1863: Francis Fix to John Ryner

This letter was written by Capt. Francis Fix (1836-1864) of Co. E, 114th Pennsylvania (Collis’ Zouaves). He wrote the letter to John Ryner of Philadelphia, the husband of Emily Ryner, the aunt and adopted mother of Alfred McClay who received a gunshot wound to the right thorax during the Battle of Fredericksburg that proved fatal. Alfred died at Harewood Hospital in Washington D. C. on 24 January 1863.


Headquarters Co. E, 114th Regt. P. V.
In Camp near Falmouth, Va.
February 14th 1863

Mr. Ryner

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Capt. Francis Fix, 114th R. P. V.

I received your letter of the 9th inst. & in compliance with your request, I enclose the Descriptive List & Surgeon’s Certificate. You can draw without much trouble. the amount die to Alfred McClay by applying to McDevitt & Co., Walnut Street below Fourth.

I received two bundles about the date of Fredericksburg battle but not knowing where to send them to, & not being able to get any information as to his whereabouts, I left them in my store tent thinking to receive notice very soon by either his parents or some physician, where he was. But waiting in vain & receiving orders to march several times since, one bundle was lost or stolen in the hurry of packing up & the other pair of gloves I gave to one of my men who had none & suffered from the cold.

If you wish, I will replace them & send them on to you. As regards the sutler’s bill, you need not trouble yourself about it.

Respectfully your obedient servant,

Francis Fix, Capt. of Co. E, 114th R. P. V., Zouaves d’Afrique ¹

¹ The 114th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment was an infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. They were notable for their colorful Americanized version of the Zouave uniform worn in emulation of certain French light-infantry units that became world-famous during France’s colonization of North Africa, the Crimean War, and the Second War of Italian Independence fought in the years prior to the American Civil War.

The regiment was the brain-child of Charles H. T. Collis, an Irish immigrant who settled in Philadelphia becoming a prominent young lawyer. Collis initially raised only a small company of men calling them the “Zouaves d’Afrique” which served while attached to other regiments. They saw action in the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, the Battle of Cedar Mountain, and the Battle of Antietam. The “Zouaves d’Afrique” were much admired for their military bearing and prowess in battle to the point that it was decided to raise a full-sized regiment which was given the numeric designation of 114th Volunteer Infantry.

A member of the 114th Pennsylvania wearing the distinctive Zouave uniform and red Moroccan style fez with golden tassel, MI

The 114th Pennsylvania’s uniform from top to bottom began with a red Moroccan style fez with a yellow-gold tassel worn crushed downward on the back of the head like a skull cap. Some men were issued fezzes that were too large so they compensated by turning up the brim giving the fez the appearance of a beanie. The collarless jacket was dark blue with sky blue cuffs and red trim. Arabesque designs on the jacket breasts were called tombeaux and gave the appearance of large false pockets trimmed in red. A sky blue sash was worn wrapped tightly around the waist with Chasseur style madder red trousers, white leggings (gaiters), and leather jambières rounding out the ensemble. For dress parade and guard mount duty the fez was augmented with a white turban which was wound around the head in Arabic style. Although the turban was not worn on the march or in battle it has often been erroneously portrayed as such in post-war art. The material for the uniforms was imported from France by Colonel Collis himself. Like other Zouave regiments raised in the larger cities of America, the 114th attracted some immigrants to its ranks who were veterans of European wars, but the rank and file consisted mostly of American-born citizens from Philadelphia and its surrounding counties. [Wikipedia]

The Painting in Header: During the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 13th, 1862) a crisis occurred on the Union side. When the brigade of General John C. Robinson assaulted the Confederate position on Prospect Hill, a counter attack threatened the Union guns while the generals horse was killed, pinning him to the ground. In this moment of confusion, colonel Charles H. T. Collis rode to the front of his 114th Pennsylvania Infantry, took the regiments colors, rallied its men and led another attack. This action not only saved the guns but also won Collis the Medal of Honor. Years later Collis commissioned the German painter Carl Röchling to depict this scene in a painting. 83.8 x 149.9 cm, Oil on canvas.

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