Ever wonder how Christmas was spent by the Civil War soldiers or their families at home?  I know I sure did and having read the following letter from my husband's great grandfather, I decided to see what else I could find.  

Dec 27th 1864

Camp 4th Del Vol 3 Brg 2 Dev 3 Corps

Dear wife  I will send you a few lines stating how we are  I have bin down with the diarier for about a weak  it has bin the most sevear that I hav ever ha but I feel better to day & I hav washed all of my cloaths & I borrowed some cloathes while mine are drying  I cant write you mutch this time but if I keep wel I will try and write you a interesting leter some of those days  we hav got houses built up wonce more but Christmas was a very dul day hear  we have not had it yet but the war news is good  we have had a despatch from G Shairman  he has done more than we could of asked of him  I hope this will find you all wel  Samey is not very wel  he had a cold  we hav bin very mutch exposed but I dont want to write about   You can sea the reason why I hav not wrote  I send my love to all from you ever true and loving Husband

Levi McCormick

good by
send on your box
Jim sais we will have some soope

Excerpts from several letters I found online in reference to Christmas.  The source websites are listed at the end.  

On December 24, 1861, Captain Robert Goldthwaite Carter of the 22nd Mass. Vol. Inf. 4th U.S. Cavalry wrote: 

 "Christmas Eve, and I am on duty as officer of the day, but I am not on duty to-morrow.  As much as I desire to see you all, I would not leave my company alone...   ...I give my company a Christmas dinner to-morrow, consisting of turkey, oysters, pies, apples, etc.; no liquors."

* * * * *

On December 25, 1864, J. C. Williams, 14th Vermont Infantry

"This is Christmas, and my mind wanders back to that home made lonesome by my absence, while far away from the peace and quietude of civil life to undergo the hardships of camp, and may be the battlefield.  I think of the many lives that are endangered, and hope that the time will soon come when peace, with its innumerable blessings, shall once more restore our country to happiness and prosperity."

* * * * *

John H. Brinton, a Major and Surgeon U.S.V. wrote:

"[1861]  During the days preceding Christmas, I received some boxes from home, full of nice comfortable things, and the letter which came to me at that time, you may be sure, made me feel homesick.  On Christmas night, I left for St. Louis as my teeth were troubling me, and greatly in need of the services of a dentist.  I was fortunate in finding a good one, and in a day or two the necessary repairs were made."

* * * * *

From the Diary of An Enlisted Man, by Lawrence VanAlstyne
2nd Lieutenant, 90th United Sates Colored Infantry

December 24, 1863

"As to-morrow is Christmas we went out and made such purchases of good things as our purses would allow, and these we turned over to George and Henry, for safe keeping and for cooking on the morrow."

* * * * *

From the diary of Private Robert A. Moore, a Confederate soldier.

Tuesday, Dec 24th, 1861, camp near Swan's.

"This is Christmas Eve but seems but little like it to me"

Wednesday, Dec. 25th, 1861, camp near Swan's.

"This is Christmas & and very dull Christmas it has been to me.  Had an egg-nog to-night but did not enjoy it much as we had no ladies to share it with us."

* * * * *

From the diary of Robert Watson of Key West, Florida.

December 25, 1862 in Tampa, FL as an orderly sergeant of Co. K, 7th Florida Regt.

"Christmas day and I was in bed all day from chills and fever.  I ate nothing and as there is no liquor in the place of course I drank nothing."

December 25, 1863 at Dalton, Georgia after action at Chickamauga

"Christmas day and a very dull one but I find a tolerable good dinner.  I had one drink of whiskey in the morning.  There was some serenading last night but I took no part in it for I did not feel merry as my thoughts were of home..."

December 25, 1864 at Charleston, S.C. following his transfer to the Navy

"Christmas day.  Turned out at 6 AM, very cold.  We were ordered to hold ourselves in readiness to leave at moments warning...  ...This ends Christmas day.  The poorest I ever spent."

* * * * *

In a letter to his sister Anna Simpson, Tally Simpson wrote:

Dec. 25th

My dear sister,

"This is Christmas Day.  The sun shines feeble through a thin cloud, the air is mild and pleasant, a gentle breeze is making music through the leaves of the lofty pines that stand near our bivouac.  All is quiet and still and that very stillness recalls some sad and painful thoughts.  The day, one year ago, how many thousand families, gay and joyous, celebrating Merry Christmas, drinking health to absent members of their family and sending upon the wings of love and affection long, deep, and sincere wishes for their safe return to the loving ones at home, but today are clad in the deepest mourning in memory to some lost and loved member of their circle..."

"When will this war end?  Will another Christmas roll around and find us all wintering in camp?  Oh! That peace may soon be restored to our young but dearly beloved country and that we may all meet again in happiness."  

* * * * *

From the Civil War diary of General Josiah Gorgas - 1864:

"December 26th  A despondent Christmas has just passed, yet people contrived to eat hearty and good Christmas dinners.  The soldier unfortunately have not even meat, and have had none for several days.  The Commissary General has singlely failed in his duties; while there is plenty of food in Georgia there is none here.  There is no sufficient excuse for this.  The food must be brought here, and the means to so provided and organized.."

