John Alexander Brunson Papers, 1854-1902
| Manuscripts Gifts 2008 | Front Page 2008 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |
A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2008
Thirty-seven manuscripts, 1854-1862, 1902, and 2007, document the life and Civil War service of John Alexander Brunson (1828-1862) of Darlington, S.C. Antebellum items consist of business letters and courtship letters written between Brunson and Hannah Mariah Burch (b. ca. 1835). | Manuscripts Gifts 2008 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |
Included among these is a letter written on 26 July and 1 August 1854 from Greenville, South Carolina, and Flat Rock, North Carolina, by Jonathan F. Ervin to Brunson in Darlington. In it, Ervin described his trip to Greenville by train: “When seven miles out, ran the Engines over two cows, upset Engine two baggage cars, threw off Engineer & two firemen, a little injured. Much injury to Engine, cars alluded to demolished. Passengers uninjured but surprised.”
The majority of the collection centers around Brunson’s activities during the Civil War, and consists of correspondence between Brunson and his wife. During the first half of 1861, he served on Morris Island in Charleston Harbor as a member of the Darlington Guards. This unit was designated as Co. B of the First South Carolina Volunteers commanded by Maxcy Gregg.
In his first letter, written 16 February 1861, Brunson reported that he had been detailed as “Commissary and Quarter Master for this detachment of the 1st Regiment” which he thought was a “most laborious and unthankful office.” By 24 February 1861, Brunson had taken on the duties of a regular soldier building fortifications, and noted that he had taken a cold after “our exercise in throwing up dirt with a spade.” This letter also contains a most unflattering description of his two commanding officers, Maxcy Gregg and Daniel Heyward Hamilton: “Col. Gregg is a man of much more head sense than Hamilton, but is rather slow, very hard of hearing, and I think much better suited to sit behind a desk and handle Bank Bills than be at the head of a Regmt... I cannot say what would suit Hamilton’s capacity best.” Despite his low opinion of the officers, Brunson enthusiastically commented, “we are united as a band of brothers, united in the cause of liberty; willing to make any sacrifice... even lay down our lives if required rather than the cause of justice, the cause of truth.”
During the middle of March 1861, he had been reassigned, away from the main camp near the lighthouse on Morris Island, to a smaller battery designated “Oyster Point Battery.” He seemed to prefer this position to his last and told his wife on 23 March 1861 that “I can lay in my tent at night and hear waves rolling upon the beach only a few feet from my head. The... sound is not unpleasant but rather has a tendency to promote sound sleep.” In this same letter he reported that there had been a meeting of the officers of the First Regiment to determine the prospect of reenlisting for six additional months in the Confederate Army and noted dryly, “It was to be offered to us as a point of honor, having the privilege of being the 1st Regmt. from S.C. to enter into the service of the Confederate States. I am disposed to think that we have had honors enough.”
On 29 March 1861, Brunson told Hannah that the “American Eagle still floats above Fort Sumter fanned by our Southern breeze” but that “preparations for an attack on Fort Sumter are going on with as much energy as ever.” He also described the possibility of his going into Charleston to be fitted for a uniform and his plans to get on a “regular burst up, a smasher” [i.e. faceciously teasing of plans to drink alcohol to excess] while in the city. When writing from the city on 2 April 1861 he kidded, “I have not yet got into a regular breeze but... I have been on King Street looking at the pretty ladies as they pass... I saw my old sweet heart this evening, I lifted my Cap to her; she did not seem to recognize me at first, but afterwards turned and looked back, and seemed to recognize me with a smile.”
The last letter written from Brunson in Charleston, dated 9 April 1861, expresses his desire to be home with her and his children. In it he joked that he was so homesick that he might “take a canoe strike up the river & go any how. But that will be deserting & that would be worse than getting on breeze. However I would come back again, & then I would be put in the guard house & punished which I would not like to submit to and probably might then do something still worse.”
This is the last extant letter written from Brunson to his wife before he left Morris Island and returned to Darlington, S.C., on 29 April 1861. However, between 10 April and 28 April he received eight letters written from Hannah. These communications deal with her fear that there will be a disruption in mail service, the activities of their son William (including her attempts to stop his thumb sucking), continued “risings” in her ears, and her desire that he not volunteer to go to Virginia.
Evidently, Brunson did not volunteer his services to the Confederate Army immediately, for the next letter in the collection, written from Camp Lee, is dated 11 August 1862. In it he described his deteriorating health due to inadequate rations and unsanitary living conditions. By 22 August 1862 he was well enough to have marched over seventy miles since 17 August, and was better satisfied with his commanding officer. By this time Brunson was serving under James Lide Coker in Co. E, Sixth South Carolina Infantry.
In his last letter, written from Culpepper County, Virginia, on 23 August 1862 he told his wife that he had been witness to fighting along the Rappahannock River all day but as yet “We have not been engaged... We are held in reserve, but may be called out at any moment.” The Sixth would see no fighting that day, but would be used heavily in the battle of Second Manassas on 28-30 August, during which Brunson lost his life. In his History of Company G, Ninth S.C. Regiment, Infantry, S.C. Army and of Company E, Sixth S.C. Regiment, Infantry, S.C. Army, James Lide Coker stated, “J.A. Brunson was a recruit, who had recently joined us, and who bore himself nobly in this, his first battle, until he was killed in the charge up the last hill.”