THOMAS D. BRISLEY’S CIVIL WAR LETTERS

Article prepared 2015 by John Dudley


 

WHO WAS THOMAS?

Thomas D. Brisley was born ca 1834 in Lubec the son of Benjamin and Mary Brisley. The family moved to the North Union Road in Cooper prior to 1840. His father was a farmer and brick mason, born in New Brunswick. Thomas was listed in the censuses as attending school and as a laborer. His mother Mary [born ca 1810] and two sisters Mary [born ca 1840] and Pamela [born ca 1842] were born in Maine. In 1860 and 1870 the family had an extra child living with them and attending school, Charles Dudley and Ida Butler. Were they paupers or relatives? Only the mother Mary appears on the 1880 Cooper census with several generations of the Watson family in her home.

A Brisley Family Story – Susie (Vance) Frost, grandmother of Irene Clarke Adams, told this story. Thomas Brisley’s family wanted his father Benjamin to “testify at meeting’, but he refused. Finally he said he would, so at the next meeting he stood up and said “Old Brisley has his ups and his downs, and this is one of his downs.” And down he goes. That ended his testifying at meetings!
 

THE LETTERS

Punctuation in the letters is hard to understand; periods and commas are feint and he appears to have written long run-on sentences. Also some punctuation may have been added over the years. Spelling errors were few and appeared to by just careless errors. The letters were to the Moses Leland family of Cooper. Moses [born ca 1825] and Hannah [born ca 1830] with their children Eugene, Rhoda, Mary and Hortense lived near Dead Stream where it intersects with the North Union Road. The house was on the north side of the road.

 

LETTER #1

Augusta August 30th / 62

Dear Friend
 

I supose you will expect me to fulfill my promise of writing to you and here I am endeavoring to do so. I do not know if I can interest you in anything I can write at present, but I will do as I said & write things just as they are as far as I am acquainted.
 

We are encamped here at Augusta at present but I expect we shall leave here soon, at any rate I hope so. Perhaps you may think of us Cooper boys and say to yourself I guesf they will wish themselves back, & perhaps we may, but I tell you what it is, we have to good times here to wish so. Yet, of course, we have not seen the hardest of it yet & I do not know when we shall. We have a full company of Maine boys for the 6th Regiment and a hard set of fellows they are too, that is if one can judge by appearances. There is all kinds of characters here from clergymen all the way down to blacklegs and pickpockets. You can hear the singing of psalms to songs, swearing & preaching, fighting or anything else you wish all at the same time, but still it is here as any where else. If one minds there own business their is no trouble. I am not sick of it yet at any rate. I’m bound to blow as long as I can stand it. We 4 Cooper boys went together and I am in hopes that we shall be able to keep together and all come home together, but we have to run the risk of that. We do not expect to get sick of hard work or hard fighting. This is sabbath morning and some of the boys have gone out to church. They go out in squads and someone is put in charge of them. We had a sermon this morning in the encampment.
 

George has just come off guard & is lying down in the tent making observations while Joe & I are writing. We have to stand guard 2 hours on and 4 off making 8 out of 24, They are drawn in alphabetical order. This morning there were 20 detailed out of our Company and I have to go on guard today at 1 O’clock. There is 1st, second, & third relief & each relief has a Corporal, each relief stands 2 hours & then they are relieved by the next in turn.
 

I have seen our Colonel, he was here on the ground. I tell you he is a hard looking old customer. We hear news hear as well as down east, one story today & another tomorrow. We had good news yesterday from the army, if it is true, that Gen. Pope has given the rebels fits. I cannot write much at this time. Perhaps the next time I can interest you better. I should be happy to hear from you if you can write to me. George says he wants me to tell you to write and we shall allways be glad to hear from our friends at home. Direct to Augusta, Me 6th Me Reg. Capt. Bafsfords Company.

Thomas D. Brisley
 

Notes: Letter #1

“Us Cooper boys” were George W. Black, Jr, Thomas Brisley, Joseph Reed and Hugh Robb, Jr. George Black, Jr whose family lived on the East Ridge Road is watching Thomas and Joseph Reed write.. The ‘hard looking’ Colonel was Hiram Burnham, a lumberman from Cherryfield. Union General John Pope eventually retreated from the Second Battle of Bull Run [Manassas]. Captain Bafsford was Levi L. L. Bassford was of Calais. He had been appointed a Captain by Governor Israel Washburn after July 19, 1862. He ended up in Company B.
 


