‘Tis the Season…for Slaughtering Hogs?

An unidentified Civil War veteran photographed in Tyler, TX, home of the Tyler Ordnance Works, via Library of Congress

The Tyler Ordnance Works was a Confederate arsenal in northeastern Texas. It was founded with equipment evacuated from the Little Rock Arsenal and was contracted by the state of Texas to produce thousands of rifles. Especially by the last year of the war, when fighting was constant and there were few lulls between campaigns, the Confederate armies had a bottomless appetite for weapons and ammunition.

The Confederacy was holding on by a thread, and needed any arms and supplies they could get to keep the war going – and the needs of the war effort didn’t take the holidays into account. That intense demand makes this letter even more powerful, in which Lieutenant Colonel G.H. Hill pleads with his commanding officer for permission to give his workers a week off at Christmas in December, 1864:

“A great many of my men who have families here have begged of me to give them a week at Christmas to kill their hogs and to attend to other necessities for their families, and I now respectfully ask that I may be permitted to do so, for I know that it is necessary that they should have some time to do these things, and unless they do get it, their families will suffer, and a little time given them, will enable them to make themselves comfortable and thereby make them more contented, and in that way I can get more work out of them.”[1]

It’s a powerful and sincere reminder that, from the generals made famous in history books, to the rank file soldier, through to the civilians who supported (or just tried to survive) the war effort, these people weren’t so different from you and I. They were just in radically different circumstances. In between meeting the demands of waging a war, they needed to eat, and get supplies, and feed their families, and maybe take some time off for the holidays.

I especially appreciate the final line, in which Hill argues for his proposal not on the basis of appreciation for the holidays or his commanding officer’s Christmas spirit, but instead on the grounds that a little time off will actually get more work done.

So however important the work you do all year is, remember to take the time to kill the hogs for your family, or “attend to other necessities.”

[1] Thomas, Dean. Confederate Arsenals, Laboratories, and Ordnance Depots, Volume 3: New Orleans, LA to Winchester, VA. Thomas Publications. 2014. 1175.

7 Responses to ‘Tis the Season…for Slaughtering Hogs?

    1. Great question! I’m not sure how it panned out for his men, but based on his papers, the only day Hill wasn’t writing letters to his commanding officer (so presumably working) was Christmas itself.

      1. And if he were allowed off on Christmas, I’ll wager he was told to be in all the earlier the next day.

      1. This would be a great kid’s book, except for the hog killing–but you could make it work! There are several really excellent kids’ CW books–

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