This letter was written by Sarah B. (McCurdy) Bracken (1819-1896), the wife of Thomas H. Bracken (1810-1888). Sarah was the daughter of James McCurdy (1777) and Margaret (“Peggy”) Thorn (1791). Sarah and her husband had several children: Reid G. Bracken (1838-1867), Elisha J. Bracken (1840-1864), Margaret M. Bracken (b. 1843), James M. Bracken (b. 1845), Anna Maria Bracken (1848-1883), Naomi J. Bracken (b. 1850), Rebecca (“Becky”) M. Bracken (1853-1929), and Ashbell Bracken (1857-1860). All of the children were born in East Connoquenessing, Butler county, Pennsylvania.
Reid G. Bracken served in Co. K, 6th U. S. Cavalry. He enlisted 13 August 1861 and served three years.
Elisha J. Bracken served in Company C, 100th Pennsylvania Infantry. Elisha’s Civil War Diary is archived at the Penn State University Libraries and made be read on-line. Elisha died on 12 May 1864 at Spottsylvania, Virginia. His obituary reads:
KILLED — In front of the rebel rifle pits near Spottsylvania Court House, Va., May 12th, 1864, Sergeant ELISHA J. BRACKEN, of Co. C, 100th Reg’t P. V. V., 1st Division, 9th Army Corps, in the 24th years of his age; son of T. H. and Sarah M. Bracken, of Natrona, Allegheny County. Pa. In the Fall of 1862 he left his school, and enlisted in the Roundhead Regiment. He went to South Carolina, and was in all the engagements of that regiment. He was twice wounded, but never left his post — where he was always found — and fell dead there, shot through the head. His sorrowing comrades all testify to his noble qualities as a soldier. This stroke falls heavily on his bereaved parents and sisters, but they sorrow not without hope. He was a beloved son and brother, a great lover of home. He was a strict observer of God’s laws — always at the public sanctuary and prayer meetings. He leaves one brother in the army, and one a prisoner, captured at Plymouth, N. C. — Presbyterian Banner, Pittsburgh, PA 15 Jun 1864
James M. Bracken served with the 103rd Pennsylvania. He survived a Confederate prison camp and mustered out with his regiment at New Bern, North Carolina, on 25 June 1865.
January 1st 1863
Dear brother and sister,
As this is New Years Day and consequently not much work attended to except what is necessary in getting up a suitable dinner, and as that is over, I thought I would spend a few minutes writing to you. I should have written to you long ‘ere this but you are aware that I have a great many letters to write. Therefore, I hope you will excuse me.
Naomi received a letter from Sophia yesterday. Was glad to hear from you once more. It seemed so long since we had any word from any of you. Had never heard of cousin Wm. Mathews’ death. I was not at all surprised as I had the impression he was dead. I feel very sorry for cousin Betsy. She certainly will feel very lonely but she knows where to go for consolation. She has learned from former experience that all she can do is to submit to the will of Him who doeth all things well and will make these afflictions work out for her a far more and exceeding weight of Glory.
We have had letters from Reid and Elisha every few days. They are well except Elisha’s leg which has been very sore but is now getting better. I think Naomi wrote to Sophia about him getting kicked while riding Reid’s horse past some cavalry horses that was hitched. One of them kicked and struck him on the leg below the knee and cut it severely, injuring the bone. He has suffered a great deal with it but has still stayed with the regiment. They take him in an ambulance. ¹ Reid and him both stood on the hill and saw the Battle of Fredericksburg. They say it was a heart-rending sight. The dead were lying thick in the streets of the city. Loose limbs were kicking all around. Women and children were running the streets screaming — wringing their hands and crying for help. They were huddled together in their cellars while their houses were being torn to pieces by the balls and shells and came out after the battle was over. This was the first battle our boys witnessed that they were not engaged.
We have not heard from James for some time. He is still at Yorktown in the ambulance corps. [We] are looking for a letter from him every mail. Have not heard from Byers’ boys since the Battle in North Carolina. We see their regiment was engaged and suffered severely but their names have not appeared yet in the long list of killed and wounded.
You have no doubt heard Naomi speaking of All Reed ² — George Reed’s son who boarded with us. He was wounded at Fredericksburg and since died. His remains was to be home this week. His mother and wife was with him when he died. One of Mr. Young’s sons is among the wounded.
We are all well. Naomi’s health is very good. Had a slight attack of her old complaint soon after she came home but soon got over it. She went to school some but her eyes can’t stand it to keep up with so many studies as is required here. I will try the principal of the school to let her drop some of her studies and try it again. The school has been stopped for the Holidays [and] will commence next Monday. Maria and Becky goes study. Maggie is talking of going to Butler on a visit next week. we have not heard much from the friends there since James was here some two months ago. We have frequently from market folks that they are all well but nothing particularly how they are getting along. We heard that Elisha was going to leave Fathers in the Spring either going to the western or on his own place.
We have had a good many boarders all winter. Business is quite lively. The Iron works are all in operation. Provision [of] all kinds are very high. Flour [is] seven dollars twenty-five cents per barrel. Coffee 36 cents per pound. Butter 25, egg 25, and everything in proportion. We have raised to 3 dollars a weeks for board. We have a woman helping us that is very good help. Her husband boards here. She takes more labour off me than any one we ever had. We have a gentleman and lady boards here that has a little boy just commencing to walk. He is very fold of Naomi. She is in their room whenever she is not otherwise engaged but as I want to make some calls this evening, I must close for the present. All join in love to you and George and Sophia, hoping to hear from you soon. I say goodbye.
Your affectionate sister, — Sarah
P. S. I forgot to tell you that I had a very pleasant journey home. Got to Mercer the day we left you about 11 o’clock. Hired a carriage and driver for $1.50 to take us to Mr. Stevenson’s. Rested there a day. Got my business fixed there. Mr. Stevenson took us to Landon to meet the stage. Traveled most of the night. Got to Butler at 9 in the morning. Father had been there the day before to meet us and we was not and Mr. Savery told him to not come again — that he would send us out — so he went to the livery stable, ordered a nice carriage, and sent us out at his own expense. Stopped to see James that day and the next morning awhile. i told you that I thought James had his house painted white but it is brown. Has it papered. Naomi will write to Sophia after we hear from you again.
¹ In his diary, Sgt. Elisha J. Bracken wrote the following: “Camp Opposite Fredericksburg, Va., December 9, 1862. For 4 weeks have been Hors de combat from a horse kick on the shin — not yet commenced to heal.”
² Alfred G. Reed (1839-1862) was promoted from Sergeant to 1st Lieutenant of Co. C, 134th Pennsylvania Infantry, before he was wounded (a “mortal thigh break”) at the battle of Fredericksburg on 13 December 1862. He died fourteen days later. His father, George W. Reed was a saddler in Butler, Pennsylvania.