These twelve letters were written by Brainard Rider (1836-1893) of Porter township, Rock county, Wisconsin. He enlisted as a corporal in Co. E, 33rd Wisconsin Infantry, on 21 August 1862 and mustered out of the service on 9 August 1865.
Brainard was born in Waitsfield, Washington county, Vermont. His parents were James Rider (1795-1871) and Sarah English (1794-1860). In 1860, Brainard’s father was residing in Westfield, Orleans county, Vermont, with three other sons — Elisha Rider (b. 1831), James S. Rider (b. 1827) and Guernsey Harris Rider (1837-1887). James enlisted in Co. H, 4th Vermont Infantry on 30 July 1863. He was killed on 5 May 1864 in the Battle of the Wilderness. Brainard survived the war and returned to farming in Wisconsin but never married.
All twelve letters were written to Miss Mary (“Minnie”) Therese Stebbins (1850-1915), the daughter of Harrison Stebbins (1820-1882) and Mary Arminda Bassett (1819-1901), who came from Westfield, Vermont, to Porter Township, Rock county, Wisconsin, in 1841. Minnie’s two siblings were Shapley Paddock Stebbins (1842-1916), and Flora Alma Stebbins (1853-1918). Minnie married Edwin Parker Savage (1846-1910).
The 33rd Wisconsin was placed in the First Brigade of the Fourth Division, joining the latter south of Oxford near Yocono Creek. They remained there until news of the disaster at Holly Springs reached them at which time they retreated to Moscow, Tennessee, and went into winter quarters while they guarded the Memphis and Charleston Railroad.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
February 28, 1863
I received your letter of February the 15th and was glad to hear from you and that you was well and having so good a time this winter. I wish that I was up there myself but that is out of the question. I have been a little sick for the last week but I am getting better now. The weather has been very rainy long back. When it rains, it drives right through the tent so it wets when it rains but we get along with that very well.
I shall have to tell how we live in the army now. We have a plenty to eat now. We draw some flour so that we make some biscuits and we have a plenty of fat pork. We fry the grease out of the [pork] and fry some nuts, cakes, and sometimes we get hold of some dried apples and then we have some pies. You may think that they are drold [?] pies but go first rate here in the army. And we draw some beans and rice [so we] make out first rate.
You wanted me to write to you and describe to you the country that I have marched over since we left Memphis. That would be a big job to do that but I [will] tell some things about it. The country from Memphis is a nice thing. It is covered with nice plantations and nice houses. The first town that we went through — I don’t know the name; I heard the name when we was there but could not remember the name ten minutes — it was a dirty town — not so big as Cooktown. The next town that we marched through — Chulahoma — that was about the same size of the other. Then we have been through some of the handsomest timbered [land] that I ever saw in my life. The trees are straight, handsome, and tall. Then there was a great many of the kind of trees that they call Holley. They look very nice. They are green all winter. They look very much like the Beech trees that grow in Vermont [and] butting them together, they look very nice.
But I will tell you of another kind of country that we have marched over. We have been through a very hilly country. The water has washed great deep gully holes that are [as] much as fifteen feet deep. I have had to march as much [as] fifteen rods on the edge of the gully where it was as much as fifteen feet deep. It most made my head swim. We marched through Oxford [Mississippi] — that is the nicest town that I ever was in [in] my life. It is about as large as Janesville [Wisconsin]. The houses are large and nice and the nicest yards you never saw — nice iron fences and the nicest kind of trees. They look like a sort of cedar. The branches are very thick. They are trimmed so that the tops is as round and run to a peak at the top. The whole thing looks nice.
Holly Springs [Mississippi] was a very nice place that was some larger than Oxford. There was nice large houses there and nice fine yards and iron fences there. I was there before the rebels [led by Van Dorn] went into the town [and] destroyed so much of it. I went there as a wagon guard. They went there for provisions. Then after that we marched to Holly Springs. We stayed there about ten days. The two last nights that we stayed there was great nights with the soldiers. They was burning buildings all night long. It looked as if the whole town was on fire. The sight looked nice.
