Christmas Past: A Civil War Sampler
Christmas morning a fine one. The boys began to take their Christmas last night. A good deal of drunkenness in camp. In the morning the captain gave us a treat of egg nogg. One-half the boys very tight by nine o’clock…Never saw so many drunk men before. It might be said with propriety that the 7th regiment was drunk on the 25th.
– David Phillips, 7th Tennessee Infantry
Wednesday, Dec. 25, 1862. Camp near Manassas.
Pleasant weather. Since we do not have a chaplain, this morning we held a hymn-service instead. I enjoyed the music – reminded me of Papa’s and Edward’s singing at home. I enjoyed the hymns with the familiar tunes, as On Jordan’s Stormy Banks, When I Can Read My Title Clear, Rock of Ages, Silent Night. I don’t know why sermons at Christmas are necessary. Bible reading and hymn singing are sufficient – in time of war perhaps more meaning ful than sermons.
– Franklin L. Riley, Co. B, 16th Mississippi Infantry
I am truly sorry that I cannot spend Christmas in Yazoo…Perhaps I could get something more palatable to eat than corn bread, or pleasant to drink that muddy water. I am sure the visit would be a pleasant one if I could get neither. I would love the visit on account of the society. The presence of some of my friends would be both meat and drink to me.
– Robert James McCormack, 3rd Mississippi Infantry, Canton, Mississippi
Sunday, December 25, 1864
We all went down last night to see the tree and how pretty it looked. The room was full of ladies and children and Cap. gave us music on the piano and tried to do all he could to make us enjoy ourselves and we did have a merry time. All came home perfectly satisfied. This has ben a cold dark day but we all went down to see how the tree looked in the day time but it was not as pretty as at night.
– Carrie Berry, a 10-year-old living in Georgia
Dec. 25th Christmas day, but “nary holiday for the soldier boy, far away from the sweet home where of the watched with intense eagerness for the coming of Christmas, expecting to see “Old Santa Claus.”
December 27th. Santa Claus got here at last. Several boxes for W.L.A. arrived today with eatables and other good things sent by those at home to let us know that though we are far from them they still remember us. Many blessings from Him be upon those loved ones at home.
- George Albert Grammer, Warren () Light Artillery
Fort Gaines, December 24th [Tuesday, 1861]
A Merry Christmas! I wish my darling! Oh! That I had a furlough to share it with you tomorrow we would both get “tight” on egg-nog wouldn’t we? You think you wouldn’t do you? but I say if I were home I’d make you take enough to exhilarate you for once in your life well! well! if I am not home with you I won’t make a funeral of my Christmas, but will be as merry as can be, we have a merry party in the “Bazaar” mess and if only receive a jug of good old rye whiskey by this boat, which we expect confidently, we will make a “welkin ring” tomorrow…
May this be the last Christmas that I spend away from your side!
– James M. Williams, Co. A, 21st Alabama Infantry
December 25th 
Christmas Day, and very very cold. Have been moving about some of late, but are again in our old quarters, We have had very unpleasant weather for several weeks, The rain had almost washed us away. The whole country around about here appears to be under water it is almost impossible to get about at all. All military movements will have to stop until the roads improve, It is said that Ladies of Richmond intend giving us a New Years dinner hope it may prove true would like right will to get something good to eat. The health of the Regt continues good. There is no news of any importance
January 1st 
The long talked of Christmas dinner has come at last. Three turkeys, two ducks, one chicken and about ninety loves, for three hundred and fifty soldiers. Not a mouth full apiece where has it all gone too, where [did] it go The commissar or quarter masters no doubt got . May the Lord have mercy on the poor soldiers
- John Kennedy Coleman, Co. F, 6th South Carolina
It is a sad Christmas; cold, and threatening snow. My two youngest children, however, have decked the parlor with evergreens, crosses, stars, etc. They have a cedar Christmas-tree, but it is not burdened. Candy is held at $8 per pound. My two sons rose at 5 A.M. and repaired to the canal to meet their sister Anne, who has been teaching Latin and French in the country; but she was not among the passengers, and this has cast a shade of disappointment over the family. A few pistols and crackers are fired by the boys in the streets—and only a few. I am alone; all the rest being at church. It would not be safe to leave the house unoccupied. Robberies and murders are daily perpetrated. I shall have no turkey to-day, and do not covet one. It is no time for feasting.
– John Beauchamp Jones, Richmond, Virginia
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 groans 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.
– Tally Simpson, Co. A, 3rd South Carolina
While on the subject of Christmas cheer I will mention a toothsome delicacy which had a ready sale. It was ginger bread, or ginger cakes. An enterprising squad had gone into the business of baking. They had built an oven on a hill over against our camp and secured some baking pans about three feet square. They bought flour and bacon from the commissary, bought a lot of sorghum molasses in the country, and got the grease they needed by frying it out of the bacon. They had numerous customers, who bought and criticized freely; but as I had been paid $840, seven months wages, all the Confederacy ever paid me, I concluded to invest some of my wealth in ginger cakes. I had a good many one-dollar Confederate bills. They were red-backed and about six inches by three in length and breadth. I remembered boyhood days when the old cake man came to town on court days with his basket of cakes and five cents would buy a square eight or nine inches by six inches, and I supposed that one of my dollars, or at most two, would buy half of what the big baking pan contained. But when I handed him my dollar, saying “Give the worth of that,” he just laid the bill on the big square of cake and cut out the size of it and gave it to me for my money. I was so surprised that I did not object, but took my little piece of cake and went away sorrowing that our currency had sunk so low as to be measured in terms of gingerbread.
– James H. McNeilly, Chaplain, Quarles’ Tennessee
(Courtesy of Jim Woodrick: http://andspeakingofwhich.blogspot.com/2013/12/christmas-past-civil-war-sampler.html)