J.D.R. Hawkins

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

Archive for the tag “Christmas”

Christmas in the Confederate White House

Here is a flashback to what it was like at Christmastime during the Civil War. Confederate First Lady, Varina Howell Davis, describes the scenes.

Varina Davis, 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.”

Varina Davis, wife of Confederate President 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 everyone, 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’ Strange Presents

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.

(Courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Private Samuel A Hughey Camp 1452/ Military Order of the Stars and Bars, Jefferson Davis Chapter, Volume 66, Issue No. 12, Dec. 2020 ed.)

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas – Victorian Style

With Christmas less than a week away, I wanted to share some interesting history about the holiday and Victorian traditions. I hope you enjoy!

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Image by Winslow Homer entitled “The Christmas-Tree.” Harper’s Weekly, December 25, 1858.

The tradition of decorating a Christmas tree for the delight and amusement of young and old dates back to 16th century Germany. Still, many of us find ourselves asking, “How should I trim my tree this year?” or “How should I decorate my home for the holidays?” I thought it might be fun to share some of the ways our Victorians friends decorated their Christmas trees and homes. Who knows? Maybe some of us will decide to have a Victorian Christmas theme this year.


“The first Christmas tree was introduced into England in the early 19th century. In 1841, the German Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, decorated a large Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, reminiscent of his childhood celebrations in Germany (the Christmas tree had been a deep-rooted German tradition since the 18th century).

Soon after, it became a Victorian Christmas tradition in England to set up a large tree at Christmas and decorate it with lighted candles, candies, and fancy cakes hung from the branches by ribbon and by paper chains.

Sophia Orne (Edwards) Johnson (1826-1899) better known as “Daisy Eyebright”, was an American author. She wrote for many periodicals of her day and began a journal entitled “Daisy Eyebright’s Journal” for the Country Gentleman. In athe 1870’s Christmas issue, “Daisy Eyebright” explains how to set the Christmas tree up. According to Daisy,

“If you can obtain the tree from some pine woods near at hand, select a finely shaped fir balsam or spruce, with firm branches, and about nine or ten feet in height. Then spread a large sheet over one end of the parlor carpet, and put a good-sized tea chest in the center of it.

The lower limbs of the tree must be sawn off so that it can be firmly fixed into the box; and any small heavy articles, like weights and flatirons, can be put in for ballast, to keep the tree firmly in place. Then fill up the box with hard coal. The chest must be concealed with some pretty material; old curtains will answer the purpose, or the American flag; and a white furry robe is also suitable. Drape these articles close to the tree, and let them trail a little on the floor, to make a graceful sweep.”

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Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, & their family from the 1848 Illustrated London News. 

In 1847, Prince Albert wrote: “I must now seek in the children an echo of what Ernest (his brother) & I were in the old time, of what we felt & thought; & their delight in the Christmas-trees is not less than ours used to be.” He would decorate the trees himself with sweets, wax dolls, strings of almonds & raisins, & candles, which were lit on Christmas Eve for the distribution of presents, relit on Christmas Day, after which the tree was then moved to another room until Twelfth Night (January 6).

The Queen’s journal of 1850 describes the scene: ‘We all assembled & my beloved Albert first took me to my tree & table, covered by such numberless gifts, really too much, too magnificent.” “The 7 children were taken to their tree, jumping & shouting with joy over their toys & other presents; the Boys could think of nothing but the swords we had given them & Bertie of some of the armour, which however he complained, pinched him!” 

Holly, Ivy, and everyone’s favorite ~ Mistletoe! Used for decoration around the house.

“These common plants all produce winter berries and were held to be “magical” long before Victorian times. The holly berries were said to repel witchcraft and a berry-laden sprig would be carried into the Victorian house by a male and used to decorate the Christmas pudding.

Mistletoe had pagan origins and in Victorian times it was not allowed in churches. However, kissing under the mistletoe was popular in Victorian homes. After each chaste kiss a white berry had to be removed from the sprig until there were none left – and no more kisses were to be had.”

Sneaking up from behind ~ a common and often successful maneuver.

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The old “I say. Will you look at that. I’m under the Mistletoe. You’re under the Mistletoe. It’s fate.”

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Mistletoe “victim”

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And finally…not even sure Mistletoe is in this image. Don’t care. (Edit: I found it! Yes, indeed…Mistletoe has been located and is being used appropriately. Good for you, sir!)

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Daisy Eyebright” also explains how to properly decorate the Christmas tree up. According to Daisy,

“Now the tree is planted, and we must proceed to decorate it. Make chains of popped corn, strung together with needle and thread; at least a dozen yards will be none too much for a large-sized tree, and the pure white festoons entwined amid the dark green branches of the tree produce a fine effect.

