J.D.R. Hawkins

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

Archive for the tag “Christmas”

Happy New Year!

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Now that the holidays are over, it’s time for me to take a deep breath, delve in, and get back to work! I was crazy busy up until Christmas, what with all the blog posts, tours, contests, and giveaways I was participating in. Now that I’ve completed all of those projects, I am beginning several new ones. My nonfiction book is in the works and should be coming out later this year. I also plan to re-publish the first two books in the Renegade Series with the publisher of my new novel, A Rebel Among Us.

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And, I plan to publish the fourth book in the Renegade Series this year as well. What a workload! Of course, there will be many more exciting opportunities to win great prizes and have fun, so stay tuned. Thanks again for your support!

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Happy Holidays!

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The Christmas season is officially here! Although it is a bit hectic, Christmas is still my favorite time of year. And I’m almost done shopping! Most of you are probably busy with holiday parties, shopping, travelling plans, and family get-togethers. This will be the first Christmas I’ll get to spend with my kiddos in five years! The last time was in Horn Lake, Mississippi, when they all came to see my husband and me. Now we are in Colorado Springs, and I am looking forward to a Colorado Christmas once again.

This month, my new novel, A Rebel Among Us, is being featured in several Civil War publications. All three of my books are on a blog tour now through December 20. Here is the link so you can follow along:

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=b00k%20r3vi3w%20tours

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This is late notice, but my book is being featured tomorrow in an official book blitz. Please try to attend! The event will be going on from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. EST. Here is the link:

https://www.facebook.com/events/714867415332119/

Next week, from December 12 through December 18, I will be participating in a holiday blog hop. Please join me for a chance to win cool stuff like free e-books, calendars, pens, mugs, and other amazing swag. The link is:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1101537709967416/

And finally, my book and I are listed on the Best of the Best book poll for 2016. Please vote for me! I am listed as J.D.R. Hawkins under “best historical romance author,” and A Rebel Among Us is listed under “best historical romance.” I would really appreciate your support! Here is the link:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScU3sJOiUH5dRqTpgUy9XwsImD0VAe99hwN21tUw0mCXQ9k0g/viewform?fbzx=5532827120251655223

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This month has been crazy for me so far because I am trying to beat deadlines for submitting A Rebel Among Us for contests and reviews. If you are interested in reading my book, please let me know. I would love for you to review my book!

(P.S. – please feel free to share this post! Thanks for your support!)

Recovery Time

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Although Christmas is one of my favorite times of year, I’ll have to admit, it can be exhausting! I feel like I’m fighting off a cold or some other unknown disease after being around a bunch of sickies for the past few weeks, and all the calories I ingested are catching up. The decorations have all been taken down, leaving a void where they used to be for over a month. The gifts have all been opened, some returned, and others re-gifted: not from me but to me. Argh!

Now that the New Year is upon us, the snow and cold seem unrelenting and endless. Next week it will be a high of three degrees here. Three degrees! Argh! I feel like I need another vacation to come off of this vacation. I hear the Bahamas are nice this time of year. If only… sigh.

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One thing I did manage to complete was the line edits for my latest novel. Because of the holidays, it took me longer than I anticipated, but now the task is accomplished and I’m looking forward to the next phase in the publishing process. This book is the third in a series I’ve written, titled the Renegade Series, which makes the story a trilogy so far. I’ll write more about this in my next blog post.

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Getting back on track can be difficult. I’m sure I can do it, but some people have trouble. They experience profound depression this time of year, so please reach out to those who might need your help. A New Year means new opportunities. I’m excited about what the future holds!

Christmas in the Confederate White House

How the Davis Family Spent the Christmas of 1864

By Varina Howell Davis

The wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote this article describing how the Davis family spent the Christmas of 1864 in the Confederate White House. It was published in The New York World, December 13, 1896 and has since been reprinted often. This excerpt was obtained via the website “The American Civil War, 1861-1865.”

Residence of Jefferson Davis
Residence of Jefferson Davis (Library of Congress)

…Rice, flour, molasses and tiny pieces of meat, most of them sent to the President’s wife anonymously to be distributed to the poor, had all be weighed and issued, and the playtime of the family began, but like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky came the information that the orphans at the Episcopalian home had been promised a Christmas tree and the toys, candy and cakes must be provided, as well as one pretty prize for the most orderly girl among the orphans. The kind-hearted confectioner was interviewed by our committee of managers, and he promised a certain amount of his simpler kinds of candy, which he sold easily a dollar and a half a pound, but he drew the line at cornucopias to hold it, or sugared fruits to hang on the tree, and all the other vestiges of Christmas creations which had lain on his hands for years. The ladies dispersed in anxious squads of toy-hunters, and each one turned over the store of her children’s treasures for a contribution to the orphans’ tree, my little ones rushed over the great house looking up their treasure: eyeless dolls, three-legged horses, tops with the upper peg broken off, rubber tops, monkeys with all the squeak gone silent and all the ruck of children’s toys that gather in a nursery closet.

