The American Civil War lasted four years, from 1861 to 1865. Many soldiers went to war, thinking it would be over in a few months’ time. It was not. As we approach Christmas, I’d like to share a few excerpts from Christmas letters written by Civil War soldiers who were far away from home.
Confederate Tally Simpson, of the 3rd South Carolina, described Christmas day to his 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.
Not far from Simpson, Spencer Welsh with the 13th Carolina wrote:
The men do not even have their guns loaded. The two sides talk familiarly with each other, and the Yankees say they are very anxious to have peace and get home.
Like many Americans, I had several ancestors who served during the war. I cannot imagine what their life would have been like, particularly on a Christmas day.
The Civil War Trust wrote:
Civil War soldiers in camp and their families at home drew comfort from the same sorts of traditions that characterize Christmas today. Alfred Bellard of the 5th New Jersey noted, “In order to make it look much like Christmas as possible, a small tree was stuck up in front of our tent, decked off with hard tack and pork, in lieu of cakes and oranges, etc.” John Haley, of the 17th Maine, wrote in his diary on Christmas Eve that, “It is rumored that there are sundry boxes and mysterious parcels over at Stoneman’s Station directed to us. We retire to sleep with feelings akin to those of children expecting Santa Claus.”