On the Scent for Whiskey

On the Scent for Whiskey

During the third week of October of 1861, the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment found themselves as honored guests among the citizens of Jamaica on Long Island, New York. From the perspective of Company A’s Private Oliver Cromwell Case, he experienced the people of New York as “very familiar (much more than Conn. People) [and] I should also say generous and hospitable.” 

His description of their hospitality continues in a letter to his sister, Abbie:

They gave our Regt. over a thousand  loaves of bread last week besides giving us many apples and welcoming to their houses all who are so fortunate as to get out side of guard.[1]

While the local populace made Oliver and his comrades feel welcomed, the leadership of the regiment made their best efforts to both improve morale and suppress undisciplined behavior during the time at the Camp of Instruction on Long Island.

The morale of the regiments was correspondingly raised. Gambling and liquor-selling were suppressed; offenders being severely punished, and their stakes and stock confiscated for the regimental fund. Profanity was rebuked. Unnecessary Sunday labor was avoided. Religious meetings were frequent…[2]

In spite of these efforts, there were always the few soldiers in the ranks who managed to indulge in the vice of drinking whiskey. This was not unique to the one unit as every Civil War regiment seemed to have a group of soldiers that did not know when to say when with the whiskey. In his famous work about the everyday experiences of the soldiers, Union soldier John D. Billings captured the common experience with alcohol in the army: 

The devices resorted to by those members of the rank and file who hungered and thirsted for commissary to obtain it, are numerous and entertaining enough to occupy a chapter but these I must leave for some one of broader experience and observation. I could name two or three men in my own company whose experience qualified them to fill the bill completely. They were always on the scent for something to drink. Such men were to be found in all organizations. [3] 

Although the fledgling soldiers of the 8th Connecticut had quickly settled into the routine of camp life in New York, it didn’t take them long to prove Billings’ assertion regarding problems with drinking alcohol in every unit. They discovered that alcohol and soldiering don’t always mix. During Civil War times, a drunk soldier was often referred to as being “shot in the neck” or to have “a brick in his hat.” One young corporal in Oliver’s company is reduced in rank and returned to the junior enlisted ranks for his crime of public intoxication John F. Saundbaum of Hartford required to forfeit one month’s pay as part of his punishment. A few weeks later, Saundbaum would be rejected for continued service in the 8th Connecticut following a new round of medical exams possibly as a result of his fondness for spirits.

The “Wooden Overcoat” was one of the possible punishments for drunkenness [4]

Drunkenness was not limited to the enlist ranks as the officer corps was occupied by many officers of various ranks who overindulged in strong drink. In fact, Billings recounts that “officers who did not drink more or less were too scarce in the service.” Possessing a much greater level of freedom gave occasion for a number of those officers, especially those senior in rank, to find opportunities to source whiskey for personal consumption. According to Billings, this led a significant number of officers to imbibe in drink when the situation demanded sober thought.  

They had only to send to the commissary to obtain as much as they pleased, whenever they pleased, by paying for it… there was nothing but his sense of honor, his self-respect, or his fear of exposure and punishment, to restrain a captain, a colonel, or a general, of whatever command, from being intoxicated at a moment when he should have been in the full possession of his senses leading his command on to battle ; and I regret to relate that these motives, strong as they are to impel to right and restrain from wrong-doing, were no barrier to many an officer whose appetite in a crisis thus imperiled the cause and disgraced himself. [5]

For Oliver Case and the 8th Connecticut, this would not be their last encounter with the effects of alcohol consumption in the ranks. Other soldiers would succumb to the temptation to drown their fears in a bottle of spirits. 

ENDNOTES:

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

[2] The Military and Civil History of Connecticut: The War of 1861-1865, W.A. Croffut and John M. Morris, Ledyard Bill, New York, 1868

[3] Hardtack and Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life, John D. Billings, George M. Smith and Company, Boston, 1887

[4] IBID.

[5] IBID.

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“…nothing too good for the soldiers.”

From Oliver Cromwell Case’s letter to his sister dated October 31, 1861 written at Camp Buckingham, Jamaica, Long Island, New York

This phrase caught my eye for the first time even though I’ve read this letter at least a dozen times. It caused me to go back and ponder some previous posts on this subject.

What sounds familiar about those words? It took a little research to pinpoint where I had heard a similar phase…

…from none other than William Tecumseh Sherman!

WT Sherman

There is nothing too good for the soldiers who wear the blue.

