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Brother Against Brother
A century ago this month began the war that set These unpublished letters show how one family was bitterly split
April 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 3
Sometimes the, weariest old clichés turn out to be, true. The Civil War was, really, a war of brother against brother. Now and again tlie brothers come under the magnifying glass and can be seen, hot and bitler against one another.
The Civil War began in mid-April, 1861, with the bombardment of Fort Suniter. President Lincoln called for troops. Among the contingents that headed for Washington was the 6th Massachusetts, which marched through Baltimore on April 10, got into a jight with a street crowd, and reached the capital only after a melee in which both soldiers and civilians were killed.
The riot infuriated many people, among them the Massachusetts-born Pratt brothers. John C. Pratt lived in Boston; his brother, Jabez D. Pratt, lived in Baltimore. Both were sober businessmen, in their forties, and they appraised this fight from opposite angles. When news of it reached Boston, John telegraphed to Jabez, ollering him a haven in the Bay State. Jabez replied in anger, blaming all of the trouble on Northern hotheads. Letter followed letter, until at lust the brothers were, bitter foes, showing—in the words they put on paper—just why the “war between brothers” became a byword. Their letters, furnished us by Mrs. Elizabeth Pratt Holthusen of New York, great-graiiddtinghter of John C. Pratt, are reprinted here as a moving example of the way the war turned good brothers into enraged enemies.—BRUCE CATTON
Baltimore, April 20, 1861 My dear Brother: I have received your dispatch, and while I thank you for your kindness in the offer, we, both Lucy and myself, are not disposed to run,—much less into (he arms of internai abolitionism. Wc know there is danger. Wc have expected lor thirty-six hours war to the knife. Possibly all may be slaughtered; but by the God in heaven, we are determined to die in the work, and not a man or woman have I seen or heard of but are so determined. Let any more Northern troops attempt passage of this city and not one will live to tell the story. It is a yawning gulf as long as a man is left to do the death. Thirty-six hours ago a majority of our people were for peaceable separation, and I may say for peace at all hazards, but now the man does not exist in these parts who is not for the defense of our city against the inroads or passage of troops from the North. We are nol to be subjugated by Lintoln and his hordes. All this has been brought about by the wicked refusal of Lincoln to hear and be advised by Gen. St ou not to send armaments to the South. Gen. Scott begged Lincoln not to do it hut he replied, “What in hell will become of the Republican party.” 1 This is the fact and Scott repeated it to Col. Huge of this city who, notwithstanding his being a South Carolina man. has held to the Government till he heard this from Scoit and then resigned his commission. I have just got arms and Joseph and myself intend to do what we can. be it ever so little. If he would not fight I would disown him. But enough. Your brother J. D. P.
1 Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, top officer in the Army, never warned Lincoln “not to send armaments to the South,” and Jabez Pratt’s anecdote is clearly apocryphal. The “Col. Huge” referred to in the following paragraph may have been Major Benjamin Hugcr, a Regular Army officer who resigned in April, 1861, and became a brigadier general in the Confederate service.