Makeshift Toys for the Orphans

Some small feathered chickens and parrots which nodded their heads in obedience to a weight beneath them were furnished with new tail feathers, lambs minus much of their wool were supplied with a cotton wool substitute, rag dolls were plumped out and recovered with clean cloth, and the young ladies painted their fat faces in bright colors and furnished them with beads for eyes.

But the tug of war was how to get something with which to decorate the orphans’ tree. Our man servant, Robert Brown, was much interested and offered to make the prize toy. He contemplated a “sure enough house, with four rooms.” His part in the domestic service was delegated to another and he gave himself over in silence and solitude to the labors of the architect.

My sister painted mantel shelves, door panels, pictures and frames for the walls, and finished with black grates in which there blazed a roaring fire, which was pronounced marvelously realistic. We all made furniture of twigs and pasteboard, and my mother made pillows, mattresses, sheets and pillow cases for the two little bedrooms.

Christmas Eve a number of young people were invited to come and string apples and popcorn for the trees; a neighbor very deft in domestic arts had tiny candle moulds made and furnished all the candles for the tree. However the puzzle and triumph of all was the construction of a large number of cornucopias. At last someone suggested a conical block of wood, about which the drawing paper could be wound and pasted. In a little book shop a number of small, highly colored pictures cut out and ready to apply were unearthed, and our old confectioner friend, Mr. Piazzi, consented, with a broad smile, to give “all the love verses the young people wanted to roll with the candy.”

A Christmas Eve Party

About twenty young men and girls gathered around small tables in one of the drawing rooms of the mansion and the cornucopias were begun. The men wrapped the squares of candy, first reading the “sentiments” printed upon them, such as “Roses are red, violets blue, sugar’s sweet and so are you,” “If you love me as I love you no knife can cut our love in two.” The fresh young faces, wreathed in smiles, nodded attention to the reading, while with their small deft hands they gined [?] the cornucopias and pasted on the pictures. Where were the silk tops to come from? Trunks of old things were turned out and snippings of silk and even woolen of bright colors were found to close the tops, and some of the young people twisted sewing silk into cords with which to draw the bags up. The beauty of those home-made things astonished us all, for they looked quite “custom-made,” but when the “sure enough house” was revealed to our longing gaze the young people clapped their approbation, while Robert, whose sense of dignity did not permit him to smile, stood the impersonation of successful artist and bowed his thanks for our approval. Then the coveted eggnog was passed around in tiny glass cups and pronounced good. Crisp home-made ginger snaps and snowy lady cake completed the refreshments of Christmas Eve. The children allowed to sit up and be noisy in their way as an indulgence took a sip of eggnog out of my cup, and the eldest boy confided to his father: “Now I just know this is Christmas.” In most of the houses in Richmond these same scenes were enacted, certainly in every one of the homes of the managers of the Episcopalian Orphanage. A bowl of eggnog was sent to the servants, and a part of everything they coveted of the dainties.

At last quiet settled on the household and the older members of the family began to stuff stockings with molasses candy, red apples, an orange, small whips plaited by the family with high-colored crackers, worsted reins knitted at home, paper dolls, teetotums made of large horn bottoms and a match which could spin indefinitely, balls of worsted rags wound hard and covered with old kid gloves, a pair of pretty woolen gloves for each, either cut of cloth and embroidered on the back or knitted by some deft hand out of home-spun wool. For the President there were a pair of chamois-skin riding gauntlets exquisitely embroidered on the back with his monogram in red and white silk, made, as the giver wrote, under the guns of Fortress Monroe late at night for fear of discovery. There was a hemstitched linen handkerchief, with a little sketch in indelible ink in one corner; the children had written him little letters, their grandmother having held their hands, the burthen of which compositions was how they loved their dear father. For one of the inmates of the home, who was greatly loved but whose irritable temper was his prominent failing, there was a pretty cravat, the ends of which were embroidered, as was the fashion of the day. The pattern chosen was simple and on it was pinned a card with the word “amiable” to complete the sentence. One of the [missing] received a present of an illuminated copy of Solomon’s proverbs found in the same old store from which the pictures came. He studied it for some time and announced: “I have changed my opinion of Solomon, he uttered such unnecessary platitudes — now why should he have said ‘The foolishness of a fool is his folly’?”

On Christmas morning the children awoke early and came in to see their toys. They were followed by the negro women, who one after another “caught” us by wishing us a merry Christmas before we could say it to them, which gave them a right to a gift. Of course, there was a present for every one, small though it might be, and one who had been born and brought up at our plantation was vocal in her admiration of a gay handkerchief. As she left the room she ejaculated: “Lord knows mistress knows our insides; she jest got the very thing I wanted.”

