Charles F. Brittain

Charles F. Brittain, also known as “Brittam”, was born January 29, 1836, in Hartford (or Harford), Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, the son of William F. (b. 1806) and Catharine (Case, b. 1807).

New York native William married Connecticut-born Catharine in the fall of 1833, by a minister of the Universalist church, in Hartford (or Harford), Pennsylvania. The family moved from Pennsylvania and sometime between 1843 and 1847 settled in Illinois where they resided for some years. sometime after 1849 they left Illinois and moved to Michigan, eventually settling in Ottawa County. By 1860 Charles was a cooper living with his older brother James and his wife Mary E.; James was employed as a mail contractor. That same year Charles’ family was living in Spring Lake, Ottawa County; and living with them was a farm laborer named Jerry Richardson who would also join Company H. In fact Charles referred to “Jerry” in a number of letters home (see below). And living next door was Miner Emlaw who too would join company H. During 1861 and 1862 Charles’ father William delivered mail between Ferrysburg and Muskegon and kept a hotel in Ferrysburg as well.

Charles stood 6’0” with blue eyes, fair hair and a light complexion, and was 25 years old and probably still living in Muskegon when he enlisted in Company H on May 13, 1861. (Company H, formerly the “Muskegon Rangers”, was made up largely of men from the vicinity of Muskegon and Newaygo counties.)

Although Charles was reportedly discharged for hepatitis on August 20, 1861, at Hunter’s Farm, Virginia, in fact he was never discharged at all and remained on duty with the regiment. On September 28, he wrote home to his mother that he had received her letter the day before and was glad to hear from her.

I have just finished writing Jim [?] a long letter and now I will write you all the news I have got. I am pretty well at present and I hope these few lines will find you the same. I can’t tell whether I shall come home or not this fall but I see may be I will. . . I am sure I have no news to write you. I have written the news before. I have some money and I will send some home when St. Clair [?] comes back and you can keep it for me till I come. You can take it to Pennsylvania with you and if I meet you there I can use it. If I don’t [meet you, you can] use it if you want it I don’t need much money here. I have enough to eat and wear and that is all I want here. I don’t know when I shall [see a] battle. I should not wonder if we never had one. I think it is as likely that way as any. at any rate I hope so. I won’t think there is any danger but that we all come home in the spring if we want to. Jerry’s leg is very sore. I think he will have to be discharged before long if his leg won’t get better. I suppose Bill Read has got home before this if he has he can tell you all about us. I know I can get my discharge if I have a mind to but I don’t like to till the rest are. I should like to come home first rate. I don’t think it is right to come till the rest do. I cannot think of any more to write so good day for the present. Write as soon as you get this.

On October 9, Charles wrote home to his mother informing her that he was well.

I receive[d] a long time ago stating that you was going to Pennsylvania the last of this month but you [needn’t] expect to see me there. I am better of[f?] here each co[mpany] has a good room for those that are not very well. It has a good fire place in and we have our own times and I think it is as well to stay here and get pay and get my clothes and board as it is to come home and lay around all winter. But if there is any fighting done I shall be ready for that whether I am well or not. Mr. St. Clair [?] is here and I was glad to hear from [him] that you was well. He said that he stopped at your house when he came away and talked with you. He said that you was all well. I was glad to see the old man as ever I was any body. I suppose that you received the money and letter that I sent. . . . If I can get to Washington or Alexandria before St. Clair goes [?] home I will send my likeness but I don’t think I shall be able to do it for they keep us pretty close [?] for we have orders to march or to be ready to at a moment's notice. It [is] very raw wintry weather here and [a] great many of the men have bad colds. I have not had much colds yet. I have a first rate appetite but I can’t get much bread and meat to eat but I am getting so that I relish it pretty well. I can tell you that it don’t go half so hard as it did at first. There is more companies now drilling at sham fighting in plain sight of our window. It is a pretty sight to see them, but I have drilled till I am tired of it and I don’t have to drill any more than I have a mind to and that ain’t much. I can tell you Jerry has a sore leg yet and I don’t think he will get well very soon if he stays here and lays on the ground [in] this rainy weather. I should like to see you but I don’t think it would be [right] to come home right away for I could not do anything if I did come home and I should want to get back if I did. I can’t make up my mind to come home yet. I should think you might write to me a little oftener. I am sure you have a chance to write as I do for I have writ[ten] when I get a chance and when I get a chance I have to write on my knee or on an object, for I shan’t write any more till I hear from you. Mind that now St. Clair brought a box of blankets for different ones that was sent by their friends. I suppose when it is opened I shall find one from you for I know that you have got plenty of them. A good blanket would [be] very acceptable to me just now for it is cold here. The next move we make I think we shall got to Mount Vernon where we shall see Washington’s tomb and then I shall see some things more to write about. I have written about everything that I have seen and more too so I have nothing more to write of any importance and for that very reason you must not expect much but however I will try to fill out this sheet with something so that you may know that I am alive and kicking. I should think that you might send me some papers to read or something else. It [is] very lonesome here without anything to read. I buy a great many papers but that takes up the change pretty fast you know and I haven’t any too much of that. Any reading matter that you can send me I shall be very glad to get. If you go to Pennsylvania write while you are there and I will answer it.

