December 2000 - Along the Rappahannock River


December 13, 1862

By James L. Walker

NOTE: The following story is one that Jim loves to read into the American Civil War History Special Interest Group in the Golden Gates Genealogy Forum, Golden Gates room, Thursday nights, 11 PM ET (on AOL only, KEYWORD: Roots). It is a special story to all of us and just seems to get better and better with each reading.

* * * * * * * * * *

It has been documented in many, many places, from diaries and letters of Civil War Veterans, to newspaper stories, about a tradition that occurred over and over in Federal and Confederate camps at the end of the day. At twilight, the regimental bands would begin their evening concerts. When the armies were bivouacked close to each other, the bands would play of an evening, and sometimes they would compete with each other or they would alternate playing different songs back and forth. Toward the end of their concerts the music would become tender and soothing calling up memories of home, family and better days.

One such occasion, I would like to tell about. It's twilight in Virginia, along the Rappahannock River. The Union Army of about 100,000 is camped on one side of the river and the Confederate Army of 70,000 is camped on the other. It's bitter cold that night on the 13th of December, 1862. A few weeks earlier they had fought the Battle of Fredericksburg, at that time in the conflict, the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil. Twelve thousand Federals and 5,000 Confederates had been killed or wounded. The bands from both armies had been playing that night and they were coming to the close of their concerts. That night they had alternated back and forth, the music becoming more and more tender, bringing tears and longing to the hearts of the soldiers. Finally one Federal band had started one of the Civil War's favorite tunes. The music floated over the river while men and boys were writing letters home. The moon was out and it's light shown down on thousands of campfires sending streams of smoke up into the cold air. The music was so light, and haunting. No sooner had the Federal band started than a Confederate band joined in. One at a time, other regimental bands on both sides joined in, adding their "voice" to the music. Pens were put down, card games stopped; all talk and sounds of cleanup and preparing for bed stopped except for the music. Finally every regimental band had joined in to meld the music together. Still not a sound from 170,000 souls as they sat motionless with their frosty breath and the campfire smoke rising into the moonlit sky and listening to an "unearthly" song........

"Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble there's no place like home!
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there,
Which, seek through the world, is ne'er met with elsewhere;
Home! Home! sweet, sweet, Home!
There's no place like Home!
There's no place like Home."

The music slowly began to fade, until the last note just drifted off into the night, fainter and fainter, until...... nothing. Suddenly from that awesome silence, both sides "Roared" up with heart rending shouts, and started cheering, jumping up and down, and throwing their hats in the air. In the words of one witness, Frank Mixson, Private, 1st South Carolina Volunteers; "Had there not been a river between them, the two armies would have met face to face, shaken hands, and ended the war on that spot.

The song; "Home Sweet Home" by John Howard Payne. Thank you Ernest L. Abel for your article in the May 1996 edition of "America's Civil War" magazine that reminded me of this incredible incident.

Jimmy Walker


* * * * * * * * * *

" ...we have got houses built up wonce more but Chrismas was a very dul day hear..." Levi McCormick, 4th Delaware - December 27, 1864.

In this season of Peace, Love and giving thanks, I want to wish all of you the Happiest of Holidays. I want to thank all my readers for the success the column has had. I also want to thank my Guest Authors, Tom Gladwell, Frank Crawford and Jimmy Walker for their expertise, guidance and support. Plus a huge thank you to the folks who have shared their ancestor's letters and stories with me and, in turn, with you. I can't believe this is my 12th monthly column here on StateGenSites and I've enjoyed writing or compiling each and everyone of them. I hope the next year will be as enjoyable. If you have any suggestions for future columns, or if you would like to be a guest author, please let me know. Also, I am always looking for Trivia Questions and Answers!!!. You can email me at BitsOBlueNGray@aol.com

Return to the Archive