These letters were written by Stephen Millet Bragdon (1836-1909), the son of George Bragdon (1797-1879) and Betsey Henderson (1807-1893) of Kingston, Rockingham, New Hampshire. The Bragdon’s lived in Milton, Strafford county, New Hampshire, until sometime in the 1850’s when they relocated to Kingston. All three of their children— Susan (1834-1884), Stephen (1836-1909) and George (1838-1901)—were born in Milton.
In the 1860 US Census, Stephen was enumerated in the household of his parents who were farmers in Kingston. From a March 1861 letter we know that Stephen had left his parents farm and hired himself out at the rate of $8 a week working for a firm in Dedham, Massachusetts—not far from Boston. Just days later, being swept up in the patriotic frenzy that erupted after the firing on Fort Sumter, he enlisted as a private in Co. E of the 5th Massachusetts Infantry. This regiment was a ninety days regiment which most considered sufficient time for the Federal government to put down the rebellion and restore order.
The following account of the 5th Massachusetts comes from Wikipedia:
“On April 15, when President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops in response to the attack on Fort Sumter, the 5th Massachusetts was ordered by Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew to prepare for active service in the field. Andrew dispatched four regiments on April 17 and 18, holding the 5th Massachusetts in reserve for the time being. On April 19, pro-secessionist rioters in Baltimore attacked the 6th Massachusetts as that regiment attempted to make their way to Washington. Alarmed by the escalation in violence, Andrew summoned the 5th Massachusetts to Boston to prepare for departure. The first companies arrived in Boston that same day on April 19. By April 20 the remaining companies reported and the regiment was prepared to depart. That night, the unit barracked in Faneuil Hall and departed for Virginia on April 21, 1861.
“The regiment spent their first month of service drilling in Washington D.C. During this time they were barracked in the U.S. Treasury Building. On May 25, they marched to Alexandria, Virginia where they set up camp and remained for a month and a half. During this time, President Lincoln and his cabinet reviewed the regiment and dubbed them the “Steady Fifth” due to their performance during the review. While encamped in Alexandria, the unit received new uniforms consisting of dark blue coats and trousers—the Regular Army uniform of the time. The 5th Massachusetts was one of very few volunteer units to take the field in Regular Army uniforms and were frequently mistaken for Regular troops during the Bull Run campaign. On July 13, the 5th Massachusetts received orders to march for Centreville, Virginia.
“On July 21, 1861, just days before the end of their 90-day term of service, the 5th Massachusetts took part in the First Battle of Bull Run, the first major engagement of Civil War. Before their departure from Alexandria, Major General Irvin McDowell, commanding the Union Army of Northeastern Virginia, addressed the 5th Massachusetts and, in light of their term of service being nearly at an end, offered them the option of foregoing the campaign. The 5th Massachusetts voted unanimously to go with McDowell’s army. Assigned to the First Brigade (Franklin’s), Third Division (Heintzelman’s) of the Army of Northeastern Virginia, the 5th Massachusetts was among those units sent to probe the Confederate right flank on July 18 resulting in the Battle of Blackburn’s Ford. When this maneuver failed, McDowell opted to send a large portion of his forces on a wide flanking maneuver across Sudley Springs Ford, hoping to get around the Confederate left flank. On July 21, precisely three months after they departed Boston, the 5th Massachusetts crossed Sudley Springs Ford and participated in pitched combat on Henry House Hill.
“The regiment advanced more than a mile from Sudley Springs Ford to Henry House Hill at the double-quick in full gear. This rapid pace executed with heavy knapsacks was a challenge for the inexperienced regiment. When they reached the foot of the hill, General Heintzelman led the 5th Massachusetts, the 11th Massachusetts and Ricketts’s Battery up the slope in an effort to retake several Union batteries and turn the Confederate right flank. Confederate artillery stopped their advance and the 5th Massachusetts was ordered to lay prone on the slope of the hill under direct artillery fire. Color Sergeant W. H. Lawrence stood during this time and was killed by artillery fire. Colonel Lawrence, who also remained standing at the center of his regiment, was among the wounded and carried from the field. When Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson led a counterattack, the 5th Massachusetts retreated in disorder from Henry House Hill with the rest of the Union Army. The unit suffered casualties of 9 killed and 11 wounded and 22 prisoners.
“The 5th Massachusetts embarked for Boston less than a week after the Union army’s retreat back to Washington. They were mustered out on July 30, 1861.”
After he was mustered out of the service, Stephen returned to New Hampshire where he married Lydia E. Downs (1841-1878) to whom he had written these Civil War letters. Lydia was the daughter of Stephen Down (b. 1808) and Lydia G. Hill (1799-1874) of Milton, Strafford county, New Hampshire. The couple were married at Milton on 10 March 1862. After marriage, the couple continued to reside in Milton where Stephen worked as a carpenter.
There are eight letters in this group. Seven of the letters were authored by Stephen M. Bragdon—one before his enlistment and five during his service with the 5th Massachusetts Infantry. The last letter was written to Stephen by 1st Sgt. Isaac Hosea of the came Company and Regiment.