My Dearest Sarah


This is a collection of letters written by John Bryden, Jr. to his sweetheart and later wife, Sarah Bowles Bryden. The earliest letter dates to 1847; the last was written shortly after John’s discharge from the Union Army in May, 1865.

The letters were handed down in the Bryden family from Sarah to her daughter, Agnes Bryden Taylor; from Agnes to her eldest niece, Sarah Bryden Carpenter; from the second Sarah to her daughter, Dorothy Carpenter; from Dorothy to her cousin, John M. Bryden, Jr.; and then from John to his daughter Heather.

In transcribing the letters, I’ve updated the spelling and punctuation. Added text is enclosed in brackets and question marks indicate places I’m not sure of the text. The vocabulary and grammar are, to the best of my ability, entirely John’s. The images have been color-adjusted for legibility.

The letters reveal John’s many failings as a husband, father, son, and soldier. He gambles, drinks, chews tobacco, and argues with friends and family. He enjoys traveling and shirking responsibilities at home. He can be an unreliable narrator. In one or two letters, he’s downright whiny. But for all that, I think it’s fair to say that he loved his wife and children, and fulfilled his duty to his nation and the “boyes” in his Regiment.

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Hand-colored Daguerrotype of Sarah and John ca. 1850.  Possibly an engagement photo.

©2009, 2013 H. Bryden. Content may not be republished in any form without permission of the author.