“We must also have chains made either of glazed scarlet, gilt or silver; cut the paper into small strips, four inches long and not half an inch in width; fasten the two ends of each strip together with flour paste, and make half of them into rings; then take the rest and make into similar rings, but first slip each strip through two of the dried rings before joining the ends. In this manner all the slips of paper are interlaced, and we have a chain of rings which will greatly adorn our tree. They must be festooned in long, graceful loops from limb to limb, and the effect is very charming.”

 

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Flower And Fruit Festoon clip art​

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Of course there was plenty for the children to do. Their activities added to the entertainment of the long evenings during the Christmas season. The children assisted in covering English walnuts with tinfoil or gilt paper and in filling small apples with cloves. The latter served to keep moths from the drawers of bureaus. They also made inexpensive, but acceptable presents.

Originally published in The Cottage Hearth, December 1876

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(Article courtesy of Civil War Talk, December 17, 2020 ed.)

A Man With a Big Heart

I would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas! The following is a story about a remarkable man. During this holiday season, let’s all make an effort to show others love and compassion, just as he did.

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A Soldier’s Christmas Gift

By Calvin E. Johnson, Jr., freelance writer, author of the book When America Stood for God, Family and Country, and member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (cjohnson1861@bellsouth.net)

 

This is a True Christmas Story

Christmas is a wonderful time to celebrate with family, friends and supper at Grandma’s house. Grandpa will gather the children around the fireplace and tell them the story of Jesus Christ who was born on Christmas Day while Grandma makes gingerbread cookies and Daddy brings the Christmas tree in the family room for decorating. Mamma as always will lead us in the singing of ‘Silent Night—Holy Night’ as the Star of Bethlehem is placed on top of the tree.

90 years ago….

During the year 1919, one year after the end of World War I, the people of Atlanta, Georgia were celebrating the Christmas Season. Many people attended Church or Synagogue and gave thanks to God for his many blessings. Folks, while shopping, were uplifted by sweet sounds of Christmas music played by the Salvation Army Band. There was a friendly and charitable atmosphere during this time of the year.

There were, however, some who were not as fortunate!

The aging veterans, in the Confederate Soldier’s Home, were proud men who had braved many a battle in the 1860s. One of these men was former Captain Thomas Yopp who saw such battles as that of Fredericksburg where a cannon shell burst knocked him unconscious.

The man who stayed with him until he recovered was his servant who had also joined the 14th Georgia Regiment, Company H. Bill Yopp was more than a servant; he and Thomas Yopp were friends who hunted and fished together.

Bill Yopp, a Black Confederate, was sympathetic to the men of Atlanta’s soldiers’ home who had been his compatriots in arms over fifty years earlier.

During the War Between the States, 1861-1865, Bill Yopp was nicknamed “Ten Cent Bill” because of the money he made shining shoes. He did this for the soldiers at a dime a shine and ended up with more money than most of his comrades. These men, also, cared for him when he was sick.

During the Christmas of 1919, Bill wanted to pay back the kindness that was shown to him. He caught a train from Atlanta to Macon, where he was offered help from the editor of a local newspaper [The Macon Telegraph]. He then caught a train to Savannah to raise Christmas money for the old veterans. Bill met many generous people on his trip.

Just weeks before the Christmas of 1919, he had raised the money and Georgia’s Governor Hugh Dorsey helped him distribute envelopes of three dollars to each veteran. That was a lot of money in those days.

The old Confederates were speechless. Tears were shed because of Bill Yopp’s good heart and kind deed. Many of these men had little or nothing. Bill was invited to come into the home’s Chapel and say a few words.

Bill Yopp was later presented a medal of appreciation for his support of the old soldiers and also voted in as a resident of the Confederate Soldier’s Home.

Bill died on June 3, 1936, the 128th birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. He was buried at Marietta, Georgia’s Confederate Cemetery with his compatriots.

The Confederate Soldier’s Home was located at 401 Confederate Ave. in Atlanta, Georgia.

Christmas is about love, forgiveness, old friends, family and the Child who became a savior.

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The source of information for this story came from the book, entitled: Bill Yopp “Ten Cent Bill” Narrative of a Slave! This book was written in 1969 by Charles W. Hampton.

 

Bill

William H. “Ten-Cent Bill” Yopp; Company H of the 14th Georgia

Residence: Laurens County, GA
Enlisted on 7/9/1861 as a Drummer-Colored. On 7/9/1861 he mustered into “H” Co. GA 14th Infantry. He was surrendered on 4/9/1865 at Appomattox Court House, VA.

After the war, now a free man, he returned to the Yopp plantation in Georgia and worked there until 1870. He then secured a job as bell boy at the Brown House in Macon. From there he went to New York, California, Europe, and then worked as a porter on the private car of the President of the Delaware and Hudson Railway.

