On May 5th, 1864 Private Joseph P. Brainerd of Company L, 1st Vermont Cavalry Regiment, was on patrol along the line of march of the Union Army of the Potomac as Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign got underway. The 1st Vermont Cavalry engaged the enemy, and Brainerd was wounded and captured, one of over 17,000 Union casualties during the May 5th to 7th Battle of the Wilderness.
Brainerd was taken to Andersonville Prison in Georgia. His father, Judge Joseph H. Brainerd of St. Albans, Vermont, appealed to President Abraham Lincoln to get his son out of Andersonville either through a prisoner exchange or a negotiated outright release. Lincoln could not, or would not, do so. There were thousands of prisoner of war, and Lincoln could not work to get one man out while the others remained. In September, Private Brainerd died of scurvy at Andersonville, and was buried there.
The elder Brainerd would mourn his son’s death for the rest of his life. He not only mourned the death, but he blamed it on both the Confederates and Abraham Lincoln. Brainerd put his anger and bitterness into words. He had a monument to his son placed in Greenwood Cemetery in St. Albans, and on it was this inscription:
Joseph Partridge Brainerd, Son of Joseph H. Brainerd and his wife Fanny Partridge, a conscientious, faithful, brave Union Soldier, was born on the 27th day of June 1840, graduated from the University of Vermont in August 1862, enlisted in Co. L of the Vermont Cavalry, was wounded and taken prisoner by the Rebels in the Wilderness, May 5, 1864, was sent to Andersonville Prison Pen in Georgia where he died on the 11th of September 1864, entirely and wholly neglected by President Lincoln and murdered by the Rebels, with thousands of our loyal Soldiers by Starvation, Privation, Exposure, and Abuse.
Brainerd also had two other things inscribed on the monument. One was “Honor the Faithful and Brave Soldiers”, the other was part of a Biblical passage from Romans 12: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, Saith the Lord”. To some, it appeared that Brainerd wanted, or believed, that Lincoln would be punished by God in the hereafter.
St. Albans was no stranger to the war. In October 1864, Confederate raiders came down from nearby Canada and robbed the town’s three banks. Many Union Army veterans lived there, and were not happy with the monument’s inscriptions, feeling Brainerd went overboard in his blaming of Lincoln for his son’s death. The veterans anger came to a head after Lincoln’s assassination, and a group of them went to the cemetery, pulled the monument down, and defaced the inscription. Brainerd had the monument repaired and put back up.
Friends urged Brainerd to change the inscription to be less hostile to Lincoln, but he refused to do so and remained bitter over the loss until he died on March 29th, 1879. Joseph H. Brainerd is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, and the monument to his son is still there today.
The monument to Pvt. Joseph P. Brainerd in St. Albans at Find A Grave
Bloody Roads South: The Wilderness to Cold Harbor, May-June 1864
by Noah Andre Trudeau
St. Albans Scrapbook by Jon Woddard. Blue and Gray Magazine, December 1990.