was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers, resigning the latter office, however, after a service of four months and receiving an honorable discharge.”[3] Cunningham’s lack of success in the military arts did not deter his success in business or his political career when he returned to Norwalk. In business, he became a director in two local banks and for the Norwalk Gas Company. His elected political career consisted of multiple terms as a city councilman in the 1870s and he was elected as the mayor of Norwalk for one term in 1883.

In modern military terms, Peter Cunningham failed to adapt to military service which in today’s Army can get you discharged within the first 180 days of your service. Even in the civil war, military service was much more than just a job; it was truly a way of life. Rules, regulations, traditions and customs all helped to shape a culture that required adaptation by men who only weeks before lived in a different world. For an officer like Peter Cunningham, this meant additional pressures created by an expectation that you would become inculcated in this new culture and that you could step forward to lead your subordinates in learning its ways.

Oliver Case viewed Lieutenant Colonel Cunningham’s problem as a failure to learn himself so that he could teach others. This failure manifested itself publicly on the parade field as Cunningham could give the correct orders to his men thereby making himself the brigade’s laughing stock.

Parade Annapolis Burnside

Soldiers of Burnside’s Expedition on parade at Annapolis in December 1861

 

This certainly must have been a leadership challenge for his regimental commander, Colonel Edward Harland. Harland’s previous military experience was limited to service as a company commander at First Bull Run in a three-month Connecticut regiment. However, his time directing troops under combat conditions prepared him for the challenges of higher level command. Harland and the brigade commander, John Parke (a West Point graduate), must have approached Cunningham with the cold, hard truth that he was not compatible with military service and should offer his resignation immediately. To his credit, Cunningham may have realized this himself and preempted such a conversation.

Whatever the case, the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut must have felt relief that “the laughing stock of the whole brigade” would not be leading them into battle.

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Adapted from Commemorative Biographical Record of Fairfield County, Connecticut, J.H. Beers & Company, Chicago, 1899.

[2] The Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case (Unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, Connecticut.

[3] Commemorative Biographical Record, page 12.

This most acceptable gift

Oliver Case and his fellow members of the Burnside Expedition were very accustomed to reviews on the parade field. These reviews were used by Burnside and his subordinate commanders to gauge the health, welfare and readiness of the soldiers and normally occurred on a monthly basis. But, on June 20th of 1862, the Union troops would experience a special gathering and review on the parade field like none before.

In the first year of the Civil War, a success story from the battlefield was in short supply for the Union leadership. Since the opening route of Union forces at Manassas in July of 1861, Lincoln had replaced the commander of the Army of the Potomac pinning his hopes on George McClellan. McClellan had taken months to get the army organized, trained and equipped before finally deploying them in the Peninsula Campaign in March of 1862. While McClellan was successfully in pushing the Confederate defenders back to the defenses of Richmond, he was slow to exploit success on the battlefield endangering the overall success of the campaign. In late May and early June, aggressive offensive operations against the 100,000 Union troops by the Confederate army under Joseph Johnston shook the confidence of McClellan in completing the siege of Richmond.

For almost the entire month of June 1862, McClellan held his army back from any major operations against the Confederates. This operational pause gave the new Army of Northern Virginia commanding general Robert E. Lee, the opportunity to plan, reorganize and begin to employ his troops for offensive operations against McClellan. By late June 1862, Abraham Lincoln was concerned about the probability for success in the operations against Richmond and he needed a good news story after a year at war.

One of the only bright spots in the Union operations in the eastern theater during that first year was the success of the Burnside Expedition in North Carolina. Ambrose Burnside had pulled together a force of about 15,000 troops at Annapolis and prepared them to conduct amphibious operations against the Confederates on the North Carolina coast. In January of 1862, Burnside departed Annapolis with his force and despite stormy seas; he successfully defeated the Confederate defenders at Roanoke Island, Newbern and finally captured the key strong point of Fort Macon on the Bogue Banks in April of 1862. As Lincoln and McClellan contemplated future employment of the Burnside Expeditionary force, the troops conducted occupation duty in and around Newbern.

The Governor of Rhode Island recognized the success of the expeditionary force and desired to honor the leadership of the state’s native son, Ambrose Burnside. The General Assembly voted overwhelming to support the governor’s recommendation by authorizing the procurement of “a suitable sword for presentation” to General Burnside. Rhode Island turned to Tiffany’s of New York to manufacture the sword and in June of 1862 a delegation of Rhode Island dignitaries headed by Adjutant General Edward Mauran made the journey to Newbern, North Carolina with the sword in tow. Interestingly, one of the observers on the day of the presentation remembered the Rhode Island delegation to be “some of the biggest fools I ever saw.”[1]

On Friday, June 20, 1862, Ambrose Burnside, just one week back in camp from a visit to Washington (to see President Lincoln) and a visit to the Peninsula (to see General McClellan), found himself in an uncomfortable position as he was scheduled to be honored with the presentation of the sword. Due to what was commonly referred to as his modest nature, Burnside did not see the necessity of conducting such a grand ceremony at the Union parade field on the banks of the Trent River near Newbern. However, the commanding general acquiesced to the desires of his native state and allowed the grand gathering for the presentation.

