November 26, 1863
I take some time to write and inform you that I am well as are all of the boys from home.
No skirmishing today except between the graybacks and fleas. Harper and Boyd are after each other hammer and tong as well. It is hard to say which is worse. At least the boys draw little blood and usually retreat after a spell. I can't say the same of the vermin. They are always in line of battle, charging and pawing for the best patch of ground, moving to and fro across the field. Only a little water and fire, strategically applied, deters them. Their casualties mount and they beat a hasty retreat until the fire and water are removed. Then they are back, with reinforcements and renewed vigor. I tell you the field is tinged crimson in places.
Today we are observing the day of thanksgiving as called for by Mr. Lincoln. The camp is still, hushed. The boys speak only in quiet tones, and now Boyd and Harper are in retreat, a handshake seals their truce. It is not melancholy that produces the quiet, for a smile plays around the lips of each man. They are not broad, but faint little curls around the corners, and each eye holds a far off gaze with small embers of happiness being kindled there, produced by fond recollections of home. It all seems long ago now.
The supper fires are all going now, and the smiles the boys wear are broadening. The smell of bacon, beef, and biscuits waft across the camp. Rations are plentiful. We have all learned to cook for ourselves but it is a poor substitute for the feast prepared by the loving hands at home. At least we suffer no ill effect from it. My table will have food foraged from the country. Schneider brought in a dozen squirrels and Boyd claims to have shot the deer Harper brought in, who says otherwise. I being a corporal was called upon to settle the matter. After inspecting the carcass, three bullet holes were in evidence but the boys were to busy arguing to notice. I declared someone else had shot the deer, perhaps a Johnny Reb. They seemed a bit shaken by that prospect. Boyd and Harper in fact had shot it but only as the deer was about to lay down and die. They went along with the verdict. Since I was the judge presiding, I also declared that they should take part of the meat to your brother Jimmy's mess as “punishment” for disturbing our day of thanksgiving with their bickering. Boyd, ever the fractious one, huffily declared that we did not need all of it anyway! The mess rang with laughter, including Boyds! The punishment benefited our mess as Jimmy sent back some tobacco, canned peaches, and an apple pie he had procured from a Secessh house. I felt bad for that household but I know Jimmy. He would not have left that family destitute. We ate our fill, and the boys are resting now. Boyd and Harper are still honoring their truce, and the company is content. All remains quiet. Our smiles continue but the fires in our eyes, once blazing, now burn low. The far away countenance resumes its place on each face. No, it is not sadness that places it there. Each man is lost in his own memory and contemplating what they are thankful for. And they are homesick, as I am homesick. We all long for the day peace is restored and we can return home but not a man in the company is willing to return until their duty is fully performed.
I must tell you what I am thankful for before I close. I am thankful for you, dear wife, and the home you keep ready for my return. I am thankful that you are in fine health and spirits which bodes well for our child you now carry inside you. I am thankful for the innumerable blessings that God has bestowed on us, a Kind Providence has seen fit to keep me this side of the sod, and has favored me with good health. His mercy has kept most of the boys in the company in the same order. We do mourn the loss of a few comrades but trust in His wisdom about such affairs. The assurance of His salvation and the abiding knowledge that those gone from us will rise at the final trumpets call is something we are all thankful for. I am most thankful to The Most High that holds the future in His hands and in His infinite wisdom and mercy we will all return home soon.
I must close now. It is nearing evening and the company has been assigned picket duty and I must see to details. Do not fret about your husband or your brother. We are watching out for each other. The skirmishing has broken out again but not in our front. I think the fleas are mounting a counter attack. Write soon.
Your faithful Husband,
Thanksgiving Day, 1863, probably did not produce many letters like this. The armies in the east and the west were rather busy for so late in the year. Grant and Sherman had their hands full just prior to November 26 while fighting Bragg in Tennessee at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge and then pursuing him into Georgia. Burnside was also having difficulty with Longstreet at Knoxville. In the east, Mead was involved in crossing the Rapidan River and kicking off the Mine Run campaign.
It is unlikely that very many soldiers in the primary theaters of the war would have had time to “observe a day of thanksgiving as called for by Mr. Lincoln.” It is possible they mentioned the day, in passing, in letters home or in their diaries. This letter is a simple flight of my own fancy. It combines the staple fare of a typical soldier letter home: camp life, thoughts of home, family, and duty to the country. Thanksgiving days were common in the United States from its very beginning. The soldiers would have had fond memories of those days to reflect upon. Since many of them had never been more than a few miles from home, it strikes me that a national Thanksgiving Day in camp would evoke a lot of emotion, reflection, and produce the “faint smile” and “far away gaze”. It has been the same all throughout our history. Men and women have been far from home serving the country we all love. For those men and women past, present, and future I am thankful.
For the Most High God and the assurance of his salvation I am, above all things, truly thankful.
I hope you enjoyed my letter even if it might not be totally accurate historically. I also hope it reminds you to be thankful today and every day.
Thanks for stopping by! I am always thankful for that!