Christmas, 1863

Christmas, 1863

Fighting, blessings, scarcity, hope, despair, missing the family, gladness in music– the third Christmas in the midst of the war.


December 24– Thursday– Bull’s Gap, Tennessee; Jack’s Creek, Tennessee; Estenaula, Tennessee; Germantown, Virginia; Rodney, Mississippi; Hay’s Ferry, Tennessee; New Market, Tennessee; New Castle, Tennessee; Lee County, Virginia; Purdy, Tennessee; Mossy Creek Station, Tennessee; Peck’s House, Tennessee– Skirmishes, ambushes, fire fights, armed encounters, tussles and nasty scraps as a divided country prepares to observe its third Christmas in the midst of war.

December 24– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– It is hereby stipulated . . . that the tobacco in this country, belonging to the Austrian Government, purchased and paid for prior to the 4th of March 1861, amounting to six hundred and twelve (612) hogsheads, or thereabouts, may be exported from places within the limits of the blockade, on conditions similar to those required for the exportation of tobacco belonging to the French government; but as it is not convenient for the Austrian Government to post any of its naval vessels for the purpose of superintending such exportation, it is farther stipulated that such exportation may be made under the superintendence of such of the vessels of the French navy as may be employed in superintending the exportation of the tobacco belonging to the Government of France.” ~ Treaty between the United States and the Empire of Austria.

December 24– Thursday– Cleveland, Tennessee– “We went over to see Mr. Walcott (the wounded soldier), he is worse this eve. It looks so gloomy and cheerless over there, I have felt so sad ever since I was there. Oh, if he would only get well. . . . What a gloomy Xmas eve this, how unlike other Xmases I have passed. Will I ever enjoy myself as well again? Rhoda came in from Aunt E’s this eve to enjoy, no not enjoy, but pass Xmas. She is now reading our hero Stonewall Jackson’s Life to Mother. R and I fixed up a few ground nuts, walnut and hickory nuts for Stepney’s stocking. Oh, so sad is our like at this time. If I could only see into the future, but it doesno good to record sad thoughts and gloomy scenes, so I will close my journal. . . . The Yanks have reinforced, are looking for the ‘Rebs’ tomorrow.” ~ Diary of Myra Adelaide Inman.


December 24– Thursday– London, England, William Makepeace Thackeray, British novelist and poet, dies unexpectedly from a stroke at age 52. He has published almost two dozen novels and at the time of his death is second only to Charles Dickens in popularity among British readers.

December 25– Friday– New York City– “Christmas has passed off satisfactorily. It has been the clearest of clear days and not so cold as yesterday. After breakfast, the children were admitted to the beatific vision of their presents and made the middle parlor a bedlam for an hour. Then we went to church. Great crowd. Aisles full of standing people. Vinton’s sermon respectable. Music good. Wonderful to relate, the anthem was the ‘Gloria’ of Mozart’s No 12.” ~ Diary of George Templeton Strong.

Santa as drawn by Nast for Hapers Weekly

Santa as drawn by Nast for Hapers Weekly

December 25– Friday– Washington, D.C.– “Greetings full, hearty, and cordial this morning. For a week preparations for the festival have been going on. Though a joyful anniversary, the day in these later years always brings sad memories. The glad faces and loving childish voices that cheered our household with ‘Merry Christmas’ in years gone by are silent on earth forever. [Five of his eight children died in childhood.] Sumner tells me that France is still wrong-headed, or, more properly speaking, the Emperor is. [The French Minister to the United States, Henri] Mercier is going home on leave, and goes with a bad spirit. Sumner and Mercier had a long interview a few days since, when Sumner drew Mercier out. Mercier said the Emperor was kindly disposed and at the proper time would tender kind offices to close hostilities, but that a division of the Union is inevitable. Sumner said he snapped his fingers at him and told him he knew not our case. Sumner also tells me of a communication made to him by Bayard Taylor, who last summer had an interview with the elder Saxe-Coburg. The latter told Taylor that Louis Napoleon was our enemy, that the Emperor said to him (Saxe-Coburg), ‘There will be war between England and America’– slapping his hands– ‘and I can then do as I please.’ There is no doubt that both France and England have expected certain disunion and have thought there might be war between us and one or more of the European powers. But England has latterly held back, and is becoming more disinclined to get in difficulty with us. A war would be depressing to us, but it would be, perhaps, as injurious to England. Palmerston and Louis Napoleon are the two bad men in this matter. The latter is quite belligerent in his feelings, but fears to be insolent towards us unless England is also engaged.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles.

