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The Pickets Before Petersburg

The Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1280, p. 342.

October 1, 1864

The Pickets Before Petersburg.--The special correspondent of the New York Tribune, writing from "in front of Petersburg," on the 5th ult., says:--"Knowing perfectly their own resources and strength, our army can afford to dally, in a measure, with the enemy. Hence the more than usual sociability, at the present time, of the opposing pickets. On the right, I understand, they sit on the opposite ends of the same log and discuss the war and the peace question. Some are not quite so sociable. The other day one of our officers, in stationing his pickets, said to one of them, 'Well, sit down on the end of that log there for the present, until you get the lay of the land a little, and see what is going on,' and then went on stationing his detail. Presently the seated picket heard a rustling through the bushes at the other end of the log, and a voice at the same time asking, 'Is that you, Yank?' On being answered affirmatively, that it was 'nobody else,' Reb replied, 'Well, I guess we are getting a little too close together; I will withdraw a little,' suiting the action to the word. On another occasion two cooks in Colonel Stevens's Brigade, 18th Army Corps, in taking dinner to their comrades in the trenches, took the wrong by-path and brought up in the camp of the enemy. They were relieved of the dinner and sent to Richmond, and word sent back to our pickets by the dinner-eaters that they would be very much obliged for another such meal. The other evening word was given out to our pickets by the Rebs that some ladies had come down from Richmond, and that there was to be a prayer-meeting in the rebel camp, and some of our boys were invited over, but they failed to 'see it.' On this part of the line in some places the opposing forces get water out of the same springs, and the pickets traffic more or less in newspapers and other commodities. This intercourse and traffic seem to be carried on perhaps even more persistently and extensively, though a little differently, at some places on the left. The pickets have an agreement not to fire on each other without due notice, but it is understood that all captures by main strength or superior numbers are legitimate. This makes the pickets somewhat shy of each other, and consequently the most of their traffic is carried on in writing. They have a neutral post between their lines--a stump, for instance--where notes of negotiation and commodities of exchange are mutually left. A note or two of the rebel pickets that I have seen will more fully explain the modus operandi:--'Please leave the worth of this (a plug of tobacco) in writing-paper, with two envelopes. I will give you two plugs of tobacco for the knife.' 'Please mail this letter (an open letter) to my mother, in Kentucky. Put on one of your stamps, and here is one of ours and a piece of tobacco in return. What's the chance to get some coffee of you?' These notes, with or without the article referred to, as the case may be, are left at the nearest post, while the person leaving them retires, and the other person comes up and examines them and replies; and so the traffic goes on. Sometimes the bargain and exchange are made in person, without the trouble of notes. One of the pickets told me that during one of the fiercest of the Weldon Railroad fights the pickets on a portion of the lines near by, not immediately engaged, were driving a brisk trade in tobacco, note-paper, &c. Besides this petty trafficking, not a little frank conversation on the state of affairs is known to be carried on between the more intelligent soldiers on picket."

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