Mrs. Davis’s Strange Presents

Mrs. Varina Davis
Mrs. Varina Howell Davis (Library of Congress)

For me there were six cakes of delicious soap, made from the grease of ham boiled for a family at Farmville, a skein of exquisitely fine gray linen thread spun at home, a pincushion of some plain brown cotton material made by some poor woman and stuffed with wool from her pet sheep, and a little baby hat plaited by the orphans and presented by the industrious little pair who sewed the straw together. They pushed each other silently to speak, and at last mutely offered the hat, and considered the kiss they gave the sleeping little one ample reward for the industry and far above the fruit with which they were laden. Another present was a fine, delicate little baby frock without an inch of lace or embroidery upon it, but the delicate fabric was set with fairy stitches by the dear invalid neighbor who made it, and it was very precious in my eyes. There were also a few of Swinburne’s best songs bound in wall-paper and a chamois needlebook left for me by young Mr. P., now succeeded to his title in England. In it was a Brobdingnagian thimble “for my own finger, you know,” said the handsome, cheerful young fellow. After breakfast, at which all the family, great and small, were present, came the walk to St. Paul’s Church. We did not use our carriage on Christmas or, if possible to avoid it, on Sunday. The saintly Dr. Minnegerode preached a sermon on Christian love, the introit was sung by a beautiful young society woman and the angels might have joyfully listened. Our chef did wonders with the turkey and roast beef, and drove the children quite out of their propriety by a spun sugar hen, life-size, on a nest full of blanc mange eggs. The mince pie and plum pudding made them feel, as one of the gentlemen laughingly remarked, “like their jackets were buttoned,” a strong description of repletion which I have never forgotten. They waited with great impatience and evident dyspeptic symptoms for the crowning amusement of the day, “the children’s tree.” My eldest boy, a chubby little fellow of seven, came to me several times to whisper: “Do you think I ought to give the orphans my I.D. studs?” When told no, he beamed with the delight of an approving conscience. All throughout the afternoon first one little head and then another popped in at the door to ask: “Isn’t it 8 o’clock yet?,” burning with impatience to see the “children’s tree.”

David Helped Santa Claus

When at last we reached the basement of St. Paul’s Church the tree burst upon their view like the realization of Aladdin’s subterranean orchard, and they were awed by its grandeur.

The orphans sat mute with astonishment until the opening hymn and prayer and the last amen had been said, and then they at a signal warily and slowly gathered around the tree to receive from a lovely young girl their allotted present. The different gradations from joy to ecstasy which illuminated their faces was “worth two years of peaceful life” to see. The President became so enthusiastic that he undertook to help in the distribution, but worked such wild confusion giving everything asked for into their outstretched hands, that we called a halt, so he contented himself with unwinding one or two tots from a network of strung popcorn in which they had become entangled and taking off all apples he could when unobserved, and presenting them to the smaller children. When at last the house was given to the “honor girl” she moved her lips without emitting a sound, but held it close to her breast and went off in a corner to look and be glad without witnesses.

“When the lights were fled, the garlands dead, and all but we departed” we also went home to find that Gen. Lee had called in our absence, and many other people. Gen. Lee had left word that he had received a barrel of sweet potatoes for us, which had been sent to him by mistake. He did not discover the mistake until he had taken his share (a dishful) and given the rest to the soldiers! We wished it had been much more for them and him.

Officers in a Starvation Dance

The night closed with a “starvation” party, where there were no refreshments, at a neighboring house. The rooms lighted as well as practicable, some one willing to play dance music on the piano and plenty of young men and girls comprised the entertainment. Sam Weller’s soiry [sic, soiree refers to a party or reception held in the evening], consisting of boiled mutton and capers, would have been a royal feast in the Confederacy. The officers, who rode into town with their long cavalry boots pulled well up over their knees, but splashed up their waists, put up their horses and rushed to the places where their dress uniform suits had been left for safekeeping. They very soon emerged, however, in full toggery and entered into the pleasures of their dance with the bright-eyed girls, who many of them were fragile as fairies, but worked like peasants for their home and country. These young people are gray-haired now, but the lessons of self-denial, industry and frugality in which they became past mistresses then, have made of them the most dignified, self-reliant and tender women I have ever known — all honor to them.

So, in the interchange of the courtesies and charities of life, to which we could not add its comforts and pleasures, passed the last Christmas in the Confederate mansion.

(Special Thanks to Civil War Trust for this article.)

A Christmas Dance

Christmas is probably my favorite time of year. In honor of the holiday, here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie. Enjoy!

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The week drifted by, and the weather grew so cold that David could see his breath when he went outside. He wished to travel, but knew he was confined to the farm, so he occupied himself by creating Christmas gifts for his family. His father had taught him how to whittle, and he had to admit to himself that he was getting pretty good at it. The intricate details he included in his carvings were incorporated into his mother’s and siblings’ gifts, consisting of wooden hair pins, broaches, and bangles. For his father, he made a wooden shelf for his musket, to place over the field stone fireplace. That way, when Hiram returned, he wouldn’t have to leave it on the mantel, which was now occupied by a tintype of his likeness in uniform, and a clock gifted to Caroline by her beloved on their wedding day.

Rena found her brother in the barn one evening, diligently working away by the light of a kerosene lantern. The topic came up, and she expressed her desire to leave as well, telling him to keep it a secret from their mother, so as not to upset her.

“Someday, I want to jine a singin’ troupe, like the Christy Minstrels,” she confessed, “or be an opera singer. For now, though, I reckon I’m obliged to stay home and finish school, and maybe go on to college after that.”

“I’d like to go to college myself,” he stated.

“Oh? Which one?”

“I was thinkin’ Auburn. Then I could be a doctor … or a journalist.”

She giggled. “That’s a mighty strange combination!”

