Six-Page 1863 Delaware-to-D.C. Letter/Envelope
Sallie Brindley Thomas
Writes Husband Henry
on Day of Stonewall Jackson's
Dr. Wales is Passing Through After One Day's Fight
and Appears to be Heading
to Fort Preble!
I Know Evan's in the Fight -- God Protect Him!
"Life is Too Short
-- -- NO RESERVE -- --
Sallie Brindley Thomas (1828-1885) -- is Henry C. Thomas' second- or third-cousin
-- and they married on June 4, 1857. Henry and Sallie would have three children:
James, Kate Latrobe, and Richard. Sadly, Kate would die shortly
after her first birthday in the summer of 1863. The Civil War was raging,
and Henry had to spend each week in Washington D.C. instead of with his
wife and family in Wilmington.
Sallie's father was James
Joseph Brindley (1783-1858), the son of American canal builder James Brindley (1745-1820).
The Brindley family were affluent members of the Wilmington, Delaware
community, friends with George
Washington, Benjamin Latrobe, E. I. du Pont, and
other historical Americans. Sallie's mother was Hannah Baker Brindley,
and she had two sisters: Elizabeth and Rebecca, and one brother,
civil war hero Richard Brindley, who died leading his men into battle in June1862.
Sallie died in 1885, and was
buried in Washington D.C.
Dr. John Patten Wales
(1831-1912) was the son of U.S. Senator John
Wales. He was born in Wilmington, New Castle County, Delaware
and lived there his whole life. He is mentioned in this letter.
After receiving a medical degree, Dr. Wales soon had a
thriving practice in Wilmington before being called to duty during
the Civil War, when he was a
Captain in the Seventeenth United States Infantry.
He spent his time tending to the sick and wounded, and, managing to survive
the war, came back to Wilmington where he'd be elected mayor in 1882.
He stayed in that position for three years, and eventually
passed away in 1912 at the age of 81, and today rests eternally in
the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington.
Henry Colesberry Thomas (1833-1909) was one of the children of Lorenzo Thomas (1804-1875) and
Elizabeth Brindley Colesberry Thomas (1806-1879). The Thomas, Colesberry,
and Brindley families were related through marriage, and lived in the Wilmington, Delaware area
in the late 1700s and much of the 1800s.
Henry's mother Elizabeth, was the niece of American canal
engineer James Brindley (1745-1820), the daughter of his sister Mary
who had also emigrated to the United States from England. Henry's father,
Lorenzo, was the son of Newcastle County registrar, Evan Thomas,
and would serve U.S. President Abraham
Lincoln as his Adjutant General during the Civil War.
He married James Joseph Brindley's youngest daughter Sallie, and the family
lived in Wilmington. Sallie's mother was Hannah Baker Brindley, who
was raised in nearby Chester, Pennsylvania.
Henry began a career as a federal employee sometime in
the 1850s, working in Washington D.C. as a clerk in the War Department,
a position he would hold for his
entire life before retiring and moving to America's west coast, settling
in Spokane, Washington where he eventually died, having outlived his
wife by more than 20 years.
After Henry's death, his body was shipped back to Washington
D.C. so that he could be buried next to his beloved Sallie, and their
infant daughter Kate.
The Civil War -- May 1863 -- Stonewall
Sallie wrote this letter on May 10th, 1863,
sending it to her husband Henry C. Thomas when he was working in
Abraham Lincoln's War Department, and as the Battle of Chancellorsville
was wrapping up, not too far away.
This was a critical time during the Civil War.
Just months earlier -- in January
1863 -- President
Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that
all slaves in areas still in rebellion were, in the eyes of the federal
1863, the First
Conscription Act was passed, making all men between
the ages of 20 and 45 liable to be called for military service. Service
could be avoided by paying a fee or finding a substitute. The act was
seen as unfair to the poor, and riots in working-class sections of New York
City broke out in protest. A similar conscription act in the South provoked
a similar reaction.
On April 27, 1863 Union General Hooker crossed the Rappahannock
River to attack General Lee's
forces. Lee split his army, attacking a
surprised Union army in three places and almost completely defeating them.
