Saturday, October 13, 2012

Antietam: Connecticut veteran's battlefield souvenirs

Alonzo Case (bottom left) of Simsbury, Conn., was one of three Case brothers
who served in the Union army. His younger brother, Oliver, was killed at Antietam.
(Connecticut State Library collection)
Twenty-seven years after he found his brother's body with a bullet through the head at Antietam, Alonzo Case returned to the battlefield for a reunion of 16th Connecticut soldiers. The veteran left Sharpsburg, Md., with memories and at least two battlefield souvenirs: a small piece of stone from the famous Dunker Church and another piece of stone from the wall where Case's regiment "received their terrible fire."

For the 54-year-old Case, who was a first sergeant in Company E of the 16th Connecticut, that battle anniversary reunion on Sept. 17, 1889, must have included a huge swing of emotions.

A long story touting the 16th Connecticut reunion at
Antietam appeared in the Hartford Courant on Sept. 17, 1889,
the 27th anniversary of the battle.
Relief because, unlike thousands of others, he survived. At least 43 men in Case's regiment died in farmer John Otto's 40-acre cornfield at Antietam. And pain and sadness because Antietam is where he and older brother Ariel, a private in the 16th Connecticut, found the remains of 21-year-old Oliver Cromwell Case two days after the battle.

"He was no doubt killed instantly, the bullet having passed through his head just about the top of his ears," Alonzo wrote after the war about his youngest brother, a private in the 8th Connecticut. (1) The Case brothers were from Simsbury, a farming community near the Farmington River, about 15 miles northwest of Hartford.

It was not unusual, of course, for Civil War veterans to grab something tangible from a battlefield to take back home. At the 1894 dedication of monuments for four Connecticut regiments that fought at Antietam, old solders scoured the field early that October morning.

"Many are early astir, taking a stroll over the fields, locating the place where they bivouaced, or charged, or lay through long hours of danger, when these hillsides were ploughed by cannon-shot and sown with musket-balls," an account noted. "Some find the place where, wounded, they lay through the whole day and night of the bloody strife. Some find bullets and other grim reminders of the past." (2)

Of course, we can only speculate why Alonzo Case wanted reminders of Antietam. Perhaps he suffered survivor's guilt and the souvenirs were reminders of  Oliver's courage. The 8th Connecticut fought fearlessly at Antietam while many of the 16th Connecticut, which was routed,  ran from the fight, a stigma the regiment carried throughout the war. Unless a written record is discovered, we'll probably never know.

Along with Alonzo's sword and well-worn Civil War kepi, the small battlefield souvenirs are now in the Simsbury Historical Society collection, silent reminders of the bloodiest day in American history.

(NOTE: Do you have a photo of Private Oliver Cromwell Case of the 8th Connecticut? If so, contact me here.)

(1) “Recollections of Camp and Prison Life”, Alonzo Grove Case, Company E, 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, unpublished manuscript, Simsbury Historical Society collection

(2) "Souvenir Of Excursion To Antietam And Dedication of Monuments of the 8th, 11th, 14th and 16th Regiments of Connecticut Volunteers," October 1894, Page 9
At a reunion of 16th Connecticut veterans at Antietam in 1889, Alonzo Case took
this piece from the "stone wall where the 16th Conn. received their terrible fire."

Simsbury (Conn.) Historical Society collection
Alonzo Case also took this piece of stone from the Dunker Church on the Antietam battlefield
at the 1889 reunion of 16th Connecticut veterans. Simsbury (Conn.) Historical Society collection.

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