Fourth Christmas in the Army ~ December 1864 ~ 24th and 25th

Fourth Christmas in the Army ~ Elisha Hunt Rhodes

Union officer Rhodes observes his fourth Christmas while giving all for the Union and wonders if it will be the last. Gideon Welles believes the rebellion is drawing to an end. Some Marylanders sees the end of slavery as a blessing. An officer sends George Whitman’s things to the family while George remains a prisoner. In Tennessee and especially in parts of Georgia residents sadly due without things to celebrate Christmas.

General Sherman reviews his cavalry

General Sherman reviews his cavalry

December 24– Saturday– Baltimore, Maryland– “The abolition of slavery in Maryland is attended with the good results the friends of emancipation expected. A steady stream of emigrants from our sister States, particularly Pennsylvania, is pouring in upon Us, now that ‘free labor’ has become a settled fact. In every county of the State, large sales of land have taken place during the past two months, and the purchasers are men who intend to settle to our midst, and who do not purchase for the sake of speculation. The worn-out and half-tilled tracts of the large slaveholder, in the hands of farmers who till their grounds by free labor who encourage free schools, and all the accompaniments of free institutions will soon place Maryland in the position among the free States that she should have occupied long ago.” ~ Baltimore American.

December 24– Saturday– Washington, D.C.– “Called on the President to commute the punishment of a person condemned to be hung. He at once assented. Is always disposed to mitigate punishment, and to grant favors. Sometimes this is a weakness. As a matter of duty and friendship I mentioned to him the case of Laura Jones, a young lady who was residing in Richmond and there engaged to be married but came up three years ago to attend her sick mother and had been unable to pass through the lines and return. I briefly stated her case and handed a letter from her to Mrs. Welles that he might read. It was a touching appeal from the poor girl, who says truly the years of her youth are passing away. I knew if the President read the letter, Laura would get the pass. I therefore only mentioned some of the general facts. He at once said he would give her a pass. I told him her sympathies were with the Secessionists, and it would be better he should read her own statement. But he declined and said he would let her go; the war had depopulated the country and prevented marriages enough, and if he could do a kindness of this sort he was disposed to, unless I advised otherwise. He wrote a pass and handed [it to] me.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles.


December 24– Saturday– Richmond, Virginia– “There was no case of interest before the Mayor yesterday. The case of C. M. Rex, charged with stealing nitre from the Government, was, after being partially heard, continued. Rex alleges that he bought the nitre and other parties were in Court who had bought on the streets a similar article, but it was well established that it had been originally stolen from the laboratory. Four small white vagabonds, the oldest of whom was not more than twelve years old, were committed to jail for stealing iron from the Old Dominion Iron Works.” ~ Richmond Sentinel.

December 24– Saturday– Memphis, Tennessee– “I am now on the Mississippi a short distance above the fort, guarding a boat loaded with cotton which is under arrest. We have been here on the boat about two weeks but think we will be released in a few days and then I think we will go on a march to intercept [Confederate General] Hood– he is retreating from Nashville– some saying he is coming to Memphis. I wish he would. There was twenty five thousand calvary & infantry left here last week. I think they went toward Nashville. To day is a fine day but Thursday was pretty cold. This morning I seen a little ice floating down. The river is raising fast– lots of wood & all kind of things floating down. . . . They are now shelling the rebs across from where we are we can see them plain from here. The shells hum when they cross but [I] can’t see them– if it was night we could see them. I must now close as I must relieve the man that has been on guard.” ~ Letter from Union soldier Jacob Miller to his brother George.

Union soldiers celebrate Christmas in camp

Union soldiers celebrate Christmas in camp

December 24– Saturday– Maury County, Tennessee– “[Union] General John Croxton’s headquarters is in our house, with his whole brigade camped all over our yard, lots, lane and everywhere they can get near enough a fence to keep them in wood. With reluctance the General Ordered the provost guard to station out their guards all around the house, but it only gave the guards a better opportunity for marauding than the common soldiers, and they made the best of it. They took all the apples out of the cellar. They broke the weatherboarding off the house for fires, burnt the yard fences, went in our smoke house and took the meat. They cooked the last old gobbler and all the chickens over a fire in the yard. . . . There is great tribulation in the country, stealing horses, mules, hogs, breaking in houses. The soldiers are very insulting and impose on everybody, stealing and encouraging the blacks to steal and do every manner of rascality. Nothing is safe, no help is anywhere for our unfortunate condition. All, all that we have is nearly gone. How will we live? What will we eat? I wish there was a river of fire a mile wide between the North and the South that would burn with unquenchable fury forever more and that it could never be passed to the endless ages of eternity by any living creature. Is there no hope for this dying land? Tomorrow is Christmas day, a bitter one for us, black or white. A grey fox ran under the kitchen walk. I shot it for dinner. We have a little parched corn.” ~ Diary of Nimrod Porter.