I shall have to tell [you about] the march that we had when we left the city. We left about eight o’clock at night. The road was very muddy and very dark. We traveled ten miles that night. The road was very rough and the boys would fall down in the mud, then they would get up and swear like blazes. I did not fall down but I did swear some and I think that Preacher [Henry] Sewell would have said some hard words. And then we stopped about twelve o’clock at night, tired enough. Then the next morning we marched again. we marched two or three days and then came to this Moscow. This is a small town on the railroad — not [as] big as Cookstown. This is all that I can write this time so goodbye. Direct as you have before.
— Brainard Rider
While stationed at Moscow, Tennessee, the division that included the 33rd Wisconsin was transferred to the 16th Army Corps under General Hurlbut. The regiment guarded the Memphis and Charleston Railroad until 11 March 1863, when they proceeded to Memphis and went into camp.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
March 25th 
Dear friend Minnie,
I received your letter March 15th and was very glad to hear from you and that you was well. I am the same. I was very sick — just enough to say sick — but I feel first rate now. Never better in my life. We have just got some new tents now. I suppose that makes me feel some better. They are the bell tents that are shaped just like a big cow bell. They hold just 8 men to a tent. The boys that tents with me is R[obert W.] Clifford, C[harles A.] Kennedy, F[rancis] Van Patton, A[lonzo] Sutton, A[lonzo E.] Miltimore, C[harles F.] Stokes, [and] A[dam] Mory. They are first rate, good boys.
The weather is very fine. The sun shines very pleasant to day and it has been so most of the time we have been here but it rained all the time day before yesterday and till yesterday noon. I had to go out on picket yesterday morning. It rained very hard and the mud was [a] foot deep. We had to march about four miles through the mud and rain. That made me swear some but I got along as well as I could. We took a post. We had to keep two men out on the watch at a time. We had to watch two hours at a time and then rest six hours — on two hours and off six, we call it.
We have a very fine camp ground here but the parade ground is rough and bad [and] very small. We have to drill in the company once a day and in the battalion drill every day. I have to go out on picket once a week. The duty is not very hard now. We have a plenty to eat now. We draw soft bread three days and hard bread two days and other things a plenty. We have a few potatoes now and then. I can get along with them. If we want them very bad, we can get them for three dollars a bushel or five cents a pound. We can get butter from twenty-five cents to forty-five cents a pound but it is strong enough to do some fighting if it could not take Vicksburg.
March 26th — I came off picket yesterday morning. I was so tired that I had to quit writing. The day is very pleasant. We have just got through with the battalion drill. You wanted to know of they burnt all the houses that was in Holly Springs. No, they did not burn them all but they burnt a good many of them.
I should like to go to your party but don’t think that I can get there [in] time. But I wish that I was somewhere besides here in the army. I can not think of much more this time.
I do not [know] what to write to [your sister] Florey. We have not marched much for a long time so we have not seen anything very lately — only the fort that I was in one week when the regiment first came to this place. Them that came in the cars was put in there till the regiment came up to this place. The name of the fort is Fort Pickering. It is a large piece of land with the breastworks all around it. The breastworks are like a big ditch fence with the big guns on the top of it. Some of [them] are big enough [for a] person to crawl into. The land inside is all covered over with tents that the soldiers live in.
I am going to a prize drill this afternoon. It is between the 41st Illinois Regiment and the 14th Illinois. And I am going to a [ ] tonight. It is not but a little ways to the service tents. I shall have to quit this now so goodbye for this time.
Give my respects to all friends, — Brainard Rider
Mr. [Morton] Stebbins, — I am glad that you have been up North to see to the land and found it alright. I suppose that you are now about thinking of sowing your wheat and doing the rest of your work. I wish that I was up there to help you. I like farming better than soldiering. Write as often as you can. Shapley must write.
— Brainard Rider
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
April 9 
Dear Friend Minnie,
I received your letter of April 4th and was very glad to hear from you. I am well and hope that [you are] the same.