The next two letters, used with permission, come from a book, "Surry County Soldiers in the Civil War" by Hester Bartlett Jackson.

Camp near Dinwiddie Court House

December 26, 1864

Dear Martha,

Your letter came to hand a few days since and I am now seated to answer.  I have but little news times is very dull out here yesterday was the most quiet day we have had for some time.  The soldiers all look sad and lonely.  We have nothing spiritual or refreshing in camp.  Have not see one case of intoxification during our Christmas holiday.  All is calm on the lines in front of Petersburg and Richmond, except some little picket firing on Saturday night.  I have a splendid cain and am living quite comfortable at present.  Rations are rather scanty.

I have not heard from your Pa since he went to hospital at Staunton.  I saw him on the cars, he had measles, but was getting on fine, he told me he would write to me as soon as I wrote to him.  I have wrote but have not had time to get an answer.

Mat - I hope you are having a good time today taking Christmas.  I am passing it off writing my friends.  We had drill this morning.  What has become of Fannie?  I have not heard from her in some time.  You must offer my highest regards to all the girls. I hope I will get off home before the winter breaks.  I want to come home very bad this Christmas.  Tell "Tee" if I get to come home he and I will start up some Christmas--if it is only to go out and hunt rabbits and know there is a heap of squirrels and other wild game up there.  Robert you must be a smart boy while your Papa is gone.  How is my little namesake getting on?  Is he most as large as you "Tee"?  Polly, your brother Calvin is in my company well and harty, except he sometimes complaining with reumatism in his legs.  He seams to be pretty well satisfied for a soldier.  I hope you are well.  I must close as I have nothing worth notice on hand.  My love and best wishes to all the children.  Remember me kindly to all who make an inquery if there be any.  May heavens best blessings be always with you all.

Yours affectionatly,


Letter from Jasper Cockerham to His Niece

(Co A 28 Reg NC)
Camp of the 28th Regiment MVS
Wilmington, New Hanover County
December 18 AD 1861

Dear Mother,

I received a letter from you on the 14th which pleased me very much to know that you were all well and doing well.  I received a letter from Cousin Martin Whitaker* on the the 6th of December stating that you had been down to see Grandmother.  In your letter you had had some wood and pine hauled.  Jesse Stanley will let you have his oxen to haul with.  I do not want my oxen to be worked at all.  I got $33.00.  That is what I drew and I sent $30.00 home by Thomas Anthony.  Sarah, I want my oxen to be well wintered.  Do not let any person have any salt.  I will want it before you get any more.  I can send you plenty of paper if you cannot get it there.  Mother, I found you some tobacco to chew.  Smith Dobson is at home if you want to send me anything you can send it by him.  We have any amount of sweet potatoes here.  I have some that I brought from home to eat at Christmas.  Also some sweet cakes Mrs. Gilliam sent me.  John Cave has a discharge and has come home.  Sarah, Uncle Silas and Mrs. Harbour.  Write whether you have heard from Sian and Calvin and Nancy and Mark or not.  Write to Calvin and Nancy by all means.  Give Miss Susan Adeline and Sarah Stanley my best respect.  Oliver, when I write home, I also write to you and family.  Sarah, if William wants any money he must have it when he needs it.  William I would like to see you very much.  I will home sometime in the spring if I live.  Mary, you spoke about some persons not agreeing very well.  It has not suprised me at all.  Say but little about it.

Artha Bray

*Martin Whitaker is the son of Silas Whitaker.  Artha Bray's mother, Mary Whitaker Bray, is the sister of Silas.

Letter from Artha Bray, Jr.  To his widowed mother Mary Whitaker Bray.

On the home front, the homes were mostly decorated with different kinds of pines, holly, ivy and mistletoe.    While there were many families who spent lonely Christmases during the war, they still had a Christmas Tree which was the centerpiece for the home. Most trees were small and sat on a table.  The decorations were mostly home made, such as strings of dried fruit, popcorn, pine cones.  Colored paper, silver foil, as well as spun glass were popular choices for making decorations.  Santa brought gifts to the children.  Those gifts were home made, such as carved toys, cakes or fruits. 

Christmas carols were sung both at home and in the camps. Can you imagine how homesick the soldiers would become singing these songs.  Some of the most popular ones were "Silent Night," "Away in the Manger," "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," "Deck the Halls," and others.


Silent night Holy night 
All is calm all is bright 
'Round yon virgin Mother and Child 
Holy infant so tender and mild 
Sleep in heavenly peace 
Sleep in heavenly peace 

Silent night, holy night, 
Shepherds quake at the sight. 
Glories stream from heaven afar, 
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia; 
Christ the Savior is born; 
Christ the Savior is born. 

Silent night, holy night, 
Son of God, love's pure light. 
Radiant beams from Thy holy face, 
With the dawn of redeeming grace, 
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth; 
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.


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