December 24– Saturday– Andersonville, Georgia– About 3500 Union prisoners of war previously transferred from Andersonville prison to Camp Lawton near Millen, Georgia, then to another military prison in Thomasville, are returned to Andersonville by order of Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard, because Millen and Thomasville are no longer secure from Union cavalry raids.

December 24– Saturday– Covington, Georgia– “This has usually been a very busy day with me, preparing for Christmas not only for my own tables, but for gifts for my servants [slaves]. Now how changed! No confectionery, cakes, or pies can I have. We are all sad; no loud, jovial laugh from our boys is heard. Christmas Eve, which has ever been gaily celebrated here, which has witnessed the popping of fire-crackers [the Southern custom of celebrating Christmas with fireworks] and the hanging up of stockings, is an occasion now of sadness and gloom. I have nothing even to put in Sadai’s stocking, which hangs so invitingly for Santa Claus. How disappointed she will be in the morning, though I have explained to her why he cannot come. Poor children! Why must the innocent suffer with the guilty?” ~ Diary of Dolly Sumner Lunt Burge.

Christmas morning in New York City

Christmas morning in New York City

December 24– Saturday– near Albany, Georgia– “About three miles from Sparta we struck the ‘Burnt Country,’ as it is well named by the natives, and then I could better understand the wrath and desperation of these poor people. I almost felt as if I should like to hang a Yankee myself. There was hardly a fence left standing all the way from Sparta to Gordon. The fields were trampled down and the road was lined with carcasses of horses, hogs, and cattle that the invaders, unable either to consume or to carry away with them, had wantonly shot down to starve out the people and prevent them from making their crops. The stench in some places was unbearable; every few hundred yards we had to hold our noses or stop them with the cologne Mrs. Elzey had given us, and it proved a great boon. The dwellings that were standing all showed signs of pillage, and on every plantation we saw the charred remains of the gin-house and packing-screw, while here and there, lone chimney-stacks, ‘Sherman’s Sentinels,’ told of homes laid in ashes. The infamous wretches! I couldn’t wonder now that these poor people should want to put a rope round the neck of every red-handed ‘devil of them’ they could lay their hands on. Hay ricks and fodder stacks were demolished, corn cribs were empty, and every bale of cotton that could be found was burnt by the savages. I saw no grain of any sort, except little patches they had spilled when feeding their horses and which there was not even a chicken left in the country to eat. A bag of oats might have lain anywhere along the road without danger from the beasts of the field, though I cannot say it would have been safe from the assaults of hungry man. Crowds of [Confederate] soldiers were tramping over the road in both directions; it was like traveling through the streets of a populous town all day. They were mostly on foot, and I saw numbers seated on the roadside greedily eating raw turnips, meat skins, parched corn – anything they could find, even picking up the loose grains that Sherman’s horses had left. I felt tempted to stop and empty the contents of our provision baskets into their laps, but the dreadful accounts that were given of the state of the country before us, made prudence get the better of our generosity.” ~ Journal of Eliza Frances Andrews.

December 24– Saturday– Savannah, Georgia– “We cleaned our quarters. Each person planted a Christmas tree in front of his tent.” ~ Diary of Fredrick C. Winkler.

December 24– Saturday– Pest, Hungary– Demeter Laccataris, Austro-Hungarian portrait painter of Greek origin, dies at 66 years of age.

December 25– Sunday– Washington, D.C.– “Have intelligence this evening of the capture of Savannah. Hardee fled with his forces. The Rebellion is drawing to a close. These operations in the heart of the Rebel region are destroying their self-confidence, and there are symptoms of extreme dissatisfaction among them.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles.

December 25– Sunday– Augusta County, Virginia– “On the 25th day of December 1864 I Bind my Self my heir & to the Sum of fifty dollars it being the Balance due to Mrs. Polly W. Roberts for the hire of a Servant Henry [a slave]. Said Servant was hired by an exchange of Steers the Said Hotchkiss is to give to Mrs Roberts the above fifty dollars & also the Hide from the Steers that I got from them when I killed them & I also furnish the Said Henry with the used articles of clothing except the Blanket.” ~ Contractual agreement between Nelson H. Hotchkiss and Polly W. Roberts.

December 25– Sunday– Moffett’s Creek, Virginia– “Miss Ann R McNutt was married last Thursday to William Steel. . . . Henry hasn’t bailed much hay – the weather has been so cold he can hardly bale atal– he has about 5 acres of corn to gather yet the weather has been so that they couldn’t work at the corn as it is snowed up. The snow is so hard it will take some time for it to melt as it has a crust on it– the snow would bar up wagon and Horses. Yesterday it thawed a little but is cloudy today. It has been good sleighing. Henry took the girls to Mrs Strains in the sleigh. Well I must close– this is enough for to be written on Sunday. I wanted it to go down tomorrow. Charlotte sends her love to you– write soon.” ~ Letter from Margaret Ott to her brother Enos.