We are here at Memphis but don’t expect to stay here much longer for we have got to go down to Vicksburg tomorrow morning. I do not like to go down there very well but I shall go with the regiment. I have not got much news to write for we have to stay here in the camp and do not get out a great ways from the camp. We have to be a drilling some of the time and the rest of the time we play cards or ball. Sometimes we go out about a half a mile and there is a ten pin alley that we have some fun.
This is all that I can write this time. I have lots of time to write if I could think of anything to write. I shall write again as soon as we get into camp again. Goodbye for this time.
— Brainard Rider
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Camped near Jackson, Mississippi
July the 14th, 1863
I take my pencil to write to you to let you know that I am well and hope that you are the same. I write with a pencil because I have not got any pen or ink to write with. We are out near Jackson now. we left Vicksburg on the fifth day of July for this place. I should like to know how you enjoyed the Fourth of July. We had a glorious time that day for it was the day that the rebels surrendered the town. To see the white flags go up was a good sight and to see the thirty thousand prisoners there [too]. We could get up on top of the rifle [embankments] and not get shot at and that was a good thing for we have been crawling around in the pits about two months and dare not get my head up very high for fear that they would shoot it off. And then [to] have a chance to stand up straight was a good thing. Some of the rebels came over to our camp to get something to eat. They said that they was near starved out there.
Then in the night there was fire balls and sky rockets was a going up in all directions. I think that it paid me for all the crawling around in the rifle pits but the fun was soon stopped for we had orders to march for Jackson and we are out here near Jackson working at the same trade that we was at Vicksburg. I do not know know we shall come out here but hope that we shall come out right. I think that Jackson will have to fall before long. Our brigade made a charge on the rebels the other day but was repulsed by the rebels and we lost a great many men but our regiment was not in the charge. I thought that we was lucky for that.
I received a paper from [your brother] Shapley on the Fourth of July but we left the knapsacks back at Vicksburg so I did not have any paper to write on so I picked up this to write on. I sent Shapley ten dollars in a letter. I said that I would send him some more but we are in a tight place and I am afraid that we shall want all that we have got before we shall get out of this. I will not write anymore this time for I do not think that you can read it for I cannot [read] it myself. So goodbye for this time.
— Brainard Rider
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FIVE
Camp of the 33rd [Wisconsin] Regiment
Near Hebron, Mississippi
[@ January 10, 1864]
I take my pen to write to you to let you know that I am well and hope that you are the same. I received a letter from you of December the 13th about two weeks ago and was very glad to hear from you. I would have written long ago if I had of thought of anything to write. I do not have anything to hinder me from writing if I could think of anything to write. We are laying around here in the camp and doing nothing — only we have to go on guard about once in eight days.
We was out on a scout the other day. They heard that there was some rebels out about ten or twelve miles so we went out to see if we could catch them but when we got where the rebels was, they wasn’t there. They had left for a safer place. So we turned around and come back to camp and was glad to get back for it rained all the day long. We was almost stuck in the mud. We got into camp about eight o’clock at night very tired, hungry, wet and muddy.
I wish that [your brother] Shapley had come down here along with me. I think that he and I could get along very well together here in the army. I do not know how he would like it in the army but I think that he got out of it very well by paying his three hundred dollars. But I hope that we shall all be out before long. I hope the war is most over. I should like to quit it and go home.
I expect that you are having a first rate good time this winter. I wish that I was up to enjoy myself. I think that you must have some very cold weather up north. It is so cold down here that I have to wear a overcoat most all the time. We keep close to the fire most of the time [to] keep warm. We have got a first rate good fire place in the tent so we are very comfortable here and we are drawing the best kind of provisions here now and a plenty of them. We are doing first rate now. I hope we shall stop here some time.
