December 24, 2011

Christmas in Camp Wood

Location: Munfordville, KY, USA
"Christmas Boxes in Camp" (HW 1/4/1862)
While far from the dinner tables and firesides of home, the Pennsylvanians encamped at Camp Wood, Munfordville, Kentucky, succeeded in celebrating some semblance of a Lancaster County Christmas in 1861. Pvt. Lewis Jones, who served as cook for Company H, erected one of the handful of Christmas trees to be found in Camp Wood and decorated it with hardtack and “speck,” which I believe is a Pennsylvania Dutch word for some sort of fatty meat (maybe army slab bacon?). Through December, the regiment had been receiving a steady stream of boxes from Lancaster via the Adams Express, and the pace picked up closer to Christmas with boxes full of food items such as fruit cakes, jellies, butter, wine, and cranberries, as well as clothing and other dry goods.

Earlier in December, Capt. William G. Kendrick remarked to his wife, “Boxes are coming every day for Captains in the Regiment.” Just after Christmas he added, “I got a large Box from the County with sausage Pudding pies, a Turkey, some chestnuts and other little knickknacks. There was a lot of things sent for me to distribute and all that had no name on it I kept for myself.” Unfortunately, the barrel of sauerkraut sent by the citizens of Lancaster, which I’ll post about soon, had not yet arrived, but it would be enjoyed a couple days later.

Another line officer, Lieut. John H. Druckenmiller of Company B, recorded the day’s events in his diary:
Morning fine and clear. Boys all in good humor on account of it being Christmas. Had Company Inspection at 9 o’clock. Colonel gave the men the privilege of going out of camp until 4 p.m. Had a regular Christmas dinner. Eat with Maj. Miles, Benedict, McCaskey, Blickensderfer, Lebkicker, Derby, & Rote. Had turkey pies which were sent by Mr. Blickensderfer. Had a Dress Parade at 4 1/2 p.m. Men all conducted themselves well today. Gen. Negley sent the Command Officers of the Regt. an invitation to spend the evening with him.
The best account, though, of Christmas in camp is a letter by the newly arrived Lieut. Ben Ober of Company K, 77th Pennsylvania, who spent some of his Christmas in the tents of his Lancaster friends with the 79th Pennsylvania. His description of the festivities, including a menu, begins in the letter’s fourth paragraph. From the January 1, 1862, Daily Evening Express:



In my last letter I was in error in stating that the Green River Railroad bridge had been so far repaired as to allow the cars to pass over. I made the statement upon hearsay. The bridge is about half a mile from our camp, but hid from view by the high bluffs which rise along the banks of the stream. I discovered the error after I had mailed my letter, and then it was too late to rectify it. Yesterday afternoon I paid a visit to the bridge, and found that there is much work yet to be done before it can be of any use. There is one span of about 70 feet yet to be put up, an it will require several weeks to do the work. And until that is done I think there will be no advance of the Union army to the South side of the river. In the destruction of this bridge—which by the way is one of the finest iron bridges west of Pittsburg, and which cost nearly two hundred thousand dollars—the rebel managers have exhibited consummate strategic ability. When Buckner discovered that he could not advance on Louisville without being whipped, he retreated across this bridge and blew it up. His allegation that the bridge was destroyed “by mistake” is all fudge, and was made no doubt to satisfy the more impetuous sons of chivalry rather than acknowledge his weakness. He knew, too, that it would be no easy matter for the Union army to advance in force without first repairing the bridge, by which time he could strongly entrench himself at Bowling Green, and call to his aid reinforcements. He has had time to do both, and is now doubtless well prepared to give us a pretty warm reception.

Since the skirmish of the 17th, the rebels have not made their appearance in the vicinity of the river. Our pickets now extend some five or six miles south of the river, though the main body is encamped on the North side. Several times within the last week flags of truce have reached our lines with communications for Gen. Johnson. A few days since the bearer of one of these, an officer in the rebel army, was conducted to Gen. Johnson, when they recognized each other as old classmates. After a cordial shaking of hands the Sesher addressed Gen. Johnson with : “Why, Johnson, what the h—l are you fellows coming down here to fight us for!” Gen J. replied, “We are fighting to maintain the government.” “Well, if that is all,” said Sesesh, “and our people could be made to believe it, there would be no more trouble, our soldiers would lay down their arms. It is the general belief that you are fighting to free the slaves.”