In his later years he returned to Georgia to find his former master, Captain T. M. Yopp, ready to be enrolled in the Confederate Soldier’s Home in Atlanta. Bill was a frequent visitor to the home, not only to see his former master but the other Confederate veterans

as well. At Christmas, with the help of the Macon Telegraph, he raised enough money to give each resident in the home $3.

In 1920, Bill wrote a book entitled “Bill Yopp, ‘Ten-Cent’ Bill.” The book was about his exploits before, during, and after the war. The book sold for 15 cents a copy, or $1.50 for a dozen. Proceeds were shared by Bill and the Confederate Soldier’s Home.

The Confederate veterans were so appreciative of Bill’s help that they took up a collection and awarded him a medal. The board of trustees voted to allow Bill to stay at the Home for as long as he lived. He was one of the last remaining veterans in the Home when it closed its doors in the 1940’s. Bill was also a member of the Atlanta U.C.V. Camp.

1880 United States Federal Census:

Name: William H. Yopp, Home in 1880: Albany, Albany, New York, Age: 34, Estimated birth year: abt 1846
Birthplace: Georgia, Relation to head-of-household:Self (Head), Spouse’s name: Mary J., Occupation:Waite,

Marital Status: Married, Race: Black, Gender: Male Household Members:, William H. Yopp 34, Mary J. Yopp 34, Phoebe Woods 75, Forester E. Alford 20

Sources:
Census Source: Dainah Chandler

http://www.civilwardata.com/active/hdsquery.dll?SoldierHistory?C&125020 http://www.37thtexas.org/html/HistRef.html

Burial:
Marietta Confederate Cemetery, Marietta Cobb County, Georgia, USA

Bill's grave

(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Private Samuel A. Hughey Camp 1452 Sons of Confederate Veterans, President Jefferson Davis Chapter Military Order of the Stars and Bars, Volume 43, Issue No. 12, December 2019)

 

 

Another Christmas Story From the Past

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A SOLDIER’S CHRISTMAS…

Christmas (December 25, 1864) came while we were fighting famine within and Grant without our lines. To meet either was a serious problem. The Southern people from their earliest history had observed Christmas as the great holiday season of the year. It was the time of times, the longed-for period of universal and innocent, but almost boundless jollification among young and old…

 

The holiday, however, on Hatcher’s Run, near Petersburg, was joyless enough for the most misanthropic. The one worn-out railroad running to the far South could not bring to us half enough necessary supplies; and even if it could have transported Christmas boxes of good things, the people at home were too depleted to send them. They had already impoverished themselves to help their struggling Government, and large areas of our territory had been made desolate by the ravages of marching armies.

The brave fellows at the front, however, knew that their friends at home would gladly send them the last pound of sugar in the pantry, and the last turkey or chicken from the barnyard. So, they facetiously wished each other “Merry Christmas!” as they dined on their wretched fare. There was no complaining, no repining, for they knew their exhausted country was doing all it could for them.

Source: REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR, By Gen. John B. Gordon, 1904.

Defending the Heritage

Photo: “Confederate Pickets in the Snow” by Don Troiani

(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Private Samuel A. Hughey Camp 1452, Sons of Confederate Veterans, President Jefferson Davis Chapter Military Order of the Stars and Bars, Volume 43, Issue No. 12, Dec. 2019 ed.)

 

 

Stories from Christmases Past

Christmas is one of my favorite holidays. There is so much electricity in the air. Everyone is excited and friendly. Of course, here in Colorado, people are friendly most all the time, but Christmas is special. What other time of year can you listen to decades, even centuries old songs, and sing along? What other time of year can you see living nativities, Santa Clauses galore, and so many decorations, presents and treats? And what other time of year, other than possibly the Fourth of July, can you see so many colorful lights?

I love Christmas, but most of all, I love what it represents: faith, hope and love. Please keep our military personnel in your prayers, as well as those who have lost loved ones this time of year.

The following is an article written by a Confederate soldier at Christmas. It must have been, and I’m sure, still is, very difficult to be away from home during the holidays.

Christmas

Diary Of Captain Robert Emory Park, of Twelfth Alabama Regiment

Excerpts from his diary:

“December 25th, Christmas Day — How keenly and vividly home recollections come to my mind today! I see the huge baked turkey, the fat barbecued pig, delicious oysters, pound and fruit cakes, numerous goblets of eggnog and syllabub, etc., etc., on my beloved mother’s hospitable table. My brothers and sisters are sitting around it as of yore, and my dear fond mother, with warmest love and pride beaming from her still handsome blue eyes, now somewhat dimmed by approaching age, sits at one end bountifully helping each plate to a share of the well cooked eatables before her. How happy I would be if I were with them! I can but repeat the words of the familiar song —

 

“Do they miss me at home, do they miss me?

‘Twould be an assurance most dear
To know that some loved one was saying,

Today I wish he were here.”