We are not down to Natchez now. We have come up the river to Vicksburg and gone out into the country about twelve miles toward Haine’s Bluff and about five miles from Haine’s Bluff. We are in the midst of the roughest place that I ever saw in my life and it is very muddy when it rains. It is so cold that I cannot write any this [morning]. Write as often as you can and you must excuse me for not writing oftener than I do. You can write a good deal better than I can so I want you [to] write as often as you can. This is rather late but shall wish you a Happy New Year.
— Brainard Rider
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SIX
Camp of the 33rd [Wisconsin]
A few miles in the Rear of Vicksburg [Milldale, Mississippi]
January the 16th 
I received a letter from you last night of December the 27th which I was very glad to hear from you. I am enjoying very good health myself and so are the rest of the boys in the company. We are having very pleasant weather now but we have had a good deal of rain. I expect when it snows up there, it rains down here. We have had some very cold weather here but it is quite warm now.
Minnie, I have not any news to write for we lay around here in the camp and it is the same thing day after day. I wrote a letter to you not long since but I do not know whether you got it or not. We are having a very easy time here now — nothing to do and plenty of rations. We have to go out on picket once a week & that is all that we have to do. But I wish that this war was over so we could go home. I had rather be at home than to be down here [even] if we do have a easy time of it. I think that [your brother] Shapley got out of it very well by paying his three hundred dollars. I have a letter from [my brother] James once in awhile. I guess that he wishes that he had paid his three hundred dollars. I think that I would rather pay the money than to be a soldier. But a good many of the soldiers in the old regiments are enlisting as veterans. I don’t think that I shall ever enlist again. They think down here that the war is most over. I hope that is the case. I shall be satisfied to go home as quick as they will give me a chance.
We have got a very good camping ground now. It is rather muddy when it rains but we are doing first rate for soldiers. General McPherson, Denne [?], and [T. K.] Smith came and made us a visit a few days ago. They thought that we was doing first rate.
I cannot think of much more this time but you must write as often as you can and write all that [you] can think of. Your father and mother did not go down to Vermont last fall. Give my best respects to all of the family.
— Brainard Rider
This letter was written just after the 33rd Wisconsin returned from the Red River Expedition led by Gen. Banks.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER SEVEN
June 12th 
I received a letter from you [dated] March the 20th and one [dated] April the 17th both yesterday. It was the first letters that I received since we went into the Red River country except one that I received from home a few days ago. The reason that I did not get your letters was the letters did not come to us when we was up Red River. But I was glad to hear from you even if the letters was old. That makes three letters that I have had since we was up the Red River trip and I have got a very hard place to write now but I will try and do the best that I can.
My health is first rate and has been ever since we have been gone and I enjoyed myself very well. Sometimes I thought we was having a rather hard time but I did not find much fault. But I do think that General [Nathaniel P.] Banks made very great mistakes up the river for he lost a great many of his men and his teams and artillery. I think that he will not have a chance to make any more of his grand retreats for I think that he ought to be put out of the service.
Our regiment did not lose but a very few men up there. Our company did not lose a single man but we lost about twenty men killed and wounded. We was in quite a number of very sharp fights but they did not last long. I suppose that you have heard all of the news of the Red River country. I would not live there if they would give me the whole of the Red River country. It is a very nice and level, handsome place and some of the largest plantations that I ever saw in my life, and some very fine towns, but let them live there that wants to.
We are stopping here at Memphis now and I hope that we shall stay here some time now but I think we shall have to go off on another march before long. We do not have very hard duty to do here now. I shall have to like the service better than I do now to re-enlist as a veteran. You will not see me home on a veteran furlough very soon. I think that if I stop here for three years, that will do for me.
I was out on picket night before last and when I was standing as a sentry, some of the rebels slipped up and one of them fired at me but did not hit me. They did not stay long but left and that was the last that I saw of them.
There was three men from the Second New Jersey Cavalry put to death last Friday for bad conduct. ¹ I do not know very well what their crime was. They was shot. I was [there] and saw them shot. It was a hard sight indeed but the rules and regulations here in the army are very strict indeed. But I think when I get out of the army, I shall let them go and let them re-enlist that wants to.
I had a letter from home a few days ago and they was all well at home but they had heard from [my brother] James. He was wounded in one of those late battles [Battle of the Wilderness] in the head and did not live but a short time. This is all that I can think of this time. Write as often as you can. So goodbye for this time.
¹ The three troopers were John Calligan (Co. H), Thomas Johnson (Co. D), and Jacob Snover (Co. M) of the 2nd New Jersey Cavalry. They were executed on 10 June 1864, convicted of rape and robbery charges.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER EIGHT
June 28th 1864
I received a letter from you last night dated June the 15th and was very glad to hear from you and that you was well. I am very well at the present time and hope this will find you well. The weather here is most awful warm. It seems as if it was a very dry up there. It is not very dry here. We have a plenty of rain and everything down here looks very well. I wish that I could go up north and stop there this hot summer but there is no use of me talking for furloughs are played out. There can’t any of the soldiers get a furlough unless he enlists as a veteran and that I never will do. I think when I have served in this war three years that will do for me. I should have thought Shapley would have enlisted with the Hundred Day men. I wish that he had for the reason that all the Cooktown boys is in here. We are camped about three miles apart. I have been and seen them and they have been here t our camp. I was very [glad] to see the boys that come from Cooks town. It almost seemed as if I had got home.
Our Regiment has gone off on another march. They went a week ago. I was not very well when they left and so I was left back with the rest of the played out soldiers. But I am all right now. We are staying here in camp and not but a very little to do. We was paid all four months pay a short time ago so we have plenty of money now. I sent to [your brother] Shapley for postage stamps but if he has not sent them, he need not send them for I can get them myself. I [can] not think of much more this time. In this letter I send you the Red River Campaign. This paper [see enclosure] is a good description of it. All of the boys that come from Porter are well. I shall have to quit but I want you to write as often as you can. Give my best respects to all of the family.
— Brainard B. Rider
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER NINE
St. Charles, Arkansas
August 28, 1864
Dear friend Minnie,
I received your letter of August the 12th last night and was glad to receive such a long and kind letter from so good a friend as you. It does a soldier good to hear from his friends and I was very glad to hear that you was well. I am well at the present time. I cannot think how you heard that I was sick and in the hospital for I have not been sick at all nor I have not been in the hospital for I have been in the hospital. I was unwell a few days but not so sick enough to say sick. I never had better health in my life and I hope this may find you in good health. I should think that it would be very lonesome with you when your Father and [your sister] Flora are both gone. I should like to be up there and make a visit this fall but that is out of the question for me to come up there this year. But if the Lord spares my life for one year more, then I think that I shall have a chance to come home on my own hook and will not have to go back to the war. But I wish that this cruel war might end so as to let all of the soldiers go home.
We have left Memphis. We are here at St. Charles. I suppose that you will want to know where St. Charles is and what sort of a place that it is. It is on White river. It’s up White river about ninety-five miles from the mouth. The White river is a very fine stream and very clear water but St. Charles is just no place at all. We are almost in the woods and there is not but a few troops here. I think that we are in a healthy place but a great many of the boys are sick. This is the time of year that they have a great deal of sickness down here. All of the boys that come from Porter are well except Robert Clifford. He was left back to Memphis wounded. He was wounded in the arm [on the Red River Campaign]. He was getting along first rate when we left.
We are having a good time here now but we have a great deal of duty to do. They are making fortifications so that we have a great deal of fatigue [duty] to do but we have a plenty of very good living so we stand it first rate. The weather a long back has been quite warm and we have a great deal of rain but our camp is in a high and dry land so that we are not troubled with the mud but we cannot see anything at all. It is woods all around here and there is not but two or three houses here in St. Charles and not but one or two families here. It is quite a lonesome place here.
I cannot think of much more to write this time. I cannot write so long and good letters as you can but you must not mind that but write as often as you can and I will do the best that I can. I have a plenty of time to write if I could think of anything to write worth writing about.
