Happy New Year and I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. It's time to start the tidbits again so I hope you're all ready.
Having just come out of the holiday season and entering into a new year, I thought it might be wise for all of us to stop and think about how very fortunate we all are. I know we have times of stress in our lives and there are times when we want to just run away, but put yourselves in these soldiers places. For some, Christmas was for the most part happy. On the other hand, for some it seems to have been a time to reflect on those at home or to look forward to the time when the country would once again be peaceful. It was a period of uncertainty for those who only wanted to return home safely. Imagine being away from your family for four Christmases as Robert Watson was or being on the move to another location. But I think the one story that moved me the most was that of a soldier who witnessed the casualties of war and thought of how others would view the battlefield.
Robert Watson, a Confederate soldier, spent four Christmases away from home and recorded his feelings in a diary. As you can see each Christmas got progressively worse.
Dec. 25, 1861 (at Pinellas Point, today's St. Petersburg, as a member of Capt. Henry Mulrenan's company of Florida Volunteer Coast Guard, the Key West Avengers)
"Took dinner with Mr. George Rickards and a splendid dinner it was. We spent a very agreeable day at his house and at night he had some of the best egg nog I ever drank."
Dec. 25, 1862 (at Tampa, as orderly sergeant of Co, K, 7th Florida Regiment, on parole following capture Sept. 2 near Boston, Ky.)
"Christmas day and I was in bed all day from chills and fever. I ate nothing and as there is no liquor in the place of course I drank nothing. I have been since ever since last date (Dec. 14) and I see no prospect of getting any better for I am in worse health than when I arrived here."
Dec. 25, 1863 (at Dalton, Ga., following action at Chickamauga)
"All the prisoners except the officers were armed with Colt's 5 shooting rifles." [the 21st OVI] and Missionary Ridge "a bullet struck my knapsack at the right shoulder and came out at the left shoulder, making 23 holes in my blanket."
"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. We have been very busy building winter quarters since last date (Dec. 11), and they are now finished and quite comfortable."
Dec. 25, 1864 (at Charleston, S.C., following his transfer to the C.S. Navy, after firing the Ram Savannah in the Savannah River during that city's evacuation, and en route to Battery Buchanan at Fort Fisher)
"Christmas day. Turned out at 6 AM, very cold. We were ordered to hold ourselves in readiness to leave at moments warning. 20 men were sent to the Ram Charleston, all the balance except the Savannah's crew went to James Island. I went in a boat to carry a lot of officers and marines, head winds and tides, miserable old leaky boat, very slow. In coming back we were hailed by the Ram Chicora, went alongside and the officer in charge of the boat went aboard and remained there 1/2 hour and it was raining all the time. Our officer got in the boat and just as we shoved off he was ordered on board again for he did not have the countersign and they were not satisfied. He remained 1/2 hr longer when one of the officers came down with a latern (sic) and looked at our faces. He knew one of the men that belonged to the Indian Chief so he was satisfied and let us go. Was hailed and brought to Castle Pickney and had the same trouble over again, finally started and got on board the Indian Chief at 10 PM tired and wet, put on my only suit of clothes and turned in. This ends Christmas day. The poorest I ever spent."
http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/1861/14inf/14i-h4.htm (missing as of 10/8/2005)
In "Life in Camp," the Fourteenth Vermont Infantry Regiment History, J.C. Williams wrote:
"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."
http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/1861/personal/mandltrs.htm (missing as of 10/8/2005)
Jack Mandaville's Personal Pages
Robert Pratt wrote to his brother Sid, from the camp of the 5th Vermont volunteer infantry:
"But I wish you a merry Christmas and all the rest of my few friends for I shall have a merry one if nothing happens. For soldiers are always merry even ten minutes before they die. I say always. But only when they get a thinking. If I I (sic) have money more than I need, that is not a great deal. I would send home ten dollars for you to spend for the children. As it is I will send it. Spend it for them as you think best. . . My gloves came the 21st. They were good ones. I am much obliged they were better than you could get. Here for 2 1/2. As ever brother,
http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/1861/personal/risdon.htm (missing as of 10/8/2005)
Thomas Risdon Baine's Personal Pages
In Feb 1865, at the age of 21, Pvt George P. Risdon , wrote home to his sister from Piney Point, Md:
"You wanted to know in your letter what I had for Christmas and New Years. Well we had a baked goose and whiskey plenty. We all got to feeling pretty good but that does not happen very often. We kept 12 days Christmas. I am or will bee (sic) an entire stranger when I get home for I begin to think about coming home some time if I ever do. 7 Months longer and then good by to US Service. I dont care how quick it roles by either. There is no news to writ. I guess that I have written enough so I will close by subverving myself. Your well wishing brother,
George P. Risdon."
