Friday, December 18, 2009

A Confederate Christmas

What was Christmas like for Confederates in the trans-Mississippi? The first selection is from the civilian perspective, and the others are primary accounts written by Confederate soldiers stationed in Arkansas. Taken altogether, the Union and Confederate Christmas accounts show an interesting blend of revelry, illness, homesickness, loneliness, boredom, and, fittingly, the birth of a child.

Mrs. M. C. Marshall to Theophilus Perry:
“3 oclock December 24 1862
[Marshall, Texas]

Mr. Perry

I write to say to you that Mrs Perry is the mother of another babe—a fine boy weighing 8 ½ pounds which we have named Theophilus. both mother and child are doing well, and I trust that in a short time Mrs Perry will be up. she wishes me to say to you that she did not have the Doctor with her. the babe was born at twelve oclock to day. your aunt and myself will remain with her until she is able to be out of bed. Sugar lumpy as you would say is delighted with her little brother and we have to coax her from the bed she begs to kiss him and to nurse him all the time. she is much improved in health since you saw her and is as fat almost as can be. Hoping that you may pass unharmed through this miserable war and be permitted to return to your family and enjoy a long life is the prayer of

Your friend
M C Marshall

The babes hair is as black as can be[.] We send a piece also some of Mothers[.]”

From M. Jane Johansson, ed., Widows by the Thousand: The Civil War Letters of Theophilus and Harriet Perry, 1862-1864 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000), 76.

W. W. Heartsill, near Arkansas Post, Arkansas:
“Dec. 25th [1862]. Christmas and a nice one it is for me; for I awake this morning with a ‘first class’ case of mumps, my neck and jaws are too sore to eat, and Ben Bayless is also sick, so as there is to be a detail made to take the prisoners to camp, Ben and I will just fill the bill. We make a hard days march and reach the Post in the night, I find the mumps quite fashionable in camps; about one dozen of the boys have their jaws tied up.”

From Bell Irvin Wiley, ed., Fourteen Hundred and 91 Days in the Confederate Army: A Journal Kept by W. W. Heartsill, Or Camp Life; Day By Day, of the W. P. Rangers From April 19, 1861 To May 20, 1865 (reprint ed., Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1992), 89.

Dr. William M. McPheeters, Camp Bragg, Ouachita County, Arkansas:
“December 25th. Christmas. Dr. Haden spent the night with us. Maj. Cabell and I bundled together in my bed and Dr. Haden in the major’s, all on the floor. Commenced the morning by making a big big bucket of egg nog of which the General and most of his staff and others partook and seemed to enjoy hugely for it was good and good cheer prevailed. At eleven o’clock Gen. Drayton and myself started off on horseback. First we went to Mr. Blake’s to call on his family, here we took egg nog also then rode 2 miles across to Mr. Moore’s where partook of a good Christmas dinner….Remained an hour after dinner and then returned to camp. After dark quite a fuss was heard in Gen. Drayton’s Brigade with the fire of one piece of artillery in which the General ordered out his staff and body guard and we all rode over to quell any disturbance that might be brewing, which fortunately did not occur and with a reprimand for the unauthorized shot we all returned….A merry Christmas to my dear wife and children—God bless them. How my heart yearns towards them tonight and how I long to be with them….”

From Cynthia Dehaven Pitcock and Bill J. Gurley, eds., I Acted From Principle: The Civil War Diary of Dr. William M. McPheeters, Confederate Surgeon in the Trans-Mississippi (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2002), 93.

Eathan Allen Pinnell, Camp Bragg, Ouachita County, Arkansas:
“December 25, 1863:
Christmas—In camp—Once more the ceaseless march of time brought us Christmas, but with it, to me nothing of the pleasures or enjoyments, over or above other days, nothing extra except in the way of hard duty.
Last night the mess commenced firing guns, hollowing and yelling etc. immediately after dark and kept it up until 9 P.M. I run myself constantly until after mid-night trying to keep order in camp. Succeeded about 9 P.M. in getting the camp quiet, and by close watching kept is to until reveille. I went to bed at 3 A.M. and got two hours sleep. Last night was undoubtedly the hardest night’s service I have had to perform in camp since in the army. I was relieved this morning. I anticipate a happy time tonight for my successor.
Day clear and warm—I have spent all the A.M. after 9 sleeping. Got up at two and eat my Christmas dinner of hog and hominy….”

From Michael E. Banasik, ed. Serving With Honor: The Diary of Captain Eathan Allen Pinnell of the Eighth Missouri Infantry (Confederate) (Iowa City: Camp Pope Bookshop, 1999), 128-129.

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