Thanksgiving didn’t actually become an official American holiday until 1863. That doesn’t mean that Civil War Era soldiers and civilians were unfamiliar with giving thanks prior to Lincoln’s proclamation.
Did Civil War soldiers celebrate Thanksgiving in the way we think of it today? Yes and no.
To further explore this topic, we’re sharing a couple posts published in past years and a helpful quote from a 20th Maine soldier.
The Union Gives Thanks – The Soldier’s and Sailor’s Thanksgiving in 1864 – published in 2012 – this wonderful article by ECW Author Meg Groeling explores the feasts sent to Union troops in 1864. Fascinating stuff!
Two Presidents’ Invitations To Give Thanks – published in 2015 – shares proclamations written by Lincoln and Davis encouraging their people to be grateful (and establishing a national holiday).
The Lincoln Turkey Pardon – a 2011 Reprint, Updated! (published in 2014) – a little off the topic of soldiers’ Thanksgiving celebrations, but such a fun article we couldn’t resist sharing it…
Now, here’s a quote from Private William P. Lamson, Jr. (20th Maine Infantry). The letter is dated November 21, 1862, and was written from the Wolfe Street Hospital in Alexanderia, Virginia, where Lamson had been sent because of illness and ensuing weakness. He wrote this letter to his sister, Jennie H. Lamson.
…You wish I could be home Thanksgiving Day. So do I, but, as I have received Father’s $2, perhaps I can keep Thanksgiving here, if I can get a pass to get out. You think you will miss me? I expect father will when he finds that his arm isn’t as tired as usual after Thanksgiving Dinner and Aunt Mary will when she finds that there’s a “leetle” more mince pie and pudding left than usual…
…If they didn’t have Oysters at the sociable, I had some for dinner yesterday. I asked the Dr’s clerk if I couldn’t have tea for supper instead of coffee and when it came dinner time up came a dipper of oyster soup and a slice of bread for me and a dipper of tea and a slice of toasted bread and butter for supper and breakfast.
There is not much to write about…[i]
It’s it interesting how the excerpt from 1862 illustrates that soldiers were aware of Thanksgiving celebrations, family gatherings, and harvest feasts before President Lincoln famous proclamation in 1863? There’s always plenty to be thankful for…even before a president makes a national holiday!
Whether you have turkey, mince pie and pudding, oysters, bread and butter, tea or coffee…or something else wonderfully delicious, I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!
[i] William P. Lamson, Jr., edited by Roderick M. Engert, Maine To The Wilderness: The Civil War Letters of Pvt. William Lamson, 20th Maine Infantry, page 39.