Aldace Walker, wrote on Dec 24, 1862, that he expected to have a fine Christmas dinner
"as old Mrs. Butts is a zealous Episcopalian-not so zealous either, for we only just found it out. Old Butts has got a berth in the Navy Yard, and spends his time there. Many of the officers' wives are here and more are coming. We shall have a New England village presently. "
Four days later, he confirmed the good time had by all:
"We had quite a time Christmas Day. A Holiday-and some twelve dollars in prizes were distributed for wrestling, running, jumping and climbing. We had a good deal of fun over a blindfold wheelbarrow race by the 1st Sergeants, and a greased pole. The officers ran a race-the one who touched a fence last, to treat-and the fast ones put in, and the slow ones did not touch the fence at all, so that the joke came on a 2nd Lt. who was not in the secret."
The History of the 13th Regiment recalls another Christmas with some melancholy but with an attempt to make it a happy time:
"Our regiment spent Christmas in camp and no duty. We thought of home and knew that many a stocking would not be found in its accustomed place, and the usual Christmas dinners and parties likely in many homes would be omitted because of fathers and sons in the army. I recall that our cooks made extra efforts to have something nice for dinner on this Christmas day. We had pork and beans that had been roasted and baked all night in a bed of coals hot for dinner, boiled rice with good sale molasses or muscavade sugar, old government Java coffee, nice hard tack, (worms all shook out), sweet potatoes and corned beef, and all this cooked in good shape.
"We thought it a dinner fit for a king, and all were merry.
"Religious exercises were held in the afternoon. We were thankful to be able to recognize the birthday of the lowly Nazarene in camp in this manner. We were busy each day occupied in battalion and brigade drill, dress parade, guard duty, regimental details for picket out near Bull Run and Centerville."
All soldiers were not so fortunate to have happy holidays as shown in the next two experiences. The first comes from James Barrett, a soldier in the 1st Vermont Cavalry. He remembers the time his unit, in the process of leaving Washington,
"passed Christmas Eve in a wood. Our conversation was turned upon Christmas geese and turkeys and friends that were far away. Probably it was the first time that many of us had spent a Christmas away from our homes. We arrived at our present campground the next night, a little after dark, and had to sleep on the frozen ground again without any dinner or supper, for our baggage wagons had not arrived. But we slept very well, for we were tired and used to a hard bed. The next day set everything to rights again." (Wickman, Donald H. "Letters to Vermont: From Her Civil War Soldier Correspondents to the Home Press." Vol.2. Bennington, Vt: Images from the Past, 1998)
Imagine yourself in the shoes of these soldiers from the 2d Vermont Brigade on Christmas day in 1862. A soldier, whose name is unknown, put in writing what he and his compatriots saw on that day so long ago. They were camped near the Fairfax Court House in Virginia and spent the day at Chantilly viewing the battleground. The first sign that any fighting had taken place presented itself in the form of a
"solitary grave, with its small wooden head-board, marked 'J. Fellows, Louisiana Tigers, killed September 4th, 1862.'"
The soldiers came upon a farm that showed no signs of death and destruction but soon found traces of the conflict. There were bodies whose shallow earth coverings were washed away by the rains leaving the bones partially exposed. They found a body that had not been buried at all and still had all its equipment with it.
"Alone and unhonored he died; who shall answer for it? A bountiful supply of mother earth was all we could give him, and we passed on.
"We wandered over the field for an hour or two, picking up here and there a memento of the battle ground, and doing what kindly services we could for the unburied dead. We turned homeward with more thoughtful countenances, feeling sick at heart with the sight of such war's horrors. Whoever, hereafter, visits the battle ground of Chantilly, will not be shocked by such sights as we saw, I trust, but can view the ground with more pleasant feelings, and carry away with them more pleasant thoughts." (Wickman, Donald H. "Letters to Vermont: From Her Civil War Soldier Correspondents to the Home Press." Vol.1 Bennington, Vt: Images from the Past, 1998)
Who would think that a soldier experiencing such horrid sights would worry about how future generations would view the site where he stood. I didn't mean to depress you but I would like all of us to stop and think about have very fortunate we are to live in a country where we are still free and where there is so much opportunity. I hope you all have a very peaceful and prosperous new year.