This rare letter from the Mexican War was written by Pvt. James T. Bryer of Logansport, Indiana, who served with the “Cass Volunteers” of the 1st Indiana. Following their enlistment, Bryer and the other volunteers arrived in Indianapolis in June 1846 and took the train from Columbus for Madison, Indiana, on June 13th. In Madison, they joined in a parade with other volunteers in front of 20,000 citizens who lined the streets and saw them off at the wharf on the Ohio River. They disembarked at New Albany where they bivouacked at Camp Whitcomb until being transported to New Orleans, arriving 11 July 1846. A few days later, they left for Port Isabel on the Sophia Walker where they disembarked on the 21st. They moved to the mouth of the Rio Grande on 31 August 1846 where they remained except for a brief excursion to Monterey. In June 1847, they returned home to Indiana without firing a shot. “They never smelled gun powder,” someone wrote, “but it was not their fault.”
A biographical sketch for James T. Bryer says that he “was born in Fountain county, Indiana, 4 August 1828, came with his parents, Robert and Dorcas (Miller) Bryer, to Logansport, in 1833, and resided here until his death 11 March 1895. Mr. Bryer was married to Sarah E. Hensley of Logansport, 15 May 1852. To this union were born seven girls and two boys. Mr. Bryer was a soldier in the Mexican was, depuy postmaster under William Wilson during the Civil war, and held various county, state, and government appointive offices. From 1861 until his death he was editor or contributor to the Logansport Journal, and there was no more able writer in northern Indiana.” [History of Cass county, Indiana by Jehu Z. Powell (1913)]
James wrote the letter to his brother, David E. Bryer (1831-1904). See Cass Volunteers.
February 17, 1847
Dear Mother and Brothers,
I received David’s letter some time ago and waited till I had something to tell you before I answered it. I was glad to learn that you were all well and having so much fun. Wilford Vigus got to see that part of his letter about Nancy and the boys laughed at me considerable about her being so fat. I know that you must have had fine times Christmas and New Years but you did not see so many curious things as I did.
We are now quartered in Matamoras in houses and we enjoy ourselves better than we have since we have been in Mexico. We have good, dry houses and good bunks to sleep on and we would be very comfortable if it were not for the fleas but there is no pleasure without its pain. We have two men to cook for us all and we pay them seventy-five cents apiece a month. They are Nathan Hines and Dock [Lemuel H.] Keep. The boys are all well. The only complaint is that they can’t get enough to eat. Ben Pursell is well. He returned from the Mouth [of the Rio Grande] yesterday where he has been to see Capt. [Spear S.] Tipton ¹ who is there now. I don’t believe Ben’s own father would know him if he were to see him — he is so fat.
Col. [James P.] Drake is now commandant of this post and this is a very important station. We have to be a good deal more strict than we have been and we have more duty to do as there are about 50 men detailed for guard every day. For a few days past we have been engaged in making fortifications at the plaza — or public square. The fortifications will be finished today and the boys are glad of [it] for they had had to work and dig pretty hard. It is rumored that we are to be attacked and in fact we have had several alarms but they proved to be false.
Last Monday night we were all asleep not thinking of danger when we were startled from our sleep by the report of the sentinel’s gun breaking upon the stillness of the night — an omen of evil. Instantly every man was upon his feet and busily engaged in putting on his accoutrements and seeing that his gun was in good order. We waited anxiously to hear more about it from the sentinel and there was not a man but what wished we might have a little brush if nothing more. Presently [James Harvey] Tucker returned. He had been out to see what was the matter. He told us that the sentinel had seen a part of men coming up the street. He ordered them to halt but they paid no attention to him whatever. He fired upon them and they turned around and ran off. He said he thought he heard swords jingle as they ran. Some of the companies turned out and formed but we did not. We staid up awhile but hearing nothing, we went to bed again. We had orders from the Colonel to lay on our arms. We had been in bed about two hours when we were again aroused by the firing of a gun which we thought came from the picket guard but we were mistaken. It has been reported that there are several thousand Mexican cavalry in the neighborhood of this place but I don’t believe that the report is true.
