Organized in Philadelphia on August 31, 1861, the 23rd PA Infantry, known as the BIRNEY ZOUAVES, saw action in dozens of important battles throughout the Civil War, including Yorktown, Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, the Maryland Campaign, Fredericksburg, Mud March, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Mine Run, Rapidan Campaign, Col d Harbor and Petersburg.
The Zouaves were elite units, known for their precision on the drill field and for their colorful uniforms.
JOHN H. METCALF, a resident of Philadelphia, PA, enlisted in August 1861 into the Birney Zouaves and was mustered out on September 8, 1864, at Philadelphia.
2 ½ pp, 7 ¾” x 10”, June 9th, 1862, Camp at Fair Oaks, VA, to his girlfriend, Rosy.
“I will take this opportunity to answer your letter. I thought I would wait till I got into Richmond but having only one sheet and one envelope I thought I would write on them before I lost them. I suppose you have heard about us losing everything. We have been moving about ever since the battle. Night before last we were taken out to go on Picket. Co. K of our Regiment was on Picket and our Co. was a Reserve for them & also a telegraph that is men standing about a half a square apart to pass orders down. Baxters Regiment was joining our Pickets. All was quiet till Sunday morning when we heard some firing. We were called into line waiting for an attack. All at once, the Rebels made a charge on Baxters Pickets. They ran back to the Reserve. The Rebels followed them. Bakers California Regiment was laying in the woods and when the Rebels came near enough. They rose up and fired a volly into them. This they did not expect for as soon as they were fired on, all that was not killed went back faster than they came. They commenced to throw some shells over into our lines. We thought they were going to attack us again. All the infantry were brought up and the Artillery. If ever they had attacked us yesterday, they would had a warm reception. Gen. McClellan says that there is only going to be one more battle and I think that it will be soon. I see by the Inquirer that they give us a pretty good name. The Fire Zouaves are encamped about a square from us. A great many of them are sick. Charley and me stand it very well not being on the sick list…I suppose there is a great many wounded soldiers now in the city. Our Co. lost 2 killed and 7 wounded. It was my turn for fatigue duty when we were ordered to bury the dead of our Regiment. When the two men of our Company was killed, the Rebels were outflanking us so we had to leave their bodies. But when they were drove back, we got a chance to get their bodies. We buried them side by side with their names over them…
“John H. Metcalf”
Folds, toning, minor fold
splits. In pencil and very readable. Punctuation added.
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