Charles then brought up a subject that apparently had been weighing on his mind for some time. He felt distressed that his father paid little or no attention to him since he left for the army.

I wonder what the reason is that father don ‘t write. I don’t hear a word from him. I haven’t heard hardly a word from him since I left. I thought he did care something for me when I left but it seems he don’t or else he would say something to me. Tell him he must take good care of the big horses and not work them too hard and when I come [home] I shall have money enough to buy another team as good as them. I am going to save my money so that if ever I do get back I can have something to start with the word with and if I don’t it will do some body some good. Next payday I will send home at least thirty dollars and maybe more and you can take care of it till I come back. I don’t know but I might say a little more about the war. They say that there is a large force of secessh [not far] from Alexandria but I don’t know how true it is nor I don’t care. I should like to have them to do the fighting and stick to it till they fighting is done for. I want to come home and I don’t want to come home till the rest do. But it don’t look well to come home alone and leave the rest of it. One of our men just came from another camp and he heard that we will have to drive the rebels off of our new camp ground; if they are on it we shall drive them off and like enough have a hard brush but we don’t feel afraid of trying our luck with them at any rate for we want to smell powder. I think it will be good that the regt that is going to take over this place has just arrived and I think that we shall leave tomorrow. Bill Townsend [Moses Townsend] is going to get his discharge. He has not done anything since he came here and says he won’t if he stays a year and I believe him for he is the greatest shirk [?] that I ever saw. The captain [Emery Bryant] is not released yet and I don’t know when he will be but I hope he will be before long for I don’t like Charley Spang at all. Pete Bergevin is a first rate fellow and so is Bill Ryan. We have not trouble with them. I don’t know if I have any more to write at present so good day. Write as soon as you can and see if you can [write] as well as I have done. You must excuse my writing and make the best of it you can; if you can’t read it get some body else to read it for you; you must take it as it means not as it reads.

In early December he was with the regiment at Fort Lyons, near Washington, when he wrote home to his mother (and never addressed to his father) that “I just received your letter and was very glad to hear from you. I am feeling first rate better than I have for years. I am sorry to hear that [you] have got rheumatics. I hope you will get better soon. Any more news I have not got but I will try to fill up the sheet with some thing.”

He then goes on to relate how three men of the company, George A. and George W. Bennett and Hugh Boyd have recently deserted and will probably be shot if they are ever caught. (In fact they would all three return to duty under the President’s Proclamation of Amnesty in April of 1863.)

Charles described to his mother how his friend in the company, Jerry or Gerry (probably Jeremiah Richardson) “is a good hearted fellow. I have had one fight on his account. I don’t like to see him abased for he will do anything for me that he can and we never have no trouble. The quartermaster told me today that [we?] was going to have some rifles. That is a pretty sure sign that [we] are going to do something. I think we shall have some fun before long. We have got new clothes and good ones. If I could I would send new overcoat home for it is a nice one. . . . You need [not?] trouble yourself about my sleeping [well] for I sleep warm enough if you get a good chance you may fix up the old big woolen blanket that I used to have on the boat and send it out here and you may tell Ellen to write me a letter.”

On January 27, from Camp Michigan, Charles wrote home to his “respected father.”

I received your kind letter today and hastened to answer it. My health is good. I am sorry that you are not very well but glad to hear that you [are] doing well. You must take good care of the chestnuts and not let them get poor for I shall be home in the spring and by then I want to have some fun with them. . . . I have 20 dollars saved and in about six weeks I shall 26 dollars more and I will send it to you if you want it. I have lent my money to our Lieutenant until next payday then I am going to send it home by express if I don’t get a chance to send it by private conveyance and you can use it if you want. There is no war news at present. Some think that we shall make an advance as soon as the roads get settled enough so that we can and others say that we will never move until we move for home. I don’ like the idea of staying here a year and not seeing one battle you know[but the one we] lost Bull Run and there is a fair prospect of losing all the rest of the battles. I am getting a little homesick and tired of camp life. There is too much confinement here to suit me. I am a strong temperance man since I came here the reason is because I can’t get anything stronger than coffee to drink. You know what I told about the mail I hope you will get it; I should like to have it myself if you don’t want it but you will want it for you can’t do as well at anything else. Give my respects to Chancey Allen and to my Abbott. I don’t know if I have any more to write at present so good by. From your affectionate son, Charles F. Brittain.
Write as soon as you can for I [would] like to get a letter from you.

