41 year old Colonel Luther Bradley of the 51st Illinois wrote a letter home to his sister on December 24, 1863, 150 years ago today. His regiment was a part of the Army of the Cumberland, and had taken part in the grand fight at Missionary Ridge just one month prior. Colonel Bradley had missed out on the Battle of Missionary Ridge, because of wounds received at Chickamauga two months before. Bradley's letter home tells of a soldier's desire to see an end to the bloodshed, and hope of peace on earth and good will toward men. The upcoming year, however, would be far from peaceful, and by next Christmas, Bradley's regiment had suffered many losses in the Atlanta Campaign. A part of Charles Harker's brigade, the 51st Illinois took part in the charge on Confederate lines at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. Bradley himself assumed command of his brigade that day, as Brigadier General Charles Harker was mortally wounded during the fight. By Christmas 1864, Bradley was a Brigadier General, and the war was not yet done...
Col. Luther Bradley
My dear Buel,
This is the most beautiful Christmas Eve I ever saw. Clear bright moonlight and warm enough to sing carols without taking cold. One year ago today we started on the march which ended with the battle of Stones River. I hope we shall have a quieter New Years than the last. I had begn to think there was a leak in the mail bag for until I got your letter of the 13th I had not heard from home but once since leaving Nashville—Just now a band in an adjoining camp is playing “When this cruel war is over”, and I feel like (echoing) it with all my heart. I hope that next Christmas will see us all at home again.
Yesterday General Thomas offered e the command of a column of 3,000 men and a long train of Wagons going to Knoxville. But as it was to be a long trip of 10 or 12 days, which the prospect of fording streams every day and being pretty constantly wet I declined it. The first time I have ever asked to be relieved from any duty in the field. So you see, I am getting prudent.
As my regiment is at Knoxville and little prospect of its returning I shall join it by steam boat in a few days. I quite like the idea of mutering there as there is nothing of interest doing her and we can return in time for the spring campaign.
Chattanooga is simply a huge entrenched camp and for some time will be poorly supplied with rations. My Christmas dinner will be a piece of smoked bacon and hard crackers, with perhaps a potatoe.
Many a man here will not have so liberal a spread as this.
Col. Davis is getting along but slowly. He is suffering terribly from the injury to the bone and nerves of the leg and this keeps him down. He lacks the muscular power to withstand the drain on the system occasioned by wounds. He will get well but I doubt if he has a sound leg in a long time. I shall try and get him off to Nashville before I go as he has friends there who will take excellent care of him and he will be altogether more comfortable there than he can be here. He often speaks of you all and wishes to be kindly remembered. He may call on his way home in a few weeks.
Enclosed I send a letter which I found here on my return and which I think you will like to read. I need not tell you that I have answered the request contained in it. You may keep the letter for me.
So you are glad I was not at “Mission Ridge” that’s mean of you. It was the finest thing that has been done during the war and I’d not have missed it for a hole in my jacket. I have been to see all my wounded boys in the hospital and when they say, “Oh! Col. You ought to have been at Mission Ridge” I feel envious of their pride. You should see their eyes glisten when they tell of it.
A Merry Christmas to you all.
With love and remembrance,