Question of the Week: 12/21-12/27/20

Do you have a favorite account of a Civil War soldier at Christmas, New Years, or another winter’s holiday?

11 Responses to Question of the Week: 12/21-12/27/20

  1. The Sgt. Kirkland Monument at Fredricksburg…called.the Angel of the battlefield , this humane South Carolinian gave water and comfort to Union wounded on the field….twelve days before Christmas 1862.

  2. I like reading any story about soldiers engaging in snowball combat during the winter season when there was no fighting or drilling. I can think of one account from a Louisiana soldier in the winter of 1861-1862, who was experiencing snow for the first time in Virginia (described in Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers by James Gannon). These stories illustrate two things. First, the basic need for psychological release from the stresses of being in the army as they looked for fun in the middle of the war. Second, that men and boys that enlisted are now traveling and “seeing the world”, creating lifelong memories and having novel experiences they would have never had at home.
    It really says something about the soldier experience and it’s amusing to imagine the scene.

  3. “This army does not retreat,” said by Major General George Thomas at a council of war on the battlefield at Stones River on the evening of New Year’s Eve 1862. “Go back to your commands and prepare to fight and die, gentlemen,” responded Major General W.S. Rosecrans, the army commander.

  4. William to Joseph [Medill, Editor of the Chicago Tribune]
    On picket near King George Court House, R.G. Co, Virginia
    Wednesday eve, December 31, 1862
    Dear Bro:
    Thinking that a few lines from me might be acceptable and as this is probably the last letter I’ll write to you this year, I’ll make it brief.
    Since Christmas Day our regiment has been on picket duty in this county. It’s one of the best in the state, and our men have been living on luxuries since being here. The people are bitterly secesh and are mostly rich. They have or rather had a great many slaves. Since arrival upwards of 600 have immigrated to a more republican government, and as many more will be off tomorrow. You will see from this that the “Big Abolition Regiment” is pushing on our good work. Estimating the negroes to be worth $600 each you will see that we have reduced the value of the “portable property” of “Old Virginny” $360,000 and will soon make it as much more with a prospect of raising it to $1,000,000.
    I don’t know what will be the next move. We filled up our cartridge boxes and haversacks for something. I trust we will succeed better than we did at Fredericksburg. That was a shameful defeat through outright blundering. There is no use disguising this.
    …You must excuse the brevity of this, for I am writing under disadvantages—on a piece of board with cold fingers, smoke blowing into my eyes, sitting on the ground with a pencil an inch long and no news to give. When we return to camp, I will try and do better. My health is excellent. [Excerpt from A Family and Nation Under Fire Kent State University Press, 2018, p. 130-1] W. H. Medill, 8th Illinois Cavalry

  5. Christmas 1864: The CSS Shenandoah was tossed about by a typhoon in the cold, storm-swept, and empty waters of the Indian Ocean–blowing hard, raining in torrents, sleet cold as hail. Such a night, “makes the poor mariner regret the day on which his destinies were linked with the sea,” wrote Lieutenant Whittle. “Oh how much would I not give now to be on shore, with our dear country at peace, and a certain little angel sitting by me as my wife. I would certainly be the happiest man in the world.” Master’s Mate Hunt considered it a miserable festival as thoughts reverted to home: “In the place of pendant evergreens my eyes rested upon the smoky, swaying lamps, still dimly burning in the ward room, and instead of receiving the time-honored salutations from family friends, and bright-faced girls, whose lips give so sweet an intonation to the old phrase, I heard it from rough-bearded men, sunburned and swarthy, and in place of preparing for a gay holiday, I donned my sou’weaster and moodily made my way to the deck to stand a four hours’ watch…. My solemn advice to the world at large is, never to go off the Cape of Good Hope in a cruiser to enjoy Christmas.” See:

  6. The description of Christmas Day, 1864 by a Confederate soldier entrenched at Richmond.
    His regiment was awaiting a Christmas feast that had been promised by local families.
    The troops had been on short rations for months and eagerly awaited the meal.

    Late in the day the feast arrived – a single, thin, ham sandwich for each of the hungry soldiers. Although not what had been hoped for, the soldiers heartily thanked the citizens for their effort.

    The description was vivid and insightful on several levels, including the Christmas spirit of giving, even when you are lacking.

    Cannot recall in what book this appeared. Perhaps one of Catton’s volumes?

    1. I may be wrong, but I think it comes from E. Porter Alexander’s reflections on the war and is quoted by writers from that source. I might be mistaken though. Not going to go look it up before finishing this sentence.

  7. When Lee and Meade declared a truce on Christmas Eve, 1864, and hosted the first North v. South Bowl game, which of course the South lost. Southern RB James Longstreet was reportedly furious at coach Lee for refusing him permission to try a few end runs around the Northern defensive line, but Lee persisted in the “straight ahead” style uncharacteristic of him. After reconciling for three hours, they returned to the serious business of creating divergent historical memories that peevish scholars continue to fuss about to this day, and no doubt tomorrow.

    I wish I had something, but the contrast between the horror of that war and a holiday festival is too painful. Actually, anything to do with Christmas, 1865, written by a survivor. Thank God it was over, and they lived.

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