First Virginia Cavalry Halted after sketch by Alfred Waud

This is how Alfred Waud's field sketch appeared once the engravers at Harper's Weekly had done their work.
This is how Alfred Waud’s field sketch appeared once the engravers at Harper’s Weekly had done their work.
.

Advertisements

Christmas, 1861. Long Ago and Far Away: A Civil War Christmas, Part 5

Winslow Homer's depiction of the opening of a Christmas box from home shows the raucous celebration such holiday arrivals were greeted with by Union troops.
Winslow Homer’s depiction of the opening of a Christmas box from home shows the raucous celebration such holiday arrivals were greeted with by Union troops.

CHRISTMAS, 1861.  Although thousands of soldiers faced each other with bayonet and gun and cannon this winter, the attitudes among the combatants was far more merry than among Lincoln and his cabinet was that December 25. Men far from hearth and home longed to be with their loved ones, to be sure, but among their comrades in camp, soldiers on both sides tried to make merry in their own ways.  And if lacking all the niceties of home, still some found ways to make the holiday special.

On the Union side, at least, there was an abundance of Christmas packages, delivered by the United States Post Office. From home, families and friends sent “care” packages laden with preserves and hard candy, clothing (an abundance of woolen socks it seems) and even uplifting books—the latter duly ignored by the soldiers as they tore into the boxes. Winslow Homer, as special artist for Harper’s Weekly, was present to witness the boys turned soldiers as they frolicked on Christmas Day and document it with his sketch-pad.

On the other side of the lines in northern Virginia, the boys in gray were celebrating in their traditional way, insofar as the war allowed. Just outside of Manassas, where the Battle of Bull Run had been won that summer, a small group of officers and men from the 1st Virginia Cavalry were gathered in a Tavern to celebrate the birth of the Christ-child as befitted the bold Virginia cavaliers.

The 1st Virginia Cavalry were notable for their distinctive uniform and esprit de corps.
The 1st Virginia Cavalry were notable for their distinctive uniform and esprit de corps.
This is how Alfred Waud's field sketch appeared once the engravers at Harper's Weekly had done their work.
This is how Alfred Waud’s field sketch appeared once the engravers at Harper’s Weekly had done their work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The gentlemen soldiers of the 1st Virginia wore distinctive garb, which made them an excellent target for Yankee sharpshooters, but also set them apart from more plebian cavalry units. With their broad brimmed and beplumed black hats, jackets sporting a distinctive black decoration for the coat buttons–“Hussar Trim”–to decorate their shell jackets, and collars, cuffs and epaulets in black instead of the standard cavalry yellow, the men of the 1st Virginia had a general air of assurance that silently spoke of being scions of FFV’s; and in truth, they were fully as skilled an elite group of warriors as they fancied themselves.

They were gathered that Christmas day at Stuart’s Tavern, which lay along the Little River Turnpike, not far from Bull Run. While the tavern shared the name of their famed cavalry general, likely its title owed more to the Bonnie Prince than it did to J.E.B.  No matter, there was an abundance of punch and egg nogg, suitably fortified with spirits and, later in the day, a table laid to overflowing with victuals to fill the largest of cavalryman’s stomachs, which was, it was averred, of greater capacity than the ordinary soldier’s.

It was a “cold and dark and dreary” day without, but a roaring fire glowed from the hearth in the tavern, reflecting off the iron fittings and brass buttons, and the polished steel side-arms standing in the corner, and illuming the figures of the men gathered within. After a few toasts and quickly quaffed rounds, the faces around the table also glowed some, although less from the firelight than from their own warm glow within.

J.E.B. Stuart, an early commander of the 1st Virginia set the tone for the regiment's sense of elan.
J.E.B. Stuart, the dashing early commander of the 1st Virginia Cavalry, set the tone for the regiment’s sense of elan.

Outside, their horses were tied to the front fence, all saddled and ready to mount at a moment’s notice, less some rude and ungentlemanly Yankee foraging party disturb their celebration. Inside, Captains Drake and Irving, Lieutenants Larrick and two more of the Drake clan, plus horsemen of lesser rank but equal cheer, were all assembled round the large wooden table. The festivities proceeded with jest and song, punctuated by suitable libations at the “Shrine of Bacchus,” with the fragrance of roasting turkey coming from the well appointed kitchen.

