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Civil War Christmas



The carols sung in 1860, included Deck the Halls, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Harold Angels Sing (1840), It Came Upon A Midnight Clear (1850), Jingle Bells (1857) and up On the House Top (1860). Christmas was different during the war. One Union Regiment decorated their trees with ornaments of salt pork and beef jerky. Occasionally a truce would allow Confederate and Union troops to cross lines to swap things. The southern boys swapped tobacco they had, for coffee the northern boys had, and for a few minutes or hours they almost became friends until they once again began killing one another.

In 1862 the Lincoln’s visited the wounded soldiers in various hospitals. In 1863 Tad Lincoln, a child sent gifts of books and clothing to Union troops.

On Christmas Day in 1864, Union soldiers destroyed the salt works at Bear Inlet, North Carolina. While a Michigan Regiment, fighting in Georgia, dressed their mules as reindeer, and distributed food in wagons to war ravaged Georgia citizens. Even in these hard times, Christmas inspires the best of us to do the most for the least, for it is written, “What you do unto the least of my people, you do unto me.”

Something seldom written about is Christmas time for the Confederate Guerrillas fighting in Kentucky, behind the Union lines. The man I look up to the most, regarding the guerrilla war, is Thomas Shelby Watson, who wrote about a Guerrilla Christmas in Taylorsville, Kentucky, December 25th, 1864. This information is cited in his book, “Confederate Guerrilla Sue Mundy.” That year Christmas was on Sunday and everyone was in church. It was cold, the weather around freezing. It was on that sacred day One Armed Sam Berry, was accused of raping a negro girl, while holding a pistol on her. The Judge remarked at Berry’s trial, I would like to see how he did that! The charge was obviously false.

At the Van Buren Church of Christ, along the Salt River in Spencer County, it was a Christmas to remember. “Salt-River, Tom Love”, kept a diary of the service. Two guerrilla soldiers, Captain Tom Flowers and Jim Mackey entered the sparsely filled church, and demanded to know what the meeting was about. Each of them armed with pistols and wearing cavalry spurs. Reverend, Brother Green Milton stated it was a Sabbath Christmas meeting, at which Flowers sent Mackey up and down both sides of the street ordering the citizens to come to the church meeting. While the church was filling, Jim Campbell, a citizen, came riding by carrying a sack of meal. Flowers ordered him to empty the meal in the road or against a fence, but quickly and come into church. He was shamed for hauling (working) on the Sabbath.

When the church was filled with people, Flowers ordered a song, and Brother Milton led the singing of, Joy to the World. Salt River Tom wrote in his diary, the Davis girls were in especially fine voice. Green started the song, but in trembling voice dropped to base and Flowers took the lead. Lemuel Orison, trembling with fear, chanted an orison (prayer) that being so scared, he later had little remembrance.

Flowers asked permission to make a few remarks, and said, “Friends, this reminds me of better days, days when that mother, who is far away in Alabama, use to take her darling boy to the old camp meetings where he could hear the soul entrancing songs of Zion that purified the heart and sent a thrilling sensation to my soul. This cruel war has coated and molded me in a casket of sin and driven me far from a mother’s tender love.” Flowers then dismissed the congregation, who sang a hymn as they filed quietly out. It seems to me Captain Tom Flowers realized his life as a soldier fighting for the Confederate cause had morphed into outlawry, including robbing banks and stagecoaches as he did in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Captain Tom’s realization perhaps came too late.

In 1870, President Ulysses Samuel Grant declared Christmas to be a national holiday, in a further attempt to unite the north and the south and put aside the war. But an editorial cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly, magazine, Thomas Nast, made Santa’s home the North Pole, so the south couldn’t claim him. Merry Christmas.