1869 · [Various places, including Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va
by Bristol, Herman W.: [Civil War]: [New York]
[Various places, including Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va, 1869. Seven autograph letters, signed, by Bristol, one Bristol letter transcribed by a friend, four additional letters from his associates investigating his fate, and eighteen other letters and documents relating to Bristol's military service and later family matters. Generally minor wear, one letter chipped at bottom edge and lacking a few words of text. Overall very good. An unusual archive of Civil War correspondence from and relating to Herman W. Bristol, a young printer from Brooklyn, describing his experiences in the early months of the conflict. They are the letters of a young soldier who shortly thereafter disappeared at the Battle of Bull Run, and document not only his own experiences as a soldier, but also the reality of soldiers who were lost in the vortex of war, and the efforts of Bristol's family back home to cope with his disappearance, and to secure his pension. A large part of the archive includes correspondence related to Bristol's mother's efforts to learn his fate, and her inability to do so. Herman Waite Bristol (1839-1861) was the only son of a deceased Brooklyn typographer, and had followed his father into the printer's trade. He enlisted in April, 1861 with the 14th Regiment New York State Militia, also known as the Brooklyn Chasseurs and later designated as the 84th New York Infantry. They were also dubbed the Iron Regiment and were a colorful unit, literally - they wore distinctive baggy trousers and red stockings. Supposedly, during the Battle of Bull Run, Stonewall Jackson noted their repeated charges and told his men "Hold on, boys! Here come those red legged devils again!" The present collection of Bristol's wartime correspondence includes seven letters he wrote from Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., and Virginia and sent back home, all from the early months of the war. The first letter, dated May, 1861, describes his imminent departure for the front. A May 21 letter describes his journey south, where the soldiers were greeted by wild enthusiasm in Brooklyn and Philadelphia but almost no cheering whatsoever in Baltimore: "Started for Baltimore via Havre de Grace reached there in the afternoon. No cheering (except once or twice) but Secession stuck out. They offered no impediment to our marching through Baltimore (and if they had, we had our muskets ready loaded); the only thing they did do was to grease the track just outside the city, which impeded us for about an hour." He continues with a description of the Capitol Building in Washington: "The Capitol is one of the most splendid buildings in the world and when finished it cannot be surpassed. At present the lower part is occupied by stores of flour, beef and pork, etc for the troops, which appears rather as a desecration, but is necessary. I am writing this letter in the Senate chamber, seated at one of the desks which has been occupied by Clay, Webster and other great men." Bristol visits other regiments around Georgetown and Washington, even meeting "some of the Fire Zouaves who complain bitterly as they have the same light clothes they left New York with, and which are about worn out and very dirty....they are quartered on the river near the Lunatic Asylum." Bristol counts around 40,000 troops in and around Washington, accounting for the roads being "well guarded along the whole route." Bristol's May 29 letter to his Aunt Blair describes a sighting of Abraham Lincoln: "Yesterday we were reviewed by that brave old warrior General Winfield Scott at the White House. President Lincoln stood beside him and looked rather sorrowful. The general looked every inch of him a soldier. The Capitol presents rather a sorry appearance, filled as it is with troops and provisions." This is Bristol's first of four letters written from Camp Wool, near Martinsburg, Virginia. He writes of being ready for action and tired of camp life. In his June 4 letter to his mother, Bristol comments that his unit should be sent home in three months "unless we are engaged in combat with the Secessionists." He attends church and describes the sermon he heard on "the 14th Chapter of Luke." Bristol reports on the arrival of the New York 79th Regiment and the 9th Garibaldi Guard German Rifles and describes the "very beautiful location" of his camp. He writes again a couple of days later, and again on June 28, mainly to communicate his regards to different people back home. By the time of his July 9 letter, Herman Bristol's regiment was stationed just south of Washington, in Arlington. He writes of the "righteous war" he is involved in and comments: "There is no immediate prospect of our regiment being in an engagement, though we are to advance further into Virginia. We are one of the central groups of some 30 or 40,000 troops, soon to be increased to some hundreds of thousands, and when we march, we will all march in that position." He asks his mother to send shirts, a good towel, pumice soap, and books, namely Lord Byron's "Childe Harolde," and Dumas' "Knight of Mauleon" or "Knight of the Iron Hand." Bristol and his regiment would be involved in the First Battle of Bull Run just twelve days later. Bristol sent one more letter, to his friend Lewis Myers back in New York, on the eve of the First Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas to the Confederates). Myers transcribed it the following year for the family, and the transcript is present here. Bristol wrote from "near Manassas Junction - we expect to move on it soon." He describes a march from Washington through several hastily abandoned Confederate camps. In camp on the night before Bull Run, Bristol writes, "13 of the guard were ordered out to skirmish. After skirmishing about 5 or 6 hours and it raining all the time, we lost our way." He ended up spending the rest of the night in the camp of another New York regiment, the aforementioned Fire Zouaves. In the morning he records that "We are to move on now against [the battery], and expect to have pretty hot work of it before night. When it is over, you will know the rest....My only thought now is the battery we are to move on to, and there, if God wills it, sell my life as dearly as possible." He concludes: "I had to run just now to fill my canteen, as the enemy have tampered with our water arrangements. So, good Good bye - perhaps forever. If so, no great loss to the world, and perhaps of no great consequence to myself. God help us to conquer and plant the Stars & Stripes everywhere." The Union Army was routed at the Battle of Bull Run, and Herman Bristol was missing in action at the battle's end. At the conclusion of the 14th New York's desperate retreat, Bristol was not found among his regiment. Nobody present at the battle could recall for certain if he had been captured or killed or left wounded on the battlefield. Included in this collection are four letters written to Bristol's mother dated late in 1861, reflecting her efforts to learn his fate. A friend from Bristol's regiment, William Newkirk, offered his research (quoted here with the spelling corrected): "Some of our men had seen him going for the hill by the retreat. Therefore I think he is taken prisoner. I was even willing to go out...to bury our dead, but they would not let us. Herman was with me on the 5th charge, but...I could not see him at times, only when I was looking to the left....By the last retreat there was too much convection, I did not see him....Mrs. Bristol, it was an awful sight." Another friend with Washington connections, Lewis Myers "had reliable information that Herman is alive & safe, this can be relied on." Bristol's captain wrote on October 16, with less hope: "I regret deeply not to be able to say whether he is dead or alive....No one saw him fall, nowhere has he been reported a prisoner....If he has fallen, you will at least have the satisfaction that he perished in a glorious cause, a martyr for his country's sake." Another man writes on December 26 that Mrs. Bristol "may rejoice that Herman is at least alive" and indicates he is a prisoner of war: "when exchanged I shall endeavor to restore him to you as I see you need him more than the country who I think have now enough soldiers." The uncertainty and false hope must have been unbearable for Mother Bristol and her family. As far as we know, Bristol's ultimate fate was never discovered, though he was eventually designated as killed in action at Bull Run. The additional letters and documents relate to Bristol's military service, and are dated from 1861 to 1889. Most of these concern his mother's efforts to secure a pension; there is also a nine-page typescript genealogy of his mother's family through 1959. The pension process appears to have been an additional hardship for Bristol's mother, who is denied multiple times here by the Treasury Department's Auditor's Office because she cannot provide proof of Herman's death. A heartbreaking story of tragedy and loss during the opening months of the Civil War.
(Inventory #: WRCAM56122)