In the midst of the festivities, a lone horseman appeared at the door to the tavern, apparently with similar motives as the cavalrymen for being there. His uniform was gray as well, but with the collars and cuffs of a captain of infantry. When he saw that there was a private party already going on in the tavern, however, he was about to beat a hasty retreat. The cavaliers of the 1st Virginia were in such good cheer, however, that they were even disposed to welcome a more pedestrian warrior to their midst.

When pressed, the captain of infantry accepted their hospitality and gave them his name and affiliation: Captain Atkins of Wheat’s Battalion. His unit was on picket duty that day and he had been making the rounds to be sure all his men were doing their duty. It being cold and blustery on horseback, he had stopped at Stuart’s to warm up a bit before returning to the cold comfort of his fly-tent. Learning that his commander, Major Wheat, was likewise quartered in a flimsy fly-tent, the horse-masters promptly sent an embassy to Wheat’s headquarters to invite him to share their repast. In due course the major arrived to reinforce their band and with them assailed the alcohol with equal abandon, accompanied by occasional toasts to “Our Dixie Land!”

To those present at Stuart’s Tavern that winter of ’61 it was a particularly memorable Christmas repast; all the more so as for several there it would be their last. By the next year the war had taken its toll and following Christmases saw their numbers further reduced, with Colonel Drake falling in the retreat from Gettysburg and Major Wheat meeting his end at Cold Harbor. In the winter of 1861, the Southern soldier had not yet met defeat and so the boys of ’61 enjoyed that Christmas with “the halo that invested all things with a beautiful romance.”

Farther afield from Stuart’s Tavern, other Southerners had more mixed sentiments that season; Robert E. Lee, for one, was on duty in South Carolina, far from home. He wrote to his wife on Christmas Day, trying to console her. Mrs. Lee and the family had been forced to flee Arlington, their home, which had been seized by the Yankees. She was now a refugee, residing in exile on The Peninsula, south of Richmond.

Stonewall Jackson was in the field as well, in the Shenandoah Valley, bedeviling the Yankees as well as that devout Christian could. But Jackson took time out to celebrate Christmas with his wife in Winchester, Virginia; a brief respite from war which, one surmises, was how his wife became pregnant with child.

Grant early in the War. several of his early victories were achieved while still stationed at Cairo, Illinois.
Grant early in the War. several of his early victories were achieved while still stationed at Cairo, Illinois.

In Cairo, Illinois, Ulysses S. Grant was also able to share the holiday with his family and celebrate, as well, his promotion to brigadier and as commandant of that border post. After the holiday he would undertake a winter campaign that would soon catapult him to fame and start him on the road to greatness.

In England, Queen Victoria most certainly had a cheerless Christmas, with her beloved husband, Prince Albert dying just a short time before the holiday.

It doubtless gave Queen Victoria little solace to know that her husband, as one of his final acts–one might call it a heroic act–had helped prevent a needless war with the United States, a war which would surely have benefited no one—save perhaps “The Mongoose” (Prime Minister Palmerston) and his minions.

Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister, was known as "The Mongoose," used the Trent Affair as a pretext to intervene on behalf of the Confederacy.
Lord Palmerston, Prime Minister, known as “The Mongoose,” used the Trent Affair as a pretext to intervene on behalf of the Confederacy.

Christmas of 1861 was for many still a joyous holiday; for some a season tinged with sadness, while for a few it was a dark and joyless time. For most, however, that darkness lay still in the future.

For more true stories of the Late Unpleasantness, see: Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.  My latest nonfiction book on the Civil War, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, is now in print and available at better bookstores everywhere.

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover

Ambrose Bierce is famed as a noted American writer, satirist and cynic. Less well known is Bierce’s military career during the Civil War, where he fought with distinction in many of the major battles of the war. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife chronicles his wartime experiences in depth for the first time.