Those touching words, too, of “Home, Sweet Home” flash before my memory, and I cannot restrain the tears that rush to my eyes. Over three months have passed since I have heard from home and mother. What changes may have occurred since my capture, the 19th of September! Two of my brothers are members of the First Georgia reserves, now guarding the 30,000 Yankee prisoners at Andersonville — one is major, and the other, a youth of sixteen years, is one of Captain Wirz’s sergeants. These two are no doubt absent from the annual home reunion. Others may be too. I hope and feel that my brothers are civil and kind to the Yankees they are guarding. They are too brave to act otherwise. My poor prison dinner was in sad contrast with my Christmas dinners at home. It consisted of beef soup, a small piece of pickled beef, some rice and a slice of loaf bread. Lastly, to our astonishment, about three mouthsful each of bread pudding, not very sweet, were handed us.

December 26th, 27th and 28th — I am able to get about on my crutches, but still feel the effects of my severe fall. Major Hanvey, who sleeps in a small room above mine, is quite sick. Last night I sat up alone with him until he went to sleep, long after midnight. He was suffering from a high fever and was delirious. His thoughts were of his wife and little daughter, in far off Georgia, and he spoke of them in the tenderest, fondest manner. I fear he will never see his loved ones again.

December 29th, 30th and 31st — The last days of eventful, never to be forgotten 1864. All hope of a speedy exchange is now dying within us. The prospect is exceedingly gloomy. Savannah has been captured by Sherman, and Hood defeated in Tennessee. I am not at all despondent however, and believe the Confederate States will be successful and independent yet. It is rumored we are to be removed in a day or two to Old Capitol Prison, Washington city. Our surgeon confirms the report. Point Lookout will be left with no regrets.

Southern Historical Society Papers
Vol. II. Richmond. Va. November. 1876. No.5

(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Private Samuel A Hughey Camp 1452 Sons of Confederate Veterans, President Jefferson Davis Chapter of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, December 2019 ed., Volume 43, Issue No. 12)

 

A Christmas Dilemma

Merry Christmas! In this wonderful time of the year, I would like to share with you an excerpt from my novel, A Rebel Among Us. In this excerpt, David Summers learns that, although his intentions are sincere, they aren’t taken that way, and he is still considered to be the enemy. I hope you enjoy this, and I hope you have a very  happy holiday season.

ARAU Medium

The little girls were up before dawn, pounding on doors, rousing everyone awake, and gleefully yelling “Merry Christmas!”

David groggily sat up. He heard Maggie’s voice on the other side of the door.

“Where’s the fire?” she asked.

“There’s no fire. Santa’s been here,” squeaked Claudia.

He heard Anna say something and pulled himself out of bed. The group had already gone downstairs, so he followed after them and entered the parlor. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he saw Sarah lighting a fire.

“What time is it?” he yawned.

“Fifteen minutes past five,” said Grace. She tightened her robe around herself. “Oh! It looks as though Santa has been here, all right.”

The girls ran to the fireplace, yanked down their stockings, and dumped the contents out onto the rug, gasping at the sight of their bounty. Each one had received two peppermints, a gold coin, and a licorice.

Maggie had already started distributing gifts from under the tree. She called out the name on each package while Claudia and Abigail took turns delivering them to their recipients. Handing her aunt the last remaining present, she seated herself beside the fireplace. Everyone began opening gifts.

With a smile on his face, David watched the sisters, Grace, and Claudia exchange gifts with each other.

“Go on, David. Open yours,” Sarah coaxed him.

He drew the boxes toward him and eagerly tore into them. A package from Maggie and Abigail contained new boots. Amazed, he humbly thanked them. Another gift contained everyday clothes Sarah had sewn for him, and still another held a new pair of calf-skin gloves from Claudia and her mother. Anna gave him a book and several pair of socks.

She opened his gift. David held his breath, hoping she would be impressed by his handiwork. He had specially crafted for her a comb and hand-held looking glass made of Cherrywood with intricately carved angels on them.

“Oh, David,” she gasped. “I don’t know what to say.”

He didn’t either, so he nervously waited for her to continue.

“They’re absolutely breathtaking!” She dragged the comb through her long blonde hair, gazing at her likeness in the mirror.

David thought he could watch her do that for hours on end and smiled at his accomplishment. He had managed to impress her. His heart soared.

“Oh, it’s lovely.” Sarah smiled. She held up the broach he’d carved for her. Tiny birds adorned the front of it.

“Glad you like it, Miss Sarah,” he replied with a shy grin.

He gave a similar one to Grace. Abigail and Claudia opened their gifts from him: miniature carousels with interchangeable animals. They happily thanked him and traded animals, seeing if one would fit into the other’s carousel.

Maggie opened the gift he had created for her to reveal a three-dimensional wooden carving of a girl sitting in a chair with a cat curled around her feet. “It’s a girl with a cat,” she flatly remarked.

