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While Father Is Away

While Father Is Away: The Civil War Letters of William H. Bradbury

Edited by Jennifer Cain Bohrnstedt
Compiled by Kassandra R. Chaney
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 400
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j8n8
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  • Book Info
    While Father Is Away
    Book Description:

    While Father is Awayreveals the intimate story of a British-American's role in the American Civil War. William Bradbury's letters home provide a rare window on the unique relationships among husband, wife, and children while a father was away at war.

    Yorkshire attorney turned Union volunteer soldier 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.

    The letters also provide an in-depth look at this driven land speculator and manager for the Atchison Topeka Santa Fe Railway. As a reporter for theChicago Tribuneand theManchester Guardian,Bradbury was both eyewitness to and participant in the shaping of events in the world as it moved west.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5765-8
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xi)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xii-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    Why does Private William H. Bradbury matter? What value can yet another soldier’s letters offer about the U.S. Civil War to those of us in the 21st century and beyond?

    The writings of a British immigrant living in Illinois, Private William H. Bradbury of the 129th Illinois Infantry, contribute to many aspects of history, over and above his own legacy as a prolific writer and recorder of the Civil War: immigration history; land speculation and prairie settlement in the mid-19th century; the roles of women left to run domestic and business affairs at home; the effect of the U.S. Civil...

  6. 1 “My Dear Wife and Children” September 8, 1862–November 14, 1862
    (pp. 16-32)

    Dwight, Illinois, was just a few miles from the county seat of Pontiac, close enough for Private William H. Bradbury, who immigrated from Yorkshire, England, in 1851, to be familiar with many of his fellow comrades in the 129th Illinois Infantry. However, most of the regimental officers were from Pontiac.

    Dwight was a town of just 550 people in 1860, and it was located some 75 miles from Chicago, yet it was strategically important for its railway linkages, namely the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis Railroad. In spite of Dwight’s remoteness, it was treasured for its hunting by a member of...

  7. 2 “If We Go to England …” November 20, 1862–January 23, 1863
    (pp. 33-61)

    While Bradbury’s thoughts about Illinois as a permanent residence are not known, he did dream of his native England as he explored the gardens, homes, and trails of Kentucky. Perhaps he felt such homesickness for England while in Kentucky because his thoughts were full of speculations of how he might honorably get out of the war and return with Mary and the family to his native land. Interestingly, the handsome grounds of the once-elegant estate where Bradbury camped likely belonged to former Congressman Warner Lewis Underwood, who only a few months before had been appointed by President Lincoln as Consul...

  8. 3 “Stand on Your Dignity!” February 5, 1863–March 26, 1863
    (pp. 62-77)

    By early February 1863, Bradbury’s former comrades of the 129th Illinois Infantry were positioned in the border states, where the strongly held feelings for both Union allegiance and secessionist defiance were much in evidence.¹ Some of the regiment was detached to guard the Louisville & Nashville Railroad at South Tunnel, in north central Tennessee, where conditions in the forests and hills were quite difficult. Their task was to prevent Morgan’s raiders from again destroying the railroad at this important position in the high elevation of the Highland Rim range.

    The regiment’s Colonel Smith grew steadily unpopular among his men when, at...

  9. 4 “Chief of the Topographical Engineers” March 31, 1863–May 31, 1863
    (pp. 78-90)

    As bleak as things were for the Bradburys, their dreams of a better life back home in England were not being realized, in fact, by many British citizens. In the years leading up to the secession of the Confederate States of America in 1861, the British cotton-textile trade had grown enormously. The county of Lancashire, with roughly 2,200 factories containing more than 30 million spindles and 350,000 looms, employed nearly a half million workers, of whom more than half were females.¹ England imported 2 million bales of cotton in 1860, twice U.S. consumption overall. By the outbreak of the war,...

  10. 5 “More Compliments than Coppers” June 4, 1863–August 9, 1863
    (pp. 91-107)

    To his distress, Bradbury had to leave the relative comforts of Bowling Green for what he considered “the front”—Glasgow, Kentucky. Glasgow may have been in the region where Confederate General John Hunt Morgan planned his raids, but it was hardly the front. As many Union officers chased after Morgan, Bradbury was left, lonely in camp at Glasgow.

    A dozen miles from the nearest railroad depot, Bradbury likely felt that he had burrowed into isolated, if not uncertain, country. A smaller town, Glasgow afforded fewer opportunities for grapevine gossip among old friends. Yet this post was not one of hardship....

  11. 6 “Bully for Us!” August 14, 1863–October 13, 1863
    (pp. 108-121)

    The movements of troops and supplies over the Cumberland Mountains was a daunting logistical task, and it was the first time that Bradbury moved into a truly dangerous environment away from headquarters behind the lines. His destination, Knoxville, would become the site of an unforgettable campaign and siege.¹ Bradbury’s account of moving troops and supplies across hostile geography, in range of shot by Confederate sharpshooters, provided excellent imagery for the newspapers:

    The entire wagon train consisting of 240 wagons and the three batteries, were taken over roads so precipitous that it required from fifty to one hundred men to each...

  12. 7 “After the Loaves and the Fishes” February 5, 1864–April 1, 1864
    (pp. 122-144)

    With a Christmas-New Year’s furlough behind him, Bradbury had to return to the war in early 1864. He was worried as he returned because General Thomas had restricted furloughs after the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga. Had Bradbury not have been so well-liked and needed in his official capacity, he might not have obtained this much-needed leave, and he would have missed knowing his twins, Elwood and Edwin, as infants. His lengthy six-week furlough gave him the time to negotiate timber and corn sales while encouraging Jane and the other children on deportment and their studies.¹

    With Mary’s hands full...

