Christmas is a time of reflection for many people; I know that I see so many things going on in the world today that make me thankful for what I have. During the Civil War there was not much to celebrate: brother was fighting against brother, the men were away from their families, and hardship was felt throughout. However, even with the war, Christmas was a time of introspection and merriment. Since I have just finished the last of the Burgwyn Diaries, I thought it fitting to share three diary entries that William H.S. Burgwyn made on Christmas day in the years 1862, 1863 and 1864. Together they represent some of the different ways that Christmas was observed during the period of the Civil War.
The year was 1862 William and his men had been at the Battle of Fredericksburg from December 11-15, 1862. On December 24th he writes “Wednesday, 24 Was again excused by the Dr. on account of my bowels The Regt was inspected to day at 2 PM by the Division Inspector Capt Reverland Weather warm at during night it rained slightly Early in the day Weather fair.“ On Christmas day he is still sick and writes “Thursday, 25 Dull gloomy X Mas weather early misty + cloudy + cloudy almost all day Weather warmer then I ever knew it to be at X mas.”
The following year 1863, William had been working on fortifications in and around Weldon, N.C., which is near his family plantation, Thornbury. This allowed him to spend his spare time at home. In his diary, he takes note of the difference in this Christmas from his last in the entry for December 24th and 25th. “Thursday 24th At home all day + in the comming assisted my Mother in decking the house in Xmas style. Mother received a letter from Sister saying send for them toGarys tomorrow + next day. Weather cold about freezing. Friday 25 Accompanied my Mother + two youngest brothers to church today + for the first time attended the communion table was much disappointed in Father not coming to- day. The negros had to break in upon their Xmas holidays to get ice but they will receive another day to make up for it. How differently I spent this Xmas from last + the only thing that saddened the day was that my poor brother Harry had been killed + could not be with us as was hoped last Xmas. Weather moderate + fair.”
In 1864, William wrote in his diary while he was a prisoner of war at FortDelaware. On December 25th he writes “I can not but contrast my situation on this Xmas + that of last + while I am depressed at being in prison + in complete power of my ruthless + bloody enemies I can not but be thankful + return thanks to Almighty God that he has preserved me to be even here through the numberless dangers I have passed through between this last Xmas. Had Devine Service by Revd Mr. Kinsolving in Dev. 25 never was I more impressed with our beautiful prayers in the prayer book than I was today. Had double rations of bread. Weather beautiful + God seems to smile on us tho man seems to frown. “
These and other Civil War materials are available through the North Carolina Digital Collections and, if you want to see other archival materials related to Christmas, please visit our exhibit Carolina Christmas.
I and all of us here at the State Archives hope that you have a happy holiday.