Coleman Bruce Papers

Coleman Bruce was a farmer living in Moniteau, Missouri in 1860.1 Like many Missourians, Bruce grew cereal grains for sale at the market. In his letter to his daughter Martha Jane and her husband William Jackson, Bruce wrote about his business in Jefferson City and the impact the war had on the economy.

the corn crop is as fine as iever Saw the wheat and oats hungarion [Hungarian wheat] timithy [Timothy grass] all good but no market for nothing no money I surpose with out adout of all the battle that has bin faught in Virginginia and at Springfield
Coleman Bruce Letter to William and Martha Jane Jackson. Aug. 20, 1861

Bruce’s sentence structure and phonetic spelling make his letter difficult to read; yet it provides a valuable insight to the written and verbal speech patterns of the 19th Century. In his letter Bruce calls northerners the pejorative term “dutch,” a corruption of “Deutsche,” meaning German. This term was commonly used in Missouri, as many associated the massive German migration to St. Louis and the city’s urban setting with other iconic northern cities. The use of such language shows that association with the rising immigrant class was viewed by many in Missouri as a detriment to American society.

we dont expect to live under the dutch nor the Yonkeys we pur fiting untell we die in prefance the north
Colman Bruce Letter to William and Martha Jane Jackson. Aug. 20, 1861

Bruce was very vocal with his disdain for Northern troops, which placed him in a precarious position during the war. On July 9, 1863, four witnesses filed affidavits with the Missouri Union Provost Marshal, citing Coleman Bruce with disloyalty to the government. A month prior to the accusations, James W. Sappington, a captain and member of the Missouri legislature and Major William Jackson, Bruce’s son-in-law, both testified that Bruce was a “true and loyal citizen.”2 During this period of hostility, anything a person wrote or said could become subject to scrutiny and could be used as evidence that the individual was disloyal. No evidence exists showing Union officials pursued Bruce any further about his loyalty to the state or the country.

Bruce’s letter mentions significant events and individuals of the War, such as action near Cair, Illinois and Birds point (an island on the Mississippi River opposite of Cairo). He also wrote about the death of Union General Nathaniel Lyon at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Bruce mistakenly reported Franz Sigel was also killed at the Battle. Lyon and Sigel surprised Confederate troops camped along Wilson’s Creek on the morning of August 10, 1861. While initially caught off guard, the Confederates were able to rally and repel the Union advance.

After Lyon’s death, Union forces retreated back to Springfield and eventually to Rolla, Missouri. Undoubtedly, Bruce was enthusiastic with the Confederate victory at Wilson’s Creek and their occupation of Southwest Missouri. Confederate control over the region caused difficulties for union civilians. Bruce noted that Sample Orr, an 1860 Missouri gubernatorial candidate, robbed a Springfield bank of $24,000. Allegedly, the bank was robbed to prevent the Confederates from securing the money to fund their army. The money was taken to Rolla to remain in Union hands. Little documentation on this event exists, although, Bruce discusses the matter as it was true fact:

Sample Orr robed the Springfield bank of 24000$ the you have ar will hear all about it
Colman Bruce Letter to William and Martha Jane Jackson. Aug. 20, 1861

Bruce encouraged his children to share this letter with their friends and family, perhaps in an attempt to persuade others to support the Confederacy. This letter draw attentions to the impact the War had on family dynamics as well as the crumbling economic condition in the country.

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  1. 1860 United States Federal Census; Census Place: Township 47 Range 14, Moniteau, Missouri; Roll M653_634; Page: 648; Image: 148; Family History Library Film: 803634.
  2. “Missouri’s Union Provost Marshal Papers, 1861-1868,” Missouri Digital Heritage, accessed October 20, 2010,