View Full Version : Christmas in Virginia, 1861

08-16-2004, 08:09 PM
MEMPHIS DAILY APPEAL, January 6, 1862, p. 3, c. 1

From Leesburg.

Leesburg, December 27, 1861.

Editors Appeal: If a stranger from the North or South was to honor our camps with his presence, and to daily note the philosophic indifference manifested for all change of season, climate and the thousand and one petty annoyances to which all are more or less subjected in the monotonous routine of camp and military life, they could not but arrive at the conclusion that military service had hardened us into a bona fide regiment of stoics, among whom Diogenes and his immortal washing tub, would not be considered worthy to associate. Whether lying out in several inches of water, or travelling and fighting on the shadow, rather than the substance of daily rations—in sunshine or storm, by running stream, or on the bleak, frost-covered mountain side, blanketless and supperless—these youth, reared in luxury and wealth, seem utterly indifferent to every change and reckless of the fortunes of to-morrow. Simple in their tastes and desires indifferent to hardships and fatigue, they withstand every inclemency of weather and laugh good naturedly at all the real or imagined short comings of those asses, the quartermasters and commissaries. Give them their beef and bread, and plenty of fire wood—pay them once in three or four months, and not forget to give them plenty of rye—(coffee, of course I mean,) and I guarantee that Messieurs les Yankees will think twice before assailing them in the tented field. While I now write, preparations are going on for "winter quarters," and the sounds of axes and falling timber are resounding through the woods on every hand. Game cocks tied to the tent by one leg, are crowing defiantly at all directions—chicken fights are progressing in every sunny spot, while violins and circles of dancers are scattered in every warm and dry location, while others roar out bachanalian and war-like strains from every tent. It is Christmas! Far away from friends and home, these brave and simple-hearted volunteers make the welkin ring with their boisterous mirth—huge logs are crackling and roaring on camp fires—pots are boiling, and bubbling, and hissing for egg-nog, beef and pork are frying, and bread is baking—the regimental band has been imbibing, and is now playing away with great gusto, while some have formed setts for quadrilles to be danced by the fire light. It is Christmas! Groups are reading the newspaper and deciding the fate and progress of the war officers, and men are hobnobbing over the social glass; negroes are busy and gaseous over a pyramid of pots and pans, while their ear-splitting laughter and incessant rolling of the eyes gives positive assurance that they have made acquaintance with something stronger than water. Boxes, and bales, and trunks, and parcels have come from "home"—coats, and blankets, and boots, and hats are hawked about, and swapped, and sold, and tossed about, while long letters from the "Governor," and short ones from "sweethearts" are read, and praised, and laughed at, while "pay day" coming on the morrow, cheers are given for the quartermaster, and stentorian groans for the inartistic or tardy cash. It is Christmas! Friends with mysterious bundles and parcels, hid under the coat, arrive from town, and dive therewith into the depth and recesses of the tent, and hide them under the straw—friends with turkeys, and fowl, and a hundred other things, meet together and do hungry justice to the same, while songs and stories go the rounds of tents and camps, and everybody laughs, and everybody is "jolly" except the poor and unfortunate frost-covered sentinel, who, with muffled form and a very red nose, walks his lonely rounds and grins at what he cannot then enjoy. It is Christmas time, and even the lean, lank, solemn looking parson unbends in dignity for the occasion, and while forming one of a circle round the blazing logs, cup in hand, essays to joke, but being "coughed down" for the attempt, winks ominously at the egg-nog, and apostrophises largely on the vanity of things generally. The colonel, too, and the lieutenant, and the shrill-toned, brisk and soldierly adjutant smoke their Havanas on the portico of "headquarters" with solemn dignity, while the French band-master electrifies a knot of youngsters with all sorts of "impossibilities" on the trombone. It is Christmas time, and coming but once a year none care for expenses. The Yankees are the last persons thought of—cock-fighting and egg-nog, and story-telling are the prime order of things, just now, and despite all the parson says, and notwithstanding the "starchiness" of full-blown officials, rye and "egg fruit" are decidedly in the ascendant, and more than that has no baneful effect, since it simply tends to revive old associations and strengthen those bonds of brotherhood which has indissolubly linked us for ever to the fortunes of our country.

But speaking of "presents from home," I would hazard a few words of advice to those who have sent things to the seat of war "for the use of the sick and wounded." To such kind friends I would simply say "keep all such things at home," but if sent at all let them be consigned to the company direct, as nine hundred and ninety-nine chances to one they never reach the palate of those for whom intended. Strange as the confession is, 'tis nevertheless true, that of all the nice things, preserves, etc., which thoughtful friends have sent us for the sick and wounded, I have never yet seen a glass of wine, or a particle of preserves, or pickle served out to the sick in all my experience or observation at the hospitals; yet, on the contrary, I have seen petty officers of all grades enjoying themselves hugely over what was intended for others, and treating their patients with no more solicitude and care than if they were so many cattle. Hence I say, let all who have any thing to send have them directed to the company or regiment direct, and let captains or commissaries tend to their distribution as common or individual stores, but by no means let them be handled by those drones of hungry officials who are the annoyance, burden and pest of nearly all our regiments—men, usually, who covet and seek any petty paltry office to escape the battle field, and ride rough-shod over their betters in the ranks. Time will not permit me to enlarge upon the peculations of "the Army Worm," but rest assured I have not been blind to their manoeuvres, nor forgotten the shameless shifts resorted to by them, for self-aggrandizement, or petty oppression. Let me not mar the Christmas festival with strictures, but wishing you the compliments of the season in a bumper, believe me, etc.

T. E. C.

[Thomas E. Coffee]

Vicki Betts