Death at the Door (December 29, 1861 – March 7, 1862)

I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. – Revelation 6:8

29 Dec 1861

Burnside meets with General McClellan and President Lincoln in Washington for a final review of the plan for the expeditionary force. The idea for what Burnside originally termed the “Coast Division” was first pitched to McClellan in October 1861 with the purpose as recounted by General Burnside in an 1882 publication:

To organize a division of from twelve to fifteen thousand men, mainly from states bordering on the northern seacoast, many of whom would be familiar with the coasting trade, and among whom would be found a goodly number of mechanics, to fit out a fleet of light-draught steamers, sailing vessels and barges, large enough to transport the division, its armament and supplies, so that it could be rapidly thrown from point to point on the coast with a view to establishing lodgments on the southern coast, landing troops, and penetrating into the interior, thereby threatening the lines of transportation in the rear of the main army then concentrating in Virginia, and hold possession of the inland waters on the Atlantic coast.[52]

When first briefed on the plan, President Lincoln expressed substantial reservations with both the objective and the worthiness of the vessels procured for the operation. The objective of the briefing on December 29th of 1861 was to obtain Lincoln’s final approval.

Much discouragement was expressed by nautical men and by men high in military authority as to the success of the expedition. The President and General McClellan were both approached, and the President was frequently warned that the vessels were unfit for sea, and that the expedition would be a total failure. Great anxiety was manifested to know its destination, but the secret had been well kept in Washington and at our headquarters.[53]

Operational security is the key to the success of the invasion of the North Carolina coast and even the president is keenly attuned to the need to keep it secret.

As Mr. Lincoln afterwards told me, a public man was very importunate, and, in fact, almost demanded that the President should tell him where we were going. Finally, the President said to him, “Now I will tell you in great confidence where they are going, if you will promise not to speak of it to any one.” The promise was given, and Mr. Lincoln said, “Well, now, my friend, the expedition is going to sea.” The inquirer left him without receiving any further information.[54]

After being assured of the great potential for success by McClellan and Burnside, the president finally gives his approval to commence operations as soon as practical. A mix of reservations and excitement accompany the launch of the force as expressed by a New York Times correspondent accompanying Burnside:

The auspices under which we have commenced operations are certainly not very encouraging, though they are not of a nature to discourage one so hopeful and energetic as the Commanding General is known to be; or, it is hoped, to seriously impede our progress.[55]

In preparation for pending movement of the expeditionary force, General Burnside orders all sick soldiers to be moved from the camp to a general hospital or loaded abroad a hospital transport.

Although Oliver claims to feel “as well as I ever did in my life,” the surgeon excuses him from duty the night before and he is ordered to report to the hospital ship “Recruit” the next morning. Oliver describes the ship as “fitted up full of good berths and is a very different affair from those steamers we came in on.” He also mentions in his letter on December 30th that about 30 soldiers of the 8th have contracted measles.[56]

5 Jan 1862

General Burnside begins to muster his troops for load out and movement south. However, there are problems that delay the movement until the next day.

On the 5th of January the troops began to embark. During that day there were some delays, which resulted from inexperience in the manoeuvering of the vessels and in the new work to which they were unaccustomed.[57]

6 Jan 1862 Evening  

The soldiers of the expedition awake to several inches of snowfall across the camp creating a beautiful scene. Each unit works to break camp and prepare for movement. After many delays, the 8th CVI along with the rest of Burnside’s North Carolina Expeditionary Force begins to depart Annapolis. Years later, the General clearly remembered the day:

Regiment after regiment struck their tents and marched to the point of embarkation, with bands playing, colors flying, and the men cheering and singing from lightness of heart. As they passed through the quaint old town of Annapolis, the lines of troops, with their dark uniforms and glittering bayonets, contrasted markedly with the snow-clad fields and trees. The men were not cheered and encouraged by many friendly voices, such as they had heard whilst coming from their homes to the seat of war; but they were not at all chilled by the reception, and cheerfully marched on to the work before them.[58]

The soldiers of the 8th are divided into two groups; one group of six companies traveling aboard the bark J.P. Brookman and the other four on the steamer transport Chasseur. [Some sources list the steamer as the New Burnswick] Oliver Case does not leave with his regiment as he is still aboard the hospital transport Recruit waiting for his disposition.

Harper’s Weekly provided a description of the ships of the expeditionary force:

The transports have been thoroughly overhauled and completely fitted out with every thing necessary for the expedition. The steamers are of light draught, and are capable of carrying from four hundred to six hundred men each, besides stores and ordnance, and when loaded will draw but from six to eight feet of water. There is no particular difference in these vessels, and every captain thinks his own, of course, the best. Every inch of space is devoted to use. Bunks have been erected and “standees” put up, which can be taken down at short notice, if necessary to clear the ship for action, or (an unpleasant thought) to afford room for a cock-pit.[59]

7 Jan 1862

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

As such, it is no surprise that Oliver Case’s most impactful experience of the war outside of the combat at Antietam would be a close experience with monster of disease. In his letter of January 7, 1862, he describes it as “the most sorrowful time that I ever witnessed.” Oliver watched his fellow soldier and friend, Henry D. Sexton, suffer the effects of a condition that he calls “jaundice.” During the war, Union armies would suffer more than 71,691 reported cases of jaundice likely a manifestation of hepatitis.[60]

Sexton came aboard the ship with Oliver on the 29th of December as his health began to take a turn for the worse until finally he succumbed to the condition around noon on January 7th. Oliver’s brother Alonzo obviously suffered from a similar condition because he describes Henry as looking “much as I have seen Alonzo.” Oliver’s letter describes in great detail his journey of the past three days as Sexton’s condition rapidly declined into unconsciousness, wild spasms, and, finally, to a peaceful death.