  13. 8 “I Don’t Like This Field Work” April 1, 1864–July 27, 1864
    (pp. 145-169)

    Back with the 129th Illinois Infantry, Bradbury rejoined many of his old comrades, now near the front of the upcoming campaign. The reunions were a source of companionship and enjoyment to him. He had especially missed Lt. Culver, and he now joined “old Cul” in his mess nearly every night.

    The tension of the campaign building in northern Georgia was spreading throughout the ranks. An unusually wet and muddy Spring seemed to bog them down—with extra time on his hands, Bradbury wrote frequently. Writing to his family was not financially lucrative, however; newspaper correspondence was.

    By the late spring...

  14. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  15. 9 “Let It Go to Thunder!” August 12, 1864–September 20, 1864
    (pp. 170-183)

    Annoyed with Mary and itchy with poison ivy, William wrote some angry letters home in the late summer of 1864. Mary could not or would not keep up with his requests that she mail him the newspaper clippings of his articles. He also was unable to enforce his business affairs. As Bradbury had time on his hands and was more comfortably situated in Atlanta, he seemed to have plenty of time to assess everyone’s performance—his tenants’, his lawyers’, his brother-in-law’s, and, of course, Mary’s.

    The high command issued an order that may have been initiated by Private Bradbury in...

  16. 10 “All I Live For” September 22, 1864–November 24, 1864
    (pp. 184-207)

    With Private Bradbury’s health languishing in Atlanta, he wrote more letters during the fall of 1864 to his children than to his wife. He may have felt that his survival was at stake because the letters contain more thoughtful remarks than usual. Explaining the practice of foraging from civilians was not necessary, but he tried to explain the concept to the children in the simple terms of “good” Union soldiers and “bad” Confederate soldiers.

    Before too long, the men of General Sherman’s army would commence the historic march to the sea and the 129th Illinois Infantry would be part of...

  17. 11 “Everybody has the Blues Sometimes” December 28, 1864–February 8, 1865
    (pp. 208-228)

    Private Bradbury’s holiday furlough of 1864 was likely far more enjoyable than the miserable trip back to headquarters in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At least the woman with whom he boarded welcomed him with the observation that Mary must have found his visit home “refreshing.” It was probably very difficult to leave his family again and return to what must have felt like a perpetual war.

    The facts of the war changed for Bradbury. The troops he was no longer with engaged in skirmishes, burnings, and battles as they moved through Georgia to Savannah and up the Carolinas, while he sat in...

  18. 12 “The Federals in the Southwest” February 10, 1865–May 1, 1865
    (pp. 229-269)

    Bradbury appreciated the benefits of being back in a city like Nashville as he began to settle into his position with Major Thruston. He counted on his earnings from newspaper reporting, encouraged by letters from brother Charles in England (two are included in this chapter), and from other freelance work that a city like Nashville provided. Bradbury felt it was quite a “grand thing to be a soldier” and that it would not be such a bad thing for him financially if the war continued a little longer.

    Bradbury’s exhaustive analysis of detached servicemen, or “bummers,” provided British readers with...

  19. 13 “Headquarters of the Cumberland” May 13, 1865–July 1, 1865
    (pp. 270-285)

    As the close of the war brought thoughts of the future, Private Bradbury continued to write newspaper reports, now more characteristic of essays. His writing style became more verbose, and the earnest tone was no doubt intended to stir up British interest in U.S. issues, thereby insuring readers for his columns. Brother Frederic, who lived in New York, was a very infrequent correspondent to William, yet he wrote in support of his journalistic efforts.

    Bradbury’s remarks to theGuardianwere often insightful. His article “What will be done with the Negro?” is the closest we have to knowing his attitude...

  20. 14 “General Fisk and the Freedmen’s Bureau” July 5, 1865–August 30, 1865
    (pp. 286-305)

    During Nashville’s steamy and hot summer of 1865, Bradbury was confined in stuffy court proceedings during the day and in unpleasant quarters at night, the “Hotel de Cumberland.” Because of his restricted movement, his letters home provided a descriptive view of the beginnings of postwar reconstruction. Before society could move forward, though, the Bureau of Military Justice had to bring more than sixteen thousand records of courts-martial and military commissions to the attention of judge advocates and reviewing officers. Many expected the affairs of the Bureau of Military Justice to grind on for at least another solid year after the...

  21. 15 “To Clasp You Once More in My Arms” September 2, 1865–December 15, 1865
    (pp. 306-314)

    Mary Bradbury safely delivered their sixth child, to William’s profound disappointment another son. While he had not expressed a gender preference during her pregnancy, now that the baby had arrived, William seemed deflated, if not depressed, over the news of another son. Perhaps to him, the prospect of another daughter meant that he would have a chance for another girl like Jane. He had shared so much with Jane; she was his little scholar as well as an adored daughter. Like her mother, Jane was also a hard worker.

    When Bradbury suggested that his son be named Charles, it is...

  22. Afterword “The Bradburys’ Postwar Reconstruction” 1866–1900
    (pp. 315-326)

    The Civil War was over, but its impact reverberated for generations. Picking up plows again, finding new places in society, and rejoining families were both challenging—and welcome—endeavors. Roles had changed—for men who had become experienced with the business of soldiering, and for women who had learned to take charge of daily life without their husbands and fathers.

    The long-term costs of war included more than the lost lives and property. The lost opportunity costs from existing business affairs were surely high but hard to calculate. However, the costs of reconstructing families may have been the most challenging...

  23. Appendix
    (pp. 327-330)
  24. Notes
    (pp. 331-364)
  25. Bibliography
    (pp. 365-372)
  26. Index
    (pp. 373-388)