That’s just it. All the trouble is owing to the persistence of the rebel leaders and rebel newspapers in deluding the mass of Southern people into this absurd belief. I could relate some of the most incredible stories prevalent among the lower classes of South, in reference to the objects of the war and of the character of Northern institutions. The tales of Baron Munchausen would pale before them. But the leaders see the desperate condition of their cause, and hence resort to the most unscrupulous falsehoods to prolong the struggle and save their own necks a little longer. The remark of the Governor of Arkansas, in a recent message, that “if the cause of the South fails, we who hold big offices will be ruined,” is a fair illustration of the logic of the whole crew, from Jeff Davis down to Buckner.

Yesterday (Christmas) was very generally observed in the different camps, no duty being performed except the usual guard duty and a dress parade in the evening. The boys from the Old Keystone State kept the holiday, after the traditions of their fathers and mothers—in truly royal style. For several days before the advent of the festival day, the country for miles around was scoured in search of the patriarchal gobbler. If unsuccessful in securing such a prize, anything that wore feathers was made to answer. Some, however, of the 79th, more fortunate than the rest of us, were supplied from Lancaster County barn-yards, and of course enjoyed the feast with additional zest. The subscriber had the pleasure of dining, in company with a number of the officers of the 79th, at the invitation of Lieut. Frank Kurtz, of Company I, in the marquee thereof. If I held the pen of the “gay and incomparable” Jenkins between my fingers, I would undertake to describe the “spread” in detail; but being a plain narrator of fact, I must content myself with a simple repetition of the

Roast Turkey, with dressing and sauce.
Westphalia Ham, cold, sliced.
Lancaster County Butter.
Lancaster County Bread.
Cranberry Sauce.
Lancaster County Pickles.
Lancaster County Smoked Sausage.
Lancaster County Pound Cake, iced.
Coffee. (U. S.)
Lancaster County Loaf Cake.
Mince Pie.
English Cheese.
(The key of the wine cellar having been mislaid, the crystal water of the Green River was substitute.)

Now, no doubt, the perusal of this bill of fare will excite a smile on the face of more than one of your readers. But I must affirm that I never enjoyed a Christmas dinner with more zest than that of yesterday. All the substantials were present, if the et ceteras which usually grace the table at home on this festival were absent. The turkey was done to a turn, the ham was exquisite, and the mince pie would have tickled the palate of the most dainty epicure. The interior was prepared in Lancaster by the lady of one of the officers of Company I, and the frame-work constructed by the cook of the same company. I don’t exactly know whether these are the technical terms employed when making pies, but I think they are sufficiently comprehensive to be understood by the masculine reader: A lady of domestic habits would probably state the thing in a different way.

I spent an hour in the camp of the 79th, and found all hands enjoying themselves in the happiest manner possible under the circumstances. Some of the “boys,” with the traditions of “ye olden times” still fresh in their memories, put up Christmas trees in front of their quarters, and in lieu of the usual ornaments, profusely decorated them with army crackers and pieces of flitch. The trees bore a very distant resemblance to those which gladdened our hearts on Christmas morn, “when you and I were boys, dear Tom.”

In the 77th, the day was also happily spent. The usual rigid discipline was somewhat relaxed, and the men allowed more latitude than would be altogether prudent at all times. Many took occasion to call on their friends in the several encampments, and to visit the different points of interest in the neighborhood. But I am glad to say that none of them abused the privilege thus extended them. I passed through a number of encampments myself, but saw very little dissipation or disorder. In the evening our band serenaded a number of the officers, and made the night vocal with patriotic airs. The day throughout was pleasantly spent in the Division of the Cumberland. May all the brave hearts now here live to see many returns of the same festival!

The 77th is rapidly improving in discipline and drill, and will soon rank as one of the best regiments in the service. We have clothing in abundance, and the rations are both good and plentiful. There are over a hundred Lancasterians now in the regiment, the names of whom I will forward you shortly. To-morrow our regiment will cross to the South side of Green river on outpost duty.

The Rev. Chas. Steck, chaplain of the 79th, arrived a few days since and has assumed the discharge of his duties. He expresses himself much pleased with camp life.



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