December 25– Sunday– outside Petersburg, Virginia– “Your kind letter came to hand in due time. And as this is Christmas night and I [am] alone in my Shanty will improve it in writing You although there is not much new to write. Yet I will make the Endeavor. I have been away all day as this is a day that all . . . Should be free and having an invitation out to Eat roast Turkey of course accepted it and had a very nice time yet I think had I been in New York or Brooklyn that I would enjoyed My-Self much better and Shall be glad to get back there once more as a citizen for to go there on a leave of absence is only an aggravation as the time is always So Short that one cannot hardly turn before he has to come back. . . . I heard that there had been a Commission issued as Lieutenant Colonel to Some outsider, I don’t know how true it is, Yet I think it is a Shame to run over all of our Officers that are now Prisoners of War Who have Served and fought in the regiment Since the Organization and for my part I Shall resign if what I hear is true. So You need not be Surprised if You hear that Your humble Servant has put in his Unconditional Surrender, and retires to Private life. We have Sent Your Brother George’s large Trunk home to Your Mother’s Address by Express So if you have not already received it You Can look out for it.” ~ Letter from Union officer William E. Babcock to Walt Whitman.

Harper's Weekly portrays Lincoln with the true Christmas spirit, inviting all to Christmas dinner

Harper’s Weekly portrays Lincoln with the true Christmas spirit, inviting all to Christmas dinner

December 25– Sunday– outside Petersburg, Virginia– “This is the birthday of our Saviour, but we have paid little attention to it in a religious way. . . . It does not seem much like Sunday or Christmas, for the men are hauling logs to build huts. This is a work of necessity, for the quarters we have been using are not warm enough. This is my fourth Christmas in the Army. I wonder if it will be my last.” ~ Diary of Elisha Hunt Rhodes.

December 25– Sunday– Warren County, Tennessee– “Tonight I have but one thought—the cause of the South has gone down. The news all around us is evident of the fact. For my part I freely acknowledge that I can see no brightness now for the Confederacy. Hood has been beaten at Nashville and is now endeavoring to get out of the state, and Sherman’s rapid [march] through Georgia has been successful. He being now at Savannah if he has not possession of the city. . . . Yesterday Martha and myself worked the love long day making cakes, molasses candy, egg nog etc. for the children must have something. I felt it a drag, all the time —I did it from necessity. The children saw their odd cake elephants, horses, birds, old women etc. while in the process of cooking, and therefore they would not do for the nice white stockings that were put up to tempt good Santa Claus. I never was so put to it to get up something for the stockings, but I had a set of tiny coffee cups and saucers and some other little affairs which they had never seen, or forgotten—these I filled up the little girls with, and put in the boys, paper, pen, pencils, and some greenback [U S dollars]. They all seemed highly pleased, and enjoyed [all that] their good old pensioner used to bestow upon them. Oh! God give us peace, peace on any terms! It may be weak, but if so, Heaven forgive us! We have borne the strain so long. I took down my prayer-book and read the service of Christmas Church, with our good Bishop or Dr. Page officiating—-to recall the wreaths and emblems, to fill my soul once more with the melodious flood of the organ—the grand Te Deum—the exulting Gloria—ah! how vain! how vain! I could have wept but my tears are few nowadays, and their springs lie deep, deep. I had the same feeling today that I had when poor Captain Spurlock was brought home dead from the slopes of Stone River. It is a strange feeling—with a depth of sadness ‘too deep for easing tears.’ Oh! Will this strife ever be ended, or will I never be able to get out of it? Mollie came yesterday to spend her Christmas with us—I was very glad she came. Tho it is not at all like the old days—yet I wanted to have her with us. She has seen some merry Christmas days in the Forest [family] Home—will she ever see another as gay? No! I cannot hope it. We did not hear the news of Hood’s retreat until this evening—when Malone came over and told it. He has slept here every night since his fright by those bushwhackers. I do not think him in any danger from them now, but his wife is ill, and insists upon his not remaining at home at night, and I have told him he ought by all means do as she wishes.” ~ Journal of Lucy Virginia French.

December 25– Sunday– Covington, Georgia– “Sadai [her daughter] jumped out of bed very early this morning to feel in her stocking. She could not believe but that there would be something in it. Finding nothing, she crept back into bed, pulled the cover over her face, and I soon heard her sobbing. . . . I pulled the cover over my face and was soon mingling my tears with Sadai’s.” ~ Diary of Dolly Sumner Lunt Burge.

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