I thought that his mind wandered a little. I left him about two. In the morning he was not conscious and repaired nearly all day in the stupid state. About three he had a spasm and rushed out of his bunk. I had no control of him as he could handle me like a child. It was very difficult to get anyone to take hold of him as they seemed to be afraid of him. It took five of us to hold him and keep him from tearing his face with his hands. He would bite at us and froth to the mouth, making a horrid noise all of the time. I stayed over him twenty four hours in succession before his death.[61] 

Oliver is appalled by the lack of medical care from the doctor on the ship even after repeated pleas to help. It has a profound impact on Oliver as he writes that he “never saw anything so horrible in my life.” Oliver continues:

I never felt so bad in my life as when I saw that here was no hopes of his recovery. It seemed as though I had lost the only friend I had with me.[62]

The trauma of Henry’s death struggle is coupled with the death of another friend of Oliver, Duane Brown, just the day before Sexton’s passing. According to Oliver, Brown had been taken from the ship and sent to a hospital ashore “with the measles and the Typhus Fever…” In contrast with Sexton’s experience onboard the ship, Brown received “the best of care at the hospital.”

In spite of the traumatic experience with the deaths of his two friends, Oliver is at peace with the passing of Henry Sexton:

Sexton died easy but unconscious…thanks be to God what is our loss is his gain. He was prepared for the final change. Only the day before he was taken unconscious he remarked that there was only one thing that supported him during his illness at the hospital, and now when he got low-spirited, “The religion of Jesus Christ was his sustainer.”[63]

Either physically or emotionally, Oliver is unable to write a letter to Henry’s wife informing her of the circumstances of her husband’s death relegating the task to a fellow soldier. In a letter to his sister, Oliver writes that he could not compose the letter so “I got another man to write to Sexton’s wife…” However, Case quickly adds that he “telegraphed this morning” presumably to Mrs. Sexton.[64]

Henry had married Eliza Naomi Barbour in September 1861 only a few weeks before the departure of the 8th CVI from Hartford. She had received the news of his illness in early January 1862 and had departed for Annapolis immediately. However, before she could reach Annapolis, Sexton died and was hastily buried likely due to the imminent departure of Burnside’s expedition. According to some local Annapolis historians, an area along West Street just outside of the downtown district was a possible temporary burial ground for the Union soldiers who died while Burnside encamped in the city. Today, no visible trace remains of any burial sites in this place. This location pre-dated the national cemetery later established further west of downtown. Due to the speedy exodus of Burnside’s forces, the temporary gravesites and remains may not have been marked to facilitate later removal and identification.

From the record of Oliver’s letters, it appears that Oliver was not present when Mrs. Sexton arrived in Annapolis or was not allowed to leave the ship. Although Oliver had telegraphed her soon after his death, it is likely that when Eliza Sexton came to the capital city of Maryland in search of her husband’s remains, it would have been a daunting task. With the departure of Burnside’s expedition only days before, the Union military presence in the city was greatly reduced and very little official assistance would have been available to Mrs. Sexton.

When Mrs. Sexton arrived in Annapolis, the grave of her husband was not able to be located and she returned to Connecticut brokenhearted.[65]

Henry Sexton’s unidentified remains may have been relocated to the new national cemetery at a later date.

Case sought to bring the saga to a close by returning Henry’s possessions to his home:

We put all of Henry’s things in a box and sent by express. They would not let me help pay the expenses because they said that I had done my part by being with him all the time.[66]

Oliver finds some consolation in continuing to do his duty and in serving his fellow soldiers aboard the ship.

I have been upon guard since I came upon the schooner and when I am off I go around and get water, cover up, and wait upon the sick in various ways. This is not my duty as a soldier – but it is my duty as a man. The Dr. often comes to me when he wants someone to carry medicine to any man when the ward masters are busy.[67]

9-13 Jan 1862

Writing from on board the schooner “Recruit” beginning on January 9, 1862, Oliver writes in a journal type of format for the next five days making a short entry on each day. The schooner is being used as one of two hospital ships in Burnside’s expeditionary force. A New York Times article from January 15, 1862 provides a description of the hospital ship “Recruit” and its attending physicians:

The schooner Recruit, of some 400 tone, which has been fitted up with every comfort and accommodation for the sick of the division, has just arrived from Annapolis, with about 198 men belonging to the different regiments of the Coast Division, a large proportion of whom are convaleseent from measles. Many others are recovering from colds contracted in camp. They have been in charge of Dr. GREEN, of the Twenty-fourth, assisted by Dr. STONE, of the Twenty-third Massachusetts. They remained at Fortress Monroe until the storm had abated, and had a pleasant and quiet passage down. It is understood that other medical officers of the division will now take their turn in charge of the hospital ship, where the duties have been very onerous. They have not yet been designated. The schooner Guerrilla (Mary S. Kimball) is hereafter to be the hospital ship, the Recruit being “needed” for a transport.[68]

Oliver’s entries are short due primarily to the rough seas the vessel is encountering sailing for Fortress Monroe. They are expected to depart on January 9th, but are forced to wait until the 11th before sailing.

