Civil War Letters of the Christie Family

Author: Thomas D. Christie
Date: June 7, 1863
Location: Vicksburg, Mississippi
Addressee: Sarah J. Christie
Description: Construction of battlements and forts is explained. Thomas also provides details on how his artillery gun is fired in battle.

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Before Vicksburg, June 7th, 1863

My Dear Sister:

In my letter to Sandy I gave vent to feelings of impatience at your long silence, which I would now gladly recall since receiving your doubly addressed letter of the 27th Ult.

The description of the wedding and your feelings on that occasion are very interesting, and I hope you will continue to employ your descriptive talent in writing to us, for heretofore you have given us but few specimens of your skill in that line. I wish I could present to your mind's eye a picture of our situation here, for I think it would be interesting to you although so commonplace with us, but the most I have room for is a rough draught, which you can fill up from imagination. First, as to our position: Our fort is built on the crest of a hill, and between it and the rebel breastworks, which are in plain view,—a long line of yellow earth with white cotton bales and sandbags on top—,is a very rough succession of narrow steep ridges, with ravines to match and all covered with a tremendous abbuttis, which you must know, is made by felling forest trees in such a manner as to make an advance over the ground extremely difficult. To accomplish this, the trees are felled with the tops toward the enemy, and a very formidable obstruction it makes. Our fort is built of earth, faced on the inside with fascines, or bundles of canes 15 feet long and a foot through, and tied around with wire from the Rebel telegraph line. These fascines are laid, one on top of the other, and each one is fastened down securely with stakes driven through it and through the ones below into the ground. The fascines are to prevent the earth from falling down into the fort, which the concussion of the guns would soon make it do if unsupported.

The embrasures, through which we fire, are made by setting up gabions on each side of the space left for the embrasure, where they are staked down and filled with earth. A gabion is made of stakes, with grapevines, young cane or flexible bushes woven through them, so as to form a hollow cylinder something like a large willow basket without the bottom, only much longer. The stakes are left projecting at one end some distance beyond the wicker work, and when the gabion is put in its place these projecting ends are driven into the ground and the gabion is filled with dirt. When we first came into the work the embrasures were not lined with gabions, and the consequence was that in one day's firing we blew out the embrasures so wide that a two horse wagon could have been driven through one of them.

When I tell you that the fort has 8 guns in it, (4 of the 2nd Ills. 2 of the 12th Wis. and 2 of ours), and that we have a deep ditch running from it to the magazine behind the hill, by which the ammunition is carried to the guns without exposure; you will be able to form a very good idea of its appearance. If you could be in our fort during action and could command composure enough, amid the continual explosion of the guns on each side of you, the sulphurous smell of the burnt powder, and the fierce "whiz," "whiz" of the enemy's bullets, to observe the working of our howitzer you would see something interesting. There is No. 1: his hands face and clothes blackened with the wet powder from the sponge, on his knees ramming home the charge, (if he stood up opposite the embrasure he would get a ball in an instant). There is No. 3, (William) with his thumb on the vent to prevent a premature explosion when the piece is hot, Now the gun is loaded and Nos. 1 and 3 step back, the latter to the trail handspike to traverse the trail at the Gunner's bidding) "By hand to the front," and the piece is run up close to the embrasure, the Gunner sets his pendulum [illegible word] on its seat, sights carefully and gives the right elevation, perhaps 2 degrees. Then "Ready," "Fire," Now, if you are standing to our side where you can see, you will observe the shell flying through the air like a great black bird, make a gradual curve, and fall behind the Rebel works, then you see a white smoke where it fell, and pretty soon comes the report of its bursting. Through all the din and tumult and smoke, No. 6 sits coolly cutting the fuses to the proper time, and the proper Nos. of the Detachment carry the shells from him to the gun. According to tactics, I have nothing to do at the guns, but I have been there ever since we first opened: sometimes acting as Gunner, and sometimes changing with one of the cannoniers. We are to move into a fort tonight much further to the front, within 200 yards of the enemy, and then we may expect some warm work.

I saw Tom Reid some time ago, and found him in good health but horribly dirty. The Regiment left all their clothes at Helena except what the men are wearing, and you may imagine to what a condition their late rough campaigning has reduced them. Nevertheless, the boys are all in good spirits and tough as bears. I will go down on the left again soon and see them.

I want you Sarah to make a fixing to carry our needles, thread &c. in I forget the name of it but as Mrs. [illegible name] says "You know what I mean." your loving Brother, T.D. Christie

[Postscript, beginning on page one] Send a supply of good [illegible word] thread in he whatdoyacallit [sic] and some assorted needles. Don't bother with fancy work, something stout and durable and to carry in breast pocket.

[Top of page one] My St. Paul Press gives an account of the rejoicings on account of the capture of Vicksburg, and it makes me mad to think that people should make such fools of themselves and of us too. They have no business to expect the fall of this strong hold so soon, and we don't want this town to get the reputation that Richmond has got for being taken. Just keep cool and we will work the surer if not the cheaper for not… [remainder illegible]

[Page two] Remember that I write no private letters, that is, to be concealed from any one of the family.

[Page three] I send a piece of Secesh flag captured by our Battery in a hotel at Richmond, Va. It is pretty well faded but you can see where the red was.

[Page four] Be very sure to give my love to Mother, and my 2 grandmothers. Got a letter from [2 illegible words]. He is in hospital at Paducah, we keep up regular correspondence.

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