Across Five Christmases – A Story of the Civil War

 

In honor of Christmas 2018, I thought I would share a story I wrote last year for my Civil War blog. In this article I take a look back at five Christmases in Mississippi; those of 1861 – 1865 to see how they were reported in the newspapers of the time.

This first article comes from the Natchez Daily Courier, December 25, 1861, when the war was still a novelty:

Merry Christmas.”

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;”

Who wrote the above lines? We should like to know, for since we can recollect, at Christmas Eve, they always float through our brain like far-off strains of sweetest melody,

Christmas Advertisement
Listing of Christmas Day Church Services in Natchez (Natchez Daily Courier, December 25, 1861)

and as old Time silvers our once brown hair, our happy boyhood’s Christmas Eve, with its joyous, innocent sports, rendered more pleasant by the presence of a loved father and mother, brothers and sisters, comes back to us in thoughts too gladsome to think upon. “No more; never, no more.”

This morning our little folk will be up with the dawn; soft beds and downy pillows will have no attractions for them, while little, barefooted feet will patter over the cold floor to the chimney corner, to see what the Patron Saint of Christmas gifts has bequeathed them. How their bright eyes will glisten, as with almost suppressed breath they proceed slowly and carefully to empty their stockings of their precious contents. Santa Claus’s heart will be filled with deep, quiet joy, and vow that each succeeding Eve shall rival the last. 

Men and women – you who have to stem Life’s stern realities; who battle for your Country’s cause with the sword and needle, on the battlefield and in the hospital, on the lonely sentinel rounds and about the dying soldier’s couch, in the tent and in the house – to all, Men, Women and Children, we wish you, with many, many happy returns, a “Merry Christmas.”

By the Christmas of 1862, the war was no longer young, and many Mississippians had given their lives on battlefields across the south. On December 25, 1862, the Natchez Daily Courier published this article:

CHRISTMAS.

“The peculiar situation of our country, forbids us realizing the usual pleasures and festivities of a Christmas Day, in all their bearings. Fathers and sons are absent in the tented field; many a family mourns the loss of some loved one, struck down by the invader;

Trinity Church
Advertisement requesting volunteers to help decorate Trinity Church in Natchez for Christmas (Natchez Daily Courier, December 16, 1862)

while others are suffering from the crushing and vindictive acts of the inhuman foe. Under such circumstances, it cannot be expected that homes will look natural, or the inmates gathered about the hearth-stone appear altogether gay. Yet to such of us who may be permitted to greet each other on this occasion of Christmas, we cannot refrain from wishing a happy season. Let us remember those who are absent, and invoke the God of all mankind, that they may be returned to us before another Christmas, with the blessings of Peace to our glorious Confederacy.

Christmas has been celebrated from time immemorial by the believers in Christ, and many times have the Roundheads of the ancient puritanical stock attempted its suppression. Some of these same Roundhead descendants, at the North, are now the prime movers for the destruction of the South; and should they succeed, it would not astonish us at all to hear of their making, as in ancient days, one grand attempt to destroy the time-honored institution of Christmas. The old Roundheads decided that it was impious to eat cake and drink ale on Christmas; why should the latter-day, Abolition Roundheads hesitate to set aside Christmas day altogether as a season of Christian rejoicing and festivity?

But we hope the Butlers, the Banks, and all other Cromwellian Roundheads of New England, will be banished [from] the South before another Christmas Holyday.”

Far from being banished, by the time Christmas 1863 rolled around, much of Mississippi had been invaded and occupied by the Union army. One of the towns that fell to the Yankees was Natchez, but the Union soldiers stationed there found the Confederates in the region still had some fight left in them that December of 1863. On December 30, 1863, the Chicago Tribune reported:

NATCHEZ, MISS., DEC. 16, 1863

For some time nothing has appeared in the Tribune to let people at home know that there is such a place as Natchez, and to remind them that the secesh have not yet left us in undisturbed possession of the most beautiful of the Mississippi cities and its rich plantations. We had even been congratulating ourselves that our time would be served out here until this ‘cruel war is over,’ and we could march with shouts of joy to our old homes, when suddenly Wirt Adams, the same who sought after Col. Ben Grierson so earnestly and took such good care to keep out of his way when Grierson found him, appeared on a creek three miles from here. Gen. Gersham had fortunately just arrived, and marching out with infantry and artillery, he sent his cavalry under Col. Farrar to get in their rear. The colonel, although an infantry officer, handles cavalry better than any other in the corps.