There are several interesting items from the letter over the five days:

Oliver has “great confidence in our new doctors” and expresses his regret that “we did not have the doctors before and have something done for Sexton.” He offers as evidence of the clinical effectiveness of these new physicians the fact that “the sick are much better; none dangerous.” This is more likely attributed to leaving the preventative medicine nightmare of camp life for the fresh air of the open seas. There is some recognition of this by the doctors who order the soldiers to go out on deck for fresh air at various times while on the schooner. Oliver mentions the head surgeon of hospital ship, Dr. S.A. Green of the 24th Mass.

For his part, Oliver is “in the best of health with a good appetite.” Because of his helpfulness in caring for the sick soldiers, the nurses provide him with extra rations. In fact, he confesses to eating “two rations at every meal…” Oliver does mention that he has a sore throat but attributes it to “smoking strong tobacco.” The revelation that he smokes is not surprising given the fact that his father, Job Case, is a tobacco farmer back in Simsbury.

Oliver also writes about a ”Zouave drum major, a Frenchman who cannot understand English, is quite bad off with the rheumatism.” After the patient tries to get up and move around, he falls and can’t get back up. Oliver and another soldier ”carried” the drum major back to his bed. He also comments that “the Dr. talks with him in French.”

The food aboard the ship is a problem for Oliver and the other soldiers as a creative cook attempts to make soup from sea water. The soup is so awful that the soldiers not only complain to the doctor, but begin to circulate a petition to go to ”the general” likely meaning General Burnside. Oliver is not impressed by the efforts of his shipmates and does not “approve of it; think it will amount to shucks.”

Many of the soldiers become seasick during the journey and the ship finally reaches Fortress Monroe on January 13, 1862. He describes the scene in the harbor as “one forest of masts” and welcomes the opportunity “to send and receive letters now…” Oliver has formed friendships with the other soldiers and is ”now acquainted with nearly all on board and enjoy it very much, perhaps more than with our own company.” On the day of their arrival at Fortress Monroe, the soldiers are treated to some fun “seeing the Dr. shoot at ducks with his revolver.”[69]

18 Jan 1862

Oliver arrives aboard the schooner Recruit in the Hatteras Inlet of North Carolina. His last letter announced the arrival of his ship at Fortress Monroe on January 13th and according to his letter of January 19th, Recruit left Monroe on January 18th for the passage south. Most of the vessels in Burnside’s Expedition have arrived off the North Carolina coast by the time the Recruit reaches the inlet. The schooner is being used as a hospital ship and Oliver has spent the majority of the past three weeks on the hospital ship although he professes to be in good health after several bouts with fever.

The largest amphibious operation to this point in American military history has not gone well for General Burnside and his fleet of ships. Typical winter weather along the east coast amplified by a significant storm that hit just as the fleet left Fortress Monroe has caused considerable delays in the movement. The passengers and crew of the Recruit also experience these storms during their journey.

Oliver describes the wild scene on board the ship:

The waves ran pretty high through the day and increased to a gale at night. At 12 o’clock the waves swept over the deck and carried away the ship’s boats, the vessel rocking at the same time so violently as to rock some out of their berths and send all the wood and boxes tumbling over the deck. The wind broke loose gaff (a piece of round timber 8 inches through and sent it flying over the deck. The boilers (large heavy copper which are kept on the stove continually) of coffee were overturned and the boiling liquid sent streaming over the deck. The confusion was general, many falling out of their berths, others falling flat upon the floor. One boiler fell down the hatchway making causalities too numerous to mention.[70]

For his part, Oliver finds a bit of humor in his personal experience with the rough passage:

I was fast asleep when I heard the racket and such laughing and enraging [?] I never heard before. One thing was falling here, another there – those that were in their berths rolling from one side to the other (that is those that were lucky enough to keep in) and those that were holding on to the sides. There was no danger, only a little rolling and a little fun.[71]

Later in the letter, Oliver shows more of his indifference to the stormy conditions by writing that he “slept very soundly when in my berth while everyone else were rolling about the deck.”

Burnside’s Expedition does suffer some causalities and the loss of vessels. Although he is still on the ship, Oliver provides a fairly accurate description of the disposition of the fleet in his letter to Abbie.

A boat with some of the 11th Penn. [(sic) must refer to either 11th Conn. or 51st Penn] was picked up – one man drowned – three died from exposure. One Colonel and two other staff officers lost together with a boat crew. Most of the casualties were occasioned by the storm while we were at the Fortress instead of the sea last night. There was but a little wind last night but the sea here is always rough, and the entrance to the inlet is very rocky and the channel crooked. There is a schooner sunk outside upon the shoals. I believe that there was one or two regulars lost from her. Of course, we have not been in long enough to get the particulars, but I think that this is as near correct as can be got at, the present time.[72]

A New York Times Special Correspondent gave a comprehensive description of the journey:

