Letters Home: The Brush Family Letters
When we last left the Brush family, William had written to his brother Charles on March 28, 1863 and spoke of good health and problems with a Colonel in his regiment. Almost two weeks later, on April 10, William and Charles’ father, H.L., wrote to Charles about William, “…I feel he is very sick…” Three days later, on April 13, 1863 1st Lieutenant William E. Brush of Company D, 104th Illinois Infantry, passed away.
In the lengthy letter that follows, H.L. writes again to Charles with details of William’s death including allegations of poisoning by someone in his regiment.
Ottawa Apl. 16th/63
I wrote you 14th of Williams sickness and death. I can hardly realise that so kind, so good, so young, so endeared a Son, one in whom so many hopes & desires were centered, one for whom I would have cheerfully sacrifised even life itself, has left us forever, evry hours increases my regrets, and magnifys my loss. The poor Boy when he saw that he was struck down with his sickness appeared to be overwhelmed with grief that he could not go with the Regmt. (they had that afternoon recd orders to leave for Murfreesboro,) His disease also was very singular & violent & rapid in its course, typhoid is generally protracted continuing sometimes weeks, but he was attacked on dress parade Thursday P.M. & died ¼ of nine Monday morning. Yesterday his remains were followed to his last resting place, by a very large procession. They^Young Ladies wove and surmounted the Coffin with a beautiful garland of flowers. The singing at the grave was most beautiful, & melting, Mother says she never was at a funeral where it seemed so pleasant & yet she is almost stricken down herself & heartbroken, I am almost tempted to make you a visit, that I may relate to you the scenes of his last two days. Yet after all the respect which has been paid to him and the general regret expressed at his sudden death, it all appears as vanity, for it cannot alleviate our sorrow, nor heal for a moment the wound in our hearts which his death has made. I feel that if you both could have been in the same Regmt. that this sad and sudden termination of his career and usefulness would not have happened, you could have attended to him when sick & called to his aid good counsel, but why these vain regrets, as the choir sang, “peacefully lay him down to rest, so may we hope that he rests in the bosom of his Saviour that his rest is eternal glory. He was very much respected by the Officers & men of the command in all the Regmts, those who knew him spoke warmly of his virtues, his exemption from “every bad habit-as they expressed it. He made rapid proficiency as an officer & had gained despite of his persecuting Capt. the confidence of his Co. even The Capt. had asked his forgiveness & commended him warmly to the Company, acknowledging that his conduct towards him had been wrong. I have no doubt but that his sickness was caused by his indefatigable endeavours to merit & win a high position, & put down the prejudice which an unprincipled man had maliciously raised against him. He neglected no duty, & would not even come home although Coln. Moore gave him permission, for fear they would draw unfavorable inferences I do not believe there ever was a case where a kind hearted patriotic & gifted young^ officer was so maligned & shamefully treated and by a man pledged to be his friend, and who was under obligation, to him for his position a man too infinitely inferior to him in every sense & position—Mother is very anxious to have you resign & return home, she fears that you will be prostrated by that enervating climate. In fact if you can honorably do so, It would decidedly be my counsel & choice. You have received what benefits there are of any growing out of a military life, a southern climate, & active exercise, and it is a good time if you can to return and resume the study of the law. Cook is so decidedly your friend that you will do well with him, and by resigning you stand a better chance for some office that may yet spring up, and although I was very much gratifyed to hear through Clark that Coln Earl has the highest opinion of you as an excellent & efficient Adjutant. Yet you must bear in mind that Mother & myself bereft of another Son, we should go down broken hearted to the grave, and that you are incurring risks in that climate, even in Memphis, and you may be ordered farther south, where evry northern man or a large majority fall victims to the fatal fevers of the South, a man to successfully withstand them but possess a firm & excellent constitution. Now can you not so manage it as to leave the profession of arms, resign & come home. My dear William had sent me sometime ago 400$ $145 to repay my advances the balance on his own & I found in his wallets over 200$ which he had drawn day before up to the ? th March He was so overpowered by his disease, that he was much deranged the Friday after he was taken sick, only a few hours, he had only intervals after I reached that his faculties were clear
On Sunday about 11 A.M. he wished me to sit on the bed with him & hold his hand, he placed his other hand on my shoulder It was then he expressed his love for the Savior, his trust in Him& desired me to pray with him. He did not hold his mind on any thing long, but was overpowered with the violence of his disease producing a terrible sense of weakness he appeared to have no wish as to the disposition of his effects, in fact I believe he did not think of dying, when wandering he was in Battallion drill or dress parade or some of his duties. Oh how heart— rending it was to me to see him grapple with the King of terrors to see him breathe his life away—Oh that I may be spared another so heart rending a scene—His friends feel that Collins’s inhuman conduct was one cause of his death. Some suspicions are entertained in which I cannot share, that poison was administered to him. Doctr Hopkins is terribly excited, when he heard from Bassindale his sergeant, & friend to the last, his relation of the symptoms & also what I knew, he declared “it was foul play Somewhere,” but Doctr Wing, stated that such rapid & violent cases occur in Military life, never in Civil—How is this, what does Surgeon Welch say, does the typhoid exhibit symptoms of insanity first ____?_, burning in the throat, marking its commencement, great thirst vomiting, and in less than 15 hours involuntary discharges in the bed, eyes red & watery, countenance ghastly are such the characteristics of typhoid. If they are I prefer civil life. The Doctor wrote to Davis yesterday to come down & make a Post Mortem examination. He has not yet come but that justice may be done all parties, we shall insist on a Post mortem examination. I presume they will find that Doctr Wing is correct, but should poison exhibit itself, then I am well satisfyed, who is at the bottom of it, & nothing can save him—But you know how little things are magnifyed and the examination will bring it all right and under the state of feeling is proper & necessary, yet I believe they will not find poison. I write this fearing you may hear something exaggerated from some other source, do not intimate any thing I have written, as it is a dreadful suspicion even as against a Rebel & if true, secrecy is absolutely necessary to detection do not permit it to disturb your feeling, for I think the result will be as I have stated if not will write you immediately I hope you will not go into a Black Regmt you will incur tenfold exposure to malarious climate. They will be ordered on most extra hazardous positions a sort of forlorn hope. No compensation increased tenfold would induce me , remain if you will not resign, with the 53d If you need any thing will send it, in Williams valise, do you want any of his effects, he had just purchased a fine Poncho, his blankets are very good ones if you should remain & want them will send them to you, he had no sash, I found your Pistol & his, Moore Revolver in his satchel, everything all right, I found when we had taken him from the camp quarters (on his straw tick) to Professor Sawyers house, we then placed him on a good feather bed, with two good mattrass under it, happening to look down on the straw tick I saw something in the hay which I found to be his wallet, with his money—He had just purchased a very fine dress coat, which Lucy said became him very much. I purchased a fine pair Pants & Gloves and he was laid out in these. He looked very natural and calm. I found a letter in his valise from you. How little did we anticipate this sad result. How it admonishes us to be always, by a correct life and a living faith in the Saviour, ready & willing to obey his summons, write me how you get along, do you have any of that old cough. Mr Cook left last Monday for Chicago to find me he expected to meet me at Chicago but I had gone with Lucy after the corpse had been escorted to Depot to Mr Dickinsons & have not seen him as he is attending court in Chicago I shall not receive any money which I have furnished you heretofore you must accept of it as a gift. hope if you buy one you will get a reliable horse. I will get you a saddle if you want, But would prefer to have you ride homeward on a Steamer, we are all well except Allie who had croup yesterday is better this morning. Send you Republican- Mother and all send Love, & sympathise with you for the loss of your best friend & dear Brother
Afftly yr Father
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