Featured Christmas in Civil War armies

CMWinkler

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CIVIL WAR: 150TH ANNIVERSARY
Christmas in Civil War armies

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Thomas Nast illustration of Abraham Lincoln welcoming Confederates to Christmas dinner, from Christmas 1864.

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Editor’s note” This is one of an occasional series of stories commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Despite war’s hardship, Christmas dwelled within the hearts and thoughts of the common soldiers of the Union and Confederacy, and also their leaders, 150 years ago during the American Civil War. For both Billy Yank and Johnny Reb, Christmas 1864 would be the last of four such consecutive harrowing Civil War Christmases.

Anxiously flocking to the colors in the spring of 1861, thousands of young men, North and South, alive with spirit, looked upon the forthcoming conflict as a grand frolicsome adventure. On Christmas Day 1861, “camaraderie, [pranks], brass bands, sports, food, and drink” abounded. “For fun, soldiers greased pigs and ran foot races.” They also conducted “staged mock parades, banging on tin pans, as they merrily marched through camp.” Naive youthful gaiety universally predominated.

More: http://napavalleyregister.com/news/...cle_499b1d01-84c1-595e-aab2-c9a1f58a58f2.html
 

Freddy

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Dec 19, 2006
Location
Worcester, MA
An old post from from 2006 from a thread on Civil War Christmas.

My GGF was in Alexandria, VA during Christmas in 1862 recovering from a wound received at South Mountain.

December 28th.1862
Last Sabbath of the year. I do not realize it so. Indeed feel my heart is cold to true spirited life. Am feeling more end more each day my need of God’s quickening grace in my heart. Feel that my little wasting of time my little sins I often commit are perhaps the occasion of God’s hiding His face from me. Yet ought to feel too that it is not by any words of my own that I can merit His grace still also must realize that while I love sin cannot hope for His mercy or grace. Must therefore yield the whole service and love of my heart not as hoping for reward for my so doing but as my rightful service, and what devout gratitude for God’s goodness call upon me to bestow. Had a fine Christmas dinner provided for us by the ladies of Washington and Alexandria. The hospital is full to overflowing with wounded from Fredericksburg, VA. Sorry to learn by the papers of the death of our Major Sidney Willard formerly captain of our company killed at Fredericksburg. I fear more men of our company and regiment have been laid bye in the fight. Had services in the hospital today. Have a good Chaplain connected with it. Received letter from brother, Herbert.

My GGF with the 35th MA in Tennessee for Christmas.

December 25th.1863
Christmas Day. What a contrast in surroundings to the Christmas days of the past. No rations until near night, so no dinner. But still it has been in many ways a Merry Christmas. Wrote to Nellie. Mind busy of how the dear ones at home were enjoying the day. Trust that I am learning that it is not the position of material blessings and surroundings that are necessary to give a contented and peaceful spirit. Feel that the blessings of memory, the sense of the love of the dear ones at home, of the privilege of correspondence with them, the sense of God’s love and care, the precious teaching and promise of his holy word, and privilege of prayer and communication with him have in them rich sources of comfort and content.

My GGF in Florence , SC stockade as POW seems to be too busy for Christmas.

December 26th.1864
The week has brought an agreeable change to our mess and myself. On the 22nd, the rebel quartermaster, came into camp calling for a boss carpenter, and seven assistants. Lunt was chosen and I was fortunate to get on with him as a “striker.” We have now had three days and never did fresh air, fields, and woods seem so rich a blessing. We have been set to work building a log cabin for one of the officials, going out at sunrise into the woods, and through the day cutting logs and riving shingles. Had hard work to swing the ax for the first one or two days, and had the rebel overseer been on hand to watch, fear I would have given out. Our extra rations are liberal and our three days experience begins to make us feel like men again. Pratt, is inside in the hut and acts as cook, and as we come in at sunset with our extras and bundles of firewood upon our shoulders, he greets us with a smiling face and a gallon of hot coffee made from burnt corn meal which with bean soup and baked corn cake, by the light of a pitch pine knot we gratefully devour everything. Every sabbath forenoon we are counted off. A guard comes in and we upon the west side are marched across the creek to the east side and there wait shivering in the cold and some days in rain and mud, while the guard goes through our quarters and takes account of those who are too sick to crawl out. Then the whole is required to cross the bridge by hundreds and by fours between two rebel officers who count us as we pass; it is often very tedious, and takes four hours to complete the count. Busy most of the day patching up my shirt with an old meal sack foraged from outside.
 

