Monday, December 24, 2007

ON THIS DAY: Wednesday, Dec. 25, 1861

Merry Christmas!

It is Christmas in a divided America, 1861, and everyone tries to make the best of it, some more successfully than others. (Pictured: "The Soldier's dream of Home," by Currier & Ives, ca. 1861-65.)

Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes writes Lucy from Camp Union, Fayetteville, western Virginia: “A merry Christmas to you and the little stranger (I suppose he is a stranger to you no longer)—and to all at home. At this home-happiness time I think of you constantly.”

Hayes dines in the sergeants’ mess of one of the companies of the 23rd Ohio, sharing in “an eighteen-pound turkey, chickens, pies, pudding, doughnuts, cake, cheese, butter, coffee, and milk, all abundant and of good quality.” Later, in his own quarters, Hayes entertains a dozen officers with oysters and crackers, and retires at 11 p.m.

Sgt. Oscar D. Ladley, stuck with the 75th Ohio while it fills its ranks at Camp John Mclean near Cincinnati, yearns to go home in Yellow Springs but lacks the money for train fare. “I don’t like [camp life] nor never did,” he grumbles, never mentioning Christmas in his letter home. “It may look romantic to an observer, but to one who has to go through with all the hardships connected with it, it will make him think home in spite of himself.”

Cpl. Robert H. Caldwell and the 21st Ohio in Kentucky are given Christmas Day as a holiday, free to visit brother soldiers in neighboring camps or explore local curiosities. Caldwell and another soldier elect to explore a large cave about a mile from camp. They spent most of the day investigating the cave’s many rooms, sometimes crawling on their hands and knees, returning to camp “well satisfied” with their excursion.

Another corporal in the 21st, William Shanks, records in his diary, “We have a good dinner and I go out and take a walk for the first time.”

THE BIG PICTURE: Lincoln’s Cabinet spends four hours, from 10 1.m. to 2 p.m., discussing what to do about the Trent affair. That evening, President Lincoln entertains a number of guests for Christmas dinner, advising one of them afterwards that the Trent affair has been settled satisfactorily.

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