Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christmas and the Civil War

A footnote from history by Stephanie Grace Whitson

"The more things change, the more they stay the same." The saying resonates when we consider ways people devised to cope with difficult times during the Civil War.

Making Do

In her 1861 journal, Virginian Lucy Virginia Smith French (pictured at left)
 wrote, "we had to be 'Santa Clause' ourselves this season ... cakes, apples and a little candy, and some picture books were all that could be procured for the children. We had to tell them Santa Clause couldn't get thro' the pickets." 

Have you had to "make do" during a particularly lean Christmas? How did you do it? 

Serving Others

For President and Mrs. Lincoln, Christmas, 1862, would have been especially difficult. It was the first Christmas without young Willie, who'd died the year before. He was eleven years old. The Lincolns marked this Christmas by visiting the wounded in Washington hospitals. 

Do you know anyone whose made it through a difficult holiday by serving others? 

Writing It Out

On December 1, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received a telegram telling him that his son had been severely wounded during the Mine Run Campaign. By Christmas Day that year, with eighteen-year-old Charley convalescing at home (and doctors disagreeing on his prognosis as to whether he would be paralyzed or fully recover), Longfellow penned a poem we can definitely relate to in 2015, when "peace on earth" seems a distant dream and "good will to men" a rare commodity.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet, the words repeat
of peace on earth, good will to men.
And though how, as the day had come,
the belfries of all Christendom
had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Till ringing, singing on its way,
the world revolved from night to day.
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Them from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound, the carols drowned
of peace on earth, good will to men.
It was as if the earthquake rent
the hearthstones of a continent,
And made forlorn the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair, I bowed my head.
"There is no peace on earth," I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep.
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.



A blessed Christmas to you and yours.

May we all press on, renewing our faith and hope in the God who is not dead ... who does not asleep ... and who will one day bring lasting peace on earth through Jesus, our Wonderful Counselor, and the true Prince of Peace.


  1. I just read Jennifer Chiaverini's book Christmas Bells and it is about this poem written by H W Longfellow about the Civil War. It is Historical Fiction and very good with tons of historical facts in it. I also am attending GriefShare, through my church, and they suggested that for Christmas we could make a Memory Tree for our lost loved ones. I lost my husband to cancer this year and he is with Jesus, his Savior now. The family were all asked to write a memory of John on a gift tag, and I've hung them on my memory tree. Underneath it I have placed momentoes from nour many travels. I have found this tree very helpful in dealing with my grief. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. What a profound way to pay tribute to your husband, Sharon. I am so sorry for your loss. I well remember the first Christmas after my husband died. Those "firsts" are never easy ... and honestly this 14th after his homegoing has its moments as well. This Christmas I am making ornaments from some of his ties for the children. May God be present in a special way for you and your family this Christmas, and may you know the comfort that only He can give.

  2. I remember this poem more as a song we sometimes sing in church. We lost my father-in-law on Dec 20th, many years ago, and then my bil on Dec. 26th. The first few Christmases after were hard, but the pain does fade. This year, we have lots to celebrate. My niece nearly died in September giving birth to her daughter. Now mother and baby are super healthy. Lots to celebrate. Merry Christmas!

  3. Merry Christmas to you too, Vickie ... so great to have good news to be thankful for even in the midst of those losses. Blessings to you and yours.