These letters were purchased from a descendant of the Bragdon family. Most of them were received by Lydia E. Downs (1841-1878), the daughter of Stephen Downs (1808-1862) and Lydia G. Hill (1799-1874) of Milton, Strafford county, New Hampshire. It is to her and her descendants that we owe thanks for their preservation as well as a number of family photographs.
Lydia was the youngest of at least six children. All of her siblings were born in York county, Maine, before the family removed to Milton, New Hampshire in 1840. All of Lydia’s siblings died as children or young adults; she only lived to age 37. Her siblings included:
- John N. Downs (1831-1851)
- Eri F. Downs (1832-1858)
- Lovey A. Downs (1836-1841)
- Sarah A. Downs (1838-1853), and
- Stephen F. Downs (1839-1864)
During the American Civil War, Lydia’s only surviving sibling, Stephen F. Downs, enlisted in the fall of 1861 as a private in Co. K, 3rd New Hampshire Infantry. His term of enlistment was three years and he was within three months of completing that term when he was killed in action at the Second Battle of Drewry’s Bluff on 16 May 1864. His body was left on the battlefield as the Federal forces retreated and he fell into the hands of the enemy—his body never recovered. There are twelve letters in this collection that were written by Stephen while serving with the 3rd New Hampshire. A thirteenth letter was penned by Capt. George Stearns informing Lydia of her brother’s death.
The other eight letters in the collection were written by Stephen Millet Bragdon, also of Milton, New Hampshire, who enlisted in April 1861 in Co. E, 5th Massachusetts Infantry to serve three months. Stephen and Lydia were close friends at the time of his enlistment and they married within six months of his return. Stephen was discharged from the regiment just after the First Battle of Bull Run in which the regiment participated.
It should be mentioned as well that Lydia’s father enlisted in November 1862 as a private in Co. H, 6th New Hampshire Infantry—known as the “Bully Sixth.” His enlistment records state that he was 44 when he enlisted but he was actually 54. He apparently became ill in the service and he died on 20 May 1862 in New York City.