“I ain’t made up my mind yet,” he said with a grin. “Maybe I’ll be an animal doctor.”

“Well, you are good with horses,” she observed. “Renegade follows you around like he’s a dog!”

David chuckled. “I reckon Renie jist knows I have sugar in my pocket.”

The following Tuesday, he took Joe Boy over to have him re-shod before the Copeland’s Christmas event. There he found the blacksmith, John Moss, who was busy pounding horseshoes over an open flame.

“Have you heard from your pa?” John asked while prying off one of Joe Boy’s old shoes.

“Not recently. I’m right worried about Ma. She gits too nervous, and she even lost a tooth the other day.”

John threw a glance at him, his blue eyes glistening over his stark white beard. “Sorry to hear that.”

David nodded. “I hope the war ends soon, so she won’t git so upset.”

“Well, I do, too. Say, did you hear about poor ole Senator Crittenden?”

“Who?”

“Crittenden, from Kentucky. My kinfolk live up that way, and told me all about it.” He paused, but hearing no objection, continued. “The good senator tried his darnedest to make those humbugs up in Washin’ton come to their senses.” Seeing David look at him questioningly, he elaborated. “He proposed a bill that would entitle each new state to vote if it wanted slavery, and for the plantation owners to be compensated for their slaves, should their niggers be set free. But ole ‘Rail Splitter’ Lincoln and his cronies in Congress shot down his bill. Now the poor senator has one son fightin’ for the North, and the other one fightin’ for the South.”

“That’s right awful,” David said.

John shook his head, his long beard flowing with his movement. “It’s a wonder what this here world is comin’ to.”

David wondered himself, but dispelled any bad notions, deciding to concentrate on Christmas instead. Things could only get better.

Caroline received another letter from Hiram the following week, informing her that the 4th Alabama had established their winter camp in the Virginia wilderness. He apologized, but didn’t foresee the possibility of returning home for Christmas. Hiding her disappointment, she put on a smile, told her children that their brave father was staying in Virginia for the holidays, and carried on as if it didn’t affect her. Deep down, however, her heart was breaking. She knew that he was defending their homeland, but although it was honorable and noble, she missed him desperately. Every day was more of a struggle, trying to keep up with the farm. She was thankful for her children, and the neighbors who supported her, but it still seemed daunting. Hopefully, the war would end after the first of the year, so that the grand Confederacy would be allowed to secede and become its own country.

The day of Callie’s Christmas party finally arrived. Rena and Josie had primped for a week, repeatedly trying on the five dresses they owned between them, until they finally came to a decision. David didn’t give it much thought, since Callie’s charms had worn off with time, but he did carve a beautiful broach for her.

They reached the Copelands’ as dusk was setting in. It was an unseasonably warm evening, and Caroline remarked about how the weather seemed to be cooperating with the party. Pulling into the yard, they saw several other carriages and wagons parked outside. David directed Joe Boy to an open area. He jumped down, tied the draft horse to a shrub, greeted Percy, who was tending the horses, and after assisting his mother and sisters down from the wagon, he escorted them up the steps to the house. The stylings of festive violin music floated through the air. Caroline tapped on the door. Momentarily, Mr. Copeland answered, dressed in a waistcoat with matching black trousers.

“Why, there y’all are!” he greeted them happily. “Please do come in!”

Extending his hand to David, the two shook and followed the ladies into the parlor, which was aglow with glittering lights. Candles flickered on brass candlesticks, reflecting off blown-glass decorations that adorned an enormous pine Christmas tree regally standing in a corner. The women were attired in festive, colorful dresses, and the men wore fine suits. The entire sparkling room was enchanting.

Josie and Rena saw some friends, so they went off to mingle. Mr. Copeland took Caroline’s arm and led her over to his wife, leaving David awkwardly alone. He gazed around for a familiar face, and finally found one. Jake ambled across the room in his direction, with Callie on his arm. She was radiant in a shimmering, bronze-colored, hooped gown. Her golden hair was drawn up and confined within a snood that matched the hue of her dress. Jake was similarly attractive in his best suit.

“Glad to see you could make it!” he exclaimed, giving his friend a playful punch on the arm.

“Y’all didn’t think we’d miss this, did you?”

“Well, I should certainly hope not!” exclaimed Callie. “Everyone knows mine is the most extravagant party in the county this season. And we have cause for celebration, this bein’ the first yuletide since the start of the war.” Releasing Jake, she clamped onto David. “Jake, would you be a darlin’ and go fetch me some punch?”

“Certainly, Miss Callie,” he said with a smile. Giving David a wink, he strolled off into the crowd.

“Now, Mr. Summers, if you please, I would like you to come with me,” she said, giving his arm a tug, so he obediently followed along like a puppy.

The violinist, joined by a pianist, delved into a tender rendition of “Silent Night.” Callie stopped momentarily to listen, so David took his opportunity.

“Miss Callie, I made you a token,” he bashfully admitted. Withdrawing a small wrapped package from his pocket, he handed it to her.

“Well, I do declare! David, darlin’, you shouldn’t have!” She tore open the wrapping and pried open the box, revealing the broach he had painstakingly carved for her. “Why, it’s absolutely breathtakin’.” She pinned it onto the front of her gown. “I shall wear it always.”

