William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan
Finding aid for
Edward P. Bridgman Autobiography, 1894-1895
James S. Schoff Civil War CollectionFinding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, October 1994
Edward P. Bridgman autobiography
Bridgman, Edward Payson, 1834-
The Bridgman "autobiography" consists of a typescript of a long series of letters sent by Edward P. Bridgman to a cousin, which form a continuous, sometimes rambling narrative of Bridgman's life from the time he travelled to Kansas in 1856 through the end of the Civil War.
The material is in English.
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open to research.
Copyright status is unknown.
Acquired with the James B. Pond papers in 1994.
Edward P. Bridgman Autobiography, James B. Pond Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
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.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The Bridgman "autobiography" consists of a typescript of a long series of letters sent by Edward P. Bridgman to a cousin (?), Sidney, between June 10th, 1894 and April 9th, 1895. The letters were transcribed by another relative, Frank, and form a continuous, sometimes rambling narrative of Bridgman's life from the time he traveled to Kansas in 1856 through the end of the Civil War.
Written retrospectively, almost 30 years after the end of the war, many of the details of Bridgman's service have been lost, yet he manages to display a strong, if somewhat selective memory for anecdotes and for the emotions of the events that remained in his dreams for so many years. "As I look over some of my army letters," he wrote, "and Bowen's history [of the regiment], march after march and camp after camp are an utter blank to me. But the terrible battle scenes are stamped vividly in my recollection; they can never be forgotten" (p. 42). A fine writer with a gentle sense of humor, Bridgman's letters offer an interesting insight into the way that selective memory and time shaped veterans' experiences of the Civil War. The battles, numerous as they were, form the focus of the narrative, but the suffering faces of the dead and wounded and the small pranks he played assume almost equal prominence.
Bridgman's descriptions of the battles in which he was engaged tend to be somewhat generalized, but the emotional impact of these events clearly remained strong with him. His descriptions of the costly capture of Marye's Heights during the Chancellorsville Campaign, of the battle of Chancellorsville itself, and of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Campaigns are noteworthy. Always, his letters make for engrossing reading, whether he is writing about wormy hardtack, lice, making beds, drinking tainted water from the mouth of a dead mule, or doing battle. Because he served intermittently, unofficially, as a nurse and surgeon for his regiment, Bridgman also provides several brief, but powerful accounts of medical care, the wounded and the dead.
- United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Campaigns.
- United States. Army. Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, 37th (1862-1865). Company G.
- Brown, John, 1800-1859.
- Chancellorsville, Battle of, Chancellorsville, Va., 1863.
- Spotsylvania Court House, Battle of, Va., 1864.
- Wilderness, Battle of the, Va., 1864.
- Wounded soldiers.
- United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
- United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care.
Additional Descriptive Data
The Edward Bridgman autobiography is housed within the James B. Pond papers. James Pond, who also served with John Brown in Kansas, collected several reminiscences of the war and may have been acquainted with Bridgman.
Bridgman, Edward Payson and Luke Fisher Parsons. With John Brown in Kansas; the Battle of Osawatomie. Madison, Wis., J.N. Davidson, 1915.
Amicicide.Amputation.Antietam National Battlefield (Md.)Antietam, Battle of, 1862.Bedding.Beecher, Henry Ward, 1813-1887.Brown, John, 1800-1859.Burials.Camps (Military)--Massachusetts.Camps (Military)--Virginia.Catholic Church.Cedar Creek, Battle of, 1864.Chancellorsville Campaign, 1863.Chancellorsville, Battle of, 1863.Child rearing.Clapp, George.Coffee.Cold Harbor, Battle of, 1864.Conduct of life.Cookery, Military.Dead.
Death.Dogs.Draft Riot, N.Y., N.Y., 1863.Enemy--Relations.Entrenchments.Erie Canal (N.Y.)Father and son.Food.Fredericksburg, Battle of, 1862.Friendship.Funeral rites and ceremonies.Gettysburg Campaign, 1863.Gettysburg, Battle of, 1863.Grant, Ulysses S., 1822-1885.Harper's Ferry (W.Va.)Homesickness.Jackson, Stonewall, 1824-1863.Kansas--History--1854-1861.Lice.Marches--Maryland.Marches--Virginia.Memory.Migration, Internal--Ohio.Mud March, Va., 1863.Mules.Nurses.Omens.Osawatomie, Battle of, 1856.Sedgwick, John, 1813-1864.Shenandoah Valley Campaign, 1864 August-November.Sheridan, Philip Henry, 1831-1888.Slavery--Anti-slavery movements.Soldiers--Conduct of life.Soldiers--Death.
- p. 77, 79, 87, 92-93, 106
Soldiers--Religious life.Spotsylvania Campaign, 1864.Steamboats--Accidents.Temperance.Thanksgiving Day.United States Christian Commission.United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African Americans.United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care.United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Peace.United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Women.United States. Army--Enlistment.United States. Army--Surgeons.Wadsworth, James Samuel, 1807-1864.War .Washington, D.C.--Raid, 1864.Wilderness, Battle of, 1864.Winchester, 3rd Battle of, Va., 1864.Wounded soldiers.
- p. 46, 68-69, 74, 77, 79, 92-94, 96, 101