What Was Christmas Like During the Civil War?

Present-day Christmas conjures memories of snow, lighted trees, cinnamon, gifts, parties, and music. If we lived during the Civil War, what kinds of memories would we have? Would they be of family, food, warmth, and parties, or would they be of just trying to survive and stave off hunger? Would there be presents under the tree, or would we be happy just to be present with our loved ones. To learn a bit more about Christmas during the years 1861-1864, explore the items in the library and the Web sites listed below.

In the Library:

"Christmas Dinner for Lee's Army" by William M.E. Rachal. Virginia Cavalcade 1 (3)  Winter 1951. pp. 11-15.
A retelling of how the citizens of Richmond raised money and supplies to provide the Army of Northern Virginia with a Christmas dinner in 1864. Virginia Cavalcade is available in the library's Virginiana Room.

The Civil War Christmas Album by Philip Stern
What was Christmas like during the Civil War for the soldiers at the front and the families at home? How did everyone celebrate and what did they eat? This book captures the essence of that time for soldiers and civilians, comparing how the holiday was celebrated from the last antebellum Christmas (1860) to the first Christmas after the war (1865).

God Rest Ye Merry, Soldiers: A True Civil War Story by James McIvor
Retells a story of Christmas 1862 when Union and Confederate troops serenaded one another across on a cold night before a bloody battle. This volume also includes soldiers' letters as well as Christmas poems and songs of the period.

"Mosby's Merry Christmas: Roberta Pollock" in Stealing Secrets: How a Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles, and Altered the Course of the Civil War by H. Donald Winkler
John Singleton Mosby, also known as the Gray Ghost of the Confederacy, barely escaped capture with his fellow rangers on numerous occasions but was often able to do so because of sympathetic citizens.

On the Web:

Christmas North and South
A brief overview of Christmas traditions during the Civil War.

Thomas Nast illustration of Santa as a Union leaderChristmas During the Civil War
The Civil War Trust has a short, original article and links out to primary sources and information from museums.

Civil War Events in the Mid-Atlantic December 2011
Look here for candlelight tours, open houses, living history, lectures, and other special events.

A Florida Lad's Four Christmases
The diary entries of Robert Watson from Key West, Florida.

Letter of Talley Simpson
A letter from Talley Simpson to his sister, Anna Simpson, written December 25, 1862 from his camp near Fredericksburg in the aftermath of the battle.

Ought it not be a Merry Christmas?
Holiday observances during the Civil War.

Image Credit: Image courtesy of www.saint-nick.com.
Illustration by famed political cartoonist
Thomas Nast, featuring Santa as a Union Leader.