We have encountered one heavy blow from the Southwest — directly ahead — on our way down the coast, and have rode out, at our anchors, one of the heaviest Northeast gales which are known to prevail on this proverbially windy coast. Disasters of a somewhat serious, and some of a very melancholy character have also occurred which will cause regret with the public, and mourning in Northern homes. One ship, the screw-steamer City of New-York, from New-York, loaded with ordnance stores, went ashore on the bar on Monday, and now lies a total wreck, with a cargo of two hundred thousand dollars in value lost to the Expedition. No lives lost. One gunboat, the Zouave, has been sunk in the inlet, caused by overrunning her anchor during the storm, which knocked a hole in her bottom’ thus causing her to sink. Her guns were saved. One schooner, loaded with coal, is also sunk.[73]

As refered to by Oliver Case and the New York Times correspondent, the causalities of the storm include the sinking of the gunboat Zouave and the drowning of Colonel Allen and Surgeon Weller of the 9th New Jersey who died as a result of the swamping of their small boat as they returned to their ship from a shore reconnaissance. The same New York Times Special Correspondent described the scene in greater detail:

Nine persons were rescued alive; two lifeless bodies — those of Col. ALLEN and Surgeon WELLER — were taken into the officers’ boat, and one, the second mate, had sunk to the bottom. The bodies of the unfortunate officers were carefully lifted on to the quarterdeck of the Highlander, where Dr. GEO. DERBY, the able surgeon of the Massachusetts Twenty-third, assisted by twenty wiling hands, began their efforts to restore them to life. Artificial respiration, and every expedient known to medical science, were resorted to for medical science, were resorted to for the purpose, and these exertions were continued without intermission for two hours. These humane efforts, however, proved unavailing — the vital spark had fled.[74]

Oliver goes on to express his concern about the fate of his regiment, the 8th Connecticut, from whom he has not heard. He writes Abbie that he has “heard a rumor that the 8th Conn. was wrecked and part saved upon boats, but I can find no foundation for the rumor.”[75]

Also, he returns to the subject of the Zouave Drum Major we met in his letter of January 9th.

The Zouave drum major died night before last (sic?) and his body left at Annapolis. He was a commissioned officer and had no business to come with us on the hospital ship.  The band to which he belonged was dissolved 2 weeks before he started but he was getting $60.00 a month which was too good a berth [?] to give up without a struggle. He never was well enough to come aboard. He died of the rheumatic fever.[76]

In earlier letters, Oliver makes mention of a regiment of Zouaves at Annapolis that is a rowdy bunch of troublemakers. In his letter of November 28, 1861 Oliver writes:

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 [word unclear]).[77]

The 51st NY was known for its fondness for alcohol, but the Zouave regiment referenced here by Oliver is likely the 53rd New York Infantry.

The 53rd New York Infantry was organized at organized at New York City August 27 to November 15, 1861. The regiment left New York bound for Washington, D. C. on the 18th of November 1861, but apparently never made it there and continued on to Annapolis which is where Oliver Case first encountered them. The regiment was known as D’Epineuil’s Zouaves after their commanding officer, Colonel Lionel Jobert D’Epineuil, a Frenchman with a colorful story put forward in the interest of self-promotion, but lacking in truthfulness. D’Epineuil claimed to have served in the French army for 17 years prior to his recent arrival in America. However, it appears that he never served a day in the French army, but possibly had some limited service in the French naval forces.

The colonel seems to have struggled to fill the regiment with Frenchmen from New York, but vigorously defended his efforts to the New York Times in a letter published October 9, 1861.

Having seen in your journal of to-day a statement to the effect that the d’Epineuil Zouaves, which regiment I have the honor to command, numbers only 300 men, I beg to ask you to give publicity to the fact that although a week since 300 was its-quota, yet, at the present time, there are 655 men in camp at Staten Island. Considering that the regiment has been organizing for only five weeks, I think you will agree with me when I say that its success compares favorably with that of any other organization in the State.[78]

Due to his lack of success in finding a large number of French recruits, D’Epineuil signed up many recruits from various ethnic groups in New York City including one company of Tuscarora Indians from upstate New York.

In outward appearance, the Zouaves were impressive sporting one of the most colorful versionsof the Zouave uniform. In demeanor and bearing, the officers and soldiers of the 53rd seemed to have been undisciplined and insubordinate. It all started at the top. Colonel D’Epineuil appears to have known little to nothing about command of a regiment and was described by one of his officers as “a gentleman, but no officer and knew nothing of military matters.” Although many of the officers and soldiers fought with Burnside’s Expedition in battle of Roanoke Island in early February 1862, the commanding officer lost all control of his command creating a situation so bad that General McClellan finally published Special Order No. 42 to disband the regiment on February 26, 1862.

So what about Oliver’s drum major who died aboard the hospital ship on January 18, 1862? Although I have been unable to confirm his identity with a complete roster for the 53rd, I believe he may have been Victor Dubigney who is often listed a Band Master or Chief Musician. Two other individuals listed as drum majors don’t seem to fit the description for various reasons.

Oliver closes his letter of January 19th by asking about several of his friends from back home and passing along his regards to family members. He seems to be glad to stay and work on the ship serving the sick, “if it were not for that horrid sea sickness.”[79]

26 Jan 1862

Oliver Case writes a letter to his sister Abbie acknowledging the limitations of the postal system created by the operational situation of Burnside’s Expeditionary Force. As the difficulties experienced with the movement of the ships and landing of the regiments demonstrated, lines of communication back to Fortress Monroe would be difficult to establish. Oliver writes that he is batch processing several letters with different dates for Abbie “thinking you would like to receive letters of different dates although at the same time.”[80]

This letter finds the young Soldier still at sea albeit aboard a new vessel. Oliver had arrived off the North Carolina coast aboard the hospital ship “Recruit” but has now been transferred to the steamer “Chasseur” to rejoin his comrades from Company A, 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry along with companies D, F and I in preparation for the coming invasion. He also reports on the other companies in the regiment:

The rest are aboard of a bark and a schooner; I think four companies upon the former and two upon the latter.[81]

His seeming ambivalence about the reunion with his companions may indicate that he provided commentary to Abbie in an earlier letter that is lost to posterity.

