The wintry blast goes wailing by,
the snow is falling overhead;
I hear the lonely sentry’s tread,
and distant watch-fires light the sky.
Dim forms go flitting through the gloom;
The soldiers cluster round the blaze
To talk of other Christmas days,
And softly speak of home and home
My saber swinging overhead,
gleams in the watch-fire’s fitful glow,
while fiercely drives the blinding snow,
and memory leads me to the dead.
My thoughts go wandering to and fro,
vibrating ‘twixt the Now and Then;
I see the low-browed home again,
the old hall wreathed in mistletoe.
And sweetly from the far off years
comes borne the laughter faint and low,
the voices of the Long Ago!
My eyes are wet with tender tears.
I feel again the mother kiss,
I see again the glad surprise
That lighted up the tranquil eyes
And brimmed them o’er with tears of bliss
As, rushing from the old hall-door,
She fondly clasped her wayward boy –
Her face all radiant with they joy
She felt to see him home once more.
My saber swinging on the bough
Gleams in the watch-fire’s fitful glow,
while fiercely drives the blinding snow
aslant upon my saddened brow.
Those cherished faces are all gone!
Asleep within the quiet graves
where lies the snow in drifting waves, –
And I am sitting here alone.
There’s not a comrade here tonight
but knows that loved ones far away
on bended knees this night will pray:
“God bring our darling from the fight.”
But there are none to wish me back,
for me no yearning prayers arise
the lips are mute and closed the eyes –
My home is in the bivouac.
— A poem written by 21-year-old Confederate Soldier William Gordon McCabe on Christmas Night outside Fredericksburg, Virginia
U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes, near Falmouth, Virginia, writes in his diary that “We have passed a very quiet day and except that we have been excused from drill, the day has been like others. My brother-in-law, Colville D. Brown came today from Washington and made me a call. In the evening Lt. Col. Goff of our Regiment and other officers came to my tent and we had a sing. I should like to be at home on this Christmas night.” This is his second Christmas in the army; this year he does not feel as homesick and alone. He is now a seasoned veteran, even if he is just a volunteer. This is his life.
In Washington, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary spend the day visiting wounded soldiers in the nearby hospitals while their children Robert and Tad stay at home.
Out West in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Confederate President Jefferson Davis is almost 1,000 miles away from his wife Varina and their children in Richmond, Virginia. As a man who once served with high honors in the Mexican-American war, he misses his family but also feels at home surrounded by military men in the field.
In Fredericksburg, Virginia, C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee writes an emotional letter to his wife Mary. He begins by thanking God for the recent successes of the Confederate army, but laments “what a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world!“
Confederate President Jefferson Davis is expected to arrive in the new capital city of Richmond this morning. He will be staying at the Spotswood Hotel on Main Street.
From Fort Monroe, Virginia, U.S. General Benjamin Butler writes to General Winfield Scott about the issue of slaves. Butler has learned that Virginia citizens are using their male slaves in the Virginian batteries and are preparing to send the slave women & children south. Butler is receiving entire families of slaves who have escaped and are looking for protection. He has the idea to employ as many of them as he can, and will also insure proper food and care for all, keeping track of all expenses in the process. He feels that the number of people coming to his Fort could be very great, and looks at it not only as a political question, but a humanitarian one, as to whether this course of action is right. He has no doubt that it is the right thing to do on a human level, but is looking for input from Scott and Secretary of War Simon Cameron on the political course of action.
The body of Elmer Ellsworth is in New York City, where it will lay in City Hall for several days so people can pay their respects. The New York Times informs its readers on the state of his remains, as U.S. President Lincoln had him embalmed in Washington at the offer of Dr. Thomas Holmes. Embalming was a fairly new practice in the country, but it will become very popular during the course of the war. Based on the Time’s description, it appears that the art of embalming had not yet been perfected:
“The remains [of Ellsworth] were encased in a metallic coffin, the lid of which was so arranged that through a glass cover the face and breast could be seen. The body was dressed in the Zouave uniform of Colonel Ellsworth’s corps, but it was generally remarked, did not bear that natural look so often seen in cases of rapid death. The livid paleness of the features contrasted strongly with the ruddy glow of health that always characterized the Colonel during his lifetime. The marked features and the firm expression of the mouth were, however, sufficient to remind the beholder of what once was Colonel Ellsworth.”
The last few days have been difficult for the Lincoln family as they grieve for their young friend Elmer Ellsworth, but it must have improved their spirits when their oldest son Robert comes home for a vacation from Harvard.
On the corner of Washington Avenue and Swanson Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon has its opening today. The Saloon will provide free food, drink and comfortable lodging for soldiers heading into active field service, and also has a separate hospital to care for the sick and wounded. Local men and a large number of women will help keep it in operation during the course of the war, and many similar models will appear in cities across the country.
