Christmas during the Civil War

[From the excellent website: http://dburgin.tripod.com/cw_xmas/cwarxmas2.html]  – from Dec. 2009 FPHPS Newsletter

As the Civil War dragged on, deprivation replaced bounteous repasts and familiar faces were missing from the family dinner table. Soldiers used to “bringing in the tree” and caroling in church were instead scavenging for firewood and singing drinking songs around the campfire. And so the holiday celebration most associated with family and home was a contradiction. It was a joyful, sad, religious, boisterous, and subdued event.

Corporal J. C. Williams, Co. B, 14th Vermont Infantry, December 25, 1862:

“This is Christmas, and my mind wanders back to that home-made lonesome by my absence, while far away from the peace and quietude of civil life to undergo the hardships of the camp, and may be the battle field. I think of the many lives that are endangered, and hope that the time will soon come when peace, with its innumerable blessings, shall once more restore our country to happiness and prosperity.”

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Harper's WeeklyGilbert J. Barton, Company I of Charlotte, recorded some of the hardships of camp that day:

“Dec 25th Christmas. Had hard Tack soaked in cold water and then fried in pork Greece [sic]. Fried in a canteen, split into[sic] by putting into the fire & melting the sodder[sic] off. We pick them up on the field left by other soldiers, also had coffee & pork. Ordered up at 5 this morning with guns ready, as it is reported that there are 400 Rebel Cavalry not far off prowling around. Foggy morning.”

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Robert Gould Shaw, then a 2nd lieutenant in the 2d Massachusetts Infantry, writes in 1861, about guard duty near Frederick, MD. He would later earn fame as the commander of the heroic African-American unit, the 54th Massachusetts.

“It is Christmas morning and I hope a happy and merry one for you all, though it looks so stormy for our poor country, one can hardly be in merry humor.”

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On December 24, 1861, Captain Robert Goldthwaite Carter of the 22nd Mass. Vol. Inf. 4th U.S. Cavalry wrote: 

 “Christmas Eve, and I am on duty as officer of the day, but I am not on duty to-morrow.  As much as I desire to see you all, I would not leave my company alone…I give my company a Christmas dinner to-morrow, consisting of turkey, oysters, pies, apples, etc.; no liquors.”

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John H. Brinton, a Major and Surgeon U.S.V. wrote:

“During the days preceding Christmas, I received some boxes from home, full of nice comfortable things, and the letter which came to me at that time, you may be sure, made me feel homesick.  On Christmas night, I left for St. Louis as my teeth were troubling me, and greatly in need of the services of a dentist.  I was fortunate in finding a good one, and in a day or two the necessary repairs were made.”

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From the diary of Private Robert A. Moore, a Confederate soldier:

Tuesday, Dec 24th, 1861, camp near Swan’s…

“This is Christmas Eve but seems but little like it to me”

Wednesday, Dec. 25th, 1861, camp near Swan’s…

“This is Christmas & and very dull Christmas it has been to me.  Had an egg-nog to-night but did not enjoy it much as we had no ladies to share it with us.”

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One of the dreariest accounts of Christmas during the Civil War came from Lt. Col. Frederic Cavada, captured at Gettysburg and writing about Christmas 1863 in Libby Prison in Richmond:

“The north wind comes reeling in fitful gushes through the iron bars, and jingles a sleighbell in the prisoner’s ear, and puffs in his pale face with a breath suggestively odorous of eggnog….”

“…Christmas Day! A day which was made for smiles, not sighs – for laughter, not tears – for the hearth, not prison.”

 

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From the diary of Robert Watson of Key West, Florida.

December 25, 1863 at Dalton, Georgia after action at Chickamauga

“Christmas day and a very dull one but I find a tolerable good dinner.  I had one drink of whiskey in the morning.  There was some serenading last night but I took no part in it for I did not feel merry as my thoughts were of home…”

Federal Point Lighthouse Foundation Uncovered!

[From the December, 2009 FPHPS Newsletter]

Federal Point Lighthouse Excavation. Nov. 2009

Federal Point Lighthouse Excavation. Nov. 2009

 

Federal Point Lighthouse Excavation. Nov. 2009

Federal Point Lighthouse Excavation. Nov. 2009

On Thursday, November 19, a crew from the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology and the staff of the Fort Fisher State Historic Site uncovered what is believed to be the foundation of the first (and second) Federal Point Lighthouse.   Measurement of the walls and dimensions of the brick floor match known building plans for the original 1816 light almost exactly.

Located east of the Confederate Monument and located directly in front of the location of the Keeper’s Quarters uncovered by Stanley South in the 1960’s, a number of small artifacts, including pieces of glass bottle, period dishes, and any number of Civil War period minnie balls and pieces of canon-balls, were found.

Sadly for lighthouse fans, the site was covered over at the end of the second day to preserve the foundation from salt-water, rain, and drastic temperature changes.  Jim Steele, Director of the Fort Fisher Historic Site, does hope to find a way to “interpret” the location of both the lighthouse and the keeper’s quarters in the future.