1863: “Money Is Nothing To A Man’s Life”

Fort Sumner

October 28th, 1863

Dear Mother

I received your letter tonight & was glad to hear from you. I am well and hope theas [these] few lines will find you the same. I am very sory [sorry] to hear that Owen has enlisted, but I have said all that I can to keep him from enlisting. I think that if father lets him go, that he is to blaim [blame], for money is nothing to a man’s life. You tell him that he will be a sory [sorry] boy that ever enlisted. I used to think it was some thing grate [great] to be soldier, but I think different now. If I was out of the Army, no four hundred dollars would get me back again, that is sure. Perhaps Owen has not be used wel [well], but he will get used worse in the Army. 

You tell Bart to stay home & he will be the best off in the long run. We shal [shall] be mustered in for pay next Saturday & I guess I shant send for that box until I get paid.

I can’t write but a little tonight becaus [because] it is so noisy. Hurd told me about the scraps that he was on. Bart wanted to know if I got anything to drink. You tell him that all I get to drink is a lotter loger bear [beer?] & that is no count. You tell Bart that I will write to him on Sunday. Our living now is hard. It is bread & beef & beef & bread.

I don’t think of any thing more to write now, as it is prety [pretty] near roail [roll?] coll [call?]. Please excuse this short letter.

From your son,

Peleg Bradford, Jr.

1863 U.S. Greenbacks

Money To Enlist

By 1863, some Union regiments offered bounties for men to enlist or re-enlist. Often the money was between $100 to $300 – a very sizable sum in those days; sometimes the bounty increased as state and governments added to the local offer. However, this also created opportunity for criminals, a.k.a. “bounty jumpers.” These unscrupulous men would enlist in one county, show up and get the money, then desert before actually joining the unit with the army in the field.

That’s not to say that all men were bounty jumpers. Many took opportunity for the money to provide for themselves or their families and faithful kept their commitment to serve – like Owen Bradford.

Owen Bradford – Soldier

Peleg Bradford’s letter at the end of October 1863 concludes his writing against his younger brother’s enlistment which had started earlier in the year. (See this blog post.) Owen was just sixteen when he enlisted, but the regiment papers claim he was eighteen. When would this younger brother leave home against his mother and older brother’s wishes? While we don’t know precisely, there are two probable factors hinted in this letter and in Peleg’s other writings.

First, these Bradford boys did not have a good life at home. Their father struggled with alcoholism and apparently overworked his sons to the point that the boys wanted to escape. Second, the family needed money. Clearly, Mrs. Bradford needed an income which her husband could not easily access and spend for liquor; her boys in the military provided for her and tried to help her pay the expenses of the family farm.

Peleg Bradford, Jr. (National Museum of Civil War Medicine)

Owen Bradford eventually served with his older brother and they fought together during the 1864 Overland Campaign. When Peleg was wounded and taken to a field hospital, Owen intentionally left the ranks to see how his brother was doing; finding Peleg suffering greatly from his amputation, Owen tore up his own blanket and improvised a support to elevate the limb. A series of letters passed between the brothers as one continued campaigning and the other spent uncomfortable time in hospitals. On October 2, 1864, less than a year after he had enlisted, young Owen Bradford died in combat near Petersburg, Virginia – leaving behind a mother and brother who had never wanted him to go to war.

Historical Musings

The American Civil War is sometimes called “The Brothers’ War.” From that phrase, I think we have the impression of one brother in blue and one in gray – an idea sometimes enforced by literature or Hollywood.

However, looking at primary sources, it seems there were definitely more brothers wearing the same color uniform – sometimes even in the same regiments. This does not lessen the tragedy. With units of relatives or even close friends going into battle, the chances of multiple deaths or casualties for a family or a community significantly increased.

Although Peleg Bradford, Jr. had not yet been in active combat by October 1863, he knew enough about war to want to keep his younger brother away from camps and away from the future fights. Peleg’s protective side wanted to avoid making this a “brothers’ war” with two of the Bradford boys in the same regiment.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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