J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the month “December, 2013”

Happy New Year!

I would like to wish everyone a very happy New Year! This past year has been a wild ride full of fun and hard work. I met so many great people at book signings and events, and I hope I get more chances to see you again this year. Going to Gettysburg for the 150th anniversary was a real thrill for me. I’m always inspired when I attend reenactments and meet other people who are as enthusiastic about the War Between the States as I am.

I have a new book coming out this year about Confederate War Horses, which I am very excited about and I think you will enjoy. I also plan to travel around the South this year to help promote my book. And the third installment of my Civil War “Renegade Series” is on its way!

If you haven’t already, you still have time to enter my contest to win two free books! Just like my website and follow my blog. That’s all there is to it! Thank you for your ongoing support, and please feel free to leave comments. I really enjoy reading what you have to say! Have a blessed New Year and stay tuned. The winner will be announced later this week.

“Now I Just Know This Is Christmas”

Varina Howell Davis, Mississippi-born wife of the Southern president declared, “That Christmas season was ushered in under the thickest clouds; everyone felt the cataclysm which impended, but the rosy, expectant faces of our little children were a constant reminder that self-sacrifice must be the personal offering of each member of the family.” 

Because of the expense involved in keeping them up, Mr. Davis had recently sold her carriage and horses. A warm-spirited Confederate bought them back and sent them to her. Now she planned to dispose of one of her best satin dresses to obtain funds; with Christmas on the way, the children had high expectations, and she would use all possible makeshifts in an effort to fulfill them. The Richmond housewives could find no currants, raisins, or other vital ingredients for old Virginia mincemeat pie. But, Mrs. Davis went on, the young considered at least one slice their right, “and the price of indigestion…a debt of honor due from them to the season’s exactions.”

Despite the war, apple trees still bore fruit; with these as a base, she and the other women of the city would utilize any other fruit that came to hand. A little cider and some salt were obtained, as was brandy, though its usual price was a hundred dollars a bottle in inflated Confederate currency.

As for eggnog, the Negro stable attendant, who brought in “the back log, our substitute for the Yule log,” said he did not know how they would “git along without no eggnog. Ef it’s only a little wineglass.” Plans progressed for a quiet home Christmas when unexpected word arrived: The orphans at the Episcopal home had been promised a tree and toys, cake and candy, plus a good prize for the best-behaved girl, and something had to be done about that.

Something was done. With Mrs. Davis’s help, a committee of women was set up and the members repaired to their children’s old toy collections to salvage dolls without eyes, monkeys that had lost their squeak, three-legged and even two-legged horses. They fixed and painted everything, plumping out rag dolls and putting new faces on them, adding fresh tails to feathered chickens and parrots.

The Davis’s invited a group of young friends on Christmas Eve to help make candle molds and string popcorn and apples for the tree; Mr. Pizzini, the confectioner, contributed simple candies. For cornucopias and other ornamentation the Davis’s guests used colored papers, bright pictures from old books, bits of silk out of trunks. All in all, the Christmas Eve of 1864 was far from unsatisfactory. When the small supply of eggnog went around, the eldest Davis boy assured his father: “Now I just know this is Christmas.”

(The Southern Christmas Book, Harnett T. Kane, David McKay Company, 1958, pp. 208-210)

Happy Holidays!

Here’s wishing you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year! I have high hopes that next year will provide us all with many more opportunities. This year has been amazing for me, as we moved twice and still have our house in Mississippi (we’re in Sioux Falls now after being in Loveland, Colorado all summer). Christmas is a time to reflect, rejoice, and renew. I hope you and yours have a very blessed holiday season.

Savannah as a Christmas Gift

On December 21, 1864, after pushing his troops over 300 miles across Georgia in his “March to the Sea,” General William Tecumseh Sherman arrived in Savannah, capturing the city that was inhabited by only a few women, children, and slaves. Happy with his accomplishment, Sherman telegraphed President Lincoln. “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns & plenty of ammunition & also about 25.000 bales of cotton.”

I can’t imagine what the women of Savannah felt upon this invasion other than absolute loathing, which is understandable. By now, most of the South was aware that the war was winding down, and that they were losing. What complete loss they must have experienced at a time that was traditionally held as a joyous occasion.