Of course, Cump Sherman’s words came about two years after Oliver penned the phrase. Both understood the sentiment of the military leadership and the people of the north. However, Oliver’s declaration from Long Island came at a time when public support for the war effort remained high in the north, the Copperheads notwithstanding. With only about four months worth of significant combat action, the public had yet to grow wearily of the toll the war would soon begin to exact upon the lives of their young men. New Yorkers were among the most enthusiastic supporters of the boys in blue in the fall of 1861.

We are treated much better here than in Connecticut by the citizens. They think there is nothing to good for the soldiers. We are treated with respect wherever we go…[1]  

However, after departing from Long Island on November 1, 1861, Oliver and comrades of the 8th Connecticut would find an even warmer reception awaiting them in the city of brotherly love. We pick up on Oliver’s retelling of the story from his letter of November 3rd:

We were got upon the cars with but little delay and tried to start for Philadelphia which was not so easy a job as you might imagine as we had on 19 passenger cars, but with the help of another engine we got under way and arrived safely at ½ after eleven o’clock where we had a huge dinner and if anyone ever did justice to a dinner, we did to that. I think I never tasted anything so good in my life. We stayed there until nearly five talking and shaking hands with everyone.

On November 2, 1861 from 11:30 in the morning until 5 o’clock in the afternoon, Private Oliver Cromwell Case and his fellow soldiers were hosted by the citizens of Philadelphia. My twenty-five years of service as an Army officer has taught me well that Soldiers with free time in a major population center can spell trouble if not properly occupied and supervised. Chief among the activities of these Soldiers is always the pursuit of food. In fact, when serving as a young lieutenant in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, I was told that one of the rules of the Cavalry Trooper was “never pass up the opportunity for a meal because you never know when you might eat next.” So it was with the nutmeggers on that November day. When Oliver writes that “we had a huge dinner” after arriving in Philadelphia, it’s likely that he had no idea that the keen observations of one of the city’s businessmen and the efforts of a group of ladies was to thank for that meal.

Only six months prior to the arrival of the 8th Connecticut, the citizens of the Philadelphia took action to support the growing number of troops transiting the city. During the closing week of April and the first week of May, Union regiments from the New England states began arriving by both ship and train. Most of these troops proceed along Washington Avenue to board trains bound for Perryville, Maryland, the southernmost location in Maryland accessible by railroad. After noticing the hundreds of soldiers sitting along the streets of the city waiting for their trains, a group of women in the city “formed themselves into a committee, and, with the assistance of their friends and neighbors, distributed coffee and refreshments among the hungry and grateful troops.”[2] These modest efforts to provide refreshments continued for several weeks until the last week of May 1861 when a Philadelphia businessman became involved.

William M. Cooper was a merchant with a store located on Otsego Street just off Washington Avenue when he also noticed the large number of soldiers lounging on the streets of Philadelphia. He managed to convince his partner, Henry Pearce, that their barrel making business could be used to advance the mission to the soldiers started by the ladies of the city. As a result, on May 26, 1861, the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon opened its doors to serve the Union soldiers passing through the city. Mr. Cooper took the lead role in the effort and served as the committee’s president and chief fundraiser for the duration of the war. A friendly rival, the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon, began operating nearby shortly after the establishment of Cooper’s saloon.

The two refreshment saloons provided a welcomed relief for the weary soldiers. As the ladies had first realized, a soldier’s first longing after the long boat or train ride was a cup of hot coffee and so Mr. Cooper converted the large fireplace in his shop into an enormous stove. With this setup, it was possible for the volunteers to brew one hundred gallons of coffee per hour! According to a history of the saloon written immediately following the war, the “coffee was made good and strong, and served up in a purely democratic manner.”[3] I would assume this means that it was one cup for each man.

Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon LOC (exterior view)

Exterior view of the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon (Library of Congress)

According to the records of the saloon, the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut were divided equally between the Union and Cooper saloons. Oliver does not indicate in which establishment he partook of the “huge dinner” but when he entered the building, he found:

…each table was laid with a clean white linen cloth, on which were arranged plates of white stone china, mugs of the same, knives and forks, castors, and all that was necessary to table use. Bouquets of flowers, the gifts of visitors, were frequently added, and lent their fragrance to the savory odors. The bill of fare consisted of the best the market could supply, and was not, in the articles provided, inferior to that of any hotel in the country. At all meals the fare was abundant; consisting of ham, corned beef, Bologna sausage, bread made of the finest wheat, butter of the best quality, cheese, pepper-sauce beets, pickles, dried beef, coffee and tea, and vegetables.[4]

Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon LOC (inside view)

Interior view of the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon (Library of Congress)

The Cooper and Union saloons provided an incredible setting for the soldiers to enjoy their meal. One Union Army surgeon provided a detailed description his experience at the Cooper saloon:

We are stopping over Sabbath in Philadelphia, at the above named saloon, where we have been treated with the kindest hospitality. We were met at the ferry by one of the committees, who conducted us to the saloon, where we found tables groaning beneath the real substantials of life. The hall is 150 feet long, by 30 wide, and will accommodate about 350 persons at a time. It is splendidly decorated with wreaths of evergreens, and a great variety of paintings and flags, and is well lighted with gas. At the further end of the hall is a large eagle, stuffed and perched upon a frame enclosing the Declaration of Independence. We were supplied with every thing we could possibly wish.[5]

In September of 1990, I found myself in much the same position as Oliver and the Connecticut boys…waiting around for transportation on my way to war. The USO with many volunteers had established a “saloon” at Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany providing food, entertainment and, yes, coffee for soldiers deploying to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Shield. The facility was operated in a German “feast tent” just off the tarmac of the airbase. I don’t believe we enjoyed the same meal as Oliver, but the food was fantastic and represented the last taste of home for many months. Upon return to the United States after the conflict in 1991, we found the same reception waiting for us in both New York and our home base in El Paso, Texas. Today, a USO reception center is found in every major airport in the country and at United States military airbases around the world providing that same warm welcome and food (among many other services) that greeted Oliver Case and the soldiers of the 8th Connecticut in Philadelphia over 150 years ago.

The facility at Cooper expanded to include a hospital on the second floor of the building and both saloons hosted upwards of one million troops during the four years of the war. Mr. Cooper poured his heart, soul and finances into the venture. Sadly, in March of 1880, he died in a condition of debt so abysmal that friends and former soldiers assisted by the Cooper saloon had to come to his rescue to prevent his home from being sold at public auction. William Cooper was fondly remembered as the man who “used his private mean liberally, and no soldier was ever turned away hungry.”[6]

In addition to the History of the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon by James Moore written in 1866, the following sites provided useful background information on this subject:

The House Divided site of Dickinson College Essay on Philadelphia

Civil War Philadelphia – Volunteer Refreshment Saloons

Notes:

[1] All quotes from Oliver Case taken from the Letters of Oliver Cromwell Case 1861-1862 (unpublished), Simsbury Historical Society, Simsbury, CT (October 31, 1861 and November 3, 1861) unless otherwise noted.

[2] History of the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon, James Moore, James B. Rodgers, Philadelphia, 1866.

[3] Moore, 1866

[4] IBID

[5] IBID

[6] “A Patriot’s Family in Distress,” New York Times, March 18, 1880.

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.

A Very Pleasant Time

From Oliver Case’s letter to his sister Abbie dated October 20, 1861

An air of excitement spread throughout the ranks of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry on the morning of October 17, 1861 as they rose to the strains of reveille echoing across the grassy fields of Camp Buckingham. For most of these men, the camp located in the Barry Square area of Hartford had been their home since at least September 27th when the regiment was formally established after the 5th Connecticut had vacated the grounds. They had learned to wear their new uniforms, march in formation and conduct the daily tasks associated with maintaining the camp of over 1,000 members of the regiment. But, the green recruits needed more intensive training particularly in drilling before they would be ready to face the Confederates.

Location of Camp Buckingham Hartford CT

The modern-day location (near 10 Campfield Avenue) of Camp Buckingham in Hartford

 

The excitement had continued to build since early in the month of October when word spread about the camp concerning the directive from the United States Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, for Governor Buckingham to send two regiments forward for federal service. Many administrative and logistical tasks remained to be completed prior to the 8th being transferred to federal service. However, the eagerness in the ranks only grew as rumors flew concerning service in what Oliver Case called “the grand Union army going eagerly forth to offer vicarious atonement for the sins of the nation.”[1] Most of the regiment’s soldiers remained ignorant as to their destination upon leaving the camp, but all knew the day of departure had arrived that morning as sergeants and officers barked commands to prepare baggage for movement.

