The papers include a diary, 11/4/1862 - 6/21/1863, two letters (signed W.D. Brackett, Jr.), 12/22/1862 and 5/15, 17/1863 and one partial letter, ca. 1862-63 documenting Brackett’s service as a private in the 45th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment in eastern North Carolina, including the battles of White Hall and Goldsborough Bridge.
Brackett’s diary begins with him leaving Boston on a steamer to North Carolina. His entries are usually brief, but do offer many details of the weather, military life and other events occurring around him. Military ships mentioned during the journey include MISSISSIPPI, MERRIMACK, ALABAMA, SAXON, the steamer THOS. SPARKS and the gunboat HURON. Of particular interest, are Brackett’s detailed observations of the surrounding landscape and structures as his ship reaches North Carolina. In one entry, he mentions seeing a plantation once owned “by Gen R.D. Spaight, one of the former governors of North Carolina.” In the back of the diary, Brackett included a list of soldiers in the 45th, as well as a chart illustrating how the 45th was formed from other militias.
The earliest letter (12/22/1862) was written to “Dear Friends at home” by Brackett from Camp Amory on the Trent River in North Carolina. He mentions that on December 12 his militia began marching towards “Kingston” (Kinston) from “Newbern” (New Bern). He goes on to describe in relatively sharp detail such subjects as the soldiers’ movement and actions, also including a small sketch by him representing their position. Also mentioned are camp life and other regiments encountered, as well as various skirmishes and battles. Brackett describes dead and dying Confederate soldiers and mentions “White-hall,” adding that the “niggers call it Jerico.” Also mentioned are the railroad bridge at “Goldsborough” (Goldsboro), a Confederate lieutenant burned alive and the Union band playing Yankee Doodle. Brackett also offers details of how comrades died, including an account of a fellow soldier shot during a conversation with him. Also found are details of prisoners taken “that are mostly South Carolinians.” Among the details of prisoners are descriptions of dress and attitudes. Also mentioned are one hundred prisoners taken by Brackett’s regiment. He explains that his regiment took their weapons and disposed of them because they were not worth keeping, later paroling the prisoners after they took an oath of allegiance to the Union. Also of importance are details of houses and plantations, including the house of W.H. Grist and an estate that belonged to Colonel John Williams. Much of the letter also deals with the task of foraging for food. Brackett mentions eating a hoecake that was forcibly “baked by a nigger,“ and a “farm house with plenty of corn and potatoes and a horse and a man, woman and boy.” He also mentions coming upon a plantation and seeing one of his fellow soldiers “and 20 niggers chasing pigs, got 9 pigs.” He states “everything eatable was game, even the negro cabins,” and that most slaves were gone from the plantation, as the plantation owners took only their best slaves and left behind their old ones and slave children. Brackett also reflects on his attitude toward the war, stating, “The trouble is this war can never be settled by bullets until our folks are more severe. The only way is to burn & destroy as we go…..,” and “The only way to do it is for every man north to give up business and pleasures and come and join us…The Rebels cannot fight us on equal ground, but they always select their own ground and so it takes 6 of our men to whip 4 of theirs.”
The other letter (5/15 and 5/17/1863), not specifically addressed to anyone, was written by Brackett from Camp Massachusetts near Newbern (New Bern), North Carolina. In this letter Brackett mentions city versus camp life, noting the number of graves of those dying in the city being buried near soldiers’ graves and describes the graves. He also talks about assigned duties and leisure time, including gambling parties after soldiers get their pay. Also mentioned are day-to-day routines, local conditions, alluding to being in the company of “so many niggers,” and the weather. He also writes of health issues, including the fact that he himself suffered from a mild form of diarrhea. Also of importance is the mention of differences in regiments, in particularly their supply of clothing, and noting that among them are drafted Pennsylvanians who constructed log homes. Also of interest, Brackett describes soldiers participating in target practice at nearby forts resulting in the injury of soldiers outside the fort, camped nearby. Other news mentioned includes the ‘ADAMS’ EXPRESS schooner’s shipment being halted, the mail boat DUDLEY BUCK and Brackett’s knowledge of other major battles learned from newspapers obtained.
The partial letter (ca. 1862-1863) is undated, but appears to be in Brackett’s handwriting. The letter describes the soldier’s life in the military. He discusses a few things about the war, stating, “The old troops say they never will cross the river again to fight in front of these batteries. There has been a rumor that there was to be an armistice but I don’t believe it. I don’t believe there will be much more fighting,” He also mentions waiting on a package that has not arrived, individuals named Hildreth, Charlie Ames, Hitchcock and also the 21st Massachusetts.
For related materials, see also Foster’s Goldsboro Expedition Collection, #816.