The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer, 2012)
The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer)
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). True uncanny tales of the Civil War.
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins) 

Christmas 1861: Crisis in the White House. A Civil War Christmas, Part 4

Brother Jonathan (Uncle Sam) takes a defiant attitude towards John Bull--like Lincoln and much of the country. Ultimately cool heads--and perhaps Mary's soothing words to her husband--prevailed.
Brother Jonathan (Uncle Sam) takes a defiant attitude towards John Bull–like Lincoln and much of the country. Ultimately cool heads–and perhaps Mary’s soothing words to her husband–prevailed.

Christmas, 1861, was a hectic day in the White House. All three Lincoln sons were home for the holiday.  Robert, the eldest, was home from Harvard. Willie and Tad were up to their usual antics, in contrast to their sedate older brother. Willie and Tad were a handful on normal days and with Mary in a tizzy preparing for the big Christmas dinner that night, the two boys were more underfoot than normal.

So, after opening presents, the two younger boys were scooted off to the Taft household where they could play with boys their own age. In this case play consisted of setting off fireworks and firing real guns with live rounds. This left Mary free to make busy for the grand dinner she had planned for that evening.

All the Lincoln family were home for Christmas in the White House in 1861
All the Lincoln family were home for Christmas in the White House in 1861

With Mary absorbed in preparations for the banquet, it was just as well that Abraham was deeply involved with work that morning. In fact, Lincoln convened an emergency Cabinet meeting on Christmas morning to discuss the crisis with Great Britain.

The USS San Jacinto seized two Confederate officials aboard the British packet the RMS Trent, leading to a crisis in relations between Britain and the US.
The USS San Jacinto seized two Confederate officials aboard the British packet the RMS Trent, leading to a crisis in relations between Britain and the US.

On November 8, the USS San Jacinto had stopped an English mail packet, the Trent, traveling between Havana and British St. Thomas. On board were two Rebel officials, Messrs. Mason and Slidell, bearing dispatches for Britain. The two officers of the Rebel government were fair game as far as the United States was concerned and by international law the San Jacinto should have hauled the Trent into port where a prize court would have not only remanded the two Rebel officials into US hands, but have the ship and its cargo seized as well. However, instead the captain just removed the two traitors and their dispatches and let the Trent continue on its journey.

It should be remembered that during the Napoleonic Wars,  Britain had arbitrarily stopped US ships on the high seas and kidnapped American seaman to fill their warship’s crews and thought nothing of it. However, when the roles were reversed, Her Majesty’s Government feigned outrage at the incident.

The British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, (aka "The Mongoose") used the Trent Affair as a pretext to intervene on behalf of the Confederacy.
The British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, (aka “The Mongoose”) used the Trent Affair as a pretext to intervene on behalf of the Confederacy.

Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister (called by those who knew him The Mongoose), whose party and friends controlled most of the British press, whipped up public sentiment condemning this supposed violation of neutral rights. In truth, although officially neutral, Palmerston and his minions were eager for any excuse to intervene on the side of the Confederacy. Although Great Britain had long outlawed slavery and the slave trade, the American blockade of the Southern ports was driving up the cost of cotton and British Capitalists cared more for their purses than they did for Negro freedom.

Palmerston penned an ultimatum that, unchanged, would surely have been rejected and led to war between the United States and Britain. However, such an ultimatum had first to be approved by Her Majesty, Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert. Neither the queen nor her consort were of like mind with their prime minister.

Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's Consort, although gravely ill, stirred himself out of bed and rewrote Palmerston's inflammatory ultimatum to Lincoln to make it more conciliatory, thereby preventing war between the US and Britain.
Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s Consort, although gravely ill, stirred himself out of bed and rewrote Palmerston’s inflammatory ultimatum to Lincoln to make it more conciliatory, thereby preventing war between the US and Britain.

At that time, Prince Albert was on his deathbed; yet Albert, summing all his remaining energy, worked on the note to the US, softening its tone and making it as conciliatory as possible. It was this note that was delivered to Abraham Lincoln by the British minister to Washington.

