The following letter was written by Cyril H. Tyler (1841-1913) of Co. I, 7th Michigan Infantry. Cyril was the son of Rufus Tyler (1816-1894) and Amy Farnum (1818-18xx) of Waukesha, Michigan. Just days before enlisting, he married Mary Eliza Foote (1839-1924). The location and date of this letter is missing and my hunch is this was the second sheet of a two-sheet letter which may have been sent to his wife. Cyril mentions that a fort was being constructed at the Chain Bridge which I presume was either Fort Marcy or Fort Ethan Allen. Construction on these forts began in late September 1861 so I would date this letter in October 1861 when they were attached to Lander’s Brigade and bivouacked somewhere near or on Meridian Hill outside Washington D. C. Cyril entered the war as a private and was discharged on 22 August 1864 at Petersburg, Virginia, as a sergeant.
The 7th Michigan Infantry left the state in late August and arrived in Washington D. C. on 5 September 1861. They were assigned guard duty along near Edward’s Ferry in October and moved to Muddy Branch on 4 December where they remained until March 1862. They later participated in the Peninsula Campaign, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Fredericksburg (being the first regiment to cross the Rappahannock river in pontoon boats under the fire of Confederate sharpshooters), the Battle of Gettysburg (repulsing Pickett’s charge), the Mine Run Campaign, the Overland Campaign, the Siege of Petersburg and Appomattox Campaign.
[Camp near Meridian Hill, October 1861]
The ground around here is not much of it tilled. It is all overrun by the soldiers. Lots of farms here was owned by disunion men and their property was confiscated. The District of Columbia is half covered with camps. The rebel pickets are within 8 or 9 miles from here. Our men are making a large fort at Chain Bridge. A number of picket guards is killed most every day near Chain Bridge. There is a telegraph line that extends from Washington as far as our lines go—that is about 8 miles around Washington.
There is two or three regiments of Zouaves camped near us. I have been to see them. They are the worst looking persons I ever saw. They are as black as can be, red cap with a long tassel, red pants with a yellow stripe, red vest all striped off with yellow. The crotch of the pants hangs down halfway from their knees to their ankles, large and loose. Blue sash 12 feet long, 16 inches wide to wind around their body. 1
We have not got our guns yet. One of the Wisconsin captains was out from camp and was attacked by three rebel pickets and killed them and got wounded in the face. That was done Monday. The regiment of the Michigan men are camped some in Baltimore and some in Washington. They are a going to put all the Michigan men together and under one general.
I must stop writing. I don’t know as you can read this. I am in a hurry. I would tell you where to write but we shan’t stay here long. I will let you know where to write as soon as I get where I shall stay any length of time.
Goodbye, — Cyril H. Tyler
1 I cannot identify the Zouave unit based upon Henry’s description alone. My assumption is that the “blue sash” he is referring to was the scarf commonly tied around the midsection of the uniform. A Zouave regiment known to be in the vicinity of Meridian Hill at the time was the Anderson Zouaves which was the 62nd New York Infantry. Their uniform was described as baggy red breeches, leggings, gaiters, blue scarf worn around the waist, wiastcoat, short jacket, and red fez with blue silk tassel.