1861-63: James True Bradbury to Family

How James might have looked

How James might have looked

These three letters were written by James True Bradbury (1841-1863), the son of Wyer Bradbury (1814-1882) and Eliza B. Webber (1817-1893) of Machias, Washington County, Maine. James enlisted as a private in Company C, 6th Maine Infantry on 15 July 1861. He was killed in battle at Rappahannock Station, Virginia on 7 November 1863 — hit by a Confederate shell as the 6th Maine advanced on the Confederate redoubts over a broad an open plain. For a good description of this engagement, see Washington County will bleed at Rappahannock Station by blogger Brian Swartz.

In the letter, James speaks of sending a letter beyond Union lines to someone named Willie. I don’t know whether he was referring to his younger brother, William Wyer Bradbury (1843-1901) who was a sailor and may have been a prissier of war. After the war, William settled down in Machias, married in 1872, and became a dry goods merchant/grocer.

Letter of Letter

Letter of Bradbury Letter


December 8th 1861

Dear Brother,

I received your last letter and was glad to hear from you. I am well and hope this will find you the same. We have been busy for the last week moving our tens and fixing them up. We have moved them a short distance to the side of a hill, it being a dryer and more fit place for them. Our old tents have been condemned and thrown by. We have now got smaller ones and they are not so convenient as the old. They will only hold four. The boys have lost about three feet and taking the tents for roof so they are quite comfortable quarters.

Our mess (mine) have kept our old tent and hauled another old one over it so that it makes it better and more room that we should have had if we had taken new ones. We have bought us a small stove and now we have a good chance as can be rigged up in camp.

The Grand Review that took place last week near Munson Hill was no doubt the greatest that was ever witnessed in this country. I suppose you have heard about it and I will not waste time in writing much about it. The morning opened bright and beautiful as far as the eye could reach. You could see nothing but long lines in glittering steel. We had to wait two hours for McCall’s Division and a lot of cavalry and artillery to pass by our parade ground because we could not cut into their column and we had to wait till they passed before we could form our brigade, and it belated us so that we had to double quick the most of the way down there — a distance of seven miles. We went by the way of Falls Church.

The column commenced to move to pass in review at about 12 o’clock. President Lincoln and Gen. McClellan reviewed the largest assembly of armed men ever recorded on the pages of history. It consisted of over 70,000 troops. Each band played a national air as its regiment passed in review. We arrived at our camp late in the evening all tired out. I suppose you have seen an account of it a dozen times so I will dry up and ground pen.

Write as soon as you can. Give Stephen Huntley my respects. Tell him I shall write to him as soon as I can get a chance. I do not get much chance lately for anything for we have to go on picket every four days. Besides this, we have camp guard, brigade guard, and fatigue duty to do. Excuse all for I have written in a great hurry and the tent is so crowded I cannot write with ease for there is only one candle for us all. I shall write to mother and Willie soon. Love to you all. From your brother, — J. True Bradbury

P. S. You see that I signed my name J. True for the reason that there is three James in our mess and I like the name of True better than I do James.

Addressed to Mrs. Eliza Bradbury, Machias, Maine

No 1.

Camp No 20, in the field
June 12th 1862

Dear Brother,

I received your letter and was very glad to hear from you and home. As I was writing to Isaac, I thought I would drop you this note to let you know that I am well.

I send with this a letter for Willie. When any of you write, I wish you would enclose it in your letter. I am told that no letters from or for the U.S. Army is allowed to cross the lines. This is the reason I send it to you. Tell Willie to send the letters he writes to me to you and you enclose it in the letters you write to me.

Tell Father to write as soon and as often as his business will permit. I like to have letters from father for he tells me all about the business matters, and I like to hear how times are going down east.

While I am writing, the rebel batteries have opened fire and a shell whistled over our heads, which caused many to lay down. They have now got up and are laughing at it.

Where I sit, I can proudly see our old division flag waving over Fort Smith. It can plainly be seen by the rebels.

Write as soon as you can. From your affectionate son, — J. T. Bradbury

P. S. Tell me whether you could make it all out as it is poorly written and with a lead pencil. — J. T.

Number the letters you send to me so I can tell whether I get them all.


Headquarters Co. C, 6th Maine Regiment
Upper Potomac Landing, Virginia
February 23, 1863

Dear Father,

Your welcome letter dated February 15th was received in due season. I was very glad to hear from you. I am well and hope that this will find you the same. We are encamped at our same old place near Potomac Creek. We are having good times and are faring first rate. We are some three or four miles to the rear of the army of the Potomac, so do not have any picketing to do. This is a great relief to us. We have always done it ever since we have been in the service till this Light Division was formed.

It yet remains a doubt as to what our next movement is. Some thinks as we are a Light Division, that in the spring we are to go to Minnesota to clear out the Indians which are committing terrible outrages in some of our unguarded cities & towns. We have a small force there now under Major Gen. Pope but he does not dare to move them into the forests and hunt them out. This Light Division of ours is picked from the Army of the Potomac of troops that have distinguished themselves in battle and have never shown their backs to the enemy. The first regiment that was selected was the 6th Maine. “Take them,” says Gen. Hancock, “they fight like tigers.” They planted the Stars and Stripes on Fort McGruder in the fall of Williamsburg. They were with the 5th Wisconsin [that] charged the enemy and won for us the victory on the plains of Williamsburg. It was the 6th Maine, the 5th Wisconsin, & the 43rd New York that held Golden Farm near Fair Oaks on the first of the Seven Days fight while Gen. Fitz John Porter’s Division safely crossed the Chickahominy. At Savage Station, Hankcock’s brigade kept back the rebel cavalry which were sent and to charge and [?] our retreating forces. At White Oak Swamp & Malvern Hill they met and repulsed the enemy. At South Mountain they drove the enemy from its strong position and with the Vermonters charged over the Antietam and was the first to cross the Rappahannock and march upon the rebel fortifications on the heights in rear of Fredericksburg. With these three regiments, we have the 31st New York & the 61st Pennsylvania. They have distinguished themselves in battles.

Of cavalry, we have the 4th New York which you will remember was that regiment that cut its way out through the rebel lines when they were surrounded at Harper’s Ferry last summer. We have two flying brigades of artillery. These constitute the division which is now commanded by Brig. Gen. Pratt. We do not have much of a wagon train but go with packed mules. The troops go as light as possible, carrying only their rifles, equipments, and one days rations.

What we are a going to do, I do not know. I have told you what we are and leave that for you to judge. I believe with you in regards to Gen. McClellan that this country now, in her dark hour of peril, can not spare service of so brave a soldier as Gen. McClellan. As circumstances has removed him from the army of his choice and he the choice of that army, I think it is best that he never be reinstated with us again, although it was so sad for us to give up that brave officer. But it is my opinion that the government did wrong to remove him and as he is skilled, experienced in siege, and as we must have Vicksburg and the control of the Mississippi, I think the best thing that could be done to shorten the war is give him an army and let him operate against Vicksburg.

If Tom Long is at Curtis yet, give my respects to him. As the sheet is full, I must close. The paper & letters you said you wrote in Boston Post Times I never have received. Write as soon as convenient.

From your affectionate son, — James T.

James True Bradbury Gravestone

James True Bradbury Gravestone

About Griff

My passion is studying American history leading up to & including the Civil War. I particularly enjoy reading, transcribing & researching primary sources such as letters and diaries. View all posts by Griff

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