Nonetheless, if the United States did not hand over Mason and Slidell and render a formal apology, there was little doubt it would mean war between the two countries. It was not the sort of Christmas greeting Lincoln had been expecting.

Beginning at ten a.m. on Christmas Day, Lincoln and his Cabinet heatedly debated the British demand and their response to it. Some were for war—a war which the US could not hope to win—others were for submission the terms. Secretary of State Seward, a realist, knew the government had little choice in the matter; others, Lincoln included, felt the US being in the right, should not submit. The debate was at times heated and went on for four hours. The contentious Christmas meeting adjourned without a decision being made. They would meet again on the morrow.

Brother Jonathan (Uncle Sam) takes a defiant attitude towards John Bull--like Lincoln and much of the country. Ultimately cool heads--and perhaps Mary's soothing words to her husband--prevailed.
Brother Jonathan (Uncle Sam) takes a defiant attitude towards John Bull–like Lincoln and much of the country. Ultimately cool heads–and perhaps Mary’s soothing words to her husband–prevailed.

Perhaps it was Mary’s “mid-winter soiree” that evening that mellowed the President; the newly redecorated White House, with a bounty of food, music and an abundance of good cheer that night could not help but have put one in a good mood.

Mary Todd Lincoln in ball gown. Mary had the ability to charm anyone, especially her husband. It may be the Christmas Party she held softened her husband's attitude towards the Trent Affair and prevented a war with Britain.
Mary Todd Lincoln in ball gown. Mary had the ability to charm anyone, especially her husband. It may be the Christmas Party she held softened her husband’s attitude towards the Trent Affair and prevented a war with Britain.

Mary Todd Lincoln may have had her foibles, but when she turned on the charm no one—especially not Abraham—could resist her, and Mary pulled out all the stops for this party. Not even the most snobby of the Virginia Swans that dominated Washington society could have criticized the elegance and vivacity of the banquet that evening. So perhaps indirectly we may credit the First Lady for preventing a war.

What we do know is that the next morning, after feasting on far richer fare the night before, President Lincoln decided to “eat humble pie” and give the British what they wanted. The Cabinet meeting on the 26th was brief; Mason and Slidell would be released into British custody and Secretary Seward would draft an appropriate written reply. That Christmas, if not goodwill to men, at least peace on earth prevailed between the two nations.

For other aspects Abraham Lincoln and the Lincoln presidency, see The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, and my book on esoteric aspects of the War, Ghost and Haunts of the Civil War.  My latest book, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, is now out and available at all better bookstores.

Queen Victoria ca 1861
Queen Victoria, 1861. Like her husband, she actively sought to avoid war with the United States over the Trent Affair.

P. S. Even Her Majesty had subscribed to the notion that British shipping should not carry foreign agents and their dispatches while the United States had a blockade in place:
Victoria Regina, May 13, 1861: “we do hereby strictly charge … all our loving subjects … to abstain from contravening … our Royal Proclamation … by breaking … any blockade lawfully … established … or by carrying officers … dispatches … or any article or articles considered contraband of war.” (cf. “The Trent Affair” article discussing Lord Palmerston and his machinations: “Controversy Over the Trent Case”, December, 1861.

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover

Ambrose Bierce is famed as a noted American writer, satirist and cynic. Less well known is Bierce’s military career during the Civil War, where he fought with distinction in many of the major battles of the war. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife chronicles his wartime experiences in depth for the first time.

Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). True uncanny tales of the Civil War.
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins).
The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer, 2012)
The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer, 2012)

Christmas, 1860: A Civil War Christmas, Part 3

Perhaps influenced by Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol, Harpers Magazine bade its readers remember the poor at Christmas in 1860.
Perhaps influenced by Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Harpers Magazine bade its readers remember the poor at Christmas in 1860.

December 1860. The United States was, to surface appearance, still a nation at peace, but beneath all the festivities of the season festered a fatal political disease: Secessionism. Nevertheless, North and South, East and West, folk went about their daily chores, their seasonal routines, as before.  Most Americans still held out hope that somehow, someway, the Nation would not fall into the abyss and that the crisis of disunion would be averted.

Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's Consort and a German prince, is credited with introducing the Christmas Tree, the Tannenbaum, to the English-speaking world
Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s Consort and a German prince, is credited with introducing the Christmas Tree, the Tannenbaum, to the English-speaking world

One new element to the rituals of the season was the Christmas Tree. The Christmas Tree had long been a popular element of Christmas in Germany, but it was not until Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s German consort, introduced it into Britain that it became a regular feature of Yuletide in the English-speaking world. In America, the influx of German émigrés following the Revolutions of 1848, also brought this Christmas ritual with them. The Germans generally put a miniature tree on a table, decorated with home-made ornaments, candy and candles. As Americans adopted the tree for their holiday, they put a full-size tree in their living rooms.

The German immigrants also brought with them a strong antipathy toward tyranny in whatever form it might take. In Europe, the ’48ers had fought against the kings, despots and oligarchs who lorded over the common folk and treated them like chattel; America, they thought, they would have no such tyrants to deal with. But in the 1850’s, the growing militancy of Southern slave owners made these newly minted Americans realize that in the Land of the Free there were many who were enslaved. The German-Americans who introduced the Tannenbaum soon found common cause with Abolitionists and Free Soil Democrats and found in the new Republican Party a congenial political home more in line with their political beliefs.

Introducing new cultural rituals to Christmas and adding their own radical twist to American politics, the German-Americans also formed social clubs, called Turners, dedicated to athletics and manly pursuits.  Such activities often took the form of military style drilling and practicing marksmanship. Militia companies were a popular civilian pursuit before the Civil War.

In the South, however, men were doing far more than just playing soldier. Well before the election of 1860, militant Secessionists were organizing militia regiments for war, as well as stockpiling weapons and openly plotting insurrection. When Lincoln and the Republicans won the election fair and square, South Carolina in particular pushed for the Secession. The election results were scarcely in when South Carolina announced a convention to debate Secession and the state’s two senators, James Chestnut and James Hammond, abruptly resigned from Congress.

Not everyone in the South was so eager for disunion. In the Mid and Upper South in particular, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Virginia, all contained large numbers of people whose sentiments were for remaining in the Union. Many were the households in the Upper South who still cherished the seasonal sentiment of “peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

In Springfield, Illinois, the Lincoln household tried to observe the season, although for the President Elect it was anything but a time of goodwill and joy. Mary Lincoln tried hard to play her role of Queen of Domesticity, but her husband was deeply absorbed with political responsibilities and cares. Lincoln had to stand by, powerlessly, and watch as the Union disintegrated under the dubious rule of the sitting President, James Buchanan.

President James Buchanan, arguably our worst President, stood idly by while South Carolina openly defied Federal authority. Lincoln could only watch helplessly from Springfield as the political situation deteriorated.
President James Buchanan, arguably our worst President, stood idly by while South Carolina openly defied Federal authority. Lincoln could only watch helplessly from Springfield as the political situation deteriorated.

James Buchanan, probably more than any single person, was responsible for the deteriorating situation in the nation in the fall and winter of 1860. Although a northerner by birth, he adopted an official policy of “neutrality” in the face of growing treason by the slave states. He officially condemned Secession but claimed he was powerless to stop it; apparently he was unaware of the section of the Constitution which made him Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

When the commander of Federal forces at Charleston, Major Robert Anderson, requested men and supplies, the 300 men detailed to be sent to him were instead shipped to Texas by Buchanan, to guard a border where they were not needed. However, 17,000 stand of arms were sent to South Carolina by President Buchanan; not to the under-strength Federal garrison, but to the rebellious state government!

South Carolina's Christmas gift to the nation was to vote for Secession from the Union.
South Carolina’s Christmas gift to the nation was to vote for Secession from the Union.

Buchanan’s “passivity” in Washington was rewarded in Charleston with an early Christmas present: on December 20, 1860, South Carolina approved an Ordinance of Secession and then on Christmas Eve the rest of the South Carolina delegation in Congress abruptly resigned.

