Category Archives: Avoiding Military Service

1865: Coles Jackson Brown to James B. Brown

This letter was written by Coles “Jackson” Brown (1815-1895), the son of Abram Brown (1777-1862) and Mary Purdy (1783-1873) of Putnam county, New York. Coles was married to Sarah Mary Cowl (1811-1894) in January 1836 and worked as a carpenter in Putnam county, New York, until sometime in the 1850s when he became a farmer in Burns township, Henry county, Illinois.

I feel certain that Jackson wrote the letter to his son, James B. Brown (b. 1844) who enlisted on 9 August 1862 as a private in Co. D, 112th Illinois Infantry (though there seems to be some discrepancy between his census record age and his enlistment record age). James served his full three years, mustering out at Greensboro, North Carolina, on 20 June 1865. In his letter, Jackson responds to his son’s complaint about not getting any letters from home by informing him that: “Well, it is not that there has not any been sent for we send one every week. I think you will get a big mail if you ever get the half of what letters that have ben sent to you.” Of course the 112th Illinois was engaged in the Carolina Campaign at that time and mail was slow to catch up with the regiment.

Coles Jackson Brown, ca. 1865


[Henry county, Illinois]
March 26th 1865

Dear James,

I now take a few moments to write a few lines to you to let you know that we are all well and enjoying good health. You say you get no letters from home. Well it is not that there has not any been sent for we send one every week. I think you will get a big mail if you ever get the half of what letters that have ben sent to you. Well this will do for this time.

Vails folks have broken up. The old man 1 is going East. Sarah teaches in Kewanee this summer. Mrs. Vail is a going to live in Kewanee. Ed Furst 2 sold the place a few days before he was to make the dead out. The chap backed out. They had a sale which amount to about $1500.

Benjamin has got home from court. That woman Mrs. [Mary] Ferris who shot William Pike had her trial. 3 It occupied nine days. She was cleared. I suppose you heard of the prisoners breaking jail about four weeks before court time. They had caught two but the two that was in for murder, they have not yet been found. There were Irishmen. They killed a man in Annawan.

Samuel and Artemas, ca. 1865

Smith has moved. Parker is a going to build this side of the first holler south of ours. This will get to be a nice street if we ever should build a house and Jonathan should build too. Oh, I must tell you before I forget it, Sam[uel J.] Murphy is married to a Miss [Artemas] Welland 4—a renter on Feslar’s place. Murphy bought a half section of land up of Suthard—paid six thousand dollars. I think he must be some in debt. Also one of 120 acres in Iowa.

Emmaline starts for this place one week from tomorrow. She may be here before this reaches you. It is reported that George is to be married. We do not know how true it is nor to who. Jim don’t come nigh us at all. He has rented Bill Henry Conner’s farm. Bill went away to avoid the draft but has since got back.

This town has been trying to fill her quota by buying men and having them credited to the town. They raised eleven thousand dollars. Because they lacked about $1300, they came home and paid about all of the money back. They have made about four or five efforts to raise men and failed each time. Now I believe they are a going to show bonds on the town and raise the men. This town had 36 men to raise. Burns [township] has put in nine which she thought would be more than her quota but Cambridge got the credit for the men that we had ought to have had credit for. Cambridge had 9 men to furnish. It comes hard on Burns. It takes about one in every three. I think it will take more for there will be a great many that will go away and stay till the draft is passed. Then will return.

George Hamilton 5 has been gone for two or three weeks. I believe he is in Indiana. There has been five left they say last week so you see how patriotic folks are. Rosco is doing first rate. Grows some. Fly and Daisy make a nice little team but I think it best to sell them if they will fetch anything nigh what they are worth. They are small and always will be small. As they are matched, they will I think fetch all they are worth.

Write whenever you can. We have had awful wet and cold weather. We have done nothing yet this spring. I believe I have give you all the news. I remain as ever yours &c., — Coles J. Brown

1 I believe Jackson is referring to Alexander Vail (1804-1894) who lived for a time in Burns township, Henry county, Illinois, with his wife, Sarah Marie Sebring (1805-1867). When Alexander went back to his home state of New Jersey, Sarah remained in Kewanee and taught school to earn income. She died two years later in 1867, her youngest child then 20 years old.

