I have long had a vague awareness of Dr. Junius N. Bragg, a Confederate surgeon and postbellum leader from Camden, Ouachita County, but only recently did I read a collection of his Civil War letters. Not published until 1960, the letters were written by Dr. Bragg to his intended bride and later wife, Anna Josephine Goddard -- whom he called Josephine. The letters are fascinating from a range of perspectives, not the least being his willingness to boldly speak his opinioned mind in writing. The letters can be read for their varied commentary and reporting on the Confederate rebellion, but they also tell us much about social history, about the privations suffered by both soldier and civilian and -- perhaps most importantly, the letters take the reader into the mind of a fiercely loyal Confederate officer and surgeon who never wavered in his commitment to the rebellion.
Junius Newport Bragg was born May 4, 1838, in Lowndes County, Ala., to Peter Newport Bragg and Martha Crook Bragg, prosperous farmers and slave owners. The family moved to Arkansas in 1843 and settled near Camden. Young Junius attended local schools, but his college career is unclear. He did receive medical training at a Louisiana university in early 1861, only months before he volunteered for Confederate service as a private in Co. G of the 11th Arkansas Infantry.
In his first letter to "Dear Miss Josephine," dated Aug. 11, 1861, the 23-year-old wrote disdainfully of the officers commanding the local units organized in the Camden area, saying one colonel in particular "has neither the personal courage to attack anything larger than a beef steak, nor sense enough to carry him safely to the breakfast table."
Bragg's first letter also exhibited his facility with a pen. He wrote of observing soldiers being sworn-in: "Those who go out to do battle, and whose minds are at times, no matter what the effort is to suppress it, saddened by the reflection that they may never, never return to home and friends." Bragg wrote of "my trust in the God of battles. I hope that when the time comes I shall be prepared."
Bragg never actually fought during the war as he was soon commissioned as a surgeon. In January 1863, while stationed at Fort Hindman at Arkansas Post, the young doctor wrote of his typical work day: "I get up at six o'clock, read 'Woods Practice' [a medical text subtitled "A Practical Treatise for the use of Families, Travelers, Seamen, Miners, and Others"] till breakfast. At eight o'clock have 'Sick Call,' examine 20 or 30 tongues and issue 20 or 30 rations of Blue Mass [a cure-all compound containing chalk and elemental mercury, a toxin], then visit a few conscripts in their cabins, and read 'Wood' again until dinner. After dinner [lunch] I read and visit a few sick men until night. After 'tea' I play a game of 'Euchre' [a card game similar to Whist] till eight o'clock, then I read some more, or think of the absent until I grow weary..."
Bragg did have to engage in one "active campaign" -- trying to kill the hated mosquitoes. "The mosquitoes ... are the largest, hungriest, and boldest of their kind, and they make their attacks always at night," Bragg wrote from Delhi, La., in July 1863. It appears Bragg had not contracted malaria prior to his war service, so the letters depict the alternating chills and fever so typical of malaria. In August 1863 Bragg wrote: "I had a chill yesterday, the cold stage of which lasted me three hours. I sat on my horse all the time ... I thought I should never get warm any more." Bragg followed the normal treatment, quinine and calomel, administered every other day. Quinine was a time-tested treatment for malaria, but calomel, like "Blue Mass," contained mercury. Amazingly, calomel was sold in drug stores throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century.
In early June 1863, Dr. Bragg married his beloved Josephine at the Episcopal Church in Camden. Fresh roses were used to decorate the church, but candles were in such short supply that they were cut into short pieces to fill the tin chandeliers and wall sconces and not lit until the bridal party approached. One woman attending the wedding recalled later that "the people sat in the moonlight for quite a while chatting on the latest war news. Soon it was announced that the bridal party was coming, then men and boys began to light the candles." The faint glow illuminated a bride who "looked queenly in her lovely white mull and her tulle bridal veil caught back with pure white Cape Jesamines; and the Doctor attired in his Confederate uniform."
Photos from the time of their wedding depict Dr. Bragg as tall and erect, possessing a full head of hair as well as chin whiskers. Josephine was a dark-haired beauty, her piercing black eyes perfectly accompanying a Mona Lisa smile. A photo made in their later years shows Josephine as still youthful looking, her tiny waist allowing her to look perfectly comfortable in a heavily-corseted white Victorian gown.
Following the war, Bragg returned to Camden, where he opened a medical practice and pharmacy, both of which grew quickly. In 1883 Bragg's pharmacy business was described in a newspaper article as a "mammoth drug establishment."
Dr. Bragg remained an "uncompromising Confederate" until his death on Oct. 2, 1900, at age 62. In January 1898 he was the guest speaker at a Little Rock fundraiser sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to help erect a monument to Robert E. Lee. The Camden doctor was described as "a great admirer of Virginia's noble hero, Robert Edward Lee."
In 1960, when the letters were published, the Confederacy was held in high regard among white Arkansans. Today, it can fairly be said that Dr. Junius Bragg represented the slave-owning class, that he was a willing participant in building and defending a new economic and social system which was hardly distinguishable from slavery itself. Nevertheless, the Junius Bragg letters provide a valuable peek inside Confederate Arkansas.
It is remarkable that the Bragg letters survived at all. In her second letter written after their marriage, Josephine requested that her husband destroy her letters after reading them. Dr. Bragg responded gently, but he made clear his position: "I place too high an estimate upon them to destroy them unless they were inevitably to be made public." The newlywed surgeon put an end to the discussion, writing: "In fact, I intend to take care of all of them. Anything that has ever been touched by [your] fingers is dear to me."
Despite these firmly stated intentions, it seems that Bragg destroyed Josephine's letters. In his final letter, written from Marshall, Texas, weeks after Lee surrendered, Bragg mentioned briefly that "all the officers in the various departments in Marshall are burning their papers today."
Tom Dillard is a historian and retired archivist living near Glen Rose in rural Hot Spring County. Email him at Arktopia.email@example.com.
NAN Profiles on 09/15/2019
Print Headline: Through a Confederate's pen