This week I looked at some excerpts from Elisha Hunt Rhodes’s Civil War journal and found some interesting happenings in this Union soldier’s Christmas 155 years ago.
Winter quarters, re-enlistment, patriotism, and Christmas made their way into his writings at the end of December, providing some enlightening reading about the holidays in the camps during the middle of the war.
Camp Sedgwick, Va., Dec. 21/63
We are quiet in our winter quarters, and the men have built huts of logs, and we are very comfortable. At the Regimental Headquarters we have quite a village of huts arranged for comfort and convenience. I have a hut for the Adjutant’s office and Sergeant-Major George F. Easterbrooks sleeps in the rear. Surgeon Carr and myself occupy a hut together while the Colonel and Chaplain Beugless try to keep each other warm.
We drill when the weather will permit and sleep and smoke when it storms. We have received a number of recruits and about one hundred drafted men who look a little lonesome. Lt. Col. Read who was promoted from Captain of Co. “I” is absent on staff duty, and Major Henry C. Jencks is acting as Lieutenant Colonel.
Tonight we have had a meeting of the officers to decide whether we are willing to remain in service after June 5th 1864. The following have agreed to stay: Captains Henry H. Young, Joseph McIntyre, John P. Shaw, Adjutant Elisha H. Rhodes, Lieutenants Edmund F. Prentiss and Thorndike J. Smith. Lieut. Samuel Russell will probably stay. I decided without hesitation. The United States need the services of her sons. I am young and in good health, and I feel that I owe a duty to my country. I entered the Army as a private expecting that the war would end in a few months. It has dragged along, and no one can tell when the end will come. But when it does come i want to see it, and so i am going to stay. I like a soldier’s life and without egotism I think I came say that I am doing some service. If I should go home I should be unhappy and want to come back. In fact I should seek service in some other Regiment. Our Regiment is a good one, and I prefer it to any other. So good bye homesicknesses. I am going, if God wills, to see the end of this wicked rebellion. Several of the men have already re-enlisted, and we shall have enough to form a good Battalion.
Camp Sedgewick, Va., Dec. 25/63
This is Christmas day and the third one I have passed in the Army. I have enjoyed a good long ride on my new horse Kate. I traded Old Abe for her and think I have one of the finest horses in the Army. She is a beauty and very fast, both running and trotting. I gave a dinner to a party of officers, and we tried to celebrate Christmas in a becoming manner.
The year is ended. Good bye 1863, and may God grant that success attend our labors for our country in the year so soon to open.
Rhodes, E.H. (edited by R.H. Rhodes) All For The Union: The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes. (1985). New York, NY: Orion Books. Pages 135-136