I’ve been reading through a collection of Civil War Christmas stories and poetry. So…just for something a little something different this weekend in the holiday season, I thought it would be nice to share some poems.
The tone in these poems stands in contrast to the merrier images we like to remember in 1860’s holidays. We prefer the ideals of the soldier who got leave for Christmas, chanced on a friendly civilian home, or “acquired” a chicken to share with his messmates. While I don’t want to dampen any modern reader’s festive spirit, I would like to present a gentle reminder about the realities of the celebration days in the winter camps.
Without further ado, here are two poems, reflecting the winter holidays during the Civil War.
Christmas In Camp
The wintry blast goes wailing by,
The snow if falling overhead;
I hear the lonely sentry’s tread,
And distant watch fires light the sky.
Dim forms go flitting through the gloom;
The soldiers cluster round the blaze,
To talk of other Christmas days,
And softly speak of [hearth] and home.[i]
The Song Of The Camp
Far away in the piny woods,
Where the dews fall heavy and damp,
A Soldier sat by the smoldering fire,
And sang the song of the camp.
It is not to be weary and worn,
It is not to feel hunger and thirst,
It is not the forced march, nor the terrible fight,
That seems to the soldier the worst;
But to sit through the comfortless hours,
The lonely, dull hours that will come,
With his head in his hands, and his eyes on the fire,
And his thoughts on visions of home;
To wonder how fares it with those
Who mingled so late with his life,
Is it well with my little children three?
Is it well with my sickly wife?
The night air is chill, to be sure,
But logs lie in plenty around;
How is it with them where wood is dear,
And the cash for it hard to be found?
O, that north air cuts bitterly keen,
And the ground is hard as a stone;
It would comfort me just to know that they sit
By a fire as warm as my own.
And have they enough to eat?
My lads are growing boys,
And my girl is a little tender thing,
With her mother’s smile and voice.
My wife she should have her tea,
Or maybe a sup of beer;
It went to my heart to look on her face,
So white, with a smile and a tear.
Her form it is weak and thin,
She would gladly work if she could,
But how can a woman have daily strength
Who wants for daily food?
My oldest boy he can cut wood,
And Johnny can carry it in;
But then, how frozen their feet must be
If their shoes are worn and thin!
I hope they don’t cry with the cold –
Are there tears in my little girl’s eyes?
O God! Say peace! To these choking fears,
These fears in my heart that rise.
Many rich folks are round them, I know,
And their hearts are not hard nor cold,
They would give to my wife if they only know,
And my little one three years old.
They would go, like God’s angels fair,
And enter the lowly door,
And make the sorrowful glad with gifts
From their abundant store.
In this blessed Christmastime,
When the great gift came to men,
They would show, by their gentle and generous deeds,
How He cometh in hearts again.
And my sickly, patient wife,
And my little children three,
Would be kindly warmed and fed and clothed
As part of Christ’s family.
Well, I leave it all with God,
For my sight is short and dim;
He cares for the falling sparrow;
My dear ones are safe with him.
So the soldier watched through the night,
Through the dewfall, heavy and damp;
And as he sat by the smoldering fire,
He sang the song of the camp.[ii]
[i] Philip Van Doren Stern, editor, The Civil War Christmas Album, Hawthorn Books, New York, NY: 1961, Page 16.
[ii] Ibid, Page 109.