The Minnesota Historical Society has recently acquired a Civil War letter written on patriotic letter sheets on January 19, 1862, by William G. Christie from the St. Louis Arsenal, where he served as part of the First Minnesota Light Artillery. William G. Christie, son of James C. Christie and Elizabeth Gilchrist, was born December 18, 1830, in Dundee, Scotland. In 1861 he sold his farm in Olmsted County (MN) and enlisted with his brother, Thomas, in the Minnesota Artillery, First Battery of Light Artillery, in which they served until 1865.
The MHS holds the James C. Christie and Family papers. William and Thomas were excellent and prolific writers. The back-and-forth correspondence among the family members creates a wonderful display of details, events, and personalities through almost daily accounts with the First Minnesota Light Artillery.
In our existing collection of William’s correspondence, he wrote to his father, James C. Christie, on January 17 and 18, 1862, mentioning their change in location to the St. Louis Arsenal, guard duty, receiving muskets, living in tents, the buildings, illness and death at the camps, and the operations of making musket balls. Another letter to his brother, Alexander, on the 22nd of January mentions that Thomas is too lazy to write and that he’ll do so when the spirit moves him, while William will return all letters written to him. Judging by the surviving collection, the spirit doesn’t move Thomas to write until February, and he lets his brother Alexander know that he can’t expect a letter for every one written.
In the case of the newly acquired letter written by William on January 19, 1862, we know that he is writing to his brother, most likely Alexander. The following excerpt displays William’s astute observations:
“events are taking place so fast here that I am forced as it were to give you some things as it were over again. Well on last Wednesday; we came here: and are doing guard duty in place of some troops: that have been ordered of to Cario[?]: We had fortithree men: on duty last night and the same today. We will soon be relieved from such onerous duty for we will have 500 troops to keep the place. We will stay here until we are fully equipped with our whole accoutrements as Artillerients at Present we have muskets to duty with. There are a great buildings inside the walls There are three or four buildings occupied in storing cartridges and such like things. There is one building and two storied for making cartridges. Boys do the work and their fingers fly pretty nimble each boy will make from eight hundred or one thousand per day…There is a black smith shop in which they have quite a number of fires going. They are making nothing new here they shot and shell are cast in the foundry in the city. Only the repairing of muskets… We have an Irish Winter at Present. Tom will have some funny things to tell you about the seceshers. We have some sixtifive of them here they do police duty and all things of that sort. They are a poor shabby looking set tall light men with a great predominance of legs. They cut ice and Tom was with them in the ice guarding them…I have some sad news to tell you. We had had two deaths in our company within the past week one a german the other an American. The first one of Asthma. The other of the measles there is a great deal of fault as a lack of knowledge among the men or in fact both are the cause of a great deal of the sickness among us. They have not the least idea of the laws of health or Anatomy or phisology you would laugh to hear them talk of being sore in their stomach when in fact it is there heart or rather their windpipe so it goes they eat and drink ale they can…”
He requests stimulating discussion from his brother and comments on his sister Sarah’s health and school performance. He mentions that he will no longer write to a woman by the name of Ann again, describes pitching tents in a grove of trees, offering details of the tent’s structure and what they did the first night.
William’s letter is a welcomed addition to the Christie Family papers; please check out other Christie family letters at http://www.mnhs.org/library/Christie/intropage.html and through the Library.
Molly Tierney, Manuscripts Curator