In my last letter I told you that [I] was with Alex Wilson and expected to stay with him but it turned different from what I expected. There is very little to do in the store and a great deal to do as a soldier so I thought it best to do my duty and let the rest go. The boys tell me that I am fat and so I am and I feel very well. I think that we will remain here the balance of our time which is four months. We may possibly come home before the year is out, I shall be very glad to get home and when I do get there, I think I shall settle down and finish the cooper’s trade and try and so something for myself. You must write often and give me all the news. I have written three letters where I received but one since I came to Mexico.
I must tell you about [2Lt.] William [L.] Brown. I expect that there is a good deal of talk about him in Logan but I will tell you that he has proved himself a friend to me indeed and he has done more for our company than any man in it. You mentioned in one of your letters that Buckingham said that they (our officers) were a living on the best while we were a starving. This I say is not so for they eat crackers and so did we. I will admit that theirs was the best, but what of that. They draw better ones from the government and they are right in keeping them as they had not more than they wanted. If any of them were sick and wanted money to buy something nice to eat, where did they go for it? Almost all of them to Brown. And did he refuse them when he thought they need it and he had it? No. He wanted to drill us and learn us something but he was a little too petulant and cross which made the boys dislike him. Our captain was sick a good deal and Brown had the management of the company and he often had to be harsh to get some [of] the men to do their duty and that was another cause for their disliking him. I believe that he has the interest of the company at heart.
Captain [Stanislaus] Lassell is well. Also Lieutenants [David M.] Dunn & [George W.] Blakemore. I like Captain Lassell very well but he is not much of a captain. I like him better on one account than any of our officers — that is that he is the only officer we have who having volunteered as a private would have come along as such. I am now in a mess with [James] Harvey Tucker who is our Orderly [Sergeant] and John [B.] Grover — or the little French gentlemen as we call him. Harvey is a good fellow as ever was and as for John, I should be lost without him to quarrel with because we can quarrel and make up in five minutes at least once in a week. John is a picturesque-looking bird. You know how red his air is. Well he has an enormous pair of whiskers and one of mustachios twice as red as his hair and they are as bulky such as things generally get to be. this description will suit a good many of the boys — all but the red part. George Emerson has got to be as slim as a bean pole and looks twice as tall. He was sick a long time down at the mouth and he was very much reduced. He is now quite well. I expect that you will never see him again as he intends going directly to Rochester when we are discharged.
I was very sorry to hear that David’s hair had all come out but I can’t help it. Mine has been coming out a good deal since I came here. I have that same old lump on my eye but I think that it will not be there long. Say to David that his friend Jim Moore is now a corporal. I will give you a list of our non-commissioned officers. They are all of them very good officers and so their duty well Jack [Jacques] Lassell has not been able to do duty for a long time but he is now getting well and will soon be at it.
1st Sergt. James Harvey Tucker
2nd Sergt. John [Jacques M.] Lassell
3rd Sergt. Thos. Weirick
4th Sergt. H. W. Vigus
1st Corporal B. Turner
2nd Corporal Thos. Bring Hurst
3rd Corp. S. M. Faddin
4th Corp. James Moore
The weather here is beautiful. We have a kind of a black bird here that are continually singing and chirping around. The Mexican farmers will begin to put in their crops of corn in about a week. This is quite a large place. It originally contained about twelve thousand inhabitants but since the war there has been a good many left.
It is Ash Wednesday amongst them today and they are tolling their church bells of which they are very fond. Their churches here are poorly constructed. They have three large bells on one and about as many of the other. These bells they chime three times a day regularly and on feast days oftener. The Mexicans are almost all low in stature but generally very well built. Their costume consists of a roundabout and pantaloons of some light material. Their pantaloons are made tight around the waist and they wear a sash. The poor class all wear white cotton drawers very wide all the way down and over their buckskin pantaloons, open at the side. The better class are very dandy but not so the poor ones. They are lousy, dirty, and ugly. Some of the women — or señoritas — are very good looking. We have a fandango here almost every night and the boys have a good deal of fun with the señoritas.
You ought to see a Mexican fence once and you would not sleep for a week as we say. It consists of two rows of posts or crooked sticks about two feet apart and filled up with brush which make a good, but ugly, fence. Dock [Lemuel H.] Keep sends his respects to cousin Ellen. Give my respects to all. Robert, you must be a good boy. I will write as often as there is anything new to write.
Your affectionate son, — James Bryer
Write often and send papers.
¹ Capt. Spear Spencer Tipton died at Puebla, Mexico on 28 August 1847.