The week between Christmas and New Year’s was a very lonely one for Civil War soldiers away from home. Those who lived close enough were allowed to return home during the winter, but for the ones who were too far away, the winter was spent in camps constructed of dirt and logs with cracker barrel chimneys. Besides their loved ones, the topic on most every soldier’s mind was food. Victuals became especially scarce for Confederate soldiers, and those who were in Virginia suffered more profoundly because the state and its occupants had been depleted of crops and livestock early on in the war.
On Christmas Day, some regiments were treated to egg nog - and I mean the real stuff - made from eggs, cream, and nutmeg. Because whiskey was considered a daily ration, and used for medicinal purposes, it was also supplied for the yuletide drink, although most soldiers were only able to partake in a shot or two at most. Besides holiday cheer, the men enjoyed special treats when the army could supply them, or partook in treats sent to them in packages from home. These included brandy-soaked fruitcakes, cookies, gingerbread, and rock candy. They also enjoyed oysters, which were far more plentiful back then, but still considered a delicacy.
Loneliness was felt most profoundly on Christmas, as is apparent by the following letter written by Elisha Hunt Rhodes, who served the Union army with the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry: “Christmas December 25, 1862. We have passed a very quiet day and except that we have been excused from drill, the day has been like others … In the evening … we had a sing. I should like to be at home on this Christmas night.”