 

LETTER #2

Camp near Bell Plain January 10, 1863

Dear Friend

I once more take the liberty to write you a few lines as I have opportunity today. We have been out on Brigade drill this morning & have just come in & it rains sweetly, so it does.

Well, I have got to the Regiment again at last & I have no reason to complain as to my usage yet either in the hospital or Reg. When I got here, I got three letters, one that you wrote, I was glad to hear from you and I will write as I told you I would & state things as they are. My health is good now, only I am not so strong as I was before I was sick & I doubt if I ever am again.

I found the boys all well and hardy, there is six of us tents together. The greatest trouble is the want of tobacco or money. We have not been paid off yet, but I expect we will in a few days. I suppose you have heard of the Battle of Fredericksburg. Well I don’t know anything else to call it but a man killing trap; some may call it another glorious retreat. O yes it is evident that we lost a great many men & gained nothing, all is quiet now along our lines. I have been here a week and have not done any duty yet but I expect they will put me on duty soon. I am in hopes there will be no more fighting here, but yet it is hard telling anything about it, there is too much speculation.

I have had a chance now for a couple of months to see something of the ways things are managed – everyone that can make one cent out of the government will do it from an officer down to a washwoman, that’s so every time. If I had not enlisted, but come here on my own hook I would have made money hand over fist, but it is as it is, & there is no help for it now. I cannot write much now, but I will give you a sort of sketch at some future time. Write as soon as you can, give my best respects to all the folks and accept the best wishes of T. D. Brisley

 

Notes: Letter 2

After the Battle of Fredericksburg ended on December 13, 1862, the Union estimate of killed and wounded was 12,700. The Confederate loss was set at 5300.
 

 

 

LETTER #3
 

Camp near Belle Plain, Virginia March 9th 1863

Dear Friends

 

Excuse me for taking the liberty of writing a few lines to you. I have written Moses a number of letters & have never received but one from him. I suppose he is in the woods this winter & that will account for his not writing to me oftener. He sent me some stamps which I believe I forgot to mention in my last letter to him, but they were none the less acceptable. I was very glad to get them as they were not to be had out here. I like to hear from any of my friends from Cooper; it seems and it realy is one of the spices of a soldiers life to hear from old friends at home, and I always grab at a letter as eager as if it were coin
 

I received a letter from home yesterday and mother wrote that you had lost little Hortense. It seems almost too bad, but it is the lot of all to die and although I cannot simpathise with you & Moses like one who has experienced such trials, yet I felt as sorry as if I had lost a near friend or relative, but there is one consolation and it arises from the thought She is free from evil and the consquences attendant in this life. I hope the rest of the children are well, give my love to them and tell them too that Thom often thinks of them and would like to see them all.

My health is good at present and the boys from Cooper are all well and in good spirits. I don’t suppose that I can write anything concerning the war that will interest you at present, but at some future time I will write more war news. I want Moses to write to me again when he gets home. I shal be glad to hear from you both as often as you are pleased to write to me, Give my love to inquiring friends and accept the best wishes of your friend T. D. Brisley
 

Please excuse poor writing for poor pen & poor ink and a poor penman makes poor writing any way.

That’s apology enough for a soldier T. D. B.

LETTER #4

Camp Near Falmouth, May 11th/63

My Dear Friends

It is with pleasure that I seat myself to answer your kind letter dated May 2nd, which I received yesterday. I had given up the idea entirely of ever receiving another letter from you but was very happily disappointed & believe me it was not an unwelcome disappointment either. How quickly it seems to bring to mind old times & I sometimes think that, but for the hope of again renewing the acquaintance of old friends and scenes, I should feel perfectly indifferent as to my fate and I am in hopes after all to weather the cape and come out all right

You speak of having sympathy for the boys out here. I am glad of that, but you know nothing of the matter comparatively speaking and it is out of my power to explain the matter to your satisfaction. for instance, as in the charge made by our Regiment the other day on the enemy works. Imagine yourself being in that place with the steady roar of cannon & musketry and the bullets falling around as thick as hail and men droping all around you and you have but a feint idea of it at best. We charged three quarters of a mile double quick or rather on a run over the heights. And took them too. One rifle pit above another and the rebs pouring in grape and canister into us, but it seemed as though nothing could retard our progress which you may believe was not slow. The 6th Maine was the first to plant her flag on the heights, our loss was heavy, being about one hundred & seventy five I believe. our Major was killed and three Captains in our Reg. I received a slight wound on the right arm but nothing serious. So much for the war.

