"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it." - Hebrews 13:2

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Civil War Bivouac ~ The Civil War Christmas

Thomas Nast illustration of a couple separated by war, January 1863 – Harper’s Weekly

December 1861 saw little fighting during the Civil War. The watchword remained All Quiet on the Potomac as General McClellan trained his Grand Army.

During the Civil War, Christmas was an especially difficult and emotional time for the Federal or Confederate soldier who was away from his home. Men who once brought in the Christmas tree for the family, found themselves scavenging for firewood to keep warm, and singing carols around the campfire with comrades on Christmas Eve. Despite the holiday, the grim tasks of war continued as if it were any other day…guard duty, punishments, and even an execution for desertion.

Christmas accentuated loss and hardships. The vacant chair was more noticeable for the family left behind during that season than any other.

War is war. It’s the same today, as it was yesterday.

Many of the same Christmas traditions we observe in the present were also practiced during that time. Children from both North and South looked forward to a visit from Santa Claus, gifts were exchanged, and people attended Christmas services together, whether it was a grand cathedral or in a tent. As the war dragged on, it became increasingly difficult for the war torn south. Southern children were told that “Santa couldn’t get through the Yankee blockade”—or that “Santa was a Yankee” so Confederate pickets wouldn’t let him through.

The loss and hardships were felt by everyone.

In camp, a tree branch decorated with hardtack and salt pork might be found. Some soldiers were lucky enough to get packages and sundries from home. Some were truly blessed to be served a meager warm meal, although men in a permanent camp may have received a holiday feast. For entertainment, the chasing of a greased pig or a snowball fight took place to keep melancholy from setting in. Some soldiers turned to alcohol to fight the blues.

Many of the same beautiful Christmas carols we sing today were sung by the soldiers in camp or the families in around the tree. “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem," and "Away in a Manger.”

Slaves spent the Christmas season, cooking, cleaning, and serving their owner’s family. Few were fortunate to receive time off duties after the work was done to spend with their own families in celebration.

It was a time of mixed emotions. All at once one could feel, joy, sadness, love, piety, hope, and despair.

Miss Loree and Corporal Eric saying a tearful goodbye.

Between you, me and the gatepost,
We wish you all a Merry Christmas!
Eric and Loree Huebner

The Civil War Bivouac (formally The History Corner) normally appears with the first post of the month. Due to influenza, we had to post it one week late. Thanks for your patience.

~If you scroll to the bottom, you will find another Christmas image of Corporal Eric and Miss Loree~


Jaime Wright said...

GREAT Christmas pic!! Although, let's skip the tearful goodbye. :)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Mixed emotions, for sure. I can only imagine how war darkens Christmas for so many. Thanks for the examples of how the soldiers might have celebrated in the camps. I love the pic of you and Eric!

Brandi said...

Beautiful picture, Loree, and a great post. It brings humanity to the Civil War that isn't often described in the history books. We read about fierce fighting, but we just don't think about those soldiers and their families having to spend Christmas apart from each other. And in those days, with months lapsing between communications, I can only imagine how frightening it would have been to only speculate on the fate of a relative.

Thank you for teaching me something new. I love your blog!

Sarah Sundin said...

Really interesting post! Thanks for letting me know about it :)

Sandra Orchard said...

Ooh, I almost missed scrolling to the bottom to see the goodbye kiss. :) Great pics and sobering story. You certainly know how to bring history to life for us.

Marji Laine - Faith-Driven Suspense said...

Beautiful post. LOVE that pic of you and hubby at the bottom. So poignant.

Ryan and Melanie said...

I love the history I learn when I come here. Great post, Loree. I love the pic. of your and your hubby.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment on my blog today.


Susan J. Reinhardt said...

A family friend served in Vietnam. I remember how hard it was for his family and the many prayers for his safety.

My mother often spoke of the years my Dad served in Europe during WWII. They were engaged on December 7th when news came that Pearl Harbor had been struck.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Very neat to see the connections from history. You just made it come alive for me. Thank you!

Loree Huebner said...

Jaime: Thanks. The goodbyes were tearful : (

Gwen: It was such a strange time because we were at war with each other...brother against brother in some cases.

Brandi: Your comments are sweet. War is so hard on everyone. This war was especially difficult because we were fighting each other.

Sarah S.: Thanks for stopping by. Loved your post on Christmas during WWII!

Sandra: Thanks, Sandra. Your kind comments mean a lot.

Marji: Glad you liked the pictures!

Mel: Thank you! It makes me happy to know that people learn a little about something so dear to my heart as the Civil War era.

Susan: I remember a neighbor's husband getting killed in the Vietnam war. I remember going to the funeral. I was really little, but I remember the sadness of one taken by war. It was one of 2 times that I saw my dad cry.

I've said it before that I always look for the blessing in the midst of war...your parent's engagement is one of those blessings. It was a sign of hope. Thanks for sharing.

Sarah F: So glad you enjoyed it.

Jaime, Gwen, Brandi, Sarah S, Sandra, Marji, Mel, Susan, and Sarah F., thanks for stopping in. I love reading your comments!

MTeacress said...

You are awesome, Loree. It is good for us to remember that Christmas isn't always wonderful for everyone. In fact, if we remembered that more often, we might be able to make Christmas better for someone who would otherwise suffer much during the holiday.

Merry Christmas to you too. :)

Jessica R. Patch said...

I love this picture! :) Merry Christmas to you too! Glad everyone is out of the trees!

Jessica Nelson said...

War is so heartbreaking. You two look beautiful though. :-)

Stacy Henrie said...

Love the picture and that dress! :) I like to read about how Christmas was celebrated in the "olden days." That would have been a tough time.

Loree Huebner said...

Michelle: Christmas is especially hard on soldiers and their families...today as well as yesterday.

Jessica P: Yeah, we're finally out of the trees...lol. It took some time, but Eric and I are finally feeling normal again.

Jessica N: Thank you! And yes, war is heartbreaking. Now we have modern conveniences. Back then it was much tougher on everyone.

Stacy: Thanks. I think it was a simpler time, but tougher on the human body and spirit.

Michelle, Jess P, Jessica N, and Stacy, thanks for popping in. I love hearing from you.

Carol Riggs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol Riggs said...

Sorry to hear you had the flu! Ugh. What a lovely photo! :) Merry Christmas to you and yours, too.

Deana said...

That picture is so perfect with the snow falling and you both in your period outfits. I love it!

Misha Gericke said...

That's actually so sad to think about. :-(

Beautiful Christmas pic, though.

Loree Huebner said...

Carol: We're much better this week. I've got to say that this particular flu knocked me down for several days.
Merry Christmas!

Deana: Thank you for your kind comment.

Misha: It is sad. There was no internet or phones to make contact...you were lucky if a letter or package got through. We've come a long way in communication...but war is still war.

Carol, Deana, and Misha, thanks so much for coming by and leaving a comment. It means so much to me.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, Loree.

It makes me realize (again) that we don't need all the glitz and glamour for Christmas. It's truly about family and the gift of salvation our Lord gave us.

Loree Huebner said...

Melissa: Well said! Amen!
Loved your post on the Water Cooler.

Julie Musil said...

I loved this reflection on how much Christmas may have changed, but also how it's remained the same. And that photo is amazing!

Jeanette Levellie said...

Darling pics of you and your hus. I hope we never have another Civil War--one was too many.

Merry Christmas!

Loree Huebner said...

Julie and Jeanette: Thanks for your sweet comments about the pictures. I hope we've learned from our history and never have another Civil War again. Thanks for stopping in!