And the very next day he wrote to his “Dear Mother”,

As I have time I will write a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope you [are] the same. There is not much news to write so I will write for myself this time. I want you to make me up a box of something good to eat; you may send me some butter and a bottle of wine if you have it and such other things as you have. Tell father to send me a bottle of good rum and I will make good use of it and I will send him 40 dollars in six weeks. If you send it you must send it right away for it you do not maybe I shall be away.. Mark it Alexandria and put my name on it; if you mark it as I tell you it will come free. . . . I have got a pass for two days. No more at present from your son, Charles F. Brittain Co H third regt of Mich Alexandria D C in care of the Mich. Soldier’s Relief Association.

On February 5, 1862, Charles wrote to the editor of the Grand Haven News in his desire

to let the people in the vicinity of the Grand River Valley know that the Third Michigan Regiment of Infantry are doing service to their country. I will tell you what the Muskegon Rangers and the Georgetown company did on Monday last, while out on picket service: Capt. Lowing, of the Georgetown Company, made up a party of about eighty picked men, from the foregoing named companies, and made the furthest reconnaissance that has ever been made. We went as far as Occoquan village, fourteen miles below Alexandria. We discovered nothing of unusual interest on the way. Arriving at Occoquan village we found rebels plentiful. They seemed to be having a regular jollification, and did not see us until we had approached within forty rods and fired upon them, killing four or five, and driving the rest to their houses. There were none of our party hurt. We returned in good time to save ourselves, for there was a large force [which] followed us.

On February 22, Charles was with the regiment at Camp Michigan when he wrote his “dear mother”

I received your kind letter today and was glad to hear from you. I am well and hope these lines will find you the same. There is not much news to write at present time. They are celebrating the 22 [Washington’s birthday] today [and] they have been firing cannon all day and tonight the capitol will be illuminated so that it will look like one immense flame of fire and most all of the house sin the City will be illuminated. We have very easy times here and enough to eat such as it is. I have got the box you sent me and ate it most all up but the box and wrote to you about it two or three times. John Smith wants to know where Bob Lavake [?] is. The weather is warm and rainy and lots of mud. There has been no snow here to amount to anything. I will send you some grape vines before long. It is not quite late enough yet for them to do well. I shall send 40 dollars home in the spring. There is so much gab here that one can hardly write at all here. There is no more news. There is a fair prospect of our coming out before a great while and I hope the time will be short. Give my respects [to] every body and excuse my mistakes. Tell some of the folks to write to me and I will answer their letters. The more letters I get the better for I don’t have much to do only to write. I hope that I shall have something to write about. From your son, Charles Brittain

And on March 16, again still with the regiment at Camp Michigan, Charles wrote to his mother:

As I have the time to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope these few lines will find you the same. We are under marching orders and expect to start every day. The weather is fine at present and the mud is drying up very fast. The quartermaster and one captain and one private out of the Pennsylvania 63rd got shot out on picket day before yesterday but it was all carelessness. I saw two prisoners come in today; one of them was said to be a captain and the other was [a] citizen. If we don’t march we shall have to go on picket next Sunday. I shall start the box home tomorrow. You need not send me any more until I tell you to for maybe then I can’t get it when I want anything. I will let you know. I am very much obliged to you for the things that you sent and should be glad of some more but there is no certainty of my getting it if you send one. I suppose you know the picture that is in the letter; if you don’t they are good soldiers both of them and don’t be afraid for the devil. I am on guard today and shall be until nine o’clock tomorrow. We shall get our pay in a day or two if nothing we shall get next week at any rate and the I shall send it home and you can let father use it if he needs it and you can let him have the twenty if he wants it. There is no more news to write so I shall have to wind up. Write as often as you can. From your affectionate son, Charles F. Brittain.

Charles was admitted to the 3rd Division hospital near Yorktown, Virginia, on April 27, suffering from remittent fever. He was reported to have died at Yorktown, on May 19, 1862, presumably of fever. If in fact he did die at Yorktown, he was presumably among the unknown soldiers buried at Yorktown National Cemetery.

In 1880 William applied a dependent father’s pension (no. 261698), which was eventually rejected. By 1883 he was still living in Ferrysburg, Ottawa County; it is not known what became of Catharine, his wife.