 

In Springfield, Illinois, in the week leading up to Christmas, Abraham Lincoln was busy selecting cabinet members, meeting with important politicians and dignitaries and keeping a wary eye on the Buchanan administration. There was more than a suspicion that Buchanan was aiding and abetting the Secessionists, but until he was inaugurated, all Lincoln could do was stand idly by and watch it happen.

Lincoln Campaign Poster. Despite being elected fair and square, Secessionist refused to abide by the law and the Constitution. Lincoln as President Elect was powerless to intervene until inaugurated.
Lincoln Campaign Poster. Despite being elected fair and square, Secessionist refused to abide by the law and the Constitution. Lincoln as President Elect was powerless to intervene until inaugurated.

On December 13th Lincoln celebrated Mary’s birthday and on the 21st his son Willie’s birthday.  On Christmas Eve, Lincoln purchased eleven handkerchiefs as Christmas presents.

Lincoln in 1860. That Christmas Lincoln had far more on his mind that festivities.
Lincoln in 1860. That Christmas Lincoln had far more on his mind that festivities.

In Galena, Illinois, that same Christmas Eve, a harried middle-aged store clerk—Ulysses S. Grant—was attending to last-minute shoppers.

In the South, many plantation slaves were looking forward towards a day of leisure and feasting the next day, while in Maryland on Christmas Eve, two young black men were uneasily anticipating their forthcoming sale the next day. Yuletide was also a popular time in the South to close one’s plantation books and sell off slaves.

Far off in Texas, Colonel Robert E. Lee wrote to his wife apologizing that he could not be home with her and the children that Christmas and expressed his concerns over the growing crisis, hoping that he would not have to choose between his loyalty to his country and his loyalty to his state.

Christmas saw Major Anderson and his command move to Fort Sumter in the middle of the night. When he asked President Buchanan for reinforcements, Buchanan sent them to Texas instead and gave munitions to the Secessionists.
Christmas saw Major Anderson and his command move to Fort Sumter in the middle of the night. When he asked President Buchanan for reinforcements, Buchanan sent them to Texas instead and gave munitions to the Secessionists.

Major Robert Anderson at Fort Moultrie in Charleston wrote to his wife on Christmas Day, apologizing that he did not send her a Christmas present. What he could not disclose to her was that he was too busy making preparations for his garrison to move to Fort Sumter that very night.

 

 

 

On December 25, 1860, while many in the country celebrated the birthday of the Prince of Peace, some men were also busy preparing for war.

 ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover

Ambrose Bierce is well know as a noted  American writer, satirist and cynic. Less well known is Bierce’s military career during the Civil War, where he fought with distinction in many of the major battles of the war.  Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife chronicles his wartime experiences in depth for the first time.

The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer, 2012)
The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer)
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). True uncanny tales of the Civil War.
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). 

 

For more on Lincoln, his life and his beliefs, see The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, (Schiffer); for more esoteric aspects of the War, see Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins).  My latest book on the Civil War, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, is now out and available at all the best bookstores and websites.

A Civil War Christmas, Part 1: An Introduction

It was President Grant who made Christmas a national holiday.
It was President Grant who made Christmas a national holiday.

Τhe Civil War fundamentally altered our nation in many, many ways. It is not surprising, therefore, that the manner in which we celebrate Christmas was also deeply affected by that great conflict.

It may seem odd to many today, but in early America there was a deep distrust of the holiday of Christmas by some of our ancestors.  The Puritans, in particular, did not like the merrymaking and raucous celebrations which accompanied Christmas in those days– a definite turnoff to the dour Puritans.  Christmas was also linked, in Puritan minds, with the elaborate religious ceremonies of Roman Catholicism–a religion which they harbored a passionate hatred for.  In England during the Puritan revolution, Catholic priests were hunted down like animals and tortured to death. Not surprisingly,  Santa Claus in the Puritan view of things was equated with the anti-Christ .  The Puritans believed people should work on Christmas Day and not engage in frivolity and intoxication.  The Puritans outlawed Christmas, Easter and–that ever popular holiday–Whitsuntide.

