Christmas During the Civil War: On the Homefront

2047_1229winter20130134The following excerpt was taken from: L. Virginia French’s War Journal 1862-1865
Lucy Virginia Smith French was living in McMinnville, Tennessee during the war. Her journal tells the perspective of the Southern Homefront.  

Christmas 1862

“…On Tuesday evening Brooks Trezevant came to spend Christmas with us. He brought me as a Christmas gift 25 lbs of nice sugar, than which nothing could be more acceptable. On Wednesday having “made a rise” of a few dozen eggs (butter I could not get,) some turkies etc. I set to work cooking “Christmas goodies,” and succeeded “beyond my most sanguine expectations.” We had to be “Santa Clause” ourselves this season for 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, Jessie wanted to know why “the old fellows couldn’t go to his Quartermaster and get him a pass?” They seemed to enjoy their Christmas quite as well as usual however, notwithstanding that Santa Clause was blockaded. Indeed I often feel rebuked by the way the children take what is set before them never complaining or repining that it is not better, or that they must now do without this, that, and the other to which they have been accustomed…”

I loved hearing their explanation about Santa in her own words. I had found the “Santa and the blockade” fact during my research some time ago, so it was a treat to see it in an actual journal. I had incorporated this bit of information in the short story, The Hands and Feet of Christmas. You can read it here. You can also see my take on an 1860’s Christmas tree in last month’s post here.  

I also feel rebuked at the children’s ability to accept whatever is given to them without complaint. This is an area that I desperately need to grow in. 

Now, she goes on in her journal to talk about the gifts they exchanged that year and the activities. Keep reading to learn more about her experience…

“Mollie gave me a beautiful silver waiter for a Christmas gift, I got her a handsome pair of pins and cousin John a set of shirt buttons – gold and enamel. Mollie’s pins were gold and turquoise, I got Bouse 2 sets linen collar and sleeves – Ting and Bee white dresses – the Col. some new socks, and Brooks 6 pair of the same. (*Notice here that Brooks receives 6 pairs of socks. It pays to give a little sugar. 😉 ) To each of the servants I gave something, and so did Mollie…
On Christmas Eve we were “stormed” by some of the young folks, the members of the “dancing club” and they danced until about 2 o’clock. The children were delighted with the exhibition and sat in the dancing room, watching with all their eyes, until those sweet eyes closed of their own accord and they nearly dropped asleep in their little chairs. The Col. was showing the children to Capt. Butler, and had Jessie to play and sing for him. I was in the back room at the time. Soon the house became so still that I noticed it and went out to see what was the matter. I found all hands had quit dancing and adjourned to the other room to hear Jessie play. She acquitted herself very well indeed and was greatly complimented by her audience. I danced twice during the evening, once with the Col. and once with Capt. Butler. Sallie Rowan and Bettie Reed seemed to be the belles of the evening. We all noticed that Capt. Butler paid great attention to Sallie, and I could not help thinking what a beautiful couple they would make. Capt. B. I think very handsome, graceful, easy, and gentlemanly more so indeed than any man I have seen for years. He is really an elegant gentleman, and Sallie is a very lovely girl. I thought as I looked upon them both that night that I never had seen two persons whom I could more wish Walter and  Jessie to resemble, when they are grown, and this is the highest compliment I could pay either…”


4 thoughts on “Christmas During the Civil War: On the Homefront”

  1. The article was interesting. It’s amazing that they had anything to give for Christmas in times of war. Especially pretty nice things like shirt buttons & pins.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great point, Brenda! I wondered about that myself. There are a couple things I found out while I was poking around in this particular journal. First it’s still the earlier part of the war. And second, she’s somewhat wealthy so together it would allow a little more comfort than what we might have expected. I’m sorry that I didn’t think to include that info when I shared it.


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