December 25– Friday– Camp Sedgwick, Virginia– “It may be that we will get home soon and it may be we will not get home for 3 years and it may be we will never get home. I am satisfied here as long as I fee that I am doing the Will of God. I have family worship in our tent. I have prayer meeting in my tent and when the weather is fit on Sunday we have preaching. And on Thursday Evening we have prayer meetings. So if the Army is a hard place and a Soldier’s Life is a hard life. There is none that need be lost. If they are lost it is their own fault. It is not God’s for in His Word He saith as I live saith The Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked. But rather all would be born and live. Turn, ye, Turn, ye, for why will ye die? This is Christmas. . . . . The weather is very cold. It has been cloudy nearly all day with the appearance of snow. I think that it will snow before morning.” ~ Letter of Union soldier Franklin Rosenbery to his father John.

December 25– Friday– Camp Sedgwick, Virginia– “This is Christmas Day and the third one I have passed in the Army. . . . . I gave a dinner to a party of officers and we tried to celebrate Christmas in a becoming manner.” ~ Diary of Union officer Elisha Hunt Rhodes.

Elisha Hunt Rhodes

Elisha Hunt Rhodes

December 25– Friday– near Culpepper, Virginia– “It is a great length of time since I wrote to you than I usually let pass without writing, but I will try to make up for it to-day. A merry Christmas to you! What would I not give to be able to look in and see what my darling wife is doing to-day! I hope you are enjoying yourself as all persons ought on this usually happy day. How is it, my dear? As for myself, I cannot say that there is anything more than usual to mark the day. Indeed there is nothing in camp to distinguish the day from others, unless it be the unusual flow of whiskey, which is abundant. Last night it was quite noisy, and from all present indications it will not be any more quiet to-day and to-night. At this moment I hear several expressing themselves in various parts of the camp in so decided a manner as to show that whiskey is the chief performer. . . . . I have no doubt you are eating a good turkey dinner about this time. At least I hope so, and may you have a good appetite to eat some of the choice dressing and bosom of the turkey. Next Christmas, my dear, I will be with you, and will you have a turkey dinner for me?” ~ Letter from Union soldier David Beem to his wife.


December 25– Friday– Richmond, Virginia– “It is a sad Christmas; cold, and threatening snow. My two youngest children, however, have decked the parlor with evergreens, crosses, stars, etc. They have a cedar Christmas-tree, but it is not burdened. Candy is held at $8 per pound. My two sons rose at 5 A.M. and repaired to the canal to meet their sister Anne, who has been teaching Latin and French in the country; but she was not among the passengers, and this has cast a shade of disappointment over the family. A few pistols and crackers are fired by the boys in the streets– and only a few. I am alone; all the rest being at church. It would not be safe to leave the house unoccupied. Robberies and murders are daily perpetrated. I shall have no turkey to-day, and do not covet one. It is no time for feasting.” ~ Diary of John Jones.

December 25– Friday– Stevenson, Alabama– “It is Christmas night & nearly nine o’clock. We have a good fire & it is a comfort to sit beside it. To be sure there are at our command none of the little good things that fill up all the chinks between greater blessings. We can crack no walnuts, eat no apples, drink no cider. Yet a respectable amount of happiness distinguishes our condition. I suppose you will not consider it egotistical if I enumerate more particularly the particulars of our life this day. Before getting up this morning I thought over the glorious time you would have if the weather shall prove favorable & those friends all come to your feast. Guess I might have excited some longings to be there myself if the consciousness that such exercises were perfectly vain did not abide with me.” ~ Letter from Union officer Andrew Upson to his wife.

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