Several contemporary accounts provided a wonderful word picture of the scene that afternoon as witnessed by Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers of the expeditionary force:

The day was pleasant, and a large multitude assembled together with the troops on the banks of the glassy Trent…to witness the ceremonies. At nearly the time appointed, the clouds presented a very watery appearance, and smart showers were the result, in the distance.[2]

As almost by divine decree, the threatening rain would not stop the ceremony:

At 5 o’clock, Gen. Burnside rode into the field, accompanied by his staff and escort. As he rode into the area from an easterly direction, a beautiful rainbow spanned the heavens, forming a triumphal arch of gorgeous splendor over the head of the hero of Roanoke, Newbern, and Fort Macon, as he passed under it.[3]

As Burnside rode under the rainbow and onto the field, a Rhode Island battery fired a salute and the troops shouted their respect for their commanding general. About 8,000 troops were formed on the parade field with all who could be spared turning out to honor Burnside. There was a “grand review” which took place “amidst the waving of banners, the inspiriting notes of martial music” followed by “the ceremony of presentation.”[4]

Acting on behalf of the Rhode Island Governor, Adjutant General Mauran presented the sword to General Burnside which was described as “a very elaborately ornamented one, and expense was not taken into account in getting it up.”[5] While my research does not reveal the existence of this Burnside sword today, a similar sword from Tiffany’s presented to a much lower ranking Union officer is currently at an asking price of $60,000. Obviously, Rhode Island had invested a large amount of money to honor their hero.

 

presentation of sword to Burnside by RI

Ambrose Burnside receives the presentation sword from Adjutant General Edward Mauran of Rhode Island on June 20, 1862 at Newbern, North Carolina

At the very moment of the presentation, another rainbow appeared that was “more beautiful than the first…extended itself across the blue sky above, an emblem of hope, success and promise.”[6]

Representing Governor Sprague, Mauran offered a few appropriate remarks just prior to the presentation including a reading of the resolution passed by the General Assembly. He then shared a letter from the governor with Burnside and the assembled masses. Sprague wrote of how the beautiful Tiffany presentation sword “represent[ed] the feelings and sentiments of the people of the State toward you, and the important service which, by your gallant conduct, you have rendered our common country.”[7] Sprague made it clear that this sword represented not only the work of the leader, but the soldiers as well.

Say to the brave soldiers under your command, that Rhode Island honors their courage, their endurance, and their brilliant achievements, by honoring their chief.[8]

In accepting the sword from Adjutant General Mauran, Burnside was moved to make a few brief remarks of only four paragraphs which were, in part:

On behalf of this gallant little army which surrounds you, I beg through you to thank the State of Rhode Island for this gift…[the] Governor has most fittingly said, that the services of this army have been in this manner remembered through its Commander. Without the skill, courage, patience and fortitude of the general officers, field and staff officers, company officers, non-commissioned officers and privates of this corps d’armee…the State of Rhode Island would have been deprived the pleasure of giving, and I debarred the proud satisfaction of receiving this elegant sword…I now beg to thank the State of Rhode Island for the kind manner in which she has been pleased to remember me…in the presentation of this most acceptable gift.[9]

 

 

Burnside wearing a presentation sword

Burnside receives the presentation sword from Adjutant General Edward Mauran of Rhode Island on June 20, 1862 at Newbern, North Carolina

 

ENDNOTES:

[1] Marvel, William, Burnside,  University of North Carolina Press, page 94, 1991.

[2] Newbern Progress, June 21, 1862 as reprinted in The Providence Evening Press, June 25, 1862.

[3] IBID.

[4] Woodbury, Augustus, Ambrose Burnside and the Ninth Army Corps, Sidney S. Rider and Brother, Provenience, Rhode Island, 1867.

[5] Newbern Progress, June 21, 1862.

[6] IBID.

[7] IBID.

[8] IBID.

[9] IBID.

The Investment and Reduction of Fort Macon

It still remained for us to reduce Fort Macon. – Ambrose Burnside

In mid-April of 1862, John Parke’s Brigade of the Burnside Expeditionary Force had begun a slow, steady movement to close the noose around Fort Macon on the Bogue Banks of North Carolina. Parke’s troops had earlier captured the coastal towns of Morehead City and Beaufort before crossing the Bogue Sound to begin the investment of Fort Macon in March of 1862. General Burnside understood that 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 at the U.S. Military Academy in 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.

