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Monday, May 2, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 246: 'On a bed of snow'

Thursday, December 30, 2010

During the Civil War, or for that matter in any war, thoughts of soldiers far away were often of family, home and hearth. This was especially true during the holiday seasons of Christmas and New Year's and these thoughts were often expressed in the soldier's diaries and letters to their loved ones. Also, the poetry of the day often can and did reflect the intangible thoughts of the soldiers of the Blue and Gray and it did not matter if the poem was written by a soldier or civilian. The following poems and excerpt from the diary of Lt. Charles W. Porter of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry describe what a Christmas was like during the Civil War and are as meaningful today because we are a nation at war.

"Thursday, Dec. 25, 1862,

near Prairie Grove, Ark.

As today is Christmas, our thoughts was naturally turned homeward to our Mother's good Christmas dinners of roast turkey and other nice eatables to numerous to mention here. But, we tried to substitute a dinner in my mess by getting up a "chicken pot pie" and "warm biscuits" and "butter" and for supper "apple dumplings" which was set to us by our cook Willis A. Hawes. I think we praised the cook and done our repasts justice. Some of the boys are card playing and other amusements. I spent a portion of the day writing in my journal. Today rainy."

"The Bivouac in the Snow"

Halt! The march is over,

Day is almost done,

Loose the cumbrous knapsack,

Drop the heavy gun,

Chilled and wet and weary,

Wander to and fro,

Seeking wood to kindle,

Fires a midst the snow.

Round the bright blaze gather,

Heed not sleet and cold,

Ye are Spartan soldiers,

Stout and brave and bold,

Never Xerxian army,

Yet subdued a foe,

Who but asked a blanket,

On a Bed of Snow.

Shivering midst the darkness,

Christian men are found,

There devoutly kneeling,

On the frozen ground --

Pleading for their country,

In its hour of woe,

For the soldiers marching

Shoeless through the snow.

Lost in heavy slumbers,

Free from toil and strife,

Dreaming of their dear ones --

Home and Child and Wife,

Tentless they are lying,

While the fires bum low,

Lying in their blankets,

Midst December's Snow."

This poem was written by Margaret Junkin Preston who lived in Philadelphia, Pa., during the Civil War. Her northern residence did not prevent her from being a "Southerner" and when the Civil War started she sided with the Confederacy which very much upset her Father, Rev. Dr. George Junkin who was the president of Washington College.

"Christmas Night of '62"

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.

My thoughts go wandering to and fro,

Vibrating twixt the Now and Then;

I see the low browed home again,

The old hall wreathed with mistletoe.

And sweetly from the far off years

Comes borne the laughter faint and low,

The voices of the Long Ago!

My eyes are wet with tender tears.

There's not a comrade here tonight,

But knows that loved ones far away,

On bended knees this night will pray,

"God bring our darling home from the fight."

But there are none to wish me back,

For me no yearning prayers arise.

The lips of mine are mute and closed the eyes,

My home is in the bivouac."

This poem was by William Gordon McCabe who was born in Richmond, Va., and left his studies to join the Confederate Army as a private in the Army of Northern Virginia. Eventually he was promoted to captain and was the author of several books after the war.

During this holiday season, let's take time and say thank you for our blessings and a prayer or two to keep safe all of our service men and women who are in harm's way throughout the world and their families for doing what they do to let us be at home and hearth as the war went and goes on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches