“Almost brothers” divided by the Civil War, 1861

by Braxton Bragg and Henry Hunt

 Braxton Bragg to Henry J. Hunt, April 21, 1861. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)On April 12, 1861, Confederate officials informed Major Robert Anderson, US commander at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, that they would allow one hour for him to surrender his forces. When he refused, Confederates unleashed more than forty cannons on the fort and continued to hold it under fire for a day and a half. The attack on Fort Sumter marked the opening of the Civil War. This terrible conflict would divide families, separate former friends, and open rifts in communities.

The following exchange between two old Army friends illustrates the painful choices made by Americans after the surrender of Fort Sumter. At the time, the Confederate General Braxton Bragg was in command in Pensacola, Florida, while Union Colonel Henry Hunt was at Fort Pickens, just across the bay. Each was moved to explain their differences and to anticipate the consequences of the impending conflict. Bragg wrote to Hunt, noting the strangeness of their sudden enmity: “A few short months since companions in army, and almost brothers in friendship, it is hard to realize the fact that we are in hostile array against each other.” But as a Louisianan, Bragg wanted his Northern friend to appreciate how the “people, en-mass” of the Confederacy were ready for the fight. Henry Hunt, hailing from Michigan, responded with his own conviction that the “unity of our people will be eventually restored” when “the name of American will supersede that of northerner, and southerner.”

A full transcript is available for Bragg’s letter to Hunt.
A full transcript is available for Hunt’s response to Bragg.

Excerpt of Bragg to Hunt, April 21, 1861

How strange are the mutations of life! That we should be in hostile array against each other. A few short months since companions in army, and almost brothers in friendship, it is hard to realize the fact that we are in hostile array against each other. But so it is, and tho’ I would have taken an oath that my old friend Hunt could never be the instrument of oppression in the hands of a Black Repub[lica]n yet we see strange things in this world, and even must be content to put up with it as we find it. Each one of us of course will follow the dictates of his own conscience.

Excerpt of Hunt to Bragg, April 23, 1861

We must each as you say act according to the dictates of our consciences. Although you think my course a wrong one you know that I never have felt and I do not feel now hostile to the South, her institutions or her people nor can I have toward  Henry J. Hunt to Braxton Bragg, April 23, 1861. (Gilder Lehrman Collection) them the feelings of an “alien enemy.” I trust and I believe notwithstanding the dark prospects before us, and although blood may flow like water, that the time will yet come – if neither of us fall in the struggle – when we will meet again not merely as friends, which I am sure we will continue to be, but as fellow citizens of a great, prosperous, happy and united country.

 

 

 

 

Questions for Discussion

Full content is available to our community and Affiliate School members only. To view it, please apply for your school to be an Affiliate School, sign up to be a community member, or log in.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Already have an account?

Please click here to login and access this page.

How to subscribe

Click here to get a free subscription if you are a K-12 educator or student, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program, which provides even more benefits.

Otherwise, click here for information on a paid subscription for those who are not K-12 educators or students.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Become an Affiliate School to have free access to the Gilder Lehrman site and all its features.

Click here to start your Affiliate School application today! You will have free access while your application is being processed.

Individual K-12 educators and students can also get a free subscription to the site by making a site account with a school-affiliated email address. Click here to do so now!

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Why Gilder Lehrman?

Your subscription grants you access to archives of rare historical documents, lectures by top historians, and a wealth of original historical material, while also helping to support history education in schools nationwide. Click here to see the kinds of historical resources to which you'll have access and here to read more about the Institute's educational programs.

Individual subscription: $25

Click here to sign up for an individual subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Make Gilder Lehrman your Home for History


Upgrade your Account

We're sorry, but it looks as though you do not have access to the full Gilder Lehrman site.

All K-12 educators receive free subscriptions to the Gilder Lehrman site, and our Affiliate School members gain even more benefits!

How to Subscribe

K-12 educator or student? Click here to edit your profile and indicate this, giving you free access, and here for more information on the Affiliate School Program.

Not a educator or student? Click here for more information on purchasing a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman site.

Add comment

Login or register to post comments