1862: Bedford Brown to Mary (Simpson) Brown

Though it is only signed “Bedford,” I feel certain this letter was written by 39 year-old Dr. Bedford Brown (1823-1897) of Caswell, North Carolina. Brown grew up on the Rose Hill Plantation, the son of US Senator and planter Bedford Brown (Sr.) (1795-1870) of Caswell county, North Carolina—a leader in the “States Rights” faction of the southern Democratic party and a close personal friend of Andrew Jackson. Sen. Brown was very much his own man, and stood toe to toe with John C. Calhoun on the floor of the Senate when their opinions differed. He has been eulogized as a man that was “true to his convictions in all with an idea that all white men were free and equal and though little lower than the angels perhaps were crowned with glory and honor from above.” [The Times (Richmond, Va), 14 Sep 1897, emphasis added]

I could not find an image of Bedford wearing his uniform but here is William R. Hughes who was a surgeon in the 31st North Carolina. He’s wearing a short military jacket and a NC Belt Plate.

Young Bedford was tutored by the same schoolmaster as Robert E. Lee. At age 21, he was sent to Lexington, Kentucky, to read medicine with Dr. Benjamin Dudley, graduated at Transylvania University, and also from Jefferson College in Philadelphia in 1854. He was married to Mary Elizabeth Simpson (1827-1907) in 1852 and by the time this letter was written in 1862, the couple had at least four children, though only two were still living. After practicing medicine in Albemarle and Fauquier counties, Dr. Brown went back to his father’s plantation but when the war began, he offered his services as a surgeon in the 24th North Carolina Regiment and was assigned to Floyd’s Brigade, serving in West Virginia. Then he was assigned to “Gen. Gustavus Smith’s staff and later surgeon of Daniel’s Brigade. He served under Gen. Lee and Gen. Stonewall Jackson as well, and during the latter part of the war had to leave the service though he was long inspector of camps and hospitals in North Carolina and thereabouts.” After the war he settled and opened a practice in Alexandria, Virginia.

This letter was written just after Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia—including Brown’s former regiment, the 24th North Carolina—had been turned back at Antietam and were being driven back (some would say allowed to retreat) “with thousands of sick, wounded & broken down men straggling” into Virginia. In his letter, Brown acknowledges his wife’s plea for him to consider taking advantage of the Exemption Bill which came to be called the controversial “Twenty-Slave Law.” Brown reminds her that the Bill was not yet a law (it passed the Confederate Congress on 11 October 1862) but does not hint further whether he would consider exempting himself. We know from his service record that he did not.

See also: Bedford Brown tar Healer


Near Drury’s Bluff
September 27th 1862

My own sweet & precious wife,

Your very dear & treasured letter of the 23rd inst. came to me promptly last night. Your letters, dearest one, are very precious to me. Their tone, style & expressions remind me so much of her who is so fondly treasured by me. Indeed, my own sweet Mollie, your tender & loving letter afford me exquisite pleasure. They make my heart leap and bound with delightful emotions of sympathetic love and fondness. The the happy, very happy information that “All” were well. That “All” means really “All.” It is in truth all to me. It is the all with which my fond & devoted heart is snapped up with. It is the very sum and substance of my happiness. All of the trust, fondest and best feelings of my heart are concentrated & treasured up in that “all.”

Since my last, our regiment has returned & our camp is once more all life & activity. The evenness in the amount of sickness is very considerable since their return. I regret to say that by some outrageous mismanagement, my valuable horse was foundered badly and will not be fit for service for many weeks, if at all. This annoyed me very greatly. It may render it necessary to purchase another.

My dearest, your very [n____dist] & delicate allusion to the “Exemption Act”—though it amused me—caused me at the same time to sympathize fully with my darling Mollie, in the hope that I might once more “lawfully” enjoy the sweets of her dear society. The Conscript Act is now a law. The Exemption Bill has not passed both houses. I have been a close observer of their progress & shall [be] very strongly tempted to take advantage of it, but it will not be long before we will be compelled to take up winter quarters permanently & if I remain in the army, I will have my darling little family with me. I still repeat, dearest, that you must be very careful of your precious self. My prayers and petitions, earnest & true prayers go up to our Father daily, that He will protect, shield, and conduct her with His omnipotent hand safely through all her trials, who is the treasure of my heart, & preserve her to me in future.

I was surprised to learn of the death of my old friend B. Guinn. As you say, I fear that he was taken away badly prepared to meet his maker.

One of our officers heard a rumor in Richmond this morning that our army was falling back from the Potomac. There is no doubt that our army is in a suffering condition. There being thousands of sick, wounded & broken down men straggling—our Northern Virginia in a starving condition. Now dearest one, may our Father manifestly spare thee to me, preserve our little darlings to us. Kiss them for me. My love to all at Pa’s. Respects to Miss N.

Ever dearest, your true & loving husband, — Bedford

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