Bridgman, Edward Payson, 1834-
Rank : Pvt.
Regiment : 37th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Co. G (1862-1865)
Service : 1862 August 15-1865 June 21
The son of a Congregationalist minister from Northampton, Mass., Edward P. Bridgman traveled to Kansas in 1856 to join John Brown's free-staters. Evidently highly committed to the abolition movement, Bridgman had the misfortune to arrive just in time for Brown's defeat at the Battle of Osawatomie in May, acting as nurse following the defeat. Shortly thereafter he returned home to Massachusetts.
After a serious illness had passed, Bridgman next settled his mind on furthering his education, but lacking any immediate living family, was forced to rely upon the financial assistance of friends. He was able to remain two years at his father's alma mater, Williams, before leaving to accept a teaching position at the Center School in Westhampton. In August, 1862, though, he quit teaching after becoming infected with the patriotic fever and volunteered to serve with Co. G of the 37th Massachusetts Infantry.
Devout, but never preachy, honest, but not above "foraging" from the citizenry, and throughout, reliable and uncomplaining, Bridgman appears to have been an ideal soldier. The 37th Massachusetts joined the Army of the Potomac just after the Battle of Antietam, and entered their first major battle at Fredericksburg in December. Brigaded under the command of Charles Devens, the 37th was among the first regiments to cross the Rappahannock on the Union left flank, and was among the last to leave the field during the retreat after the failure of the second day of the battle.
Many years later, the memory of the defeat at Fredericksburg and the dreary winter quarters near Falmouth remained with Bridgman, a memory worsened by the humiliation and frustration of the "mud march" in February, and the jeers that rained down upon the army rather than bullets. The attempt on Fredericksburg was renewed under Joe Hooker in May, 1863, and the 37th Massachusetts (in VI Corps) aided in the capture of Marye's Heights, before again tasting defeat at the Battle of Chancellorsville. The following month, the regiment crossed the Rappahannock for a fifth time, and followed Lee's Army to the confrontation at Gettysburg where Bridgman's regiment was posted at the southern end of the Union lines. As he had in several other battles, Bridgman drew upon his Kansas experiences and served as "self-appointed nurse" for the sick and wounded.
After Gettysburg, the 37th Massachusetts was ordered to New York City to help restore order after the draft riots. Despite the hostility of the populace, it appears that the regiment suffered comparatively little in the city. Bridgman's experiences following his return to Virginia in October and a second frustrating winter of inactivity, however, more than made up for the lull. In May,1864, he wrote, "We knew the hour for an onward movement was near at hand. Every man could feel it in the deathly stillness of the air. There was an indefinable something that became an assured knowledge that we were to have a terrible experience" (p. 67). The 37th Massachusetts shortly entered a murderous stretch of warfare that included the Battle of the Wilderness, the angle at Spotsylvania (after which regiment reduced to 311 effectives of 1,000 who left Pittsfield), and Cold Harbor. With almost no rest, in July, they were sent chasing after Jubal Early to Washington and then to the Shenandoah Valley, where they were engaged at both Opequon Creek (3rd Winchester) and Cedar Creek.
In December, the regiment was sent back to the Petersburg-Richmond front where they finished out their service eventfully. The 37th took part in the Battle of Five Forks (while Bridgman was on a two-week furlough), the assault on Fort Fisher, and the Appomattox Campaign. Bridgman returned home to Massachusetts after the war, and later emigrated to Antigo, Wisconsin, where he was living in 1894-95.