By Jennifer Uhlarik
Merry Christmas to you from all of us here at Heroes, Heroines, and History, as well as from the Uhlarik household! I hope and pray that today you are surrounded by family and friends, and that your holiday is full of blessings, both large and small.
Have you ever stopped to consider what Christmas might have looked like for the soldiers during the Civil War? I’m sure that the holidays took on many forms for the men who fought in that conflict, as each one probably attempted to incorporate a little of their own family traditions into whatever celebration they might be able to muster under the less-than-perfect circumstances.
Thanks to soldiers who chronicled their experiences in diaries and letters, we can get a snapshot of what the holidays looked like for some of the fighting men. One such diarist was Elisha Hunt Rhodes, whose diary entries were compiled and published by his great-grandson in 1985 under the title of “All For The Union: The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes.”
Rhodes joined the Union Army in 1861, just after the fighting broke out, and served for the duration of the war in the Army of the Potomac. His diaries do not detail the events for Christmas of 1861, but on Christmas Day of 1862, he wrote that it was a quiet day. The soldiers were given a rare day off from drill, and Rhodes had the pleasure of a visit from his brother-in-law from Washington that day. Both of these Christmases were spent in camps located around Washington, D.C.
By the next year, Rhodes found himself near Brandy Station in northern Virginia. On Christmas morning, he took a ride on his new army horse, Kate, and later in the day, he threw a party—including a Christmas meal—for the other officers in his regiment. He wrote that they “tried to celebrate the day in a becoming manner,” though I’m certain that the limited resources of wartime cramped their style.
The Christmas of 1864 diary entry was written outside Petersburg, Virginia, from a humble hut, th Pennsylvania, and once they left, still others came by to serenade Rhodes with Christmas carols. Christmas Day arrived with little fanfare, and he ended up taking a ride, then watching soldiers haul logs in order to fortify their quarters. This diary entry states that the men recognized that Christmas was a commemoration of the Savior’s birth, but that “we have paid very little attention to it in a religious way.” I can only imagine the difficulty of keeping the true meaning alive after the horrors they’d seen.which he called home. The Union Army was laying siege to the city around Christmas, but there was little activity that week due to the cold weather. On Christmas Eve, Rhodes hosted the officers from the 49
That was Rhodes’ last Christmas in the Army. He was discharged soon after the war’s end in April 1865 and he returned to Rhode Island, where he lived out the remainder of his days.
The thing that impresses me about Rhodes’ humble wartime Christmas celebrations is that he thought of others, and they thought of him. Rather than withdrawing to lament his circumstances, he scrounged up supplies and prepared special meals for his friends. They, in turn, gave what they could by serenading him with songs of the season. Perhaps that is simply what wartime is—the “band of brothers” sticking together through the best and worst of times. But that is also the truest meaning of Christmas. Christ, our Savior, gave of Himself to come to earth in human form. He gave up his royal birthright in Heaven in order to be born a pauper in a stable, and he did it all to pay the debt of sin that we would never be able to repay. Perhaps Rhodes didn’t recognize that, in giving of himself, he was remembering the Savior in some small way.
It’s your turn. What way have you given of yourself at Christmas? Or, if you’d prefer, how do you celebrate the season?
Once again, Merry Christmas!
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.
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