Letter of Luther Bradley, Jan 2 1863, Fifty-First Illinois Infantry

Camp near Murphfreesboro
Jany 2d 1863

My dear Mother

I write you a line from the battlefield to assure you of my safety.

We have had 3 days hard fighting in 2 of which my Regt has been engaged. We have suffered severely, but by God's mercy I have been preserved. Our loss is 65 killed & wounded and is smaller than any other Regt in the Brigade. The Brigade fought splendidly & lost 1/3 its number.

On the morning of Dec 31 we formed line of battle at daylight and were hotly engaged 'till noon. For the first hour we drove the rebels, but finally they outflanked us, owing to the Division on our right giving way. They were new troops & could not stand the fire.1 From this time our division had the whole right to protect & for 3 hours we fought Hardee's whole "Army Corps," holding our position until our ammunition was expended, & we had lost 1/3 our number. Every colonel in the brigade fell except myself. My good horse, Charley, was killed by a shell which burst at his side & carried off his leg and hip. I was on his back at the time but was not touched. Major Davis lost his right arm,2 Lieut. Keith was killed, & 2 captains and 3 lieutenants of the 51st wounded, both my color bearers were killed, & a shell passed through the Regt flag.

Col. Robertson, comdg the Brigade, & Col. Harrington, senior colonel, being killed, the command fell to me, & I brought off the Regts in good order, the enemy pressing us hard. The Rebel Genl Bushrod Johnson with 5 Regts attempted to outflank & cut us off. He broke through our line & threw it into confusion. I was ordered to move up & hold the position at all hazards. After some sharp work with our rifles, I charged them with the 27th & 51st & routed them completely, killing a large number & taking 300 prisoners. This ended the fight on our flank. My gallant Regt behaved nobly, & I am proud of them. Of all that fell in that bloody field not one showed an unmanly trait. I did not hear a murmur from one of them tho' they suffered from every conceivable wound. The sorest trial I ever had was to retreat & leave my wounded men on the field.

General Crittenden has defeated the rebels on the left, & we shall beat them in this affair, no doubt of that. They are contesting the ground most stubbornly, but we must win. Our reinforcements are coming up, and tomorrow or the next day will probably decide the campaign in the West. We have another fiery ordeal to pass through. How many of us will escape God only knows, but we will all do our duty come what may.

I have now 4 Regts & a Battery to manage. The responsibility is not a light one I assure you, & I wish they were in more experienced hands. Fortunately, they are so well drilled they can almost be trusted to fight alone.

Give my best love to Mary, Rebecca, Buel, Lucius & the children. Hoping we may all meet again safe & well.

Yours ever

Luther P. Bradley Papers, United States Army Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

1Rather, as events later revealed, the troops on the right, due to sleepy generalship, were driven from the field by an early morning surprise attack.
2As it turned out, Davis kept the arm, but it was well over half a year before he returned to the regiment.