Taking his hand, she leaned over to give him a gentle kiss on the cheek, barely missing his mouth.

He shied away, embarrassed. Clearing his throat while his face flushed, he muttered, “What did you want to show me, Miss Callie?”

“I would like to present you to some friends who are out back.”

He followed her to the garden, but immediately wished he hadn’t, for as soon as they were outside, he saw several faces he recognized.

“David, you know Owen Ridgeway, and his brother, Lemuel.”

“Hey, Summers,” said Lemuel in a friendly manner, but his older brother only glared.

“Hey, y’all,” David responded genially, for Callie’s sake.

Jake arrived, and handed Callie a glass filled with sparkling red fluid. Seeing the tension, he said, “Zeke, go on in and git yourself some punch.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” he said, taking his chance to escape the scene. He knew Callie was unaware of the conflict, but he was riled, and he didn’t wish to spoil her party, so he went inside to the food table.

The spread temporarily distracted him from a possible confrontation. Ham, turkey, stuffing, cornbread, pickles, garden vegetables, bread pudding, and assorted pies were displayed on gold leaf china. His mouth watered as he absorbed the sight.

Rena appeared beside him. “Are you enjoyin’ yourself?” she asked, taking a plate.

“I was, till Callie took me outside. That scoundrel Owen Ridgeway is here.”

“He is?”

“Yeah, and so is his brother. I don’t have a quarrel with him, though.”

“Jist avoid him, David,” she advised.

He looked over to see the seriousness in her gaze. “I’ll be on my best behavior for Ma’s sake, but if he tries to make a fuss, well …”

“Jist don’t.” Rena glared insistently at him before moving on.

Once he had filled his plate, he walked across the kitchen, sat at the table, and began eating. Soon, several guests joined him, and struck up a conversation about his father. Isabelle scurried about to accommodate the partygoers, as did the Copelands’ five slaves, and a few others that neighbors had brought along to help support them.

After lingering for half an hour, David excused himself. He walked into the parlor, where he saw Jake and Callie talking to Alice Walker, so he joined them.

“Oh, David, Miss Alice has jist informed us of the most dreadful news!” Callie leaned against Jake for support.

“What is it, Miss Alice?” he asked.

“We’re movin’ to California,” she announced. A broad smile spread across her young porcelain-like face.

“Californee is a right far piece away!” Jake exclaimed with a chuckle.

She nodded. “My pa has an uncle out that way who struck it rich, so we’re fixin’ to go after spring thaw.”

David smirked through a flash of jealousy. “I wish I could go out to Californee and strike it rich,” he muttered.

Callie smiled at him. “Perhaps we can all go out for a visit later on,” she suggested hopefully. Turning toward the wall, she decided to change the subject. “David, have you seen the paintin’ my ma jist acquired?”

“No.” He drew closer to have a look.

“Pa bought it for her for Christmas. Ain’t it magnificent?”

“It surely is.” He gazed at the landscape, noticing how the bluish-purple colors of twilight were accurately represented.

“My ma says that it’s right fittin’ and all. She says that Twilight symbolizes the transitions we’ve all been goin’ through—the new Confederacy and two new presidents, talk of freein’ the slaves, and the country splittin’ in two. It’s like the dawnin’ of a new day.”

David stared at the painting, reading her description into the swirls left by the artist’s brushstrokes, and reckoned she was right.

Mrs. Copeland’s high-pitched voice cut through the din. “May I have your attention, please?”

Callie’s father tapped on a crystal champagne glass with a piece of silverware, causing it to ring out. The participants grew quiet.

“We would like for all of our guests to please assemble out back in the garden!” she exclaimed, and motioned invitingly, so the partygoers followed her.

As David walked outside, he noticed that the entire backyard had been redecorated. Paper lanterns strung across the length of the yard illuminated the setting, and musicians were gathered on a platform near the back. The violinist had transformed himself into a fiddle player. He was joined by a banjo player and a percussionist, who sat poised atop a stool with spoons in his hand.

“For our first song,” the banjo player announced, “we’re playin’ a fine tune by Stephen Foster, called ‘O Lemuel.’”

Owen guffawed at the reference, jabbing his little brother with his elbow. The music started, and the crowd coupled up. Walking out into the center of the straw-covered yard, they began swirling to the music. The chill in the air seemed to dissipate as the dancers moved in synchronized harmony across the makeshift dance floor.

David watched while a schoolmate, Thomas Halsey, escorted Rena. Jake and Callie took to the floor, as did their parents, even though Mr. Kimball’s injured leg prevented him from dancing with much elegance. Like he usually did at gatherings such as these, David partnered with his mother and younger sister, dancing to the lively melodies of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “Jim along Josie.” He danced with Alice, and once, timidly, with Callie, who complimented him on his stylish grace. When the music changed to a waltz, she stated that she thought he would easily fit into high society with his fancy footwork.

After the musicians took a break, he strolled into the house for refreshment. Owen followed, confronting him in the kitchen.

“Think you’re quite the rooster, don’t you? Dancin’ with every gal at the party.” He stared provokingly with penetrating green eyes, his blond hair tussled atop his head.