Meanwhile, General Burnside is continuing to build and prepare his army for action against the Confederate fortifications along the North Carolina coast. Stormy weather has hampered the gathering of the fleet in Pamlico Sound and several ships have been lost. Oliver confirms that the rough weather has continued to batter the fleet:

Today is the first fair day since our arrival and for the last week we have had a terrible storm at time endangering many of the fleet by causing the vessels to drag anchor and to smash into each other. For the last three or four days there has hardly been a time but what there were two or three signals of distress to be seen flying but of course no relief could be given them until after the abatement of the storm.[82]  

Like most of the Soldiers in Burnside’s expedition, Oliver is longing to go ashore.

It is four weeks today since I came on board ship and I am now finally very anxious to again place my feet on “terra firma” although we enjoy ourselves quite well on ship board.[83]

In this letter, Oliver also returns to one of favorite subjects…the Zouaves. It is likely that he is referring to the 53rd New York Infantry again in this letter.

I do not know whether the Zouaves are lost or not – certain it is they are not in; such things are kept from us. I think they are sent somewhere else to garrison some fort already in our hands, because they dare not trust them in an engagement with their officers for they have sworn revenge upon them. This is only my opinion.[84]

For those interested in the culinary arts of the Civil War period, Oliver’s letter offers a glimpse of the types of food that the Soldiers enjoyed while aboard the ship.

Eatables are brought from the Sutlers boat but are held at rather high prices; apples $.05 to 10 cents each, figs .02 to .05 each, raisins $.20 per pint, [?], Oysters, Turkey Peaches, tomatoes etc. in quart cans from $1.50 to $2.00, Current, Plum, Rasberry, Grape, Pear and Strawberry jellies $1.50 to $2.00, sweet crackers $.15 per dozen and everything else in the same proportion.[85]

In typical fashion, Oliver closes the letter with questions about happenings and people back home in Simsbury.

Is Mr. Stockwell living? I heard a short time since that the Dr. had given him over. Alonzo wrote me that he was going to move in the spring. I think he will do well to keep Public House…Is Mr. Holbrook going to leave Tarrifville? I have heard so somewhere. I have forgotten where.[86]

The deaths of Henry Sexton and Duane Brown continue to weigh heavy on the young man’s mind and it’s clear that he is concerned with the impact on their families.

How do Mr. Sexton’s people take Henry’s death? How do Mr. Brown’s people take Duane’s death?[87]

Knowing how important it will be to the family’s ability to bring some closure to the death of their husband and son, Oliver is concerned about the disposition of Sexton’s remains. It is obvious from the context of his questions that the Case family has a close relationship with the Sexton family. Oliver asks Abbie another question that is movingly prophetic regarding the circumstances of his own future death and burial.

Have they sent to Annapolis after his body?[88]

Nine months later, Job Case will not just send for the body of his son, but he will personally go and recover his remains from fields near Sharpsburg, Maryland to ensure that Oliver returns home. Did Abbie share Oliver’s concern for the disposition of Henry’s remains with her father? Did this influence Job Case’s decision about his son nine months later?

Sadly, Henry Sexton’s wife attempted in vain to locate his body in Annapolis returning to Connecticut without him.

29 Jan 1862, 9:15am

The Army steamer transport “Chasseur” with Oliver Case and part of the 8th CVI aboard crosses the bar and enters Pamlico Sound.

4 Feb 1862

After difficult weather had delayed the entry of the ships of Burnside’s Expedition into the Pamlico Sound for weeks, the fleet is finally assembled in the sound and Burnside makes the decision to advance the fleet on Roanoke Island.

5 Feb 1862

At 7:30am on a clear and cool morning, the signal is given to get the fleet underway and the great flotilla carrying Burnside’s Expedition sails north up the Pamlico Sound anchoring to the south of Roanoke Island.

6 Feb 1862

Although it appears General Burnside would like to commence landing operations on Roanoke Island this day, the day is spent repositioning ships to land their troops the next day. There is considerable wind and rain throughout the day.

7 Feb 1862     

The men are allowed to eat breakfast due to a heavy fog in the early morning, but by 9am, the fog has lifted and landing operations can begin. Oliver Case is aboard the “Chasseur” which comes on line for the landing at 9:45am. Armed Union ships provide covering fire directed toward Confederate ships and batteries ashore as the fleet moves into position for landing during the morning hours. Most of the troops come ashore during the afternoon with more than 6,000 landing by nightfall.

8th CVI participates in Burnside’s landing at Roanoke Island, NC as part of the brigade of Brigadier General Parke. John Grubb Parke is a regular Army officer who graduated second in his class at West Point in 1849. Parke’s Civil War career was very closely tied to that of General Burnside. After serving as one of Burnside’s brigade commanders for the operations in North Carolina, Parke was promoted to Major General and served as Burnside’s Chief of Staff for the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Fredericksburg. He would later succeed Burnside in command of IX Corps following the debacle at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg in 1864.