“It’s beautiful,” Anna breathed, smiling at him.

He grinned back at her.

Maggie turned the wooden carving in her hands for a moment. Glaring at David, she threw it into the fire. 

Sarah gasped.

David watched in shock. His jaw dropped in disbelief, and his eyes grew wide. The carving he had spent hours on, created especially for her, was quickly consumed by flames.

“Maggie, how could you?” Anna scolded.

He gaped at her, stunned. Maggie glared back at him. Coming to his senses, he scowled and jumped to his feet. Hurt and anger flared up inside him.

“Pardon me, ladies,” he said, quickly walking toward the kitchen.

He heard Anna holler at her sister. The screen door slammed behind him. Dawn was just beginning to illuminate the yard. Anxious to distance himself, he sprinted toward the barn.

“David,” Anna yelled as she ran after him. “David, wait!”

She screamed. He turned to see she had fallen onto the cold, snow-covered ground. His heart lurched.

“Anna!”

She started sobbing and grabbed her ankle.

He ran back to her. Without a second thought, he knelt down to comfort her.

“It’s all right,” he said. “I’ve got you.”

Gently, he picked her up. He noticed how light she was in his arms as he carried her into the house. Returning to the parlor, he carefully set her on the sofa and gazed down at her concernedly. The sight of her in pain tore at his heartstrings so badly it hurt.

“What happened?” Sarah inquired sternly.

“It’s nothing, Aunt Sarah,” Anna replied, wiping away her tears. “I think I twisted my ankle.”

“Go fetch some ice from the basement,” Sarah said to Maggie, who left the room without a word.

David knelt beside Anna and held her hand. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “This is all my fault.”

“No,” she sniffed. “No, it isn’t.”

Maggie returned with an ice pack and handed it to her older sister.

“You owe David an enormous apology,” Anna said to her sister.

Maggie scowled at him. “I appreciate that you went to all the trouble,” she stated malevolently, “but I regret nothing.” She turned and stomped upstairs.

“She doesn’t mean it, David,” Anna mewled.

“Yes, she does, Miss Anna,” he forlornly responded. “She despises me, and nothin’s gonna change that, no matter how hard I try.”

He stood and walked toward the kitchen. Deciding he should get on with his chores, he took an extra-long time in doing so.

When he had finished bringing in firewood, Sarah pulled him aside.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to give this to you earlier,” she said and presented him with a book titled Wild Man of the West.

“Thank you kindly, Miss Sarah.” 

He went upstairs to his room, threw himself onto the bed, and began reading. Ever since he was a small boy, he had dreamed of going out West into undiscovered Indian Territory. The thought terrified and thrilled him at once. Setting it aside, he picked up the book Anna had given him, Gulliver’s Travels. Just like Gulliver, he felt alone in a strange land, surrounded by people with small minds.

More Stories of Christmases Past

It’s difficult to imagine what life was like way back in 1864. What with a “civil” war going on and the country torn in two. Taking down monuments and changing street names erases our history. Let these stories be a reminder of how our nation suffered during the War Between the States. Let us never forget.

Varina_Howell_Davis_by_John_Wood_Dodge

CHRISTMAS IN THE CONFEDERACY

Excerpts below were written by Varina Davis, the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, describing Christmas of 1864 in the Confederate White House in Richmond, Virginia.

“For as Christmas season was ushered in under the darkest 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.”

Due to the blockades around Confederate states, families could not find certain types of food and merchandise for their holiday celebrations, and available items were outrageously priced. The Southerners had to substitute many of the ingredients in the favorite Christmas recipes, and they had to make most of their gifts and tree decorations.

In Richmond, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his family lived, it was discovered that the orphans at the Episcopalian home had been previously promised a Christmas tree, toys, and candy. The excerpt below shows how the people of Richmond creatively worked together to bring Christmas to the orphans in spite of the war’s shortages.

“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 orphan’s 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. 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.”

When the orphans received their gifts, “the different gradations from joy to ecstasy which illuminated their faces was ‘worth two years of peaceful life’ to see.”

civilwarchristmas

A SOLDIER’S CHRISTMAS

Christmas (December 25, 1864) came while we were fighting famine within and Grant without our lines. To meet either was a serious problem. The Southern people from their earliest history had observed Christmas as the great holiday season of the year. It was the time of times, the longed-for period of universal and innocent, but almost boundlessjollification among young and old…

The holiday, however, on Hatcher’s Run, near Petersburg, was joyless enough for the most misanthropic. The one worn-out railroad running to the far South could not bring to us half enough necessary supplies; and even if it could have transported Christmas boxes of good things, the people at home were too depleted to send them. They had already impoverished themselves to help their struggling Government, and large areas of our territory had been made desolate by the ravages of marching armies.