David whirled around to face him. Owen had always been a showoff, and was constantly a thorn in his side, teasing him because he was left-handed, and trying to outdo him at every opportunity. “That ain’t none of your concern. Savvy?”

Owen snorted. “You’re worthless. You ain’t nothin’ but a weasel. All you can do is hide behind them skirts!”

Rena entered to see her brother bristle at his adversary. “David …” she warned.

“Not now, Rena,” he growled back.

“Recall what we discussed.” She could see from across the room that her brother’s eyes were darkening from hazel to brown, which to her was a bad indication.

“I want to have a word with you out on the veranda, Ridgeway,” David stated.

He tromped off through the house. Owen grinned, traipsing behind. Their voices could soon be heard escalating.

Caroline entered the kitchen. “What’s goin’ on out there?” she asked her older daughter, while Jake, Callie, and several others came inside.

“Dere’s trouble out front, Miss Caroline,” Isabelle explained as she gathered a trayful of dirty dishes.

“It’s Owen Ridgeway again, Ma,” added Josie.

Caroline scowled. “I’ll put a stop to this.” She started for the doorway to the parlor, but Jake intercepted her.

“No, Mrs. Summers. Allow me.” He sauntered through the house to find David and Owen glaring intensely while throwing verbal spears at each other.

“I know it was you who killed my dog last winter!” David roared. “You did it jist to spite me, because you were jealous!”

“Why would I be jealous of you?” Owen mocked a laugh.

“Because I’m smarter than you, and you know it.”

“You cheated on those school exams so you could graduate! You lied about your pa fightin’ at Manassas, too! You’re spoiled and soft!”

“I’ll have you take that back!”

“Now, boys,” Jake interrupted, “there ain’t no need for—”

Suddenly, Owen lurched at David, who threw a punch into his attacker’s face. They were immediately wrestling on the veranda, tumbling over each other while grunting, cursing, and yelling. Members of the party dashed outside, alarmed by the commotion. Jake managed to break the two apart, and held his friend’s arms behind his back. Lemuel seized his brother in the same manner. The two opponents snorted like bulls, their faces red with vehemence. A trail of scarlet blood trickled from Owen’s nose.

“Take it easy!” Jake hollered.

Mr. Copeland stepped in. “What is the meaning of this?! I will not have you two behave this way at my gatherin’!” He stomped over to Owen and took him by the ear. “I’m throwin’ you out, young man! You’re no longer welcome here!” Leading Owen to the steps, he thrust him toward the yard. Lemuel meekly scurried after his brother. “Off with you now, and don’t come back!”

The brothers staggered off toward their wagon, climbed in, and rode off down the lane.

Turning toward David, who was panting to catch his breath, Mr. Copeland sighed. “David, I thought better of you than this.” He walked past him and went inside.

The words stung more than any expulsion could. Frowning, he looked at his startled family, at Jake, who simpered at him, and at Callie, who was scowling. He knew what he had done, although it was unintentional, and he felt deeply ashamed. He had ruined Callie’s Christmas party.

Soon, the family decided it was best to leave. Barely speaking to each other, they returned home and retired to their bedchambers. The next morning, on their way back from church, Josie broke the silence.

“How come Owen Ridgeway don’t like you?” she asked straightforwardly.

David shrugged. “He never has, and I don’t cotton to him, neither.”

She chuckled faintly. “I reckon you would if he was nice to you.”

He shrugged again. It was a situation he assumed he would likely never know.

IndieBRAG Christmas Blog Hop!

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I have been invited to be a part of this year’s Christmas blog hop, sponsored by IndieBRAG. This is open to all author’s who have won the B.R.A.G. Medallion for best independently published book. My novel, titled A Beautiful Glittering Lie, won a few years ago. Here are my responses to a few questions about how I spend Christmas.

1. What is a Christmas tradition you and your family have?

We have several. We watch Santa’s progress online. We order chocolate seashells and buy chocolate covered cherries for stocking stuffers. We also watch “Scrooge” (the musical, 1970 version), which is no easy feat, since my family is spread out across the country. We synchronize the movies so we all end up watching them at the same time, regardless of different time zones. We open one gift on Christmas Eve (just one!) and we started a new tradition a few years ago. My older son and I now trade off giving wine every other year. He lives in California, so his selections are excellent!

2. Is there a humorous gift that you received? What was it?

I don’t recall receiving a humorous gift, but when I was about eleven, my parents gave me an electric razor for Christmas. I was devastated! I was hoping for something a little less mature, but I guess they thought I was old enough to start shaving my legs.

3. What is your favorite Christmas story?

My favorite is A Christmas Story by Charles Dickens. It’s a classic but the story never gets old. I think it’s interesting how many versions and interpretations of this story there are, and I love observing new ideas, like “Scrooged” with Bill Murray.

4. Have you ever taken a Christmas Vacation somewhere? If so, where to and please share your experiences and what you enjoyed about it?

I went out to Southern California a few years ago right at Christmastime. It was spectacular! We attended the boat parade at Balboa Island. My younger son sings in a quartet, and they were there singing carols. The townspeople go all out decorating their houses. They even include fake snow! We also saw a house that was featured on the TV show “Great American Light Fight.” It was over-the-top beautiful, and really got everyone into the holiday spirit. The homeowners were so nice that they even gave out cookies and cider to everyone who came to visit.