With this in mind, let us rejoice in our freedom, and celebrate the fact that we live in such a prosperous country. Even though commercialism is everywhere, we should try to look past it and celebrate in honor of those who fought, suffered, and died before us for what they believed in. Without their sacrifice, we wouldn’t be where we are today.


Christmas After Fredericksburg


“After the battle of Fredericksburg [December 11-15, 1862] the fine  weather, clear, cold and bracing, which we had been having, changed into a real Virginia winter with a good deal of the Northern thrown in. It snowed, froze, thawed and rained by turns, with here and there bright days. All military operations were brought to a close, and both armies went into winter quarters.”

The Christmas of 1862 was cheerless indeed; the weather was frightful, and a heavy snowstorm covered everything a foot deep. Each soldier attempted to get a dinner in honor of the day, and those to whom boxes had been sent succeeded to a most respectable degree, but those unfortunates whose homes were outside the lines had nothing whatever delectable partaking of the nature of Christmas.

“Well! It would have puzzled [anyone] to furnish a holiday dinner out of a pound of fat pork, six crackers, and a quarter of a pound of dried apples. We all had apple dumplings that day, which with sorghum molasses were not to be despised. Some of the men became decidedly hilarious, and then again some did not; not because they had joined the temperance society nor because they were opposed to the use of intoxicating liquors, but because not a soul invited them to step up and partake. One mess in the Seventeenth did not get so much as a smell during the whole of the holidays; and a dry, dismal old time it proved.

“We read in the Richmond papers of the thousands and thousands of boxes that had been passed en route to the army, sent by the ladies of Richmond and other cities, but few found their way to us. The greater part of them were for the troops from the far South who were too distant from their homes to receive anything from their own families. The Virginians were supposed to have been cared for by their own relatives and friends; but some of them were not, as we all know.”

(Painting: The Christmas After Fredericksburg, Civil War Christmas Album, Philip Van Doren, editor, Hawthorne Books, 1961, page 23)

(Courtesy of Southern Comfort, SCV #1452 Private Samuel A. Hughey Camp newsletter, December 2013, pp. 3-4)

The Battle of Fredericksburg

Soldiers who were away from home at Christmas suffered a particular kind of homesickness, different from the usual melancholy they usually felt. Because most soldiers who fought in the Civil War were Christians, the celebration of Christmas was a very special time for them. As Victorians, they believed that Christmas should be celebrated as a happy time of year. But with all the death surrounding them, it was difficult to feel that way, especially in December 1862.

The Battle of Fredericksburg took place a little over a week before Christmas, on December 13, 1862. The battle forced citizens of Fredericksburg out of their homes, and some had no recourse but to camp in the woods in subzero temperatures. Union forces invaded the town, looting, shelling, and burning much of it. The Yankees then marched up to Marye’s Heights, where Confederate troops were waiting for them. Because the Rebels were at an advantage, the Federals were forced to march up the hill through an open field, thus making them easy targets. Needless to say, thousands were slaughtered.

When the townsfolk were finally able to return to their homes, they found only destruction, but somehow, they managed to carry on through the terrible sadness that engulfed them. It is interesting to note that, during a lull in the battle, one soldier found the compassion to come to the aid of his enemies. His name was Sergeant Richard Kirkland, a Confederate from South Carolina. Without the protection of the white flag of truce, he braved the open field to provide water and blankets to the wounded and dying Union soldiers. Because of his bravery, the “Angel of Marye’s Heights” is immortalized with a statue at the Fredericksburg National Military Park.

Christmas and the Civil War

The first Christmas tree in America was erected in Cleveland, Ohio in 1851, so most likely you would have had at least one prior to the war. Most decorations would have been made at home and were very simple, such as dried and sugared nuts and fruits, popcorn balls and string. Colored paper, wax ribbon, spun glass, and silver foil ornaments were also popular. Ornaments were made in the shape of doll faces, angels, the Christ Child, and animals. Most trees sat on the table top. Unwrapped presents would be placed under them. Without a doubt, the Christmas tree was the centerpiece of the home. The entire house would have been decorated with greenery such as fir, pine, holly, ivy, and mistletoe.