The brave fellows at the front, however, knew that their friends at home would gladly send them the last pound of sugar in the pantry, and the last turkey or chicken from the barnyard. So, they facetiously wished each other “Merry Christmas!” as they dined on their wretched fare. There was no complaining, no repining, for they knew their exhausted country was doing all it could for them.

Source: REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR, By Gen. John B. Gordon, 1904

(Articles courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Samuel A. Hughey Sons of Confederate Veterans camp 1452, Hernando, MS, vol. 42 issue #12, December 2018 ed.)

Another Christmas Story

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. It is a joyous, sacred occasion, and has always been a special holiday for me, filled with happiness, celebration, and time to spend with family and friends. But the holiday season can be difficult for so many.

There have been many instances in our nation’s history when the holidays presented sadness and difficulty, along with the unknown perils of what the future might hold. This excerpt, from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, shows just one example of how a rural family from Alabama dealt with such a blow.

ABeckoningHellfire_MED

But what a cruel thing is war. To separate and destroy families and friends and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world. To fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world¼My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.

Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife, December 25, 1862

 

Chapter One

“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. “No,” she said, “ 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 they disappeared 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.

David carried his tack into the breezeway. He placed it on a horizontal board, which was supported by a plank on each end. Collecting the tree, he heard the sound of Bud’s voice coming from inside.

“I had some trouble gettin’ here,” Bud was saying as he entered. “But I convinced the Home Guard to follow me home so’s I could show them my furlough paper.”

David produced the tiny tree. “I know it’s small,” he said with a grin, “but Josie insisted, and…” The sight that befell him inexplicably filled him with dread. His smile faded. He looked around at the faces before him and let the tree fall onto the wooden floor. Warmth from the fireplace did nothing to relieve the chill that grasped him. “What is it?” he asked.

“Come in, darlin’, and close the door,” his mother said from her high-backed chair, which sat near the empty corner they had readied for the Christmas tree. Her brown skirt encircled her like a puddle. Her dark brown hair, streaked recently with gray, was parted in the middle and contained in a white cotton hair net. She clenched her hands in her lap, and her lips were pursed. The flickering firelight accentuated the grooves on her face, which, for some reason, David had never noticed before. After closing the door behind him, he looked at Rena, who was sitting beside the hearth. She vacantly stared back, her violet eyes welling up with tears.

“Rena?” he asked her.

She looked away and hugged Josie, who had taken the chair beside her.

David walked across the room to their neighbor, Bud.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Samuels,” he said, shaking the man’s hand. “How’s Pa? Is he comin’ home for Christmas, like he wrote?”

“Have a seat, David.” Bud’s eyes filled with concern. He scratched his straggly, graying beard.

Obeying the command, David slowly sank into a chair, keeping his eyes fixed on Bud’s face.

“I’m afraid I have bad news.” Bud cleared his throat, then slowly, deliberately said, “Your father’s been killed at Fredericksburg.” He looked down at the floor. “A little over a week ago. I know he was lookin’ forward to seein’ y’all. I’m…immensely sorry.”

He pulled a folded piece of yellowed paper from his coat pocket. The gray coat was torn and tattered in places, not at all like the beautiful piece of clothing that had been provided to him nearly two years earlier. His trousers and the kepi he held in his hand were weathered, too.

“Miss Carolyn, Hiram wanted me to give you this here letter…in the event of his death.” He solemnly handed her the note.

Squeezing her eyes shut, Carolyn held it to her mouth. Tears streamed down her weathered face. “Thank you, Bud,” she finally said. “You’ve been a good friend to my Hiram. I know he appreciated you dearly.”

Bud nodded. “Please let the missus or me know if there’s anything we can do,” he offered, and walked toward the door.

“I surely will.” Carolyn wearily stood, followed him to the door, and walked him out.

Bud placed his kepi on his head, untied his horse, mounted, and galloped off down the lane. The rhythm of hoof beats faded.

Turning from the doorway, Carolyn somberly gazed at her children. Her two daughters came across the room to hug her. The three of them burst into tears. Carolyn gazed at her son, who was sitting motionless across the room, his handsome young face drained of color, his hazel eyes growing a darker brown.

“David,” she said, her voice filled with the sorrow that had now overtaken the room.

He looked over at her, his face blank with grief-stricken shock.  Finding no comfort in her anguished expression, he glanced up at the ornately-carved mantle clock, the one his father had given to her as a wedding gift. It read ten minutes past five. Beside it sat a framed tintype of his father, adorned in Confederate glory, ready to march off to victory, but now he was never to return. David’s eyes wandered, and he noticed things he’d taken for granted before: the raised oval portrait of his paternal grandmother on the wall, the paintings of flowers his mother liked so well that hung on the opposite wall, the fieldstone fireplace that his father had built, and the pine furniture that had been there ever since he could remember. Somehow, all of it seemed irrelevant.

