Brother of Mine: The Civil War Letters of Thomas and William Christie
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In 1861, as President Lincoln called for volunteers to defend the Union, Thomas Christie wrote to his father, voicing desires shared by many an enlistee: “I do want to ‘see the world,’ to get out of the narrow circle in which I have always lived, to ‘make a man of myself,’ and to have it to say in days to come that I, too, had a part in this great struggle.”
As it turned out, Thomas had an excellent partner in his quest: his brother William. Both signed on with the First Minnesota Light Artillery, working as “cannoneers,” responsible for loading and aiming big guns at the enemy. The First Minnesota saw action in major battles at Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, and Atlanta. But the adventurers also endured the monotony of camp life, the hunger of poor supply lines, and, in William’s case, the challenges of enemy capture. The ups and downs, the doubts and thrills are recounted from their differing perspectives in this collection of letters to worried parents, a winsome sister, and a younger brother eager to join in the fight. Their vivid epistles are enhanced by the familial connection of brothers in arms who eventually did see the world—and returned home changed.
Hampton Smith is a reference librarian at the Minnesota Historical Society. In his many years at the society, he has developed expertise in Civil War and military history. The Christie letters are a treasured part of MHS collections.
McPherson’s place. Welcher, Union Army, 11:308-9. 18. According to the First Battery Company Morning Reports, Captain Clayton left for fifteen days furlough on May 22. 19. At Huntsville, General Blair organized the Seventeenth Corps into two divisions: the Third under Mortimer Leggett and the Fourth under Walter Gresham. Welcher, Union Army, 11:310. 20. The morning reports for May and June 1864 note the detachment of the left section on May 27, the day the rest of the battery left Decatur,
you got most thoroughly homesick and served you right too, But how you could think so lightly of the state of my adoption, as Father’s letter indicates you do, is more than I can explain. Probably the hurried way in which you went through the country, and the troubled state of mind in which you were, prevented you from seeing its transcendent beauties. What did you think of the Bluffs back of Winona? and what of the great Prairies between St. Charles and Rochester? and above all what do you think
disembarked as yet, and expect to go further up tonight. Direct all letters to the Saint Louis Arsenal, and they will be sent after us. Yours aff’ly, T. D. Christie 1. Transcribed in Thomas Christie reminiscence. 2. William Z. Clayton, originally from Freeman, Maine, came to Minnesota in 1857 and eventually became commander of the First Minnesota Light Artillery. “Minnesota Biographies,” 128–29. 3. Charles W. Southwick, a native of Massachusetts, listed Minneapolis as his residence at the
hero-worship… a very bright, active, energetic, courageous man.” Like most men entering the service, he had no previous military experience. Born in Maine, Clayton had moved in the 1850s to Minnesota, where he took up farming as well as teaching. He seems to have been popular but not prominent and, as one of several recruiters active in Winona, had a hard time filling his company.7 At Fort Snelling, the Christies’ group spent their time learning infantry drill while waiting for their company to
hands are full from morning till night. This is the reason why I have not, (to say the least) improved any in this respect since I joined the Army. However, I think you can read my scrawl well enough; and that will have to do untill the war is over. I will expect a good description of your doings on the 4th by the next Mail and also of your adventures at the River when they take place. I should think that there would be more game up your way this Summer than usual, owing to the absence of the