5. Egg Nog or Cocoa?

Since I can have cocoa practically any time, I vote for egg nog!

6. What is your favorite part of Christmas day?

Opening gifts, of course! Just kidding. My favorite part about Christmas is spending it with family, even if it is over Skype.

7. Do you go all out on Christmas decorations? What is your favorite?

Normally I do go all out, but right now, my husband and I are renting a small townhouse, so we don’t have room. I have boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations stacked to the ceiling in our garage. However, we do have a few wreaths, a couple of table top Christmas trees, and various other knick knacks set out, along with whatever Christmas decor I could squeeze into the place. My favorite is a nativity scene with an angel that has a little heart attached. On the heart, it says “Thank Heaven for Little Boys.” I love this because we have two sons, and now we have a grandson as well.

8. What is your favorite Christmas movie and why?

I think my favorite movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”That story says it all, and really makes you think. The world would be a far different place if you or I weren’t in it. How much we influence and love others is really all that matters.

Christmas Past: A Civil War Sampler

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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December 25th [1864]

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 [1865]

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

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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

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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

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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)

Christmas in Alabama – 1862

In honor of the upcoming holiday, I have posted an excerpt from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire. This is the sequel to A Beautiful Glittering Lie, and is the second part of the Renegade Series. Enjoy!

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“Here it is! Come quick!”

David sauntered across the dead grass toward his little sister. Amused by the way she was jumping up and down like a nervous flea, he couldn’t help but grin. Obviously, she was too excited to care that her petticoats were showing from under the brown coat and green calico dress she wore, or that her long auburn hair had broken free from its bondage as her bonnet slid from her head and dangled down her back.

“Which one, Josie?” he asked, stifling a snicker.

She planted her feet, and pointed to a small yellow pine near a cluster of sweet gum and ash trees. “Right here!” she exclaimed.

Glancing down at the sapling, he gave her a crooked smile. “Well, that’s a mighty fine tree, but ain’t it kinda scrawny?” He estimated the pine to be three feet tall at most.

Josie frowned at her older brother, who had one eyebrow cocked from under his slouch hat. His hands were tucked into his brown trousers, and his linen shirt hung loosely on his tall, lanky frame. Unsure as to why he appeared so skeptical, she said, “No, it’s jist right. We’ll string some corn on it, hang some nuts and berries on it, and it’ll look right smart in the corner of the front room.”

With a shrug, he said, “All right. If you reckon this is the one.”

She nodded, her bright blue eyes reflecting her elation.

David relished the moment, for he knew Christmas was her favorite holiday. He had only heightened her anticipation on the way out to the woodlot by reminding her what would happen that evening, how Santa would be stopping by later when she was sound asleep. Of course, he had no explanation as to how eight tiny reindeer could pull a sleigh all the way to Alabama. Josie promptly informed him that she wasn’t a child any longer. She was all of thirteen, and didn’t believe in those farfetched stories anymore, but he knew better. She would be lying in her bed tonight, listening and waiting.

“Well, go on now, cut it down!” Josie insisted.

He put his thumb and forefinger to his lips and gave a high, shrill whistle. Noticing how the gray sky was growing darker, he looked over at the edge of the clearing where they stood, and saw the underbrush rustle. Suddenly, two hound dogs bounded out of the trees, followed by a gangly young stallion.

“Come on, Renegade. Over here,” he called out to the colt, who responded by cantering to him.

Josie giggled at the sight. “Your dumb horse thinks he’s a dog!”

“He ain’t dumb. I’ll wager he’s a lick smarter than you are, li’l sister,” David teased.

The horse blew and stomped his front hoof.

“Why, that’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of. And not only is he dumb, he looks right silly, too. He can’t decide if he should be spotted or palomino!”

David observed his horse for a moment. Renegade’s face was piebald. His dark chestnut coat was highlighted with white spots and patches concentrating on his underbelly, and his mane and tail were light flaxen. He had white socks up to his knees. His unusual eyes were brownish green. David remembered how he had heard that a horse with strange-colored eyes like Renegade’s was considered sacred and chosen by the Cherokee Indians. Several people had noticed the strange coincidence, and his other sister, Rena, also frequently commented that he and his horse had the same colored eyes.

“I reckon he knows what he is,” David remarked. “Besides, he’s unusual, and that makes him unique.”

“Oh, he’s unique all right,” Josie said, giggling again. She pulled her hair back from her face and replaced her bonnet.

David untied a saw from a leather strap attached to Renegade’s saddle. He knelt down, quickly sawed through the little tree’s trunk, picked it up, and tied it across the saddle’s seat. His two black and tan dogs sniffed around the tree’s sawed off stump. Suddenly, they both lifted their noses into the air with their ears pricked. They bolted across the open clearing, baying at an unseen curiosity as theydisappeared into the woods.

“Caleb! Si!” David hollered after the two hounds. “Well, there they go,” he observed wryly. “All right, Renegade, take it on home.” He patted his horse on the shoulder.

