The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Civil War 

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 30

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Feb. 2d, 1864

The President has just ordered out 500,000 men.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 14 February, 2014, 8:00 AM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 29

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Jan. 2d. 1864

In regard to public events, the year has witnessed many calamities, through the rage of civil war; but God has sustained us, and it now seems as if the end, - and a righteous and permanent end, - was nigh. May He grant its speedy attainment!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 1:00 AM

Thanksgiving in War-time, 1862-1864

The life of a Civil War soldier was difficult even at the best of times, but holidays were particularly poignant. Many of the men were very young and away from home for the first time. Edward J. Bartlett of Concord, Mass. had been just 20 years old when he enlisted in August 1862. In his letters home in November of that year, written from New Bern, N.C., he described his first Thanksgiving as a soldier, the elaborate preparations, the decorations, and especially the food:

First we had oysters then turkey and chicken pie then plum pudding then apple raisin & coffee with plenty of good soft bread & butter. After we had all eaten a little too much, people usualy do on Thanksgiving days and we who had lived so long on hard tack did our best[,] we had a fine sing.

The meal was followed by songs (including “Auld Lang Syne”), speeches, toasts to President Lincoln and the troops, games, and a dance. Deep in hostile territory, the men were determined to celebrate “in the true home style.” Bartlett concluded that:

The whole day was very succesfull every thing went of[f] pleasently, not a thing went wrong. We were surprised that such a dinner could be got up in this God forsacken country. Twas pleasent to celebrate Thanksgiving in such a way.

The next year, his letters were more sober. Writing on 15 November 1863 from Nashville, Tenn., Bartlett reflected:

Our company Thansgiving in the barracks last year is a day that I can never forget. Six of those boys are now dead. Poor Hopkinson, the president, in his address, [said] “that he hoped the next year would see us all at our own family tables.” He died two months after.

Bartlett spent Thanksgiving 1864 stationed at Point Lookout, Md., guarding Confederate prisoners-of-war. He wrote to his sister Martha about his homesickness on the evening before the holiday:

Thankgiving eve. I sat over the fire, thinking of what you were doing at home, and what I had done on all the Thanksgiving eve’s, that I could remember.

The day itself, however, proved to be a rousing celebration that included music and dancing (“It was fun to see them kick thier heels about.”), horse races, sack races (“Such a roar of laughter I never heard before. Most of them were flat in the dirt before they had gone three steps.”), wheelbarrow races, a turkey shoot, greased-pole climbing, and greased-pig chases (“This made more sport than all the rest put together.”). Bartlett again, unsurprisingly, lingered over his description of the meal: oysters, turkey, duck, beef, chicken, vegetables, apple pie, pumpkin pie, mince pie, etc., finished off with cigars.

Edward J. Bartlett survived the Civil War and lived to 1914. To learn more about Bartlett, visit our Civil War Monthly Document feature for November 1863 or visit the MHS Library to read more of the papers in his collection.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 12:00 AM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 27

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Sunday, Nov. 8th

Of military affairs, the rumor is now, - said to be confirmed to-day, - of the taking of Fort Sumter by our forces. We hear of late sad accounts of the treatment of Union prisoners by the rebels, - their suffering from want of food, etc. Their own destitution may partly extenuate this wrong. God grant the end be soon, & the victory of Union & freedom!

Sunday, November 15th

The rumor mentioned in my last entry [the recapturing of Fort Sumter] was not corroborated; but successive advantages give good hope for the cause of Union and Freedom. We lament meanwhile, for the sufferings of our brave men, prisoners in Richmond, said to be almost starved. A plot has been revealed through the British authorities, formed by refugees in Canada, for attacks on our lake cities etc.

Monday Nov. 23d 1863

Last week occurred the Dedication of the Battle Cemetery at Gettysburg. An oration by Mr. Everett, & some noble words from President Lincoln.

Sunday Nov. 28th

Of public events, I must name with solemn gratitude the victory granted to the union arms near Chattanooga & Lookout Mountain. Hope is again encouraged that the end of this awful strife is near.



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 8 November, 2013, 1:00 AM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 26

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Sunday Oct. 4th, 1863

“Of public news, the battle near Chattanooga, & in which my relative Major Sidney Coolidge, and my friend S. Hall’s son Henry were wounded, - The favorable news from England, - and the arrival of a Russian fleet at New York, where it is warmly welcomed, are the chief items. The first is unfavorable, but on the whole, our country’s cause seems advancing, thanks be to God!”

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 1:00 AM

older posts