During the landing, Burnside’s troop face only light resistance. The units hold the beachhead and prepare for operations against Confederate earthworks the following day. In operations against the Confederate forces on Roanoke Island, the 8th CVI suffered no KIA or wounded because they were held in reserve during the entire battle.

In his report to General McClellan, Burnside recounts the action on Roanoke Island:

The whole work was finished on the afternoon of the 8th instant, after a hard day’s fighting, by a brilliant charge on the battery in the center of the island and a rapid pursuit of the enemy to the north end of the island, resulting in the capture of the prisoners mentioned above. We have had no time to count them, but the number is estimated at near 3,000.[89]

8 Feb 1862     

The regiment is assigned the duty of holding “the landing and bivouac grounds, and prevent the enemy from turning our position by coming through the timber down the beach.” The Regimental Surgeon, Surgeon Storrs, is assigned responsibility for preparing receiving areas for the wounded of the brigade.[90]

…upon the advance of General Foster the house and outhouses at the landing were at once prepared for the reception of the wounded, and placed in charge of Surgeon Storrs, of the Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, his regiment having been ordered there to protect the landing of our forces and hold the position.[91]

Private Oliver Case does not come ashore with the other members of the 8th CVI. He is held aboard the Chasseur “for the reason that I was indisposed.” This appears to be another bout of the fever from with he has been suffering since December. He will have to wait until his health is restored before rejoining the regiment.

The capture of Roanoke Island is a significant victory for Burnside and validates his plan about which President Lincoln expressed substantial reservations. In addition to the estimated 3,000 Confederates taken prisoner, the troops of the expedition have considerably sullied the southern efforts to defend this part of the North Carolina coast and give the Union army a base for future operations inland.

By this victory we have gained complete possession of this island, with five forts, mounting thirty-two guns, winter quarters for some 4,000 troops, and 3,000 stand of arms, large hospital buildings, with a large amount of lumber, wheelbarrows, scows, pile-drivers, a mud dredge, ladders, and other appurtenances for military service, of which a careful inventory will be made and sent on, with an accurate list of prisoners, by our next dispatches.[92]

14 Feb 1862

Having regained sufficient strength, Oliver can finally now come ashore and joint the rest of his regiment. He expresses his “feelings of delight that I again set my feet upon “terra firma” after having been upon the briny deep for over six weeks.”[93]

19 Feb 1862

Oliver describes Roanoke Island in a letter to his sister:

This island is almost all covered with forests, mostly pitch pine, with now and then a clearing of five or six acres with a small house upon it. The land after it is cleared up is very easy of cultivation and produces light crops of corn and sweet potatoes. The forests are a perfect jungle, it being almost impossibility for man and beast to get through them. There are many swamps upon the island which are a perfect mat of green briars about 10 feet high and so thick that there is no guard kept next to them, which is the same as saying that they cannot be passed through. How that any force under the Gen’s command could have taken the place with its numerous fortifications together with its natural advantages for repelling an attack is a wonder to many.[94]

Oliver’s letter of February 19, 1862 is one of the most lengthy in the collection. The illness known as Ague that Oliver has struggled with since December of the previous year returns and causes him to miss the first combat action of the 8th CVI. Oliver is confined to the Chasseur and missed the Battle of Roanoke Island on the 7th and 8th of February 1862. By February 14th, Oliver’s condition has improved to the point that he is allowed to come ashore:

I did not leave the old Chasseur until last Friday for the reason that I was indisposed, and the regiment had not pitched their tents and it was rather damp lying in the open air, especially for one who was not well. It was with feelings of delight that I again set my feet upon “terra firma” after having been upon the briny deep for over six weeks.[95] 

Although Case professes to be in a much healthier condition, his leaders still have concerns about his physical condition to the point that his commander doesn’t allow Oliver to accompany the regiment on a march just three days later.

The Lieut. And Capt. both sent for me unbeknown to each other and told me that as I had been sick so recently I should not be able to go and wanted me to stay in their tents and in case the regiment should not come back to see about packing up their things. It was all very well for them but I wanted to go with the regiment and try my luck in an engagement. Each of them told me as it was such very wet weather and we should have to lie outdoors in the water it would surely bring on the Fever and Ague.[96]

The depth of concern on the part of Oliver’s leaders is noteworthy. This is certain not to imply that commanders in Union regiments didn’t care for their troops, but in Oliver’s case, it seems that they are going to great lengths to ensure they don’t lose him. This may very well be the result of the deaths of Henry Sexton and Duane Brown from illness.

27 Feb 1862

In a letter written in November of 1861, Oliver had predicted that the war would not last longer than one and one-half years. Given the time that had passed and his experience of the movement and landing in North Carolina, Oliver’s perspective on the future had changed. By the time of his letter to his sister Abbie on February 27, 1862, Oliver had shortened that prediction by several months:

Every indication of a protracted War seems nearly obliterated and I think if the Lord is willing, and the creek is not high, we shall be in old Conn. by the first of Sept.[97]

More than a prophecy, I believe this was a deep longing in his heart to return to his family and friends in Simsbury. This is revealed by his very next sentence written as part of the same paragraph.

