1864 December 10: Thanksgiving with the 37th Wisconsin at Petersburg
A letter from Robert C. Eden, captain of Company B of the 37th Wisconsin Infantry, that appeared in the December 10, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal. Local soldier Samuel Harriman was colonel of the 37th.
Thanksgiving at Petersburg.
FROM CAPT. “BOB” EDEN.
PREBLE’S FARM, VA., Nov. 26, 1864.
FRIEND LUTE;—”I have piped unto you, but you have not danced;” I have written letters unto you, but received answers none.
We, the 37th, tarry yet among strangers in a strange land ; we dwelleth in tents, even pup tents, after the manner of the Ishmaelites ; though I guess their tents were of the Sibley pattern, for a pup tent would not have held all the wives of those days, and in a Bibley tent you can crowd in as many people as you please, only taking the precaution to tie the door, to keep them from “slopping over.”
On the 25th day of the current month a commissary wagon appeared in camp, bearing sundry barrels, which being safely delivered—at our camp, in their turn bore turkeys, chickens, pickles, apples, tobacco, &c., (especially the the latter)—a Thanksgiving Dinner, furnished to the whole Army of the Potomac by kind friends in the Eastern and Middle states.
We sat round, as the Commissary Sergeant unpacked the barrels, with full hearts and empty stomachs, the North wind, or some other tender feeling, making the water run from our eyes, and the eatables fetching it from our mouths.
It was a solemn sight, and I fell to thinking. Those lordly turkeys strutted defiantly upon the rich farms of Pennsylvania ; those chickens perhaps represented (sex being appropriate) the one little ewe lamb of some poor but generous soul, and tender hearts were wrung as fair hands twisted their necks ; those pickles were, may be, put up by the best and fairest of her sex among the valleys of Connecticut, and as she peeled the onions, and thought of the soldiers, peradventure she wept ; those apples were peeled and strung amid much hugging of buxom maidens, and frolic and —— kissing, no doubt prevailed at their preparations, and my feelings here overcoming me, and seeking our smallest drummer boy, I cursed him bitterly, and the child wept, and relieved me much.
At four P. M., our festal board groaned beneath the weight of delicacies as the shingle units which hold the hard tack boxes of which it was made dropped out on the floor, owing either to weight of the delicacies, or to the Assistant Surgeon’s insisting on sitting on it.
And we fell to and eat, and as we eat, we became filled heart and body ; in heart with gratitude to t he kind friends who furnished the feast, and in body with the good things they sent.
And we sat down and eat, and as we eat the sun set, and all the land was darkened, and we retired to our bunks and sleep that banishes care fell on us, and we dreamed of our grandmothers.
On Thursday, I paid a visit to Gen. BRAGG [Edward S. Bragg] and the different Wis. regiments in his command. I found many old familiar faces, and some, alas ! I missed.—This war, LUTE, severs many old ties ; we see a friend one day in the full enjoyment of health and strength, careless and happy. We return after a few days, and find that the dark shadow has fallen on him, and that he has passed away from us forever into the unknown land. War ! cruel war ! Homesteads deserted, family circles broken up, wives widowed, children orphaned, and aching hearts everywhere, are its fruits.
But the country is worth this, and more too, and the offerings of one generation will, let us hope, procure years of happiness for those yet to come. A grand future is yet before us, dim and indistinct in the far hereafter, but coming surely and certainly, with the blessing of Peace on a united people, and those inexhaustible resources which we now can hardly picture even in imagination, will become extended and developed. The war has been a hard and bitter lesson, but America will come forth out of the struggle, purified by the fiery test, odd delusions swept away, old errors banished, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Minnesota to the Gulf, the sun will rise and set upon a people, happy, prosperous, free and united.
We may not live to see that day, but like an old lady with the rheumatism, I “feel it in my bones;”—there’s going to be a change in the weather.
The above is an “episoad [sic] ;” we will return to our muttons, if you please.
I found Gen. BRAGG and the whole Fifth Corps in the condition you would express in three words—“virtuous and happy.” The Gen., sided by his aides, was superintending the roasting of a turkey in an oven constructed, secundum artem,¹ of clay and stones. I at once perceived the etymology of the word aide-de-camp. They aid Generals when they are about to move or de camp, baste the turkey while it is roasting, and, when not otherwise employed, run on errands during a fight.
After a while the turkey was pronounced fit to eat, and having analysed the contents of a black bottle and pronounced them commissary whiskey, we sat down and enjoyed an excellent dinner. Towards evening I returned homewards, following the line of works up to our Corps, which is situated about 3 miles from the Fifth, on the extreme left of our position. The night was extremely dark and the road very rough and broken, and “I have for my country fallen,” was my exclamation more than once before I reached our camp.
You will probably suggest that this letter has a good deal of turkey about it. May be it has, but I can’t help it. The whole army for the last three days has talked turkey and eat turkey ; it now “walks turkey,” and shortly expects to gobble JEFF. DAVIS [Jefferson Davis]. So mote it be !
Col. HARRIMAN has left us on a twenty days furlough, business affairs imperatively demanding his presence at home. I have been trying to find a pretext for a similar leave of absence, but having no business and no home, cannot do it.
But I have written about as much nonsense as you will care to print, or your subscribers to read, and as I do not believe in making the Press an engine of oppression, I will cease from inflicting.
Ever yours, .R. C. E.
1. A Latin phrase meaning “according to the art, or according to the accepted practice of a profession or trade.”