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

 

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.

By 4:30 in the afternoon, Colonel White raised the white flag of surrender and the bombardment was halted. Fort Macon would soon be in Union hands.

 

[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.

 

 

 

 

An 8th Connecticut Thanksgiving with Private Oliver Case

Old Simon photo

152 Years Ago…Thanksgiving with the 8th Connecticut and Private Oliver Case:

Camp Burnside

Annapolis

Nov. 28th, 1861

Dear Sister,

Not having heard from you for over a week and thinking that your letters must either have been miscarried or that you were away from home or possibly sick, I have taken this opportunity of writing another letter hoping that the receipt of this may have the effect to induce same of you to write in reply. I received a letter from Alonzo last Friday and also received one from Ariel Thursday. I wrote to Ariel that Duane Brown and H.D. Sexton were sick at the hospital. I went to see them as soon as I heard of it, but could not get in where they were, but I looked in and saw their hall. I talked with one of Sexton’s friends who told me he was much better and expected to be around before long. The next day I succeeded in getting in where they were for a few moments. Brown is getting better also. Sexton was asleep. I heard from them Friday and presume by this time they are around. I should go to see them everyday but I am tired after patrolling the city eight hours a day besides keeping my gun clean. The camp is situated 1 ½ miles from our quarters and it is seldom that I can get into the hospital when I get there. I am particular in writing this because you hear such exaggerated accounts and reports about everything that happens here. We are fast filling up here with soldiers, 1200 cavalry and 800 zouaves having arrived within the last week. Part of Cavalry have left for Fortress Monroe and others are expecting to leave soon. We shall probably leave in the course of 2 weeks but may leave any day, or we may stay 6 weeks. We have comparatively quiet times on patrol. We take up but four or five daily and those are mostly sober. We have spilled several casks of liquor to say nothing of jugs, demijohns, and bottles, which we have thrown out. Major Hathaway arrived here yesterday from Washington. He left on the 3PM. train for the north. I saw him a short time before he started. He told me that our people were well, and that he was going to be at L.G. Goodrich’s for Thanksgiving. He says he shall be here again two weeks if we do not leave before that time; he thinks that Lucius may come with him. I wear my mittens every night and find them very comfortable too. Those gloves I received from Ariel, but he says I can thank you for them also, as father paid for them. I have not worn them yet but think that they will be very warm. It has been rumored that we shall spend the winter here but the last rumor is that the 51st N.Y. is the one to be left. If they stay, I guess the citizens will get enough of the soldiers before winter is over for they are the hardest set of boys that encamp here (not excepting the zouaves which are bad enough in a conscience[?]). Nine tenths of the arrests we make are of that 51st regiment. Our chaplain preached to us in our quarters this morning. He delivered an excellent discourse from John 18th [chapter] 38th [verse]. “What is truth”. He is a very talented man and is very familiar with the soldiers. He is liked very much by them all.

We are treated with much respect by the citizens and they often send in some shortcakes, gingersnaps, cookies etc; of course, only a bite for each but enough to know that we have their good will. If they found out that any of our number are complaining they will send in a cup of tea, biscuit and butter, and other little knickknacks to them. When we first came here they were very shy of us always avoiding us if possible, but now they are quite familiar with us at almost anytime. The soldiers that had been here before were a pretty rough set. It was reported that the people of this place had sent to Gen. Burnside requesting him to let us stay here this winter. I do not know whether it is true or not. We have been expecting to be paid off ever since we came from Jamaica but have not got it yet. The time now set is next Thursday when we may be paid and then again we may not. Where are you expecting to go to school this winter? I see by the Hartford papers that Joe R. Toy has gone into camp. Is it at Hartford or New Haven? I have forgotten. Alonzo says they got their corn all into the barn. I suppose you have all of your corn and other crops before this time, have you not? There is some corn out here but it is pretty much all gathered. The weather is quite cold so that it froze a little last night. We have much wet weather but thanks to our rubber blankets we keep dry. The general impression here is that the war will not last more than six months at fartherest; but I do not believe that it is to be finished so soon; perhaps it may not last more than a year or a year and a half but that is as soon as I expect it will be ended. Of course we do not care how soon we go south notwithstanding we have good quarters here and much more freedom than we shall have there. News is scarce here as you will see by reading my letter. Do you ever see Georgie and Elsworth? I hope they enjoy themselves north.

How is grandmother? Give her my best respects. I shall not write again until I get paid off as I shall have used up all the stamps you sent me in buying paper, writing letters and for a few other notions that I could not well do without; but we shall probably be paid off this week so that it will make no difference. I have just stopped writing to get some Ginger snaps that a negro woman is giving to the boys. They are excellent. Respects to all inquiring friends and [unreadable].

Your Brother, Oliver