Fanny Lee: Girl Soldier in the Civil War

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Letter written by Fanny Lee, Bradford Family Collection

Fanny Lee, whose real name was Fannie E. Chamberlain, was one of the hundreds of women who enlisted to fight in the Civil War. She was 18 when she disguised herself as a boy and joined the 6th Ohio Cavalry alongside her cousin, George. She would have seen action in Virginia during the winter of 1863-1864.

It is unclear how she was discovered, or even her full story. Fanny seemed to be an expert at subterfuge. She told Charlotte and Lucia Bradford, nurses from Duxbury, that she was Fanny Lee, a war widow with no friends. They seemed to believe she was forced to leave the Army once her ruse was discovered. Lucia wrote in her notes, “a young woman taken from the army is sent here by the Provost Marshall.” However,  The Daily Ohio Statesman, a Columbus, OH, newspaper, claimed “she announced herself, disgusted with life as a trooper.” Whether she left of her own accord or was accidentally discovered, she was ill at the time and needed care. Not able to be treated at an all-male Union Army Hospital, she was sent to the United States Sanitary Commission’s Home for Wives and Mothers. It was here she met matron Charlotte Bradford and her sister, Lucia.

Fanny wanted to become a nurse and continue to serve her country, but the US Army wanted nothing more to do with a woman who had so “unsexed herself.” Once well enough to travel, she returned to Ohio. Shortly thereafter, Charlotte received a letter from her former patient. Fanny, with her hair growing out, had traded in her soldiers uniform for good and married John J. Butts in Summit, Ohio on July 28, 1864.

In her letter she wrote, “The soldier girl is now a soldier for life in the Brigade of
Matrimony.”

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Excerpt from Fanny’s (Fannie) Letter

The full transcription follows:

[illegible] Summit Co Ohio
August 20th 1864

Dear Friend

I wrote to you soon after I returned but receiving no answer I came to the conclusion that you had not received it I wrote twice to Mrs. Doresay before I received an answer. I have just received one form her in which she says it is the first time she has heard from me. I am now married to a young man of my acquaintance here I will send you a paper with my…[missing page]

…in the man for whom I procured a discharge is my cousin. I have often thought of you dear friend and of your sister and the many kind friends in Washington. I feel that I am greatly indebted to the Sanitary Commission and the kind people connected with it.

I have lost all my hair and the new has come out to about a inch long it is so very dark so almost as it was colored all the time of my masquerade in soldier attire. The weather is considerable cooler here then in Washington. I am very anxious to hear from you please write all the news I would like to know if any body was there to see me after I went away. Has Mrs. Vassar been there if there is any letters there for me please send them to my present address.

I hope you will write soon and not wait as long as I have it was not my fault for I wrote to you before I wrote six or seven letters and sent them to the Post-Office by a boy and I think now that he never mailed them at all. I am in better health than I was when I left Washington. Give my love to your sister and remember me to all my acquaintances there. Tell Mr. Wood that I never shall forget their kindness, do not forget to remember me to Valentine. I must now close my letter hoping it will find you all well as it leaves me. From you war loving friend.

Fanny E. Butts

P.S. You see that Lee was only an assumed name. You will see by the paper what my real name is.

Yours Truly
Fannie Lee

The soldier girl is now a soldier for life in the Brigade of Matrimony. Do you have as much fun or noise there as when I was there I suppose Mrs. Cornwall was glad to get rid of me.

Fannie

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News of Lincoln’s Assasination in the Drew Archival Library

New York Herald, April 15, 1865. Bradford Family Collection.

New York Herald, April 15, 1865. Bradford Family Collection.

One hundred and fifty years ago today, April 15, 1865, many American’s awoke to the news that President Lincoln had been shot in Ford’s Theater the night before. In the Drew Archives’ collections we have a number of journals and letters that speak of this tragic event. Some written days after, when the news finally filtered to those far afield. Lincoln’s death was devastating to many Northerners, especially coming so close on the heels of the joyous celebrations following the surrender at Appomattox.

Captain Edward Baker was at sea when the assassination occurred. His journal entry for the April 15th, not surprisingly, makes no mention of the shooting. On April 19th Baker and his crew received papers bearing the news of Lee’s surrender ten days before. Baker wrote, “such glorious news is almost overpowering. My greatest desire, to tell the truth, was to go away by myself and have a long hearty cry, that was the way I was affected.”  After this entry, the pages in this journal were full. His next journal entry begins in a new book and is dated April 24th, 1865:

Capt. Edward Baker diary page, April 1865. Capt. Edward Baker Collection.

