A Christmas Story – Civil War style
A soldier, writing from his camp near Fredericksburg, narrated the following, which occurred while he was on picket duty with his company:
It was Christmas day and after partaking of a Christmas dinner of salt pork and hard tack, our attention was attracted by a rebel picket who hailed us from the opposite side of the river.
“I say, Yank, if a fellow goes over there, will you let him come back again?”
Receiving an affirmative answer, he proceeded to test the truth of it by paddling himself across the river. He was decidedly the cleanest specimen of a rebel I had seen. In answer to a question, he said he belonged to the Georgia Legion. One of our boys remarked, “I met quite a number of your boys at South Mountain.”
“Yes, I suppose so–if you were there,” said the rebel, while his face grew very sad. “We left many of our boys there. My brother, poor Will, was killed there. It was a hot place for a while, and we had to leave it in a hurry.”
“That’s so, Georgia; your fellows fought well there, and had all the advantage, but the old Keystone boys were pressing you hard. By the way, I have a likeness here (taking it out of his pocket), that I picked up on the battle-field the next morning, and I have carried it ever since.”
He handed it to the rebel, who, on looking at it pressed it to his lips exclaiming, “My mother! My mother!”
He exhibited considerable emotion at the recovery of the picture, but on the recovery of his composure he said that his brother had it in his possession, and must have lost it in the fight. He then asked the name of the one to whom he was indebted for the lost likeness of his mother, remarking, “There may be better times soon, and we may know each other better.”
He had taken from his pocket a small pocket bible in which to write the address, when Alex, who had taken no part in the conversation, fairly yelled, ” I know that book; I lost it at Bull Bun!”
“That’s whar I got it, Mr. Yank,” said the rebel, and he handed it to Alex.
“I am much obliged to you, Georgia Legion; I would not part with it for all the Southern Confederacy.”
I was a little curious to know something further of the book, so I asked Alex to let me see it. He passed it to me. I opened it, and on the flyleaf was written in a neat hand, “My Christmas Gift, to Alex , Dec. 25th, 1860. Ella.”
“Well, Alex,” said I, “It is not often one has the same gift presented to him a second time.”
“True, Captain; and if I could but see the giver of that today, there’s but one other gift I would want.”
“What’s that, Alex?”
“This rebellion played out, and my discharge in my pocket.”
The boys had all been busy talking to our rebel friend, who, seeing a horseman approaching in the direction of his post, bid us a hasty good-by, and made a quick trip across the Rappahannock.
Night came on, and those not on duty lay down on the frozen ground to dream of other Christmas nights, when we knew not of war.”
Merry Christmas, everyone from Debi and me!
Passage is from The Civil War in Song and Story: 1860-65 by Frank Moore, (New York: P. F. Collier, 1889), page 161.