DescriptionUnion Soldier's Archive of Letters and Documents of Christian K. Breneman, Second Lieutenant, Company H, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. An extensive archive of letters, documents, and photographs relating to Breneman's military service and his family history. Consisting of approximately 150 letters from Breneman to his wife and family, dating from April 19, 1861 to September 9, 1864, with 6 on patriotic stationary, 1 on regiment letterhead, and 1 on Fort Jefferson (Florida) letterhead; and approximately 90 letters from Margaret (Maggie) Breneman to her husband, dating from April 28, 1861 to August 3, 1864.
At the heart of the archive is Breneman's extensive letters to his wife Maggie and two daughters, from various locations averaging four pages in length. His first letter, dated April 19, 1861, is from Camp Curtin, Pennsylvania. Breneman is already in the service in Company D., 2nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, which was formed in response to President Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers in the wake of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12. He wrote that "we arrived here...at 2:30 oclock were provided with quarters at the Susquehanna House and were marched to camp at 8...the Boys are all in good cheer. There has been Companys [sic] arriving to day from all parts....Startling news from South, Harpers Ferry has been burnt, northern troops have been deployed to march through Baltimore, Virginia has seceeded [sic], an attack on the capital expected." Breneman's unit moved to Baltimore, then back to Pennsylvania (Camp Scott in York, Pennsylvania, where "our men...received their uniforms and now make quite a respectable appearance.", and a camp near Chambersburg), and camps in Maryland.
They entered into Virginia in July and occupied the town of Martinsburg on July 3. The next day, Breneman wrote to his wife of the battle around the town. "We started down the Pike towards Martinsburg, however after marching some four miles we heard our Battery already at work, being discharged in quick succession. We started on the double quick and after going about 1 mile further we seen that a struggle had taken place, a barn being on fire & a house (the Rebels officers headquarters) all shattered. On we rushed over dead & wounded, the Battery...still playing away at every opportunity....From the appearance of things along the pike the Rebels must have fled in great disorder." This is the last letter in the archive written by Breneman before his three-month term in the 2nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was up.
Breneman re-enlisted in the Union Army, joining Company H of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in August 1861 for three years. Soon after Breneman re-enlisted his regiment moved to Washington, D.C. and then into several camps in Virginia, where they remained for the duration of the year. At the end of January 1862, Breneman's regiment sailed to Key West, Florida on an eight-day voyage, arriving on February. The day after arriving, Breneman wrote to his wife that Key West "looks like a Garden of Eden." The regiment would remain in at Fort Taylor in Key West until the end of June. Things were quiet on Key West, with the real enemy being "Muskeetoes, with a large abundance of poisonous insects." In a February 17, 1862 letter Breneman describes for his wife an encounter with a "Land Scorpion." "I caught one in my bed the other night as he was in the act of crawling over my face....They have four legs and a large fang on each side of the body. The legs are 4 inches long with long sharp claws at the end. Their body is almost round and 3 inches in diameter and above all a very ugly looking critter....I killed him and preserving him as a curiosity." In an April 24 letter from Key West, Breneman recounts the arrival on the island of six Confederate deserters "in a small boat from the main land. Their story was a sad one, they say the people there are almost starving, having little or nothing to eat, they came over for the purpose of taking the oath of allegiance, which they very willingly did, and begged for work for no other compensation than their board (their arms consisted of the oldest kind of flint-lock, shot guns)."
He had no time for Northern men who chose not to serve in the army. To Breneman they were cowards. As he wrote to his wife on June 8, "Cowards that they are, afraid to defend their homes and rights which make them free. Shame. Shame. I cant see how any man who considers himself a man at all can look on with indifference." In the same letter he recounted an encounter with some of his fellow soldiers and a Key West "Rank Secessionist, who could not help but give vent to his vile centiments [sic], saying that it is a pity that the Union troops did not sink to Hell before they got here....He was however over heard by some of the boys, who followed him to town, and there gave him a sound thrashing from the effects of which I heard this morning, that he died."
On June 19, Breneman's regiment sailed to Hilton Head, South Carolina and was attached to the District of Beaufort, Department of the South. The regiment then moved on to the city of Beaufort. In a July 29 letter from the city Breneman, who came into contact with many recently freed slaves since his arrival, offered very negative views of blacks and abolitionists: "in my opinion if every abolitionist would have been hung long ago, we would not now have this trouble in our once happy country. It is them who interfears [sic] in the institution of slavery, where they have no right; it is them who teaches the ignorant slave that he is as good as the white man, turns the slave against the master, induces him to run away, or murder his master. That they must have a master is plain to every one, unintelligent as they are. They are not capable of governing themselves." According to him, many of his comrades in the army, "see that they are not fighting for what they intended, but for the purpose of freeing the slave, and if such should eventually be the case, the north will be divided against itself...there will certainly be a Rebellion."
On October 22, 1862, Breneman's regiment engaged Confederate troops in battle at Frampton's Plantation and Pocotaligo Bridge, South Carolina. He described the action in a letter dated October 24."The enemy had 8 heavy guns, and a large number of infantry, the fight soon became general. We rushed into the woods endeavoring to get through to storm their Battery, but it was very difficult in getting forward, as the ground was covered with under brush briers and vines...so there we were in the middle of the woods in briers and brush and in a direct line of the enemy's guns which were pouring volley after volley of grape canister, shot and shell, right into us. We however pressed forward and when the enemy saw that we were coming through...they fell back....The action lasted about three hours and was then about 4 ½ Oclock after we had again formed, and I having only a portion of the Co. left...and the balance of our company were killed and wounded it was ordered that I should with my men carry out the wounded and bury the dead....The column again went forward and it was not long until they were again in action, and proceeded with my brave and noble little party to carry out the wounded. The fight was kept up until dark....Our co lost 4 killed and 13 wounded; in all more than any other co. as near as I know." Breneman barely escaped being wounded or killed, as he "had a button shot off the brest [sic] of my coat. A ball also hit my sword not an inch from my hand and took the scabbard in my hand and bent the sword to a right angle."
