Civil War Soldiers: Letter home

“Chattanooga
July 27th, 1864
My dear wife,

You will perceive from the heading of this that I am at Chattanooga. I obtained the position I have been seeking so long and am now with the Judge Advocate on Gen. Thomas’ staff. I get 40 cents a day or $12 a month extra and 40 cents a day in place of rations which will enable me to get wholesome & comfortable board. I have a good place to sleep in the office. I think I shall be as comfortable as I was at Bowling Green and out of reach of those pesky guns.

My last letter to the Tribune was dated Vining’s Station on the Chattahoochie River July 26. The previous ones were 19th, 21st & 23rd. I shall still write occasionally to the Tribune perhaps three or four times a month. . .

I shall probably stay here a month when I shall again go to the front. I wish you would send me about $5. I have not got a cent until I receive my regimental pay in a short time now. . . I received the tooth brush & everything else you sent. I think if I had staid much longer at the front, I should have had the scurvy or some skin disease. I hope the children are better. I send my best love to them & you. I will write again when I hear from you.

Your afft. husbd.
WmHBradbury”

Excerpted from While Father is Away: The Civil War Letters of William H. Bradbury by Jennifer Cain Bohrnstedt, Editor and Kassandra R. Chaney, Compiler. University Press of Kentucky ©2003. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

NOTES:

Bradbury, born in England, was an attorney. He emigrated in 1851 and lived in Chicago and Morris before settling in Dwight, then a town strategically important for its railway linkages. At age 33, Bradbury enlisted in the Union army. He served as a private and clerk for the rest of the war, apparently never firing a gun in battle. Bradbury became a ‘privileged private’ with extraordinary access to powerful Union generals including Daniel Butterfield, future president Benjamin Harrison, and Clinton B. Fisk, the region’s administrator for the Freedmen’s Bureau during Reconstruction.
As a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, the Manchester Guardian and other publications, Bradbury was both eyewitness to and participant in the shaping of events in the world as it moved west.

Bradbury also wrote for the Pontiac Sentinel during the war.

Bradbury’s story haunted me from the beginning, especially because of the length and style of this British immigrant’s writing and the subtext of the war letters to his children. Bradbury was a prolific newspaper correspondent during the war years including newspapers in Cincinnati, Chicago, Pontiac, Illinois, and England.

However, his paid correspondence for the Chicago Tribune and the Manchester Guardian were choice insights to the leaders of the western campaigns, many whom he supported directly as a clerk. His descriptions for readers back ‘home’ ( Manchester of places like Knoxville and Atlanta are illuminating for their social commentary.

Bradbury’s aristocratic background dominated his behavior during the years at war when his family would likely have benefited greatly from county aid and charity from friends. We have not had the opportunity until now of knowing about the nature of long-distance fatherhood and how men stayed involved in their children’s lives. Bradbury provides an important and timeless look at the longing and dedication to personal involvement in decisions affecting Jane, Freddy, Willie, Edwin, Elwood and Charles. You might say we now know more about intimacy and husband-wife longing too; he had three children when he went to war, but six children at the end of the war. ‘Fertile’ furloughs they were!

As a land speculator after the war, Bradbury bought parcels in Kansas for many years, and eventually became the land agent-manager for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railway. He died in 1900. One of his granddaughters, Mary Amelia Grant, who was a professor in the classics department of the University of Kansas for 40 years, donated most of the family records to the Spencer Research Library at the university.

Bradbury’s war-era experience was very unusual. As an army private, he worked for key Union generals in the western campaigns while also sharing some of their quarters and most of their meals. He was treated as an officer; how could that be? He was an attorney, well-educated, and accustomed to working with and among the upper crust of society, wherever he was.

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