I should think you had quite a gathering of young people the other evening.[98]

Oliver is longing for home. Obviously, he remembers the wonderful times back in Simsbury with family and friends. Oliver continues in the next paragraph to inquire further about Abbie’s keen interest in relaying the news of the absence of one particular young lady from the gathering.

I quote from your letter; “Julia Goodwin was not there.” You appear to be much interested in the welfare of J.G. I do not see why you should mention her in particular as not being there. Were all the young people of Hopmeadow there but her?[99]

Could it be a case of long distance match-making by his younger sister? What was Oliver’s opinion of Ms. Goodwin? Oliver continues to inquire about the news from Simsbury including the fact that three of his friends were married in the same month.

The other sections of his letter cover the delay of the mail steamer which caused a great concern on the part of the soldiers. The steamer finally arrives with the mail, but some are disappointed by the lack of mail. One of Oliver’s pithier phrases of all time comes while relaying the mail saga.

You could tell by the looks of the faces who had and who had not received a portion, the former were smiling and jovial while the vizage[sp] of the latter were lengthened to an alarming extent.[100]

Oliver reports to be in wonderful health and enjoys a large quantity of food including “at least a dozen stewed hard tack every day besides drinking over a quart of coffee and any quantity of salt horse.” Forget the fresh fruits and vegetables, nothing like hard tack, a quart of coffee and a little “salt horse” to restore you to full health!

Case also provides Abbie the latest in camp rumors including an alleged gesture from the governor of North Carolina to “recall his troops” and attempt to force the other Confederate units to leave the state in exchange for a 10-day cease fire. Oliver relates that General Burnside has granted the governor’s request and the soldiers expect to rest from fighting for at least ten days. By the way, I find nothing in the historical record of such an exchange or agreement.

Closer to home inside the 8th CVI, it seems that the commander of Company H, Capt. Douglass Fowler is resigning.

Capt. Douglass Fowler of Norwalk, Connecticut originally enlisted in the 3rd Connecticut Infantry, a three-month regiment, as the commander of Company A on May 14, 1861. He served alongside future 8th CVI regimental commander Edward Harland during the First Battle of Bull Run and was honorably discharged on August 12, 1861.

Fowler returned to service with the 8th CVI as Commander of Company H on September 23, 1861. The records for the 8th CVI indicate that he resigned on January 20, 1862. Oliver Case’s (Company A, 8th CVI) letter dated February 27, 1862 relates that Capt. Fowler’s resignation had recently been returned as accepted from Washington and he would be heading home soon. Case gives the reason for his resignation as well:

Capt. Fowler got into a fuss with the Lieut. Col. at Annapolis and sent in his resignation. It just came back from Washington accepted and he is going home. I think he would be glad to stay as his company think everything of him. He was the best military man in the regiment and should have been Maj. Instead of Capt. Appleton. The only thing I know against him is that he did not come from Norwich.[101]

It seems that Douglass Fowler joined the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry as the commanding officer of Company A on July 14, 1862. He participated in the Battle of Chancellorsville and was promoted to Lieut. Col. after the wounding and death of the regimental commander and Lieut. Col. Fowler was in command of the 17th on the first day of Gettysburg. He was killed leading his regiment into action on Blocher’s Knoll. As Lieut. Col. Fowler rode forward on a white horse encouraging his men by his fearless example, he told the soldiers to “Dodge the big ones Boys” as the Confederate artillery reigned in on their position. Only moments after his words of encouragement, Fowler was decapitated by a Confederate solid shot. His remains were never recovered, but he is memorialized in the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

This performance of duty with such valor and courage by Fowler leads one to speculate on the outcome of the final assault by the 8th Connecticut at Antietam had he been in command in lieu of Hiram Appleton. It was obvious that Fowler was a highly respected officer who proved his abilities in combat leading troops.

Feb-Mar 1862           

The 8th CVI is garrisoned with the remainder of Burnside’s forces on Roanoke Island.

4 March 1862

Oliver again writes to his sister from Roanoke Island. Anyone with military service is familiar with the phrase, “hurry up and wait.” It’s a fact in the life of a soldier to prepare for something big and then wait until your leaders are satisfied with conditions and the command is given to move out. This time is often spent by young soldier speculating and reflecting especially when the hurry up and wait is in anticipation of combat operations.

So it was with Private Oliver Case and his fellow soldiers of the 8th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry on March 4, 1862 as they waited for the final orders to load the ships and move out to what they all believed would be their second battle experience. Rumors flew, but as Oliver puts it in his letter to his sister Abbie:

As to our destination we are entirely ignorant, some say one place – some another, but none know.[102]

The regiment had anticipated a movement for many days and their leaders had prepared by ordering “to keep three days rations cooked in advance so as to be ready to start at a moment’s warning.” Just the day before he wrote this letter, Oliver and his fellow soldiers were told that tomorrow would be the big day only to experience more disappointment in the morning.

But when the reveille was beat the order to strike tents was not given as had been expected, and it was shortly given out that we should not be able to go aboard this forenoon on account of the wind which was blowing a strong northeaster at the time.[103]

The volatile North Carolina weather had once again caused more hurry up and wait for the Union forces. However, Oliver used this occasion to rely the latest news from camp to Abbie including the word of several resignations among the officers of the regiments. In addition to the resignation of Capt. Fowler already mentioned in his letter of February 27, 1862, Oliver also includes that “Capt. Nash and a couple of Lieut’s. have gone home.” Captain Charles W. Nash from New Hartford enlisted on 25 September 1861 as the Commanding Officer of Company C, 8th CVI. He resigned 2 March 1862 at Roanoke Island, NC.

