1861 Letter - 72nd Pennsylvania "Fire Zouaves" on Picket Along Potomac River - Private Jefferson Christman

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1861 Letter - 72nd Pennsylvania "Fire Zouaves" on Picket Along Potomac River - Private Jefferson Christman

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Item No. 4310539

An excellent November 1861 letter written by Private Jefferson Christman of Company H, 72nd Pennsylvania “Fire Zouaves” to his friend, Owen A. Duffy. At the time, the 72nd was picketing along the northern bank of the Potomac River near Conrad’s Ferry, not far from where Union troops had crossed the river during the disaster at Balls Bluff in October. Christman writes extensively about his surroundings while out on picket, describing his hut, or “Cottage by the Potomac,” in detail, along with the dangers of exposing oneself to enemy fire from across the river and his hopes for a major movement to occur. The letter reads:

On Picket along the banks of the Potomac
Tuesday Morning November 26th 1861

Friend Duffy: I am writing this seated in front of a blazing and cheerful fire, and considering the circumstances are pretty comfortably situated, our quarters at this time being much better than when in camp. “Our House” or more properly our hut is a small miserable looking structure constructed of boards, limbs of trees, mud, sod, straw, and several other articles used to cement it together, and does not present a very inviting appearance to one who is a stranger to a soldier’s habitation and usages, but to us poor mortals it seems a palace, and is two fold more comfortable than the thin canvass tents which we are compelled to occupy when in camp and are no great protection against the driving storms and wet which in this section visit us on an average of every other day. It is about 12 feet long, 7 or 8 feet in width and about 7 in height, and divided into two apartments—the eastern division is used for cooking purposes and altogether takes the place of a kitchen—the western end or division we use as our sleeping room, in which we have our knapsacks, and all the “necessaries” pertaining to comfortable (!) sleeping quarters with the exception in wet weather we all are fortunate enough to get a complete drenching, which I assure you is not at all desirable or agreeable at this season of the year, so Duff by the description I have given you of this “Cottage by the Potomac” you can imagine we are evidently fixed. This Picket duty is a strange affair, and this is the greatest part of my life and more incidents than I could enumerate to you in a week, although we have only been leading this gay, hazardous and eventful life for the past 5 days. In the first place, we have to be very careful and not expose ourselves to much during the day for fear that on the other side lay a lurking rebel drawing a dead aim at an exposed person, particularly one of the Zouaves, as the rebels seem to have a great hatred against the Fire Zouaves. During the night two men are on a post for four hours when they are relieved, and are expected to keep a vigilant watch until daylight appears again particularly so for our own safety, as the traitorous devils are bound to pull on us when they can. Last night the picket were firing a few posts below us but am happy to say that none on our side were wounded. Two posts above us Col. Geary’s line of Pickets commences and extends along the river to Point of Rocks, and his men with their Enfield and sword bayonet are a perfect terror to the rebels. Consequently we are not molested by them, although they are seen occasionally over in “secesh.” This kind of a life I like very well with the exception of so much guard duty to perform and the exposure to the cold piercing winds which sweep along through the valley with great force at times nearly demolishing our house, and is very cold and disagreeable and about that time one is likely to get a “scare on,” hearing the waves roar and imagine a boat coming and stands at a ready, when shortly he finds he is mistaken and prepares for another “scare” and Duff such is picket life down along the Upper Potomac. As regards our food I am happy to inform you of the fact that we live very well, and can not complain. The boys go out foraging and generally return with potatoes, turnips, cabbage, and occasionally a chicken and then we have a glorious feast you may well know. The thieving propensities are not confined to such small things. but on Sunday morning one one of the boys shot a sheep and brought it in, much to the delight of all hands and so it goes, anything in the way of eatables we are determined to lay violent hands on.

Duff, the advice you gave m in regard to saving my money I thank you for instead of censuring you and I assure you from this out I shall make more profitable investments than I have done heretofore, and will not allow myself to be dead broke, and get in the condition I am now in, as I have not ben the worthy possessor of a “rest” for the past 7 or 8 weeks; and as regards whisky, even if I had a desire to drink the “stuff” could not, for it cannot be procured at almost any price and would not drink it if I could get quantities of it The papers you forwarded me were received two days after your letter, and thank you for them, as anything in the reading line is always in demand, and this you may know by experience. Please inform Sam Singleton that I received the articles he forwarded me, also his letters which will be answered in a short time, and perhaps by this mail, however if you feel disposed you can grant him the privilege of perusing this. John Baitzel [also of the 72nd Pennsylvania] is well and in fine spirits, but regret saying that my messmate Chalky has been rather indisposed for the past two or three days, but will soon be well again. I trust his affliction is only a heavy cold. The numbers on the sick list are increasing rapidly. the hospitals are getting filled up, and if they keep us in canvass tents instead of putting us in barracks, I expect to see, and experience great suffering from the severe cold for the volunteers cannot stand such usage. It is reported among the soldiers that a grand movement is to take place shortly between this and Christmas, and I believe it, for nearly all the commanders of regiments and brigades in this section have been called to Washington, and a large force of sappers and miners have been employed construction pontoon bridges at Conrad’s Ferry during he past week. Among them are Morehead’s men. This is the place where an attempt was made to cross, and you know with what success, but better luck next time, and that is the point. Your friends in the 72nd Regiment P. V. will torch the “sacred soil.” Our dinner is ready and must close. In a short month the holiday will be upon us and for fear I will not have an opportunity to write you again in the eventful year of 1861, so I will conclude by wishing you all a “merry Christmas and happy new year.” Give my respects to all hands, and the boys all send theirs. Answer soon.
From Your sincere friend,
Jeff. Christman
Co. H. Col Baxter’s Phila. Fire Zouaves
Poolesville Md

P.S. - I just heard that the balance of our regiment at Camp Observation have received orders to be in readiness for a move. I would like you to inform me if you hear of any great movement, or anything of great importance pertaining to the war, as we never get to hear anything until it is stale and then can hardly believe it. My fingers are cold and with the hope that the stars and stripes may soon wave over Manassas and Richmond, I will say farewell.
J.C.

The letter was written on four pages of a stationery sheet measuring about 7 1/2” x 9 3/4”. It is in very good condition with some toning, foxing, and ink smudges. Creased where originally folded. Includes the original cover with patriotic decoration, “The Union and the Constitution must and shall be Preserved.”

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