A Civil War Christmas: Santa Claus on the battlefield

Hat tip to Ethan Rafuse at Civil Warriors for sharing this interesting story yesterday.

A Civil War Christmas: Santa Claus on the battlefield.

VIENNA, Va., December 18, 2012 —  It’s difficult to write about the Civil War at Christmas time, since during that time of war, battles and skirmishes, most folks just did not sit down and commit their thoughts of Yuletide observances to paper and ink, that is if they had ink.  But Christmas was celebrated to some extent both in the North and in the South.

However, you can never talk of the Civil War and Christmas without bringing up the name of Thomas Nast, who was a newspaper cartoonist and a rabid Northerner. It was Nast to whom we owe the word-picture and the actual drawing of Santa Claus, which flowed from his prolific pen.

He published his first Christmas-related cartoon in “Harper’s Weekly” during Christmas,1863, showing a bewhiskered gent passing out gifts to Union soldiers. A couple of fairly young looking boys are pictured on the floor, opening boxes.

Antietam: 150 years ago today

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg, if you prefer) in 1862. It represents the bloodiest one-day battle in American history with over 23,000 casualties on both sides. Ethan Rafuse provides a wonderful post on this subject, complete with the opening to the film Glory (1989), which began with this battle.

He also noted the letter from Lt Col. Wilder Dwight, who died from wounds at the battle and the letter he wrote was featured in the documentary Death and the Civil War, which I reviewed earlier.

This battle was significant for several reasons. One was that it allowed Lincoln to justify the Emancipation Proclamation, as the tactical draw served as a psychological and strategic victory for the Union, aiding in a small way in keeping the European powers out of the conflict, though this was largely accomplished by this point in 1862.

Also, it was a major setback for Robert E. Lee, as his invasion of the North failed. It represented a series of missed opportunities and blunders that could have ended the war sooner, had McClellan acted more decisively upon finding Lee’s Special Order 191, which was his battle plan, or had McClellan pursued and destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia after the battle.

Though, 150 years old, this battle is still an important event in our history, worthy of continuing staff rides by military educational programs around the country. One of the better books on the battle that is both scholarly and great for a general audience is James McPherson’s Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, The Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War (2002), as it discusses the larger significance of the battle as well as how it relates to the concept of freedom at the time. As we approach the anniversaries of some of the most important battles of the war, it will be notable to see how we reflect and what historians write and do to understand the importance of these events against our modern society.

Welcome to our newest writer

I would like to welcome Walter Coffey, author and blogger, who has his own Civil War blog as well as a general history blog. He will be doing some guest posting, largely focusing on anniversaries, as his latest book chronicles the war on a monthly basis. If you are looking for a month-by-month look at the war, consider his new book The Civil War Months. Welcome to the blog Walter!

Infographic on the battles of the Civil War

Civil War Trust put together an interesting and fairly well-done infographic that they are making available to post on websites. I thought I would share it here for your use.

Civil War Trust - Battles of the Civil War

Brought to you by The Civil War Trust

Lecture opportunity at Carlisle, PA

Ethan Rafuse, professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and blogger at Civil Warriors is delivering a lecture as part of the 44th Annual Lecture Series “Perspectives in Military History.” The lecture is entitled “We Always Understood Each Other So Well:  McClellan, Lee and the War in the East.” If you are in the area of Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania on July 18, I urge you to take in his lecture.

A record shattered on visitors

While visiting my folks in Illinois, I have been quiet on posting, though I do have some pictures, but that’s for another post. First, thanks to my good friend Dr. William Young on his first post on this blog. Beyond that wonderful item, I learned that I shattered the record for the busiest day by over 700 hits. Apparently, Father’s Day was the day to visit the site and specifically my post on the Medal of Honor during the war. Thank you readers for that wonderful surprise and fluke. I am still at a loss as to how it happened, but am not complaining. I will get a post up in the next day or so recounting some of the reenacting adventures I had this last month. On another note, please remember that this is the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which warrants a link to this cool song.

Welcome to our newest contributor

I would like to welcome friend and fellow reenactor Den Bolda to the writing staff of this blog. Den brings a lot of great knowledge to the table in the realm of reenacting and material culture related to the war. Look for postings from Den in the near future and give him a hearty welcome.