The need for blankets and the wish for Christmas boxes kept Mrs. S.C. Law—a refugee from Tennessee to Georgia—awake one December night in 1863. Determined to do something to help “her” Confederate soldiers, she engaged the southern homefront and worked a small Christmas miracle, especially for troops from states occupied by Federals who would be unable to get supplies from their own families.
Mrs. Law lived in Memphis, Tennessee, and proudly saw her only son enlist for war in 1861, joining the Confederacy. Shortly after, she volunteered with the Memphis “Southern Mothers Hospital”, beginning her years of caring for sick and wounded soldiers. By 1862, after the Battle of Shiloh, she began taking clothing and supplies directly to the troops, making long journeys by train and steamer to carry out her missions. When Federal troops captured Memphis, Mrs. Law headed deeper into the Confederacy and continued her work in various hospitals.
In December 1863, Mrs. Law heard about Confederate soldiers in the Army of Tennessee suffering from the winter cold and she set out on a mission of mercy just in time for Christmas. This account is transcribed from her short pamphlet book Reminiscences of the War of the Sixties between North and South which was published in 1892.
While at Columbus, Ga., I heard of the terrible destitution of the soldiers at Dalton, Ga. in Gen. J.E. Johnston’s division. Hundreds, yes, thousands of soldiers having to sit up all night round a log fire, for want of a blanket. I was so greatly troubled to hear of the brave heroes standing like a “stone wall” between the women and children of the South and the enemy, that after a sleepless night, I went directly to a Ladies’ Aid Society, where a number of patriotic women of that city (Columbus, Ga.) were at work for the soldiers. I told what I had heard of the suffering, for want of blankets, by the soldiers, and made an appeal to them for aid, telling them if they would furnish the blankets, I would go in person to Dalton and distribute them to the soldiers. With that promise, those noble-hearted women worked with a will that none but an oppressed, struggling people could feel, and in one week large boxes were packed with one hundred blankets, three hundred pairs of socks, several boxes of underclothing for the needy soldiers. I then said to them, “Ladies, you are all in reach of your sons, and will send them Christmas boxes; our soldiers’ mothers would do so, too, but they are in the Federal lines, and not allowed to do it. Won’t you give me some Christmas boxes to carry to our boys?” And with generous liberality, boxes of good things — chicken, ham, sausages, butter, pickles, bread and cake were packed, and I carried them to our Memphis soldier boys at the time I did the blankets.
On Christmas night I left for Dalton, accompanied by the noble, patriotic president of that Aid Society, Mrs. Robt. Carter, and my twelve-year-old nephew, Joe Flournoy, (who, on getting back, ran away to the army), and a merciful Providence guided my steps and apparently assisted me in every needed help in my labor of love.
At Atlanta my boxes had to be rechecked to Dalton. I met a gentleman, (who offered and attended to that for me), Dr. LaGree of New Orleans, and he proposed to telegraph Dr. John Erskine to meet us on our arrival at Dalton, (which would be at three o’clock in the morning); he did so; and as soon as the train reached Dalton, my beloved friend was there to meet and assist me. He asked me where I wished to go. I said to him, “Oh! Doctor John, I don’t know; I am here on a mission for the soldiers.” He then said, “Never mind, I will find a place for you, but you will have to remain in the car until morning, for the mud is kneed deep, and it is snowing.” He then brought the conductor, and introducing him, requested him to take care of us till morning; and at six o’clock he was back with an ambulance. Dear, noble Dr. John, my sainted friend, was all a son could be to a mother, carried us to his headquarters, where he had engaged the ladies’ sitting room for us, and where, at that early hour, we had a nice warm fire. He had his headquarters at the house of a nice widow woman. Her cottage had four rooms, with a twelve foot hall, and to that hall he had my boxes moved and opened.
I then sent a note to Gen. Hardee, (Gen. Johnston being absent) telling him my mission. He came immediately. I told him I desired to go to the different commands, as I had promised the Ladies’ Aid Society to do. A courier and carriage was sent to use, and my first visit was to the old 154th Regiment, Gen. Preston Smith’s.
That night we had quite a levee of officers. Gen. Hardee said that he had in his division fifteen hundred without a blanket; Gen. Hindman, one thousand; Gen. Cheatham, hundreds, and many other divisions in a similar condition. Gen. Pat Cleburne said socks were a luxury his men did not know; he had not a pair on for five months.
That evening a wagon was sent, with twenty soldiers, to receive the blankets I had brought. The boxes had been opened by order of Dr. John Erskine; and I distributed blankets and clothing to those who needed them….
I then returned to Columbus, wrote and published in the papers what I had seen and heard at Dalton, of the great need of blankets for the Confederate soldiers, and made another appeal to that Ladies’ Aid Society for more blankets. And they again nobly responded to my request, and went to work with zeal unprecedented, working night and day, taking the last blanket from their beds, cutting up carpets and lining them. I went out and in one hour I collected twenty-five hundred dollars from the business houses, and laid it all out in the Columbus factories for jeans and coarse cloth with which the ladies made comfortable coverings, the soldiers being in winter quarters. The women and children worked night and day, and in ten days I returned to the army in Dalton with seven large dry goods boxes, one for Tennessee, one for Kentucky, one for Mississippi, one for Louisiana, one for Arkansas, one for Missouri, and one for Texas, all packed with five hundred and thirty blankets and coverings, and sixteen hundred pairs of socks for the soldiers. I then went up to Tunnel Hill where Gen. Cleburne had his division; we rode on sacks of corn for a fright train carried the Arkansas box to his soldiers. Had the boxes opened at the General’s headquarters and he was pleased to say, very soon he was to make a speech to his men on re-enlisting, and the box of blankets would do more to cause his men to re-enlist than anything he could say, showing them the interest the women at home felt in them. I wish history to recall, but for the generous aid of the noble, patriotic women of Columbus, Ga. I would have been powerless to have taken those needed stores of blankets and socks to our suffering soldiers….
S. C. Law, Reminiscences of the War of the Sixties between North and South, published in 1892. Digitized and accessible through Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item/10020677/