Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Union Soldiers and the Christmas Season

Have you ever wondered what the Christmas season was like for Civil War soldiers? I perused my bookshelves and located some quotes about the day from the perspective of Union soldiers posted in various parts of the trans-Mississippi.

August Scherneckau, near Van Buren, Missouri:
“Wednesday, December 24 [1862]—….Christmas Eve, surrounded by the loveliest evergreen trees, provided many opportunities to obtain a Christmas tree, but for whom? And with whom? I felt lonesome in the middle of thousands of comrades, almost had some sort of homesickness. It was, of course, the first Christmas Eve I had to spend without having some friends or relatives around who like myself—and we North Germans in general—were accustomed to observing this evening. The pine branches that we brought into camp tonight reminded me very vividly of our homeland….

Thursday, December 25—Christmas Day. The most miserable I have ever spent….We had to clean the whole camp, each company its tent alley and also around the tents of its officers. All bushes had to be cut down, the leaves swept away and burned. The rocks, with which the ground is covered, had to be thrown onto piles, etc. I was busy with this work when I was ordered to report to the quartermaster. There I received the assignment, with about twenty more men, to chop wood for burning charcoal….This pleasant work kept us going until evening….”

From James E. Potter and Edith Robbins, eds., Marching With The First Nebraska: A Civil War Diary (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), 50-51.

Robert T. McMahan, Rhea’s Mills, Arkansas:
“December 25 1862:
Nothing unusual in camp today save the extra chicken fixens etc. for Christmas. Heard that our Reg. camped in Leavenworth the evening of the 6th on their way to Ohio. Arrived in Leavenworth from Ft. Scott in mule wagons and on foot. Horses played out and turned over at Ft. Scott.”

From Michael E. Banasik, ed., Reluctant Cannoneer: The Diary of Robert T. McMahan of the Twenty-fifth Independent Ohio Light Artillery (Iowa City: Camp Pope Bookshop, 2000), 94.

Henry O. Gusley, Galveston, Texas:
“December 26, 1862
Christmas is over—gone—past; nor was it in any respect dissimilar to other days. Even the quiet of Sunday was not ours; and the same ration which a common day would have brought, we thankfully received. Well, its novelty may after all be of some benefit; and at some future Christmas, if we are spared to spend another in civil life, the remembrance of this and the last one may add a greater zest to the roast fowl, pies, puddings and bonbons in which we may then be indulging. We hope so….”

From Edward T. Cotham, Jr., ed., The Southern Journey of a Civil War Marine: The Illustrated Note-Book of Henry O. Gusley (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006), 126.

Sergeant George Hand, Fort McRae, New Mexico:
“Dec. 25. [1863] Christmas passed off very dull, but towards night whiskey was found where soldiers always find it, and Co. ‘G’ was nearly all drunk and noisy until morning, when a cold snowstorm dr0ve them all to bed.”

From Neil B. Carmony, ed., The Civil War in Apacheland: Sergeant George Hand’s Diary: California, Arizona, West Texas, New Mexico, 1861-1864 (Silver City, NM: High-Lonesome Books, 1996), 151.

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