Based on the regimental rolls, the resigning Lieutenants may have included some or all of the following:

Lieutenant Robert H. Burnside

Enlisted 25 September 1861, New Hartford

Company C, 8th CVI

Resigned 1 March 1862

1st Lieutenant Henry N. Place

Enlisted 25 September 1861, Waterbury

Company E, 8th CVI

Resigned 18 March 1862

2nd Lieutenant Luman Wadhams

Enlisted 25 September 1861, Waterbury

Company E, 8th CVI

Resigned April 8, 1862

1st Lieutenant Noah P. Ives

Enlisted 23 September 1861, Meriden

Company K, 8th CVI

Resigned 18 March 1862

Oliver does not give the reason for these resignations, but there are also other troubling rumors spreading through the camp:

It is rumored that the Col. and the Chaplain are both going home, also several others. The reason assigned for the resignation of the Col. was that Gen. Burnside had given him particular fits about the way he had conducted the regiment.[104]

The Colonel of the 8th CVI at this time is Edward Harland and he did not resign. In fact, he would rise to command the entire brigade by the Maryland Campaign. Whatever performance deficiency that may have existed in the mind of Ambrose Burnside was obviously corrected and Harland was well respected as a leader.

As for the chaplain, Oliver’s information was much more accurate. The 8th CVI chaplain was Joseph J. Woolley of Norwalk who mustered into the 8th on October 5, 1861 and did resigned on March 13, 1862. The roster of the regiment lists health problems as the reason for his resignation.

Oliver also gives an interesting assessment of the leadership abilities of the Commanding General, Ambrose Burnside:

The Gen. looks out for this men and woe be to the officer under him that tries to “rough it” on them. When we first came here we had some salt junk that was cooked up for two or three days rations and put hot into barrels, and before we ate it up it was a little tainted around the bones. The Gen. found it out and gave the commissary to understand if it happened again he could march. His men were not going to eat stinking meat.[105]

After all the rumors and reflection, it seemed that the soldiers of the 8th were moving much closer to ending this episode of hurry up and wait.

I think in all probability we shall not go aboard before morning although we are prepared to hear the order any moment to “strike tents in fifteen minutes.” I have just stopped writing to take some cartridges from the orderly to make up my forty rounds.[106]

In fact, according to a later letter written by Oliver, the regiment did finally break camp on this day and were loaded aboard their former home on the steamer, “Chasseur.”

7 March 1862

The 8th CVI is still aboard the ships awaiting their destination on this day. According to Oliver’s letter on March 11, 1862, General Burnside issues orders to all three brigades to stand by for orders to march with a one hour notice. This will entail a landing at some location and marching into a fight. The orders also include instructions for the individual soldiers to prepare them for possible combat:

…each man to carry one woolen blanket, one days rations in his haversack (two others to be cooked and carried in bulk,) 40 rounds of ammunition in the cartridge boxes and twenty more in pockets. Each man is to be held responsible for his blanket and the excitement of an engagement or of a charge will not be deemed a reasonable excuse for their loss.[107]



[52] The Burnside Expedition, Ambrose E. Burnside, N. Bangs Williams and Company, Providence, 1882.

[53] IBID

[54] IBID

[55] “Burnside’s Expedition,” New York Times, Jan. 15, 1862, accessed from

[56] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (30 December 1861)

[57] Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: Volume I, edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, The Century Co., New York, 1887-1888.

[58] IBID

[60] Internal Medicine in Vietnam, Volume II, General Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Ognibene and Barrett, Office of the Surgeon General and Center of Military History United States Army, Washington, D.C., 1982, accessed from

[61] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (7 January 1862)

[62] IBID

[63] IBID

[64] IBID

[65] Reminiscences : Fifty Years a Lawyer, Sylvester Barbour, Case, Lockwood & Brainard, Hartford Press, 1908.

[66] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (7 January 1862)

[67] IBID

[68] NYT, January 15, 1862.

[69] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (9 January 1862)

[70] IBID

[71] IBID

[72] IBID

[73] NYT, January 15, 1862.

[74] NYT, January 15, 1862.

[75] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (19 January 1862)

[76] IBID

[77] IBID

[78] “The D’Epineuil  Zouaves,” Letter to the Editor, New York Times, October 9, 1861, accessed from

[79] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (19 January 1862)

[80] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (26 January 1862)

[81] IBID

[82] IBID

[83] IBID

[84] IBID

[85] IBID

[86] IBID

[87] IBID

[88] IBID

[89] Official Report of Brig. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, February 10, 1862, in OR Series I, Vol. 9, Chapter XX.

[90] Official Report of Brig. Gen. John G. Parke, February 9, 1862, in OR Series I, Vol. 9, Chapter XX.

[91] Official Report of Surg. William H. Church, February 12, 1862, in OR Series I, Vol. 9, Chapter XX.

[92] OR, Burnside, February 14, 1862.

[93] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (19 February 1862)

[94] IBID

[95] IBID

[96] IBID

[97] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (27 February 1862)

[98] IBID

[99] IBID

[100] IBID

[101] IBID

[102] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (4 March 1862)

[103] IBID

[104] IBID

[105] IBID

[106] IBID

[107] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (11 March 1862)



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