Capt. Edward Baker diary page, April 1865. Capt. Edward Baker Collection.

“This day our souls have been harrowed up as seldom in a lifetime, as great national calamities affect people. The “Katahdin” came in with her flag at half mast, and we soon learned that Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated!!! Shot through the head, in Ford’s theatre!! Secretary Seward while lying on a sick bed, had his throat cut, but he was no killed…a terrible and overwhelming affair.”

Like Captain Baker, brothers Gershom and Laurence Bradford did not hear of the tragedy on the 15th, but days later. Twenty-three year old Laurence was in the Navy and had spent April 15th in Richmond, VA, witnessing the somber mood of the citizens of that Southern capitol as General Lee rode through the streets. On the 16th Laurence visited Fort Darling and made no mention of the President’s death. It wasn’t until days later that he learned exactly what had occurred:

Journal of Laurence Bradford, Bradford Family Collection

Journal of Laurence Bradford, Bradford Family Collection

“Sailed for Fortress Monroe where we arrived on the morning of the 17th. Carried down orders for every vessel to commence and fire a gun every half hour from sunrise to sunset, in honor of the president.

April 18, 1865 Tuesday. First got the particulars of the president’s death – that he was assassinated by J W Booth in Ford’s theatre Washington.”

Laurence described the scene in Norfolk, VA on April19th, the day of Lincoln’s funeral:

“the city was draped in mourning – everywhere was the grief of the people apparent in sorrow for the death, and in respect for the memory – of this preserver of the Republic. Whose confidence in his abilities and admiration for his character, had twice given him their greatest gift.”

Gershom Bradford, Laurence’s older brother, served in the U. S. Coastal Survey during the Civil War. From April 15th – 18th Gershom was busy repairing vessels and doing other assigned tasks in South Carolina. On the 19th, in Charleston Harbor, he wrote the following mention in his pocket diary:

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Gershom Bradford II Journal, Bradford Family Collection

“Heard of President’s death. Minute guns fired.”

Charlotte Bradford was the Matron of the United States Sanitary Commission’s Home for Wives and Mothers in Washington, DC when she received the news. She did not record events every day, so it is not surprising that it took her over a week before she wrote of Lincoln’s death:

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Diary of Charlotte Bradford (2), Bradford Family Collection

“April 28. The President murdered and buried. I believe there never has been a person so universally lamented. All the black material in the city used in a few hours to drape the houses. Immense crowds to see the body and at the funeral. In N. York there were said to be 150,000 went in to look at the corpse.”

Finally, in a letter dated April 30th, Eden Sampson of Duxbury wrote to his son, Sgt. Horace E. Sampson, of the death of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth:

Excerpt from Eden Sampson Letter, April 30, [1865], Cushman Family Collection

Excerpt from Eden Sampson Letter, April 30, [1865], Cushman Family Collection

“That Damned Scamp of a Booth has come to his end and I am glad he is dead. If he had bin cort alive he wold have cost the Country a pile money so that thing settled up on a square…”

More on the Bradford Cookbook

Lucia Alden Bradford (1807-1893).

Lucia Alden Bradford (1807-1893).

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

I have mentioned the19th century cookbook (c. 1860-1890) created by Lucia Alden Bradford and her sisters in this blog before, but I couldn’t resist bringing it out once again.[1]  It is such a wonderful piece of history – a compilation of popular recipes copied from a variety of sources, including neighbors and the Ladies Almanac. The book is meticulously laid out, with chapters for Cakes and Puddings, Meats, Vegetables and “other useful Receipts of various kinds.” There is even an index.  I can only imagine the creation of this little book was a labor of love – gathering and organizing the many snippets of paper and magazine clippings that had accumulated over a lifetime.  When a recipe originated with a friend, her name is properly given.  The writing is mostly in Lucia’s neat and recognizable penmanship. Some recipes were obviously added later and these are written in the loose scrawl of a hand that had seen almost ninety years of use.

I could not tell you my favorite recipe. I am not a great cook and many of the ingredients are foreign to my modern eyes (and taste buds). In many instances there are no cooking directions as we’d expect to find today – no oven settings or baking times. Of course, 19th century hearths and later wood stoves didn’t come with temperature gauges or timers so cooks had to know their own equipment. Other recipes are incredibly explicit, e.g. I feel confident I could cure a ham if I had a freshly slaughtered pig, a smokehouse and about two months.