Although early the Puritan’s early theocratic Socialism gradually gave way to a form of smug, self-righteous Capitalism, New England continued to look down on the holiday until the eve of the Civil War.  Even after the war, in Boston public school children continued to be forced to go to school on Christmas .

Other groups, however, were not so sour about the holiday.  Not only Catholics, but Anglicans and Lutherans joyfully celebrated the Holy Day holiday and continued to do so when they emigrated to America.

In particular, German immigrants, be they Lutheran or Catholic, had many popular rituals associated with the holiday, rituals which today we take for granted.  The nineteenth century was also the age of romanticism and so, influence by the zeitgeist of the era, people became more and more sentimental.  The Christmas celebration of hearth, home and family was a perfect fit for the spirit of the age and the season evolved into from a religious celebration about the birth of the Christ child to a quite secular celebration .

It actually wasn’t until 1870 that Christmas became an official Federal holiday.  This was thanks to President Ulysses S. Grant, who had in mind creating a national holiday that he hoped would help unite a still divided nation and melt the strong bitterness that still dwelt in the land.

The poignancy of families separated by war gave Christmas even more importance than ever before. Thomas Nast,
The poignancy of families separated by war gave Christmas more importance than ever before. Thomas Nast, “Christmas Eve”

During the war, both sides had celebrated the holiday in their own ways.  The poignancy of families separated by war gave Christmas even more importance than ever before.  President Grant knew only too well what the holday had meant to the soldiers in the field and their families at home.  In trying to unite a nation still deeply divided by the tragedy of war and its often violent aftermath, Grant knew that Christmas was something everyone in all regions of the nation come together about.

So, while Abraham Lincoln was responsible for Thanksgiving as an official American holiday, (more of that next time) it is to Ulysses Grant that we owe Christmas as the quintessential American celebration.

Thomas Nast created our current image of how Santa looks during the Civil War.
Thomas Nast created our current image of how Santa looks during the Civil War.

For more true tales of the Late Unpleasantness, see Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.  Just released, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, is published by University of Tennessee Press and chronicling the famous authors wartime service with the Army of the Cumberland and the 9th Indiana.

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, available at better stores everywhere.

 

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5

Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, true tales of paranormal experiences and uncanny encounters relating to the Late Unpleasantness.

 

Paranormal Presidency cover   suitable for online use 96dpi
The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer) Documented, eyewitness accounts of Abraham Lincoln’s belief in, and experience of, the Paranormal. It also documents his and his wife’s experiences with Spiritualism and other contemporary beliefs.

 

Homecoming: The Haunting of Carter House

During the autumn of 1864, Captain Tod Carter was coming home to Franklin. He was coming home to stay.
During the autumn of 1864, Captain Tod Carter was coming home to Franklin. He was coming home to stay.

Although Thanksgiving as we know it originated with Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of 1863, late November had long been the season of Harvest Home, of family and friends returning to gather around the hearth.  November 30 was a homecoming of sorts; long distant fathers, brothers and sons were returning to Franklin; but it was not to visit loved ones and enjoy a bountiful meal and celebrate a successful harvest; it was to engage in a deadly and ultimately fruitless duel with their mortal foes.  It would indeed end with loved ones seeing their returning family members–lying dead on the battlefield or slowing dying of their wounds.

Fountain Branch Carter, the family patriarch, was still alive in 1864 to see the war come to his door.
Fountain Branch Carter, the family patriarch, was still alive in 1864 to see the war come to his door.

The first Yankee troops started filing past the Carter family home around daybreak.  The house lay astride the Columbia Pike, the main southbound thoroughfare, and sat at the edge of town, with a broad expanse of low-lying open fields lying just to the south.  The Carters owned 288 acres of this, including a substantial building housing a cotton gin.

General John Schofield, commander of Union forces at Franklin.
General John Schofield, commander of Union forces at Franklin.

General Schofield, the Union commander, conferred with General Cox in the yard of the house and impressed on him the importance of keeping Hood at bay until the  bridging equipment could be put in place: “my duty was to use the forces put under my command to hold Hood back, at all hazards, until the trains and the rest of the army should be safely across the Harpeth,” wrote Cox.