Songs such as “Silent Night,” “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and “Deck the Halls” were popular. “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” was written in 1850, and other songs such as “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Away in a Manger,” “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” and “Up on the Housetop” soon followed.

The Christmas Card started in 1844 and must have been dearly prized during the war!

Tally Simpson a member of the 3rd South Carolina Volunteer wrote his sister from Fredericksburg trenches.

From: Tally Simpson, Camp near Fredricksburg
To: Anna Simpson
Camp near Fred’burg
Dec 25th, 1862

My dear Sister

This is Christmas Day. The sun shines feebly through a thin cloud, the air is mild and pleasant, [and] a gentle breeze is making music through the leaves of the lofty pines that stand near our bivouac. All is quiet and still, and that very stillness recalls some sad and painful thoughts.

This day, one year ago, how many thousand families, gay and joyous, celebrating Merry Christmas, drinking health to absent members of their family, and sending upon the wings of love and affection long, deep, and sincere wishes for their safe return to the loving ones at home, but today are clad in the deepest mourning in memory to some lost and loved member of their circle. If all the dead (those killed since the war began) could be heaped in one pile and all the wounded be gathered together in one group, the pale faces of the dead and the graons of the wounded would send such a thrill of horror through the hearts of the originators of this war that their very souls would rack with such pain that they would prefer being dead and in torment than to stand before God with such terrible crimes blackening their characters. Add to this the cries and wailings of the mourners – mothers and fathers weeping for their sons, sisters for their brothers, wives for their husbands, and daughters for their fathers – [and] how deep would be the convictions of their consciences.

Yet they do not seem to think of the affliction and distress they are scattering broadcast over the land. When will this war end? Will another Christmas roll around and find us all wintering in camp? Oh! That peace may soon be restored to our young but dearly beloved country and that we may all meet again in happiness.

But enough of these sad thoughts. We went on picket in town a few days ago. The pickets of both armies occupy the same positions now as they did before the battle. Our regt was quartered in the market place while the others occupied stores and private houses. I have often read of sacked and pillaged towns in ancient history, but never, till I saw Fredricksburg, did I fully realize what one was. The houses, especially those on the river, are riddled with shell and ball. The stores have been broken open and deprived of every thing that was worth a shilling. Account books and nots and letters and papers both private and public were taken from their proper places and scattered over the streets and trampled under feet. Private property was ruined. Their soldiers would sleep in the mansions of the wealthy and use the articles and food in the house at their pleasure. Several houses were destroyed by fire. Such a wreck and ruin I never wish to see again.

Yet notwithstanding all this, the few citizens who are now in town seem to be cheerful and perfectly resigned. Such true patriots are seldom found. This will ever be a noted place in history.

While we were there, Brig Genl Patrick, U.S.A., with several of his aides-de-camp, came over under flag of truce. Papers were exchanged, and several of our men bought pipes, gloves, &c from the privates who rowed the boat across. They had plenty of liquor and laughed, drank, and conversed with our men as if they had been friends from boyhood.

There is nothing new going on. I am almost dead to hear from home. I have received no letters in nearly three weeks, and you can imagine how anxious I am. The mails are very irregular. I hope to get a letter soon. Dunlap Griffin is dead, died in Richmond of wounds received in the last battle. Capt Hance is doing very well. Frank Fleming is in bad condition. (He has been elected lieutenant since he left.)

Write to me quick right off. I wish to hear from you badly. Remember me to my friends and relatives, especially the Pickens and Ligons. Hoping to hear from you soon I remain

Your bud

Source: http://nhrn.blogspot.com/2008/12/christmas-during-civil-war.html

“A Beautiful Glittering Lie” Featured on Website

My Civil War novel, “A Beautiful Glittering Lie,” is the first book featured on the B.R.A.G. Medallion winners website page. Here is the link:


I can’t tell you how proud and honored I am to be featured on the Indie B.R.A.G. website. And to have my book be the very first one shown is awesome, to say the least! I couldn’t have done it without you, and words can’t express my gratitude. Thanks again for supporting me, sponsoring me, and backing me in my projects. I can’t wait to get started on the next one!

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