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While Father is Away reveals the intimate story of a British-American’s role in the American Civil War. William Bradbury’s letters home provide a rare window on the unique relationships among husband, wife, and children while a father was away at war.

Yorkshire attorney turned Union volunteer soldier Bradbury became a “privileged private” with extraordinary access to powerful Union generals including Daniel Butterfield, future president Benjamin Harrison, and Clinton B. Fisk, the region’s administrator for the Freedmen’s Bureau during Reconstruction.

The letters also provide an in-depth look at this driven land speculator and manager for the Atchison Topeka Santa Fe Railway. As a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and the Manchester Guardian, Bradbury was both eyewitness to and participant in the shaping of events in the world as it moved west.

Jennifer Cain Bohrnstedt, board member of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars, is the editor of Soldiering with Sherman: The Civil War Letters of George F. Cram.

"A fascinating journey into the life of Bradbury. Combines an intimate look into the lives of a soldier and family and a broad glimpse of mid-19th-century America."—Blue Ridge Country

"Not just another collection of Civil War letters . . . it develops several areas rarely explored in such collections and not always well understood."—Civil War News

"The bracing frankness of his concern with his own safety and his family's economic well-being—he writes virtually nothing about the Union cause, slavery, or even military campaigns—makes this a unique set of letters."—Journal of Southern History

"Thankfully, the Bradbury correspondence did not suffer the fate of most letters. . . . The value of the collection is not simply a matter of survival. It is extensive in both its length and depth."—Andrew Cayton

"Jennifer Cain Bohrnstedt opens a window on the social history of Civil War America by assembling the numerous wartime letters of William H. Bradbury. This thirty-three-year-old clerk enlisted in the Union army and served as a private and clerk throughout the war without ever firing a gun. His mastery of contemporary shorthand made him too valuable to risk in battle. He sank into posthumous obscurity until Bohrnstedt revived him through comprehensive, imaginative, and insightful editing. He has much to share about headquarters gossip, land speculation, and domestic affection."—John Y. Simon

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






William H. Bradbury, United States Civil War, Union soldiers


United States History


Edited by Jennifer Cain Bohrnstedt; compiled by Kassandra R. Chaney.

While Father Is Away: The Civil War Letters of William H. Bradbury
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