General Cox, Schofield's second in command and in charge of the Union rearguard at Franklin.
General Cox, Schofield’s second in command and in charge of the Union rearguard at Franklin.

The Yankee general came up to the house to inform the family that they were going to commandeer their property to construct a defensive line.  The family had several sons in the Confederate army, so they were hardly pleased with this turn of events–but the patriarch of the family, Fountain Branch Carter, with womenfolk and grandchildren to take care of,  kept his opinion on the matter to himself.  Their house taken over as headquarters, the family huddled into the underground basement, the servants buried the hams from the smokehouse to keep them out of thieving Yankee hands, and then Moscow (a paroled Rebel son) and some of the servants hastily blocked the small basement windows with coils of rope to try to make them bullet proof.

One of the Carter grandchildren was in the yard playing soldier amid all the chaos of an army preparing for war, when a real bullet came whistling by.  The battle was beginning.  For what seemed an eternity some two dozen men, women, and children–including Albert Lotz and his family from across the street–waited as the horrors of war engulfed the house and grounds above.  Luckily, his oldest son, Colonel Moscow Carter, helped corral the extended family together and bolted the cellar door to keep war out.

On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.
On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.

It was almost sunset as the Confederate attack began in earnest.  Among the throng charging headlong at the Yankee guns was one of the Carter sons–Captain Tod Carter.  As a quartermaster he didn’t have to be in the front ranks; but with home so near, he wanted to in the forefront of battle to be one of the first to reach the Carter home.  He nearly made it.

The last words his comrades heard Captain Carter utter were, “follow me boys! I’m almost home.”  Within minutes, Tod Carter’s body was riddled with bullets.  Others followed him, as wave after wave of brave foolish Rebels charged headlong into the fire of the entrenched Yankee rearguard.  In the confusion of the initial rush the Confederates nearly succeeded in breaking through; but then when all seemed lost, General Opdycke’s brigade rushed forward to plug the breach in the Union line, using the butt of his pistol to bludgeon Rebels after he ran out of bullets.

Tod Carter and the Confederates very nearly broke through the Union lines. Had it not been for the insubordination of Gen. Opdycke and his "Tigers" they would have!
Tod Carter and the Confederates very nearly broke through the Union lines. Had it not been for the insubordination of Gen. Opdycke and his “Tigers” they would have!

For hours more, into the dark of the night, the battle raged, the only illumination of the fire from rifle and cannon spewing death.  Around nine pm the fighting subsided; finally, about midnight, Cox’s rearguard withdrew across the Harpeth, whence the rest of the army had already gone.  The battle was over; the suffering had just begun.

The next morning his family found Tod Carter, still clinging to life just outside the trenches.  He was brought home; for a time his family had hopes he would recover; but like a flickering candle that burns bright just before it goes out, Captain Tod’s recovery was an illusion.  He died in a room in the rear ell of the Carter House.  Tod Carter was home at last.

Tod Carter was waked in the house he lived his young life in and he was buried in a nearby cemetery; but for all of that, Captain Carter did not leave Carter House.  Ever since, visitors have felt a presence in the room in the rear ell where he lingered with his fatal wounds for weeks.  Some visitors to Carter House even swear they have seen the image of a young man sitting up in bed in that same room.

Other Carter family members are also reported to have been seen in the house as well; one, a young girl, is playful with volunteers and visitors and has even been seen running down the stairs in the front, as if going out to play.  Some even claim to hear the sounds of ghostly gunfire and men shouting on the grounds at certain times.

Of course, there are others familiar with the house and its surrounds who claim nothing at all goes on there–that such reports are merely delusions of the masses or people inventing things.  Still, the reports trickle in and while most do not see or hear anything odd, there are just enough who do to give the tale of Tod Carter’s ghost and of the hauntings of the grounds some credibility.

untin

The Haunting of Carter House if fully chronicled in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.
The Haunting of Carter House if fully chronicled in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.

For more about the haunting of Carter House and of the ghosts and haunts of Franklin and the Civil War, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and my new book, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.