I received a letter from [my brother] Guernsey the other day. He said that he was going out West and that Edwin Stebbins was going with him. I expect that they are out there before this time. I received a letter from Mr. Edmonds the same day that I received your letter.
From your friend, — Brainard
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TEN
St. Louis, [Missouri]
November 8th 1864
I received yours and Shaples kind letter of October 21st today and was very glad to hear from you. When I receive a letter from any of your folks, it seems like getting a letter from home. I was glad to hear that you and folks was well. I am well at this present time and enjoying myself very well.
Well, we came here to this site last Sunday. We have been out west of here about two hundred miles in what is called the Pacific Railroad. The last time that I wrote to [your brother] Shapley we was to a town by the name of Warrensburg [Missouri] but we came here to guard some prisoners. We brought in nearly seven hundred prisoners. They was some of Gen. [Sterling] Price’s men. They was some of the raggediest and dirtiest men that I ever saw in my life. Gen. [John S.] Marmaduke was taken at the same time. I suppose that you hear more of the war news than I hear myself.
The weather is quite pleasant now but we have had some very cold weather and some snow. We do not expect to stop here long. We think that we shall go down the river in a day or two — I cannot tell where but I think that we shall go to Gen. Sherman. We have been most all over God’s Creation and I think that we shall finish up the job before we come home. We have not got but a little over nine months more to serve in this war and if the Lord lets me live, I think that you will see me up North then. The last letter that I wrote to [your brother] Shapley, I wrote to him to have him send me some money but if he has not sent it, I do not want him to send it for i expect that we shall be paid off in a few days and then I shall have money enough. I was very sorry to hear that Edwin was taken away. I think that his folks must feel very bad. I cannot think of much more this time but I want you to write as often as you can and I think that you will hear from [me] quite often.
— Brainard Rider
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ELEVEN
December 13th 1864
Dear Friend Minnie,
I received a letter from you dated November 16th in due time and was very glad to hear from you and to hear that you was well. I ought to have answered it long before this but I have not got any news to write and the weather is very cold and we have not got any tents that are worth a tinkers damn, and to sit down and write a letter in the cold is a hard task. But I thought that I would try and write a few lines and let you know where we are and to let you know that I am well and have not forgotten you. And I am afraid that if I stop writing entirely to you that you will stop writing to me and I am so glad to here from you that I can afford to set sit down and write [even] if it does come a little hard. You know that I am very glad to receive a letter from you.
Minnie, those things that your folks sent to me by Robert Clifford, I was very glad to receive them but I did not get them till about one week ago. Robert was down south and we was up in Missouri. We have been here in Nashville for a little over one week and have been in line of war ever since. But I do not see much show for a fight yet and that is a sure thing. As for me, I do not want to see any fighting myself and if they let me live to get out of this, it will be a hard thing to get me in again. We have not got but about eight months more to stop down here and then if I have good luck, you will see me up north. I think that you must have some very cold weather up north now for it is very cold here and it must [be] somewhat colder up there.
Minnie, I think that I shall have to stop for my hands are almost froze and it is hard work for me to read my own writing and do not believe that you or anyone else can read it and so there is no use to write any more for this time. And so goodbye for this time.
Yours truly, — Brainard Rider
Direct your letters via Nashville, Tenn.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWELVE
June 2nd, 1865
I received your kind letter of May 6th a few days ago and was very glad to hear from you and to hear that you was well and I hope these few lines will find you well. I am well myself. I have not got any news to write but I thought that I would write and let you know that I was very glad to hear from you and to get those postage stamps that you sent to me.
This town that we are in is a very nice little town and we are having a very good time but I hope that we shall not have to stay here very long for I want to go home. I have stayed down here long enough. I think that we shall get home in time to help do the harvesting this year. The folks are doing their harvesting down here now. I think it is quite early. We have all the blackberries and plums that we want. This part of the world is full of wild fruit but the weather is very warm.
I have not got much to write this time and so I shall have to quit. So goodbye for this time. Yours truly, — Brainard Rider