Renegade nickered softly, shook his head, and trotted off in the same direction as the two hounds.

Josie gasped. “Look, David! It’s startin’ to snow!” She tilted her head back and stuck out her tongue, trying to catch snowflakes on it.

He chuckled.

“Come on, you do it, too,” she coaxed him.

He obliged his little sister by imitating her.

Josie laughed, spinning around with her arms extended while snow fell silently down around them.

“Oh!” David clasped his hand to his face. “One fell in my eye!”

Josie giggled.

He couldn’t help but smile, although he was careful not to let her see, and snorted to cover up his delight. “Well, I’m right glad you think it’s so funny.” He looked at her, trying to keep a straight face. “Come on, Josie girl. We’d best be gittin’ on back.”

He allowed her to go ahead of him as they started on the bridle path that cut through the woods.

“Let’s sing Christmas carols!” she said. “That new one we heard last year. Jingle Bells!”

“You start,” he prompted.

“Dashin’ through the snow …”

He joined in. Their voices grew stronger in unison.

“In a one-horse open sleigh …”

They came to an empty field, and trudged through, stepping over mud puddles while they continued singing.

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way …”

Their house stood quaintly at the far end of the field. Smoke circled from its two chimneys, dissolving into the gray sky. The sweet smell of burning hickory reached out, inviting them closer. From a distance, the structure appeared to be two separate cabins sitting side by side, but upon closer observation, one could see that they were connected by a covered breezeway. Each section contained two rooms and a fireplace. A wide flat porch on the front of the split log building served as an entryway. The tin roof, which seemed to expel heat in the summertime, also managed to repel snow during winter months.

The cold, damp air encroached upon brother and sister. As they sang, their breath escaped, floated out across the fields, and vanished in phantom gusts.

“Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!”

On the last note, Josie’s voice jumped an octave. They laughed at their grand finale and walked around to the front of the house, where Renegade was waiting patiently for the tree to be removed from his saddle. A buckskin horse stood beside him.

“Whose horse is that?” Josie asked.

“It looks like Bud Samuels’ horse.”

David and Josie looked at each other, wide-eyed. “Pa!” they both exclaimed.

Josie sprang onto the porch, burst through the front door, and went inside while David untied the small yellow pine. He set it aside, pulled the saddle from Renegade’s back, and removed his bridle.

“Go on into the barn, Renie,” he said. “Or you’ll be one big ole snowball in a minute.”

The colt blew, and trotted around the side of the house.

Excerpt From A Beautiful Glittering Lie

The following excerpt is from my novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie. It takes place during the Christmas season, but in 1862, Christmas was anything but joyous.

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The following morning, David and his family attended church, where they received a grand reception, for the congregation had heard about Hiram’s homecoming, and bestowed well-wishes upon them. That afternoon, David busied himself by getting caught up on chores he had let slide over the past few months. He wanted his father to be proud and impressed with his efforts to take care of the place, just like he had promised. Even though it was the Sabbath, a designated day of rest, he worked through it anyway, reasoning that he had only four days to finish his tasks.

The next few days were filled with anticipation and last-minute preparations for Christmas. While the girls decorated, David worked diligently to finish his handmade gifts, and Caroline cooked. The family spent every waking moment getting ready to receive their loved one.

Soon, it was the day before Christmas. David awoke to discover that it was drizzling, which wasn’t unusual for that time of year. Pulling himself from his warm bed, he dressed, ate a quick bowl of grits, and went outside to tend to the livestock. By the time he had finished, he was cold and damp, so he returned to his room, changed, and sat down on the bed with his guitar. Although he hadn’t played it in quite a while, he decided to learn a few carols, so he practiced “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” several times. While he worked out the chords to the “Boar’s Head Carol,” he heard a knock at his door. Josie entered, wearing a brown coat over her green calico dress.

“Ma says it’s time to go fetch the tree!” she announced, barely containing her excitement.

Grinning at her exuberance, he laid the guitar down across his bed. “All right, li’l’ sis. If you insist.”

Throwing on his coat and hat, he followed her outside to the barn. He saddled Renegade, gave her a foot up, and led the colt out toward the woodlot. Noticing that it had stopped drizzling, he clucked to Renegade, who responded by prancing.

“Your horse is the funniest critter!” Josie giggled. “He must know it’s a holiday!”

“Reckon so. He’s mighty high-strung today.”

“He’s like this every day!” she exclaimed, bouncing atop the colt.

“That’s fine if he is. It jist makes him more competitive. He already won those two races I ran him in last month, and I’m fixin’ to run him a heap more this spring.”

Renegade slowed to a walk as brother and sister approached the woods.

“Reckon tonight ole Santee Claus will be makin’ his appearance,” David remarked casually.

To their amusement, Renegade blew in response. Caleb and Si came loping up, eager to find out what they were missing, and the two hounds nearly tumbled over each other in their rush.

Josie laughed at them. “Let’s find the purtiest tree out here for Pa,” she suggested.

“That’s a right good idea.” He grinned up at his sister, who smiled back down at him.

The Battle of Fredericksburg

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The Battle of Fredericksburg took place a little over a week before Christmas, on December 11-15, 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.

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.

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