Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas During Wartime

Soldiers who were (and are) subjected to being away from home at Christmas suffered a particular kind of homesickness, different from the usual melancholy they usually felt. Because most soldiers who fought in the Civil War were Christians, the celebration of Christmas was a very special time for them. As Victorians, they believed that Christmas should be celebrated as a happy time of year. But with all the death surrounding them, it must have been nearly impossible to feel that way.

The Battle of Fredericksburg took place a little over a week before Christmas, on December 13, 1862. This battle was especially sad, because the citizens of Fredericksburg were forced out of their homes. Some had no recourse but to camp in the woods in subzero temperatures. The Union forces invaded the town, looted, destroyed, and burned much of it, and shelled it as well. They then marched up to Marye's Heights, where Confederate troops were waiting for them. Because the Rebels were at an advantage, the Yankees were forced to march up the hill through an open field, thus making them sitting ducks. Needless to say, thousands were slaughtered.

When the townsfolk were finally able to return to their homes, they found only destruction. It is difficult to imagine this kind of sorrow for many of us today. Somehow, they managed to carry on through the terrible sadness that engulfed them. It is interesting to note that, during a lull in the battle, one soldier found the compassion to come to the aid of his enemies. His name was Sergeant Richard Kirkland, a Confederate from South Carolina. Without the protection of the white flag of truce, he braved the open field to provide water and blankets to the wounded and dying Union soldiers. Because of his bravery, the "Angel of Marye's Heights" is immortalized with a statue at the Fredericksburg National Military Park.

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