Thursday, January 16, 2014

December 25, 1863

December 25, 1863

Christmas Day

---Lt. Col. Federico Fernández Cavada of the 114th Pennsylvania writes of his Christmas Day while being held in Richmond’s Libby Prison:

Christmas! at that name, what pleasant visions come thronging to the prisoner’s mind, visions of home and the hearth,—of mince pies, plum-puddings and bon-bons, of Christmas trees and child-laughter, and pretty little rosy mouths, sweeter for the sugarplums, puckering into Christmas kisses! What prison-thoughts, that laugh at the rebel bars and bayonets, go traveling by swift air lines, afar off into cozy cottages among the northern snows, and over the wide prairies into western homes; north, south, east and west—over the whole land; fond thoughts, winged with love-lightning!

The north wind comes reeling in fitful gushes through the iron bars, and jingles a sleigh-bell in the prisoner’s ear, and puffs in his pale face with a breath suggestively odorous of egg-nog.

Christmas day! a day which was made for smiles, and not for sighs,—for laughter, and not for tears,— for the hearth, and not for the prison. The forms which I pass as I saunter up and down the low, gloomy rooms, are bowed in thought, and their cheeks are pale with surfeit of it; it seems very cruel, but the loving little arms that are felt twining about the neck,—the innocent laughing little faces that will peep out of the shadows, with sunbeams in their eyes, —the warm hands which grasp ours in spite of us,— all these must be thrust aside. . . .

There is a group in a dusky corner that I can see from here: some one is playing “Home, sweet home!” on a violin. It is a very dismal affair, this group: the faces are all sad,—no wonder, for the tune is telling them strange, wild things: . . .

So Christmas-day passes away; there are many extra dinners gotten up, and numerous invitations to admired friends. Towards evening, the gloom has in a measure passed off from most of the faces; there is some laughing, and even cracking of jokes. . . . Many strange visions are beheld; many pleasing dreams experienced; and many fond, familiar faces are photographed in that wondrous camera obscura which sleep makes of the dreamer’s brain.

---Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, America’s most famous and beloved poet, writes this poem as a tribute to everyone’s war-weariness.  Having felt anxiety over his oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, a young officer in the Army of the Potomac, who has been badly wounded in Mine Run campaign, and whose recovery is by no means certain, the elder Longfellow pens these lines:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    and wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
    "For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

---Kate Cumming, a nurse with the Army of Tennessee, writes in her journal of the cheer and comforts they are able to provide for the wounded at her hospital:

Christmas-day, December 25.—We have had quite a pleasant one. Miss W. and myself were up hours before daylight making eggnog. We wished to give some to all in the hospital, but could not procure eggs enough; so we gave it to the wounded who are convalescent, the cooks, and the nurses.

Just at peep of dawn the little gallery in front of our house was crowded with the wounded. The scene was worthy of a picture; many of them without a leg or an arm, and they were as cheerful and contented as if no harm had ever happened them. I constantly hear the unmarried ones wondering if the girls will marry them now. Dr. Hughes did his best to have a nice dinner for the convalescents and nurses. Turkeys, chickens, vegetables, and pies. I only wish the men in the army could have fared as well.

In the afternoon we had a call from all of our surgeons, and from one or two from the other hospitals. I had hard work to get Mrs. W. to spare a few hours from working for “her dear boys,” and have a kind of holiday for once, as nearly all of our wounded are doing well. . . .

General Bragg has resigned. For his own sake and ours, I am heartily glad.

---George Michael Neese, of the artillery in the Confederate Army, notes in his journal the sparseness of the Christmas celebration of his comrades in their battery, encamped in the field in the Shenandoah Valley:

December 25 — Bright Merry Christmas is here again, and so am I, right in the breezy woods to enjoy it, unhampered by the restraints of custom, the fetters of fashion, and thraldom of etiquette, ready and willing to hide away a first-class Christmas dinner if I had it. I am glad I am alive and whole, for during this year many a poor soldier whose sun of life glowed in the very zenith of manhood and glory was cut down and immolated on the altar of his country, like the full blown rose that sacrifices and casts its beauteous and fragrant petals on the altar of the passing storm. At sunrise this morning we fired two rounds from our guns in commemoration of the birth of Him who said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth.”

The menu of our Christmas dinner was composed wholly of beef with gravy and corn bread. Our mess was afraid to try anything new, as it might throw us headlong on the sick list in the busy season of house building. I was hard at work all day, getting raw material for the business end of our culinary department.

---The Richmond Daily Dispatch editorializes on the bleak scene for Christmas in the Confederate capital:

Christmas day, in this city, was unusually dull, because of the scarcity of pop crackers, the high prices of eggs, rum, and sugar, and the total absence of many of the luxuries necessary to the celebration of that festive occasion. The bar-rooms, as usual, were open in the morning, and young men and old ones indulged their appetites for stimulating beverages to a limited extent; but, because of the horrid compounds which they imbibed, drinking parties retired early, to nurse headaches and nauseated stomachs, thus relieving the thoroughfares of their presence. Comparatively few inebriated were to be seen during the evening, and unless their stomachs are copper-fastened they will not be able to rally during the holidays.

In the private circle the day was appropriately observed — many persons dividing their abundance with their needy neighbors, and thus contributing to their own happiness. If the family trees were not loaded with the usual amount of Yankee trash, and the juveniles were less bountifully supplied by old Kris Kringle, they were blessed with an abundance of substantials of home growth, and may be consoled with the reflection that their spare change can be better spent in providing for the wants of the gallant soldiers who are battling for their protection and their rights.

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