Moving numbly, he rose and walked across the room to pick up the little tree he had dropped earlier. A tiny pool of water remained where it had fallen. He carried the tree outside, leaving a trail of moisture that splattered onto the floorboards. The cold winter air, uncluttered with snow, barely whispered, its breath deathly quiet and still. Dusk was rapidly approaching.

David hurled the tree as hard as he could. It landed with a rustled thud out in the yard. Without pausing, he walked into the breezeway past his mother and sisters and grabbed a kerosene lantern. He carried it outside, lit it, and threw it at the pine. The glass shattered upon impact. Kerosene trickled out onto the tiny branches and within seconds, flames engulfed the little tree. He stoically watched tongues of fire consume the sapling. Slowly, he turned to face his mother and sisters, who were standing on the porch, watching him while they wept.

“I reckon we won’t be celebratin’ Christmas after all,” he said, his voice raspy with distress.

Impending darkness engulfed his heart. Feeling the need for solitude, he walked around the house toward the barn, vaguely hearing his mother call out to him. The sky opened, releasing icy rain. He stomped past the pigpen and the chicken coop. Upon reaching the old wooden barn, he went inside and blinked several times before his eyes adjusted to his dim surroundings. He caught glimpses of shadows dancing off the walls and up around the rafters. A pungent combination of dry, clean hay and musty wood enveloped him. The rain rattled down upon the barn’s tin roof and sounded like a thousand tiny drums. Three cows studied him with soft brown eyes. One mooed a welcome as he walked past them.

Sidestepping bales of hay stacked near the stall door, David paused to shake off cold drops of moisture that clung to his shirt and ran his hand over the top of his head, wiping the rain from his dark brown hair. A large Percheron, standing in the stall next to Renegade, gazed at David with his ears pricked.

“Hey, Joe Boy,” David said softly to the tall white gelding.

The draft horse sniffled at David’s pockets but seemed to lose interest and shuffled to the other end of his stall when David didn’t offer a treat like he usually did. Renegade looked up from his fodder and nickered softly. David walked over and gently stroked his muzzle. “I’m sorry I put you through all that trouble of bringin’ home a tree.” Anguish and anger welled up inside him. Searing-hot tears streamed down his cheeks. His hatred seethed. His grief was overwhelming, and he could hold it back no longer. Sobs escaped him. He grasped onto his horse’s mane, burying his face in Renegade’s neck. The colt stood quietly, seemingly to console him.

Stories of Christmases Past

Here are some stories about what the South experienced during the War Between the States. By 1862, inflation in the South was rampant, as the following article describes.

CONFEDERATE PRESIDENT CELEBRATES CHRISTMAS IN MISSISSIPPI

Confederate President Jefferson Davis celebrated Christmas in his home in Mississippi.

“After an absence of nearly two years,” he said, “I again find myself among those who…have ever been the trusted object of my affection.”

But Confederate Christmas celebrations in the area were cut short by reports of Union troop movements on the Mississippi threatening Vicksburg.

In the fall of 1862, Confederate refugees from the fighting in the areas surrounding the capital began to flood into the city. They included those who fled farms and towns now in Union-held territory, wives of Confederate soldiers looking for employment, and the destitute.

This influx of refugees drove rent prices much higher than they’d been previously, and wartime inflation sent prices on everyday goods skyrocketing. In the city, ten pounds of bacon, which cost $1.25 in 1860, now cost $10. Four pounds of coffee jumped from $0.50 to $20.

Richmond diarist and author Sallie Brock Putnam wrote about the sadness of Christmas for families who had lost soldiers in the war:

The Christmas dinner passed off gloomily. The vacant chairs were multiplied in Southern homes, and even the children who had curiously questioned the cause of the absence of the young soldier brother from the festive board, had heard too much, had seen too much, and knew too well why sad-colored garments were worn by the mother, and why the fold of rusty crape placed around the worn hat of the father, and why the joyous mirth of the sister was restrained, and her beautiful figure draped in mourning. Congratulations were forced, and tears had taken the place of smiles on countenances where cheerfulness was wont to reign.

Christmas of 1862 saw an important cultural development with the emergence of the modern image of Santa Claus. Famed illustrator FOC Darley published an edition of Clement Clark Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas) featuring drawings of Santa as a plump man with a pipe, furry coat and pointed hat.

Santa

Thomas Nast, who in the late 19th century produced what came to be regarded as the definitive representations of St. Nick, published his first Santa drawing in Harper’s Weekly, January 3, 1863. “Santa Claus in Camp“ showed a star-spangled Santa in his reindeer-drawn sleigh handing out presents to jubilant soldiers.