Union Occupation Troops Natchez
Union Occupation Troops at Natchez (www.natchez.org)

By cutting across through plantations, over roads where the enemy never thought of looking for him or for any other man, he succeeded in getting entirely around them, and reached a position, where, could the rest of the forces have been brought up in time, we must have forced the rebels back on the troops around Natchez. But Adams had artillery and Col. Farrar had only cavalry, so was shelled out of his position and the chivalry slipped through our fingers. They are still hovering around here and are the same party who on Friday last, fired on the steamer ‘Brazil,’ between Waterproof and Rodney, killing two ladies. Fine chivalry, are they not? 

Christmas 1864 found many Mississippi cities still occupied, and both sides hoping for an end to the bloody conflict. On December 20, 1864, The Vicksburg Herald noted:

CHRISTMAS – Before another issue of our paper shall reach our readers, Christmas will

General Orders 6
General Orders No. 6 Concerning the Celebration of the Christmas Holiday in Vicksburg (The Vicksburg Herald, December 20, 1864)

have come and gone. May it prove to each an all a happy Christmas – carrying joy and gladness to every heart, and run as a sweet fore-token of the happy day when ‘peace on earth and good will to man’ shall be the burden of every prayer and the aspiration of every heart in our broad land. 

May it be the last Christmas which shall visit us as a people belligerent, and a nation discordant and dissevered. May the next Christmas dawn upon us a united people, with war’s ugly scars all healed, war’s rude emblems cast aside, and the old ship of State sailing proudly on in her grand and glorious career, more bright and more beloved for the fires through which she has passed. 

May he, who overrules all things, see fit in his mercy and tender kindness to put it in the hearts of those who are now seeking the destruction of the freest and best government heaven ever gave to unworthy men, to desist from their wickedness, and come back like prodigal children to the parents bosom they have so sorely wounded by their unholy and unnatural warfare.”

Christmas 1865 saw peace return to a weary land, and white Mississippians attempting to come to terms with their loss. The following article is from The Weekly Standard in Port Gibson, December 23, 1865:

CHRISTMAS EVE!

“To-morrow night, ‘the eve before Christmas,’ they merry little kingdom of juvenillity will retire gaily and gladly to sweet slumbers and pleasant dreams of well filled stockings, fll of barking dogs, and crying dolls, and chirping birds, and all the delicious little nic-nacs that look so bright and beautiful to the sparkling, dancing eyes of childhood. Noise and toy’s and glad little hearts filled with holiday joys, will give signs of a merry time with thousands of precious little rebels who for four years past have been indulging Christmas festivities in a ‘gone up’ ‘so-called’ country, on pea-nuts and molasses candy. 

Old Kris-Kringle will find many little lips, the lips of new born rebels, to kiss as he passes from one cosy little bed to another, that he never kissed before, and many of the stockings will have grown out of his knowledge, for he too deserted rebeldom when secession took from him his Chimney-Corner domain. It is gratifying to know that at least one class of people can feed, and feast, and fatten, and breathe the free pure air of this blessed Sunny land without test oaths or pardons, and we hope the little ones will be allowed full swing – let them be ‘gay and happy,’ and fill them to the tip of the nose with sweet meats, for many have been without for many years, and many never saw such things. They belong to a region of bliss, of blissful ignorance of the trials and troubles that inhabit older hearts – they know but one Constitution and one creed, that which begins ‘now I lay me down to sleep.’

Snap 2017-12-19 at 21.20.02
Santa Claus Illustration by Cartoonist Thomas Nast

While the period of the festive season returns to us to find a sad heart, so far from marring the general joy with our own sorrows, we offer to each and all the friendly grasp, and the salutations and smiles of festive greetings. We tender to the old and the young, the grave and the gay, the compliments of the season, and a thousand good wishes that they may have many returns of happy holy-days, and that those who surround each home and hearth, may be ‘as merry as a marriage bell.’ Christmas Gift!

To all the members of Ricochet – I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

 

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There are 4 comments.

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    A very nice post, Jeff. It sometimes feels as if we’re in a new Civil War, and it sometimes feels like that spirit touches even the web pages of Ricochet, but it’s good to be reminded what the real thing was like. 

    • #1
  2. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…
    @GumbyMark

    Jeff – do you have a link to your blog?  I’m program chair for my local civil war roundtable and very interested in the subject.

    • #2
  3. Jeff Giambrone Coolidge
    Jeff Giambrone
    @JeffGiambrone

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    Jeff – do you have a link to your blog? I’m program chair for my local civil war roundtable and very interested in the subject.

    You can find most of my blog postings here: https://mississippiconfederates.wordpress.com/

    In July of this year I had to change hosts for my blog, so the most recent material can be found here; Championhilz.wixsite.com

     

    • #3
  4. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Jeff Giambrone (View Comment):
    In July of this year I had to change hosts for my blog, so the most recent material can be found here; Championhilz.wixsite.com

    Had to? 

    • #4
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