Thomas Nast illustration, Harper’s Weekly.
I would like to wish each Cannonball reader a safe and pleasant holiday season! We are spending much of today at my daughter’s house for a family get together, and then enjoying Christmas at our house tomorrow. Few Civil War soldiers had the privilege of spending the holidays at home with their loved ones and friends.
Christmas for Civil War soldiers was usually a very tough time – they were away from home, cold, often hungry, and missing loved ones and fallen comrades. In 1864, Lieutenant Elisha Hunt Rodes of the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry wrote, “I should like to be home this Christmas… This is the birth of the Saviour, but we paid very little attention to it in a religious way.” With much sadness, he closed, “This is my fourth Christmas in the Army. I wonder if it will be my last.” It was. By the next year, the war was over and Rhodes was indeed home.
The soldiers tried to make the best of the situation. York County’s 87th Pennsylvania spent the Christmas of 1863 in their new winter camp not far from Brandy Station in northern Virginia. The men constructed “snug little cabins” to keep out the chilly winter drafts. The regimental historian, George Prowell, later recalled, “Soon after the regiment was settled in winterquarters, a large number of boxes arrived. They contained an abundant supply of good things to eat, which were the most acceptable Christmas gifts that could have been received. Christmas was ushered in by all the bands in camp playing lively tunes at daylight.”
Times have not changed. A number of you have loved ones serving overseas this Christmas, and, like their counterparts of the Civil War, boxes of goodies from home are the soldiers’ lifelines to their homes. Take time to remember our troops this holiday season. Like Elisha Rhodes, many are hoping to be home this time next year.