Santa in camp

General Robert E. Lee in Gordonsville reported 40,000 soldiers watched a baseball game at Hilton Head, S.C., between the 165th New York Zouave regiment and a picked team from other units. One of the players was Abraham Gilbert Mills, later president of the National League.

Across the South there were movements of troops. Confederate General John Hunt Morgan engaged in his famous Christmas Raid in Kentucky; on that single day, Morgan’s men destroyed everything they possibly could of the improvements that the Louisville & Nashville Railroad had made along 35 miles of track from Bacon Creek to Lebanon Junction.

Robert E. Lee wrote his wife, “What a cruel thing is war. To separate & destroy families & friends & mar the purest joy and happiness God has granted us in this world…. I pray that on this day when ‘peace & good will’ are preached to all mankind that better thoughts will fill the hearts of our enemies & turn them to peace.”

Meanwhile, along the Rappahannock River, the two armies faced each other, probing their opponent’s lines looking for weak spots and capturing prisoners and supplies. Soldiers in both armies did what soldiers normally do during the winter. They rested and refitted. They entertained themselves with games and tournaments. They exchanged supplies with their fellow Americans across the river.

 

(Written by Peter Doré – English Friends of the South)

THE CHRISTMAS GIFT

Time was short as final preparations were underway for General Thomas J. Jackson’s famous Stonewall Brigade. Jackson had received orders from General Robert E. Lee to move his corps east from the Shenandoah towards the Rappahannock River. The Federal army under the command of General Burnside was gathering in great numbers across the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg in an attempt to sweep around Lee’s eastern flank and attack Richmond.

Jackson’s corps numbered over 38,000 soldiers, the largest command he had ever had. Among these troops were his old reliable, tried and true, Stonewall Brigade, also referred to informally as “Virginia’s First Brigade”. Organized and trained personally by Jackson at Harper’s Ferry in April 1861, the brigade would distinguish itself at the Battle of Manassas, and become one of the most famous combat units in the war.

Snow lay on the ground in Winchester at the Frederick County Courthouse as new volunteers were organized and drilled for their march to meet the enemy. A young soldier was given a Christmas gift made by his sweetheart. Like so many couples, they did not know what the future held.

A Winchester resident watching the men pass through the town remarked how poor looking the soldiers were. “They were very destitute, many without shoes, and all without overcoats or gloves, although the weather was freezing. Their poor hands looked so red and cold holding their muskets in the biting wind….They did not, however look dejected, but went their way right joyfully.”

 

THE CHRISTMAS CAROL

The years of 1861 and 1862 had been momentous for Thomas J. Jackson. He had gone from being an unknown VMI professor with a Major’s commission, to the rank of Lieutenant General commanding the II Corps in General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. In battle after battle Jackson’s army had defeated those who opposed them. “Stonewall” was now one of the most famous and feared generals of the war.

Snow blanketed the countryside on November 22 as Confederate divisions gathered in Winchester. General Lee’s communiqués to Jackson made it clear that it was time to consolidate the army, preparing for the Union Army’s next move. Jackson’s Corps numbered 33,000 troops, the largest he had ever commanded. The task of organizing and preparing the new II Corps was daunting, but the General was up to the challenge and kept on the move.

On an early November morning at the Opequon Presbyterian church, members of the choir practiced a favorite Christmas carol for the passing Stonewall Jackson and his men. With the fate of his army and possibly the South to be decided in the coming days, the beautiful melody of a Christmas carol in the distance uplifted General Jackson and his men as they prepared to leave for Fredericksburg.

TheChristmasCar7DrkendForweb-900

“The Christmas Carol”
Opequon Presbyterian Church, Kernstown, Virginia – Winter of 1862
Artwork by John Paul Strain

Christmas-Gift900

“The Christmas Gift”

Men of the Stonewall Brigade, Frederick County Courthouse – Winchester, Virginia Winter of 1862

Artwork by John Paul Strain

(Articles courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Samuel A. Hughey Sons of Confederate Veterans camp 1452, vol. 42, issue no. 12, Dec. 2018 ed.)

It’s That Time of Year

In exactly two weeks, it will be Christmas! It’s my favorite holiday. Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie, the first book in the Renegade Series. This glance into the past shows what a war-torn country was like in December, 1861.

ABGL B.R.A.G. Medallion

The day of Callie’s Christmas party 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 Copeland’s 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. David thought 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 appeared 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 knew we couldn’t miss this.”

“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?”

“It would be my pleasure, 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 Copeland’s five slaves, and a few others the 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 next year sometime. Perhaps 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 this paintin’, 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 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 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. David heard his mother’s voice as she entered the kitchen. 

“What’s goin’ on in here?” she asked.

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

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

Caroline growled, “I’ll put a stop to this.” 

“No, Mrs. Summers,” Jake intercepted. “Allow me.” He sauntered through the house as voices outside escalated, and went outside to see 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 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 scowled at him. 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.

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