My health is very good this spring & I am in hopes to stand the hot weather this summer. The weather is very warm here now. I should like to be in Cooper this morning but I have signed the wrong paper for that, so I have.

So you have sold Nell, well I think you will hardly replace her for the same money. There are some splendid horses out here I tell you.
 

I suppose that you are doing the big thing in the farming line this spring. Well I expect that farmers generally will put in all the crops they can & it stands then in hand to do so.

Give all my love to the children and to all inquiring friends and accept the best wishes of T. D. Brisley
 

To, Mr. & Mrs. Leland

PS Excuse poor writing & write again soon is the wish of Tom
 

Notes on Letter #4

In paragraph two, Thomas gave his description of the battle at Marye’s Heights that took place on May 3. The Sixth Maine was in the lead of the charge with the orders to not stop and not fire until they had reached the Heights. Company K suffered one killed and nine wounded including Thomas and John Waid who had lived briefly on Breakneck in Alexander. “Our Major” who was killed was Joel Haycock of Calais.
 

THOMAS BRISLEY”S CIVIL WAR TIMELINE
 

1861 April 12 - At 4:30 PM the first shot of the War was fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston, SC harbor.
 

1861 April 22 - Maine legislature authorized ten regiments. The Sixth came from the 1st Military Division, that was the Penobscot River watershed and east. From the west were companies raised in and named after Brownville [A], Corinth [H], Old Town [I], Bucksport [E] and Ellsworth [B]. The down east companies were Machias [C], Cherryfield [G], Pembroke [F], Calais [D] and Eastport [K].
 

During its days the Sixth Maine Regiment had quite a number of local men. Those from Cooper were Stephen Averill, Augustus Babcock, William Babcock, George Black, Thomas Brisley, Charles Clark, James Higgins, Ellis Hitchins, Rufus Phipps, Joseph Reed, Hugh Robb, Thomas Sadler and Thomas Sprague.

Cooper had 13 men in the Sixth. Its neighboring communities all had soldiers in the Sixth. Township 19 had but one, Crawford had five, Alexander had fifteen, Meddybemps had eleven, Charlotte had fourteen and Plantation 14 had three. A regiment consisted of ten companies of 100 men each. Cooper and its neighbors contributed 61 men to the Sixth.
 

1862 July – Thomas, at age 28, enlisted in Company K, 6th Maine
 

1862 August 30 – letter #1

1863 January 10 - letter #2
 

1863 March 9 – letter #3

1863 April 8 – The Sixth is reviewed by President Lincoln at Falmouth, VA
 

1863 May 3 – Thomas was wounded in elbow at Marye’s Heights which was part of the Second Battle of Fredericksburg. The Sixth Maine led a successful attack on Marye’s Heights, just south of the Rappahannock River.

1863 – May 11 – letter #4
 

1863 November 7 - Thomas was killed in action at Rappahannock Station. This battle featured a rare bayonet attack that overran the Confederates. In Company K, seven more were killed including John Grey of Eastport, the flag bearer. Fourteen were wounded that day including Corporeal Levi Flood, Thomas’s neighbor from Alexander. Ruel Furlong, “the Calais giant” was killed at this battle. That was also a deadly battle for the Confederates who lost 2033 dead and captured.

1865 April 9 – Lee and Grant arrange terms of surrender at Appomattox, VA
 

1865 April 14 – Lincoln shot at Ford’s Theater
 

Thomas Brisley never came home, he was killed in action. Jane Hannah Leland wrote on his March 9, 1863 letter

Thy days are numbered
Thy work is done

The tall southern grass

On thy grave doth wave


 

SOURCES

ACHS FILES

CIVIL WAR ALMANAC from World Almanac Publications

LETTERS written by Thomas D. Brisley to Moses Leland family of Cooper ME. The letters were given to ACHS in July 1994 by Irene Clarke Adams.

NO RICH MEN”S SONS, The Sixth Maine Volunteer Infantry by James Mundy

WASHINGTON COUNTY, MAINE IN THE CIVIL WAR by Ken Ross