RobertP

Lt. Colonel
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Nov 11, 2009
Location
Dallas
I posted this on Christmas Eve a year ago and thought I'd do it again on this thread:
_________________________________________________________________________________

I got up early today and started reading through one of my mother's books, The Southern Christmas Book by Harnett Kane, a New Orleans native who back in the 50's wrote a number of books compiling southern stories with regional history. In this particular book he devotes individual chapters to different southern states and their Christmas traditions in the antebellum period extending into the Civil War. One chapter titled 'Confederate Christmas' was interesting so I thought I'd share a portion of it.

"About the same time, at Petersburg, the Army of Northern Virginia was to receive, for what would be its final holiday dinner, a meal to which hundreds had contributed. 'Lee's Miserables,' as many civilians called the soldiers in fond admiration were tired, weakened. For months they had been subsisting on their usual ration of a pint of corn meal, one or two ounces of bacon, and little or nothing more. In the judgment of Douglas Southall Freeman, this mainstay of the beleaguered South was 'starving on its feet.' One veteran said simply that he was so hungry he 'thanked God he had a backbone for his stomach to lean against.'

When the holiday season approached, Virginians planned a feast to let the Army of Northern Virginia know their gratitude and their sympathy for the long-suffering defenders. From all sides came hoarded treasures--hams, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, bacon, vegetables. As the Virginia Cavalacade declared, 'Some gave of their abundance, but most people gave generously of their little.'

Provisions became available for an estimated 35,000 men. To cook such supplies called for skill, ingenuity, and perspiration; all of them were available in the big kitchens of Richmond's Ballard House where, under the direction of a caterer, three hundred fowls or meats were baked every four hours. the food was placed in barrels and sent to the front for New Year's Day.

Admittedly some did not get enough, amid confusion and delay. In most cases, however, the food did arrive at the front, where the men reached eagerly for it. They ate and ate and sighed in appreciation. But one group took little of the feast, following the example of their superior. A special barrel had gone to General Lee and his staff; it contained about a dozen turkeys which were placed on a board, the largest in the center. For a moment the Confederate commander stared down at the fine display and touched the biggest bird with his sword. 'This, then, is my turkey? I don't know, gentlemen, what you are going to do with your turkeys, but I wish mine sent to the hospital at Petersburg.'

So saying, Robert E. Lee went to his horse and rode off. As one of the officers at the scent ended the story: 'We looked at one another for a moment, and then without a word replaced the turkeys in the barrel and sent them to the hospital.'

For some soldiers there was disappointment. After waiting for many hours, one company received its supply--a sandwich for each man--two slices of bread and a minute sliver of ham. Several hungry soldiers asked: 'Is that all?' A moment later, as one reported it, they felt ashamed. Finishing his sandwich, a corporal lighted his pipe and asked God to bless the women responsible for the day's offering. 'It was all they could do; it was all they had.'
 

Karen Lips

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Jun 24, 2008
Location
Waxahachie,Texas
My favorite Civil War Christmas story is the one about Union soldiers taking food and toys they had made to Southern families. They even tied tree branches to the mules' heads so they would look like reindeer. I an touched at the trouble they went to amuse the children. I think this happened in either Georgia or Virginia.
 

sko2014

Private
Joined
Nov 12, 2014
My favorite Civil War Christmas story is the one about Union soldiers taking food and toys they had made to Southern families. They even tied tree branches to the mules' heads so they would look like reindeer. I an touched at the trouble they went to amuse the children. I think this happened in either Georgia or Virginia.
Is this written anywhere that I could read the story?
 

Karen Lips

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jun 24, 2008
Location
Waxahachie,Texas
Is this written anywhere that I could read the story?
I think I read it here on the forum a couple of years ago. You might just go to the internet and type in Civil War Christmas stories. I think this happened in 1863. I have always thought this would make a good Christmas movie!
 

sko2014

Private
Joined
Nov 12, 2014
I think I read it here on the forum a couple of years ago. You might just go to the internet and type in Civil War Christmas stories. I think this happened in 1863. I have always thought this would make a good Christmas movie!
Thanks. I will look for it. It would be great if someone would compile civil war Christmas stories and make a documentary--but maybe it's been done and I just haven't seen it.
 

donna

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Now Florida but always a Kentuckian
From Johnny Green of the Orphan Brigade, Dec. 25, 1861,

"We had tents at this time but the weather was very cold with snow on the ground. We had not learned to build chimneys to our tents & we spent a very cold Christmas here. We were however fortunate enough to buy a turkey. Dave Caruth cooked the turkey & I made & cooked the biscuit. We thought we had a sumptuous dinner for soldiers but hoped soon to march victoriously into Louisville & recount our interesting experience."

This is from the Journal of Johnny Green. It was edited by A.D. Kirwan. John W. Green served in the Orphan Brigade throughout the War and was discharged with the rank of regimental sergeant major. Green kept a record (journal) of his experiences during the entire war. It is well worth reading.
 

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