Tuesday, November 27, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Thursday, Nov. 28, 1861

“A Wartime Thanksgiving”

By 1861, the last Thursday in November has become a popular American tradition, but not one universally observed. For many, it is, unofficially, a day for family and feasting, as well as religious observances (but not for Christmas shopping). However, not every state government recognizes it, nor has it become an annual Federal holiday.

This year, however, there is an urge to express gratitude for America’s freedoms and the service of its soldiers. Twenty mostly Northern states, including Ohio (others named below), issue formal declarations of Thanksgiving. In the nation’s capital, earlier this week, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the day a local holiday for Federal government workers. The President invites guests to dinner at the White House. Among the guests: an old friend from Illinois, Joshua F. Speed.

In western Virginia, Thanksgiving is proclaimed by the pro-Union opposition government at Wheeling, which is guiding the region to statehood and independence from Virginia. Maintaining the fiction that it is the only legitimate government for the entire state, Wheeling proclaims Thanksgiving “for the first time in the history of this Commonwealth.”

Thanksgiving is observed in many military camps (Illustrated above: Civil War in Camp, 1861” by wartime sketch artist Alfred Waud). Turkey is the favored dish, although many other foods are consumed. In some camps there is trooping of the colors and a Thanksgiving religious service, followed by soldiers dancing, singing, and playing games (including hopscotch!).

However, the day’s bounty is spread unevenly throughout the army. Tucked away in the remote mountains of western Virginia, Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes of the 23rd Ohio notes in his diary that “it is rainy and gloomy. [The] men are growing uneasy and dissatisfied.” With food scarce in his camp and no observance of the holiday, Hayes wistfully notes, “Thanksgiving at home. Dear boys and wife! I hope they are enjoying a happy dinner at home.”

The day is a better one for the 75th Ohio, which is still in Ohio, in the process of being organized at Camp John Mclean, near Cincinnati. Oscar D. Ladley, 23-year-old son of a minister in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and second sergeant in Company G of the 75th, writes his family, “We had a Thanksgiving dinner given by the ladies at Lackland, we had turkey, roast pig, pig’s feet, pies, cakes, cider and everything nice, we done it justice and we have enough left for supper.”

Food is the main event today, for it is “so muddy that we cannot drill, so we just lay in our tents, read, eat and sleep….There is nothing of interest here.”

>>> In addition to Ohio, according to The New York Times, these states issued proclamations of Thanksgiving for November 28: Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas [?], Vermont, Wisconsin.

In other news today, the Confederate Congress “admits Missouri to the Confederacy,” an act with no real consequence, for the state remains in the Union. The act applies only to an opposition “government” created in the state by secessionists, but which never gains ascendency.

Your suggestions, comments, and questions are always welcome. Address the author: Ohioan@bloodtearsandglory.com

For more information about the author’s book, go to http://www.orangefrazer.com/btg

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