In December 1862 Breneman's regiment was ordered to back to Florida, where it was stationed at Fort Jefferson on Tortugas until the end of February 1864. During his time there, Breneman wrote on January 17, 1863, weeks after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, of his surprise that the war had lasted as long as it had, and concern that the conflict turned out "to be nothing more than a political war, and the Negro is at the bottom of it all. If so our Country will be ruined before the object will be accomplished." In a February 22 letter he condemned "political skeemers" [sic] for turning the purpose of the war "for nothing more or less than the negro who never was or never will be better off than when a slave." Breneman spent much of his time at Fort Jefferson writing letters to family members, reading religious works, and avoiding gambling, card playing, and drinking. He also quit smoking and chewing tobacco.
In late February and early March 1864, Breneman's regiment moved to Louisiana, where they transferred from New Orleans to Brashear City and then to Franklin, and were attached to 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 19th Army Corps, Department of the Gulf. Soon thereafter the regiment participated in General Banks' Red River Campaign. After marching some 250 miles up the river, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry saw action on April 8-9 in the battles of Sabine Cross Roads (also known as the Battle of Mansfield) and Pleasant Hill, the first of which was a Union defeat and the second a draw, though Union forces were forced to retreat from Shreveport, which they hoped to capture. On April 15, days after the two battles, Breneman wrote of "passing safely through the most terrible ordeal it has even been my lot to witness. I am aluding [sic] to hard ships, fatiegues [sic] and terrible engagements on the battle field." At Sabine Cross Roads Confederate forces made stand. "There in Friday morning...they made a stand massing their entire force 40,000. Our Cavalry about 15000 strong opened the Battle with them in a few hours later the 13th A. C....entered the field and engaged in the bloody scene. The enemy being far superior in numbers...threw their entire force against our cavalry and the 13th killing a great many and taking perhaps 1/3 of the whole prisoners also the entire Cavalry Train with a large portion of the artilery [sic] & train of the 13th. So when we the 19th reached the scene everything was in the greatest disorder and confusion. Our men were retreating in every direction....We just arrived on the field with the 19th to save them from being entirely routed....The object in falling back that night was to take up a better position so we marched back on the same road that we went out on until 8 Oclock next morning...and arrived at a beautiful bluff called Pleasant Hill....We had scarcely taken up our position in line of a battle...when the enemy's artillery opened on us, they had pursued us, and from prisoners that we there took we learned that they thought that now it would be an easy matter to destroy our entire force...and now intended to entirely rout us as they had recd. 10,000 fresh reinforcements. Well how they succeeded I will now explain. At 9 Oclock our entire infantry force went into action and every Brigade fought without intermission until the night. The 16th army corps came to our assistance during the forenoon....It is said that the enemy has never been known to fight more desperately and reckless. We slayed them by hundreds, and in the evening the prisoners we had taken amounted to 2500 or 3000 besides capturing nearly all their artillery. Such a scene as that field presented in the evening I hope never to behold again. Our loss was quite heavy too but not many than one fourth as much as theirs."
Breneman's next letter, dated April 18, included news that to "the disgrace of our Reg. I will now inform you that the day after the last fight, one Major Adjutant and one first Lieutenant were dishonorable dismissed the service for cowardice on the battle field, but to the credit of the rest of us the Genl. in person returned his sincere thanks for the bravery and courage with which we distinguished ourselves."
In early July Breneman and his regiment departed from Louisiana for Washington, D.C., where it reinforced the defenses of the city and then from there they joined General Philip Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign. In one letter written during the campaign, dated August 24, 1864, Breneman wrote of Confederate guerilla activity. "Guerrillas are still carrying on their fiendish work of murdering our men. On our way up the valley many of our men on account of hard marching were compeled [sic] to fall back and straggle, and I know of 15 or 20 who were taken some hung, others burned, and some cut to pieces."
Not long after this letter, Breneman, while on picket duty near Charlestown, West Virginia, came across "a large and splendid mansion...called the Washington house." Owned by descendants of George Washington, the house was visited by Breneman and several staff officers and were greeted by "a middle aged man, Richard Washington, a Widow Lady also lives here her name is Alexander. We were kindly recd. and conducted through the large and splendid furnished rooms. The walls are almost covered with life size Paintings of the Washingtons Custises etc. They have also many relics in the house from Genl. Washington himself....The estate comprises almost 1000 acres of land."
Shortly before mustering out of the service at the end of September, Breneman participated in several battles, including that of Berryville on September 5. The last letter in the archive, dated September 9, Breneman provided a brief description of the engagement. "Last Monday our Reg. with two others where [sic] sent out to feel the enemys position. We had not gone more than a mile from camp when we met their skirmishers. The ball soon opened and firing commenced on both sides quite lively. We however dislodged them and after driving them back as far as was deemed safe for our small force to go up again returned to camp. The casualties in our Reg were two killed and five wounded."
The archive is accompanied by a typescript history of the 47th Regiment, 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and information on Breneman. Breneman's masonic apron and various images are also present.
Condition: The letters and documents are stored in 3-ring binders; overall condition is very good.
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