There is one recipe that stood out from all the others on this rainy day – Coffee. Americans today require their coffee to come at them quickly, waiting for a cup of Joe is a thing of the past. Who under the age of forty even remembers coffee percolating on the stove or could now suffer the more than ten minutes it took for it to boil and brew?  Imagine then, if creating Lucia Bradford’s perfect cup was part of your morning routine:

Coffee recipe from Bradford Cookbook

Coffee recipe from Bradford Cookbook

“For Making Coffee”

Beat an egg – 2 for a large pot & mix it well with the coffee till you have formed a ball – fill the pot with cold water allowing room enough for the ingredients – let it simmer very gently for an hour – do not stir it on any account – just before it is required put the pot on the fire & warm it well, but take care that it does not boil – pour it off gently & you will have a pure & strong extract of the coffee – use white sugar & cream if attainable, if not, boiled milk.

Enjoy!

[1] Lucia Alden Bradford (1807-1893) was the daughter of Capt. Gershom Bradford and Sarah Hickling Bradford. She, along with her three sisters – Maria (1803-1864), Elizabeth (1809-1890) and Charlotte (1813-1893) – was raised and learned to cook in the Bradford House on Tremont Street in Duxbury. Today the house is a museum owned by the Duxbury Rural & Historical Society.

Rare Photos of Boston’s Metropolitan Works, 1893

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

As our very large Bradford Family Collection continues to be processed, unexpected items come to light.  Today, as I was organizing the many photographs in the collection, I came across an envelope addressed to Laurence Bradford (1842-1909) containing twenty-five images depicting the building of a portion of the early sewage system on Deer Island. Many of the photographs are of the dredging of Shirley Gut.  As a civil engineer, Laurence Bradford worked on the project. He was part of the initial planning phase as early as 1888 and conducted hydrographic surveys around Deer Island.  He was also in charge of building the bulkhead and “of dredging and preparing the channel across the Gut for reception of the sewer pipe.”[1]

Diver H.W. Phillips at Shirley Gut with the Deer Island Alms House in background, Oct. 1893.

Diver H.W. Phillips at Shirley Gut with the Deer Island Alms House in background, Oct. 1893.

Deer Island, so called because of the deers that swam to safety on its shores when pursued by wolves, is actually no longer an island. It is a peninsula stretching into Boston Harbor from Winthrop. The Shirley Gut that had separated the island from the mainland was filled in by beach erosion during the devastating hurricane of 1938. Today it is home to the Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant. In 1893, however, when these photographs were taken, it was still best known for the large gothic-looking Alms House that loomed over the shoreline. The “deserving poor” of Boston began being ferried out to the island in 1853.  In 1896 the Alms House became Deer Island House of Correction (the prison was closed in 1991).

Center Section of Siphon at Shirley Gut, Oct. 1893

Center Section of Siphon at Shirley Gut, Oct. 1893

In April, 1893 the Board of Metropolitan Sewerage Commissioners received approval for plans to construct a sewer and siphon across the Shirley Gut between Point Shirley and Deer Island.  The photographs of this work are wonderful. It was obviously no small task to dredge and create this system. The image of the diver, H.W. Phillips, suited up in his primitive (and heavy) equipment, about to don his helmet, with the Alms House in the background, is particularly interesting. Of equal note are the workers and children sitting in the large center section of the siphon.

Mason lining the siphon pipes with brickwork before launching, Shirley Gut, July 1893.

Mason lining the siphon pipes with brickwork before launching, Shirley Gut, July 1893.

Laurence Bradford, the son of Rev. Claudius Bradford and Maria Weston Bradford, was one of the owners of the Duxbury Rural & Historical Society’s Bradford House, located at 931 Tremont Street, Duxbury.  He inherited the house after his aunts, Lucia and Charlotte Bradford, passed away in 1893 – coincidentally, the same year these photographs were taken.  Laurence and his wife, Hattie Phipps Bradford, used the family homestead only during the summer months. Their sons, Gershom and Edward Bradford, donated the home, its contents and its vast archival collection to the DRHS in 1968.

[1] Letter from H. A. Carson, Chief Engineer of Metropolitan Sewerage Commission to “Whom it May Concern,” Feb. 28, 1894. Bradford Family Collection, Drew Archival Library.