logo of university of south carolina

Corp. Wilbur Bradley Papers, 1862-1865

Twenty-two manuscripts, 1862-1865, of Corp. Wilbur Bradley contain information about Union army camp life at Folly Island and Hilton Head. After Col. Robert Shaw's assault on Ft. Wagner failed in 1863, Bradley's infantry regiment, the 144th New York Volunteers, was shipped from Virginia to reinforce the Union troops besieging Charleston. Nine letters in the collection were written from Virginia; thirteen describe duty in South Carolina.

Bradley enlisted on 29 August 1862. According to the addresses on his letters, Meredith, N.Y., was his home, but he had joined a company raised in the nearby town of Franklin. Col. Samuel F. Miller, a Franklin member of the County War Committee, had held anti-secession meetings throughout the neighborhood. Those who responded to Miller's recruiting pitch found themselves camped in the South Carolina sea islands from 1863 to 1865.

In Bradley's case, the new surroundings proved agreeable. He had a knack for avoiding combat duty and for preserving his health in the midst of the camp fever that killed or debilitated many of the regiment's troops. The documents offer a possible explanation: he prepared and cooked his own food. In contrast to many Civil War eyewitnesses, Bradley kept a consistently optimistic attitude.

His first letter from Folly Island, 6 September 1863, was addressed to his sister. "We are now in South Carolina....How would you like to come down hear and see fort Sumpter. I dont think you would like the Music of them bom Shells that they send over to viset us. We dont think much of them when they burst over our heads....I should like to bee home and see the...Folks and help eat apels and get some sweat corn. We dont get eney hear and we dont get soft bread. We drawd flour and so I have been Old Woman. I made pancakes and short cakes and fride cakes and sweet cake."

Six weeks later, Bradley was still writing home about his access to the food supply. "I am not with the bomproof now. I am on detached survis. I am to work in a bakery....I can get all the warm bread I want or cold I steel all the potatoes I want to eat I think it is all the same when I get it from Unkel Sam. They use them to make yeast of. The[y] keep clost watch of them but it is hard work to catch old foxes."

"I am still to work to the bakery," he reported a few days later, "and I like it first rate and think I shall stay hear as long as I can for it is a good deal beter than it is in camp. The boys half to go on picket every night. All I have to do is to stand on gard four hours each night and then I have all the day to my self."

In their spare time, soldiers of the 144th discovered the recreational opportunities that Folly Beach offered. Bradley spent some time beachcombing and shipped home the results. "The men started home to day...and I sent some shells. I want them kept on the parlor table so when I get a wife she can have them and if I never get a wife Ruth and Emley can have them so take good cair of them."

By mid-January 1864, Bradley was marveling at his first South Carolina winter. "It is warm and pleasent as Spring. I have not seen a flake of snow yet nor I dont think that we will see eney vary soon. It is the country to liv in. I think I shall stay hear till the war is over."

"We have had Genrel inspection," he reported on 14 January. "They say I have got to let my old gun go it is condemned and take the Springfield Rifle. We have to keep our guns as brite as we can polish them. They shine as nice as a dolar and we have to keep them so." The theme continued in his next letter. "The most of the Regiment has gone on fatigue but I was one of the lucky ones to stay at camp. The most of them rarthr go than to stay in camp for they dont like to fix up. The Colonel makes them get up in shape. I wish you could see us out on Inspection. Our Brasses shine like Silver and our gun is as good as a looking glass and they have to come up to time or they will get punished or reduced. The Colonel reduces more or less every day."

By the winter of 1864-65, Bradley's unit had relocated to Hilton Head Island. "We are living in the top Shelf," he reported. "The South is the place for some but not for me. We are having the best time this winter since we came out. We have good Baracks to stay in. We get all the oysters we want and clem [clams] too."

In the 1864 presidential election, New York allowed its troops to cast absentee ballots. "I think Old Abe will be elected," Bradley commented, "hip hip Hurah for the Old Rail Spliter he is the [man] for us."

"I only serve on duty once a week," he explained on 29 December. "Thare is a company of Darkeys helping us." Shortly afterwards, the captain commanding Co. D ordered three soldiers-Bradley, James Dezell of Kortright, N.Y., and W. Harrison Smith of Franklin, N.Y.-to mount a "nijer relief." The three interpreted this as a direct order to fraternize with black troops and they all refused to obey it. The captain had them arrested and court-martialed.

Bradley's father pressed him for more information about the court case and about a business enterprise he had started. "Pa wanted me to know if I kept my Schop open yet," he wrote his sister on 22 February. "I do and have made $150 dolars in cash in 5 days....I like the plan of beeing arested for I can make a good thing out of it. I have made 200 dolars in one week. I have got it in cash in my pocket."

Bradley served until the end of the war and mustered out on 25 June 1865. In 1903 he was still alive and was residing in Oneonta, N.Y.

| 1998 Manuscripts Collections | 1998 USCS Program Menu | South Caroliniana Library |

This page copyright (c) 1997-98, The Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.
URL http://www.sc.edu/library/socar/uscs/1998/bradle98.html