2 Edward Furst (1834-1905) was a German emigrant, his surname actually spelled Fuerst. He was married to Louise Krouse.

3 Information about the trial can be found in the following Evening Argus newspaper article (interesting). Click to enlarge.

4 Samuel J. Murphy (1843-1902) grew up in Washington county, Pennsylvania. He married forst Julia Artemus Welland (1843-1874). After her death he married Julia Florence Hill (1848-1884).

5 George W. Hamilton (b. 1843) was the son of William Hamilton, a farmer in Burns township, Henry county, Illinois. George was one of the local boys identified by name that Jackson claimed had left the state in order to avoid the military draft. He was enumerated back in Burns township at the time of the 1865 State Census in July.

1862: Unidentified to James Reed Burchett

Not holding back, this vitriolic attack on James Reed Burchett of Salem, Virginia, reveals just how cruelly some citizens—or soldiers suspected of “playing off”—could be treated if they did not pick up the musket in the defense of their country’s “rights.” I’ve seen similar sentiments expressed in letters by Union soldiers but this is the first time I’ve seen it written by a soldier wearing the butternut.

Military records indicate that James R. Burchett enlisted on 4 June 1861 at Salem in Co. E, 42nd Virginia Infantry, but he was mustered out six weeks later at Lynchburg. James died single at the age of 25 on 28 August 1864 while attending school at Roanoke College. The cause of death was said to be typhoid fever. His death record identifies him as “Soldier and Student.”

The letter is not dated by I suspect it was written sometime in 1862 as that was the first year that the Confederate government introduced the draft.

[This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and is transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Mr. Burchett,

As I sit musing upon the past, my thoughts settled upon one prominent subject and that was of you not taking a part in defense of our country’s rights. I am indeed truly sorry that the Southern Confederacy holds such as you. I have heard of you frequently, You talked very extravagantly when the first volunteers were called out. To hear of you, I thought you would be the first to go into service. But alas! it was all talk.

It was thought when the militia was called, you would certainly be dragged out. But you even lied out of that. I declare, it is shameful. I understand you were almost frightened to death when the militia was called out. How are you getting along by this time? But I suppose very well since you have led enough to get a discharge. It surprised me when I heard that you fitified 1 (Poor soul, how I pity you. I fear you will have to be sent to the lung asylum).

As for my part, I would rather be a soldier than to have every person, old and young, pointing at me and shunning my company whenever they possibly could do so. I suppose you have not forgotten the time when you visited Manassas & there was not noticed by even your old schoolmates, and when asked to join that company your reply was you was going to volunteer & I suppose did. But after joining a company you got some unprincipled person to go to the physician & lie you off (a disgraceful act). I would much rather gone into the army than to lie out and have everybody in the country laughing about such shameful acts.

But I do not suppose you care for anyone. I reckon you think nothing won’t make against such a wealthy intelligent young man as you think you certainly are. I swear that you are the only person that thinks of your qualification as being anything more than any fitifed other persons. I have heard it spoken of as if you was going to marry soon. I hope you will get a lady that will take care of you when in your insane condition. Some say that they think if you would of told the [Draft] Board that you was going to marry that would of been a better excuse. If will so allow me as I am anxious to hear from you to ask it of you, how many fits have you had lately. It is reported in camp that you have gotten entirely over them. I hope it may be true as I received a letter some time since and in that letter a person that knew you well told me that your disease was a hereditary one—that she knew your grandma and she was in your fix—that is, she had something of the same nature as you have—spells of insanity. I hope when you get married, you will come out and try the Yankees a shot or two.

If you ever have an idea of joining any company, I would be glad if you would join this company as there are several of your friends that belong to this company that will take care of you if you should have any of your fits in their presence. I will advise you to marry if you have a chance to do so for after the war is over & peace is made and we all get home, some of the boys will try to cut you out & as you say you have spasms, they probably would take the advantage of you in some way or another. As you know, some persons will take the advantage of a poor, fitified person as you profess to be.

As I fear my letter will not be interesting, I will close by sending your dearest dear my never dying respects & love. One of your old friends. Yours respectfully. [no signature]

Write soon as I wish to hear from you.

1 Afflicted with fits.