U.S. Brigadier General William Harney is getting concerned that his peace agreement with Missouri Major General Sterling Price is not the great treaty he thought it was. Not even a week has passed and Harney has just received a telegraph from Springfield, Missouri that rebel forces are being organized in Arkansas just near the Missouri border. Harney sends a telegraph to Price informing him of the situation, stating that “a contingency like this was not looked for” and he will obviously have to take care of matters in an effort to protect the state from a potential invasion.
The state of Arkansas is officially admitted into the Confederate States of America.
Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson is not only maneuvering to support the Confederacy, but he’s looking for their help in gaining control of his state out of the hands of Union volunteers that are set on keeping control. His Lieutenant Governor Thomas Reynolds is traveling to meet with the Confederate government to seek their assistance. In addition, there is discussion of getting delegates together from the previous state convention to re-discuss the topic of secession.
In Washington City, Horatio Nelson Taft writes in his diary about the perfect cool weather for the soldiers, who are constantly drilling throughout the city.
Two days ago President Lincoln and several key advisers had agreed to remove General William Harney in Missouri, as he is believed to have Southern sympathies. It was decided that Frank Blair, Jr. would have the final say on whether Harney would be relieved of duty. Lincoln writes Blair today; he is having second thoughts:
My Dear Sir.
We have a good deal of anxiety here about St. Louis. I understand an order has gone from the War Department to you, to be delivered or withheld in your discretion, relieving Gen. Harney from his command. I was not quite satisfied with the order when it was made, though on the whole I thought it best to make it; but since then I have become more doubtful of its propriety. I do not write now to countermand it; but to say I wish you would withhold it, unless in your judgement the necessity to the contrary is very urgent.
There are several reasons for this. We better have him a friend than an enemy. It will dissatisfy a good many who otherwise would be quiet. More than all, we first relieved him, then restored him, & now if we relieve him again, the public will ask, “why all this vacillation.”
Still if, in your judgment, it is indispensable let it be so.
Yours very truly A Lincoln
While Lincoln attends an evening concert at the White House put on by the Marine Band, his wife Mary is with their oldest son Robert in Boston for the weekend.
Sarah Emma Edmonds – going under the alias of Frank Thompson – had already enlisted for 90 days of military service. Today she makes another commitment, this time to join the Flint Union Greys of the Second Michigan, which is the first three year regiment to assemble in Michigan. Though she is beardless and thin, she manages to pass a glance-over physical examination.
The First Michigan arrives in Washington City and is taken to the White House for review of President Lincoln, led by Lewis Cass. They are the first Western troops to arrive in the capital city.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis signs a bill to bring North Carolina into the Confederacy if its citizens vote to secede and support the Confederate Constitution. A convention is scheduled to be held in North Carolina in three days.
A Proclamation for Neutrality by Principal Chief John Ross is given to the Cherokee people, who currently reside in Oklahoma Territory. For today they are neutral; it will not stay this way for long.
Mary Lincoln continues sight seeing in New York City with her cousin Elizabeth Todd Grimsley and her new (and questionable) friend from Washington, William S. Wood. At 5pm Mary boards a ship for Boston; she is going to visit her oldest son, Robert, who is attending school at Harvard.
Newly appointed U.S. Major General Benjamin Butler leaves for Fort Monroe off the coast of Virginia. He is now the head of the Department of Virginia, North and South Carolina. John G. Nicolay, one of President Lincoln’s private secretaries, goes along on the trip.
In St. Louis, William T. Sherman still has not received any official word on his offer to serve in a leadership position in the U.S. military. He writes to his father-in-law, Thomas Ewing Sr. that “I have made up my mind that if the Government wants me they will ask me. This does not seem to me a time to seek for place.” Sherman expresses that he still does not think the Lincoln administration is up to the task of the current situation, especially since gaining control over a country so extensive in size seems almost impossible to him given what has been occurring around him in Missouri. He notes that if he’s offered a “proper post in the army”, he wants his family to be in the best place possible. He wants them to be safe, which could mean he would send his wife Ellen and their children to Lancaster, Ohio to stay with Ewing. Ellen, who was very close to her family, would no doubt be in favor of this.
As the preparations for war continue, several military officer appointments to Brigadier General are made today by U.S. President Lincoln:
President Lincoln’s long-time friend Edward Baker is also offered a commission as a Brigadier General of Volunteers, but he declines. For now he is content in recruiting volunteers and forming regiments.
Over 2,000 miles from Washington City, the legislature in California votes to support the Union. Currently there are several U.S. military personnel who are from the North and South. Some have already requested transfers back East so they can support the war effort, and others have put in resignation requests so they can go back to their homes in the South and support the Confederate effort there. And then there are others that have no clue what they are going to do, or what side they will take. They are torn between a country they have vowed to serve and protect and their home state where their families, friends and memories are.