Holidays - Christmas Feed

The Eggnog Riot

By Carol S. Funck, U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center

Many holiday parties and celebrations at this time of year include social drinking of home-made eggnog and other spirituous beverages. Most participants do so responsibly and enjoyably, but serious situations can arise from too much of the "good stuff," as some West Point Cadets found out in 1826.

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Christmas 1864


150 years ago, our Nation had witnessed nearly 4 years of human sacrifice and carnage in our American Civil War. Both sides had grown tired of killing each other. Over one-half million American lives had been sacrificed from both sides, North and South, but the end of war was finally in sight.

Nationally-known artist Thomas Nast had been commissioned to create this drawing for the Christmas 1864 issue of Harper’s Weekly magazine. It was entitled, “The Union Christmas Dinner … Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men”. It was an attempt to reach out and extend the olive branch of peace, and bring the nation back together during a most opportune time … this Holy time, when all men should humbly put down their differences, and come together in honor of their Savior.

In the upper left of the drawing, Lady Victory extends the olive branch to a humbled soldier, with a Church visible in the background.

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Thomas Nast's Christmas 1863

Thomas Nast Early "Santa Claus" Illustration

Thomas Nast is perhaps most famous for creating the popular image of Santa Claus. Throughout his career, Nast created many illustrations of Santa, but here, for your consideration, is one of his earliest images of Santa.

The illustration is titled, "Christmas 1863" with banners reading "The Furlough" and "Christmas Morning". The image is a leaf from the original 1863 Christmas edition of Harper's Weekly.

This illustration is classic Nast. It has a number of captivating inset images. On the left is an image of a little children, sound asleep in bed. Then we see Santa coming from the fireplace, with a bag of gifts on his shoulder. This image represents the original presentation of Santa as we know him today.

The center image shows a Civil War Soldier, on furlough, coming home for Christmas. The family is ecstatic, and is celebrating his return with Hugs and Kisses. To the right, the Children can be seen opening their presents. Stockings can be seen hanging on the fireplace.

This is a heartwarming image, and one that brings back memories of Christmas's past.

Thomas Nast's Original Santa Claus

Thomas Nast's Original Civil War "Santa Claus In Camp" Print

This is Thomas Nast's earliest published picture of Santa Claus. Nast is generally credited with creating our popular image of Santa. This illustration appeared in the January 3, 1863 edition of Harper's Weekly, and shows Santa Claus visiting a Civil War Camp. In the background, a sign can be seen that reads "Welcome Santa Claus." The illustration shows Santa handing out gifts to Children and Soldiers. One soldier receives a new pair of socks, which would no doubt be one of the most wonderful things a soldier of the time could receive. Santa is pictured sitting on his sleigh, which is being pulled by reindeer. Santa is pictured with a long white beard, a furry hat, collar and belt. We can see that many of our modern perceptions of Santa Claus are demonstrated in the 140 year old print.

Perhaps most interesting about this print is the special gift in Santa's hand. Santa is holding a dancing puppet of none-other-than Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. The likeness to Jefferson Davis is unmistakable. Even more interesting, Davis appears to have the string tied around his neck, so Santa appears to by Lynching Jefferson Davis! This is a classic Thomas Nast illustration. This is Nast's first published picture of Santa Claus, and we can see many of our present images of Santa demonstrated in this Civil War illustration.


The Christmas pickle

Pickle German Christmas
The Christmas pickle is a Christmas tradition in the United States. A decoration in the shape of a pickle is hidden on a Christmas tree, with the finder receiving either a reward or good fortune for the following year. There are a number of different origin stories attributed to the tradition, but it was primarily thought to have originated in Germany. This has since been disproved and is now thought to be an American tradition from the late 19th century.

One suggested origin has been that the tradition came from Camp Sumter during the American Civil War. The Bavarian-born Private John C. Lower had enlisted in the 103rd Pennsylvania Infantry, but was captured in April 1864 and taken to the prison camp. As the story is told, on Christmas Eve he begged a guard for a pickle while starving. The guard provided the pickle, which Lower later credited for saving his life. After returning to his family, he began a tradition of hiding a pickle on their Christmas tree each year. "

Source: Wiki

Christmas 1862 ~ 2012


The 9th annual Civil War Christmas Ball sponsored by the National Parks Department at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.  The event is held at the old courthouse in St. Louis.  The NPS brings in a dance master and period band.   There were about 150 people there this year.  Most of the people who come are Yankees, though a few of us die-hard Confederates managed to sneak through the lines to attend.  There were three sessions of dancing and lots of period fun. 

Christmas Night of '62



The following is a poem by Confederate soldier William Gordon McCabe giving his thoughts on Christmas Night 1862.

The wintry blast goes wailing by,
the snow is falling overhead;
I hear the lonely sentry's tread,
and distant watch-fires light the sky.

Dim forms go flitting through the gloom;
The soldiers cluster round the blaze
To talk of other Christmas days,
And softly speak of home and home

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The first Christmas of the Civil War was not very merry, on either side

Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus with an illustration for the January 3, 1863 issue of Harper's Weekly The first Santa Claus appeared as a small part of a large illustration titled "A Christmas Furlough" in which Nast set aside his regular news and political coverage to do a Santa Claus drawing. This Santa was a man dressed up handing out gifts to Union soldiers. Copyright note: the creator of this work died in 1902.

No merry Christmas in 1861

When the fathers and older brothers marched off to war in the spring of 1861, most left behind families filled with patriotic pride. But as Christmas drew near, their families were filled with sadness at the thought of the holiday without them.

At least they didn’t have to worry about losing their loved ones in battle. Not much fighting went on during the winter, so the armies stayed in camp, drilling and trying to keep warm. Mothers and children packed Christmas boxes to send them. Apples, baked goods and other treats to share — maybe even a ham or a pound of butter! — and knit socks and gloves.

On Christmas Day, most children went to church with their mothers and received small presents. This early in the war, there was enough food for a special Christmas dinner, too. People sang carols and tried to be cheerful. But in army camps on both sides, it was an ordinary winter day: drilling, writing letters and bringing in firewood. In the evening, though, the cooks prepared a special meal, and often there was singing as well as races and games.

This first wartime Christmas was not a joyous one, but those that followed it would be much worse.

The Washington Post

Christmas in the Confederate White House

Residence of Jefferson Davis

The wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote this article describing how the Davis family spent the Christmas of 1864 in the Confederate White House. It was published in The New York World, December 13, 1896 and has since been reprinted often. This excerpt was obtained via the website "The American Civil War, 1861-1865."  and on The Civil War Trust

By Varina Davis

...Rice, flour, molasses and tiny pieces of meat, most of them sent to the President's wife anonymously to be distributed to the poor, had all be weighed and issued, and the playtime of the family began, but like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky came the information that the orphans at the Episcopalian home had been promised a Christmas tree and the toys, candy and cakes must be provided, as well as one pretty prize for the most orderly girl among the orphans.

The kind-hearted confectioner was interviewed by our committee of managers, and he promised a certain amount of his simpler kinds of candy, which he sold easily a dollar and a half a pound, but he drew the line at cornucopias to hold it, or sugared fruits to hang on the tree, and all the other vestiges of Christmas creations which had lain on his hands for years.

The ladies dispersed in anxious squads of toy-hunters, and each one turned over the store of her children's treasures for a contribution to the orphans' tree, my little ones rushed over the great house looking up their treasure: eyeless dolls, three-legged horses, tops with the upper peg broken off, rubber tops, monkeys with all the squeak gone silent and all the ruck of children's toys that gather in a nursery closet.

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