Hooker withdrew across the Rappahannock River, giving the South a
victory, but it was the Confederates' most costly victory in terms of casualties.
This would eventually become known as the Battle of Chancellorsville
And on May
2, 1863, the South would see their venerated leader
General Stonewall Jackson shot three times in a friendly fire accident at the
Battle of Chancellorsville. After having his left arm amputated, the
rugged soldier managed to hang on for eight more days, passing away on May 10, 1863, the day Sallie was penning this letter to hubby
Item Description -- Please
This is an original
1863 six-page handwritten letter in fountain pen ink.
It is dated "March 10th, 1863,"
and is handwritten by 35-year-old Sallie Brindley Thomas, (1828-1885)
to her 30-year-old
cousin and husband Henry, who lived and worked in Washington D.C. in the War Department.
It would appear that Sallie has just returned home to Wilmington,
Delaware after spending time in heavily fortified Washington D.C. with
her War Department husband, Henry Thomas. The first page or two of the letter
discusses her unhappiness at leaving him and how she wishes she had stayed
longer. The war and Henry's duties have kept them living apart for some
time now, and later in the letter Sallie shares her desire to live a normal
It comes with the original mailing envelope, however, the
stamp has been removed from the envelope, the postmark mostly missing, and
the envelope should be considered damaged. (Please see graphic above).
The letter inside, however, is in
very fine condition!
There is one sheet of writing paper, approximately 8
by 10." The sheet has been folded vertically through the center
to create four, approximately 5 x 8" pages. And, a
second sheet of paper, approximately 5 x 8" with writing
on both sides. Six pages of writing in all.
The envelope is small, approximately 2 1/2 by
4 1/2" and has a section cut away. The address reads: " Henry C. Thomas, Esq.r, Care of Adj.t Gen.
L. Thomas, Washington, D.C." A penciled note
along the left border in Henry's handwriting says "March 10th, 1853 - Sallie."
I won't transcribe the entire letter, but here are some
"Greenway [Wilmington, Delaware]
- May 10th, 1863
"Life at Greenway once more my
Dear Husband, & seated in my little old cozy room, with everything
around me, one would think, to make me happy..."
"... I saw E[lizabeth, Sallie's oldest sister] had set her
heart on it [returning to Wilmington
from D.C.] & I have been
accustomed all my life to yielding to her, so do not expect to do anything
else. If you had given me one word of encouragement to stay, I would not
have come, but you would not do it. Well, I hope it is all right & I
am now in such constant anxiety about the boys.
I hear there is fighting now going on, & know Ev [Evan, Henry's soldier brother] will be in it. Poor fellow, we can but pray for him &
trust to God, who we know will protect him. Dr. Wales [see bio above] passes through Wilmington this evening to return to Fort Preble.
I know [sp?] he telegraphed to his wife to be ready to join him tonight
& go on with him. He was only
in the fight one day..."
Henry's brother Evan will survive
the Civil War, but will die 10 years after Sallie writes this letter in
California's Modoc War fighting Indians.
"I want to go down to see if I will
get to see Mrs. Belin once more in this world. She is very weak
& I doubt very much if we get to see her again..."
"I am willing to stay here until October,
and if nothing occurs to bring us together before then, I will come to you
& we must either find a house or boarding somewhere, for life is
too short & uncertain to be spent in this way, situated as I am,
my interests are so divided that I find I must be either one thing or the
other. It does not suit me at all, to live without some fixed object
in view & my object now, is to make you as happy as it in my power,
& to try to do my duty to my dear little children. I still keep
alive the hope that the time is not far distant when we can live together
& really enjoy each other's society. Six years of disappointment have not entirely destroyed the hope..."
Sallie's declaration that life is
short and uncertain will unfortunately prove true in just another few months,
when infant daughter Kate dies after several days of severe illness. She will
have lost her only daughter and only brother -- Richard -- in about the space
of a year.
But at least they will share
these tragedies together, staying married their entire lives. Sallie
will pass in 1885, and Henry will live another two decades. It
appears that after Sallie's death, Henry becomes an alcoholic and homeless for a period, before moving to the west coast, settling in Washington State. More of Sallie's letters to Henry will be auctioned this year
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