Letters from the Civil War
Long before their were phones and voice mail, or email and the
internet, people wrote letters to share information. When Christmas
came in December 1861, many soliders wrote home letters detailing how
they spent the holiday away from their families. Reading excerpts from
soldier's letters, Dave Davenport, a Civil War re-enactor and Vice
President of the Hackettstown Historical Society provided members with
some insight on how these brave men were faring far away
from their homes and loved ones.
The Confederate soldiers had been very successful
in many of the small battles and skirmishes they were involved in
during the first six months of the war, and in the winter of 1861,
morale was still high. Their letters still reflected some of that
enthusiastic optimism in support of their cause and lifestyle. For the
common solider, the war, in the beginning, was an adventure, but as the
days and months wore on, the day to day duties became repetitive and
tedious, especially at Christmas. Robert Gould Shaw wrote to his mother
in Massachusetts about the monotony of guard duty from camp in
The boredom and dullness of Christmas in the army
was a common lament among soldiers in their letters. Many wrote about
being homesick as the novelty of the "adventure" began to wane.
General Robert E. Lee penned a Christmas letter to
his daughter, filled with parental advice, reminding her to restrict
her wants to only necessities. In a separate letter to his wife Mary,
Lee spoke of his appreciation for their Christmases past.
Everything was not doom and gloom that Christmas.
Entertainment also abounded in the camps. Charles M. Scott sent a
letter to his wife Amy, describing how the regiment would be having
fun, not drilling, on Christmas day. Events included a greased pig
chase, and jumping and footrace competitions for prize money. James M.
Williams wrote to his wife of how he had enjoyed two glasses of eggnog
Drunkenness was a disruptive problem amongst the
common soliders on a daily basis, and with the anticipation of eggnog,
complete with whiskey for Christmas, it was nearly epidemic. Food and
whiskey were often requested in letters, and delivery express boxes
from home were always a welcomed sight.
Nearly 150 years after that first Civil War
Christmas, there are once again American soldiers away from their
families for the holidays, writing letters home. If you know one, send
them a box of holiday cheer. If you don't, simply send your warm
thoughts for the season and a safe return home.
Happy holidays and best wishes for the new year
from the Hackettstown Historical Society.