By four o’clock that afternoon, Oliver and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut had marched the short distance to board awaiting ships on the Connecticut River. The official transfer to federal service had been announced to the regiment earlier in the day by Colonel Edward Harland, the regimental commander. Now it seemed as if all of Hartford and half of the rest of Connecticut had turned out to wish the soldiers well. The sendoff encouraged the young soldiers as they “were greeted with waving flags and resounding cheers from proud relatives and friends, and grateful strangers.” The celebration continued for a considerable time as Oliver described it to be “a very pleasant time going down the river cheering and being cheered continually.” The official strength of the regiment was listed as 1,016 including officers and soldiers who departed Hartford on that day. Many would never see Hartford again.

Oliver found the quarters aboard the ship, which he did not name, to be cramped but he made the best of the situation. His company was fortunate to be assigned a spot “in the gangway forward of the shaft” where a bit more room could be found to relax. The conditions were still far from ideal as the soldiers of Company A “spread our beds all over the floor and bunked in like a mess of pigs; some were in the water shoe deep.” Oliver managed to find a dry spot amongst the wallow and with his “knapsack for a pillow [he] slept soundly for about two hours.” Using your knapsack or rucksack as we call it in the modern Army is a longstanding tradition among soldiers of all armies. A new recruit quickly learns to sleep when the opportunity arises and to pack their rucksack to be a “pillowly” as possible. So, I’m sure Oliver learned this lesson quickly after his night in the “pig pen.”

While not exactly comfortable in his situation, it still didn’t prohibit Oliver from sleeping so soundly that when he was called “to stand guard for an hour” it was “loud enough to start any living person.” Although the threat of theft or damage to personal baggage while enroute on the water would seem to be minimal, guards were rotated to watch the “traps and guns” just the same and Oliver stood his one hour watch beginning at about 11:30 pm. When he returned to his sleeping spot shortly after midnight, Oliver would not find the same restful sleep as he “did much get much sleep after that [guard duty].” Oliver doesn’t directly attribute his lack of sleep to any particular factor, but anticipation must have been at least as causative as the cramped quarters.

Around 4 o’clock in the morning of October 8th, Oliver’s insomnia was rewarded with a first view of New York City as the early morning fog began to clear allowing the lights of the city to come into view. But New York City was not the destination of the crowded ship and the journey continued after a brief pause to allow another ship to pass. Just a short time later, great excitement among the soldiers as the ship began to put ashore at Staten Island. In anticipation of leaving their cramped quarters, the soldiers of the 8th scrambled to find their knapsacks and other equipment in order to leave the ship. The horses were taken off the ship first prompting the troops to don their knapsacks and prepare to disembark. Much to their disappointment after standing for hours, the troops were not allowed to leave the ship and again waited for instructions.

By 9 o’clock, the soldiers were disappointed to learn that they would not be ashore at Staten Island. The horses were reloaded and the ship headed out on the same route by which it came to Staten Island, passing New York City again bound for a destination as yet unknown to most of the passengers.          

Finally, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and after almost twenty-four hours on the water, Oliver’s ship arrived at Hunter’s Point, Long Island where some of the members of the regiment were allowed to leave the ship. The troops of Company A were told they would have to wait for another two to three hours they were finally able to disembark the ship. The delay was caused by a shortage of trains being used to transport the soldiers to their new home, the Camp of Instruction at Jamaica, Long Island. As Oliver viewed the long day of delays with a sense of humor that would appear many times in his future letters writing, “All things must have an end and so did our waiting.”

A heavy rain fall and the lateness of the hour by the time Oliver and Company A reached their camp on the evening of October 18th prevent the soldiers from the proper assembly of their tents. So, Oliver Case’s first night away from Connecticut would be spent “on the ground with the sky for a covering.”

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

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)

A Silent and Sleeping Host

The Aftermath of the Battle of South Mountain

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



[1] Croffut and Morris, 1868.

[2] Allen, 1887.

[3] Marsh

[4] Buell

[5] Pratt.

Photo and Inscription – Bible of Oliver Cromwell Case

1854 T. Nelson and Sons, London; Edinburgh and New York.

Inscription from Oliver Cromwell Case’s Bible

 

If you die, die like a man.

 

 

Miss Abbie J Case

Hartford

Conn

 

Miss Jennie A Hartford

Oliver C. Case

Co. A. 8th  Reg’t

C.V.

If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will also deny us.

2 Tim. 2 [verse 12]

[unreadable] OCT. 13, 1861

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