The season of Christmas usually is a joyous time, a time to be with family and friends. But the boys of blue and the boys of grey who fought the American Civil War found they were away from the hearthsides and sides of those they loved dear during the holidays. It was oft during the Christmas season that thoughts turned homewards; it was oft during the Christmas season the box from home thoughtfully packed with goodies, delicacies, gifts and items needed for the colder weather were most appreciated.
The following poem was composed during the Christmas bivouac of the Army of Northern Virginia in December, 1862 following the Battle of Fredericksburg by William Gordon McCabe, a classmate of Wille Pegram at the University of Virginia. Pegram, also known as "the Gallant Pegram" from the Battle of Fredericksburg, was later killed by an artillery burst. McCabe also composed a very moving tribute to his fallen friend and commander.
CHRISTMAS NIGHT OF '62 by William Gordon McCabe (1841-1920)
The wintry blast goes wailing by, The snow is falling overhead; I hear the lonely sentry's tread, And distant watch-fires light the sky.
Dim forms go flitting through the gloom; The soldiers cluster round the blaze To talk of other Christmas days, And softly speak of home and home.
My sabre swinging overhead Gleams in the watch-fire's fitful glow, While fiercely drives the blinding snow, And memory leads me to the dead.
My thoughts go wandering to and fro, Vibrating between the Now and Then; I see the low-browed home again, The old hall wreathed with mistletoe.
And sweetly from the far-off years Comes borne the laughter faint and low, The voices of the Long Ago! My eyes are wet with tender tears.
I feel again the mother-kiss, I see again the glad surprise That lightened up the tranquil eyes And brimmed them o'er with tears of bliss,
As, rushing from the old hall-door, She fondly clasped her wayward boy-- Her face all radiant with the joy She felt to see him home once more.
My sabre swinging on the bough Gleams in the watch-fire's fitful glow, While fiercely drives the blinding snow Aslant upon my saddened brow.
Those cherished faces all are gone! Asleep within the quiet graves Where lies the snow in drifting waves,-- And I am sitting here alone.
There's not a comrade here to-night But knows that loved ones far away On bended knee this night will pray: "God bring our darling from the fight."
But there are none to wish me back, For me no yearning prayers arise. The lips are mute and closed the eyes-- My home is in the bivouac.
World events in the last twenty-months have reminded us the price of liberty is sometimes painful. How painful it must have been for the boys of grey and blue to be so far away from their loved ones at home. How painful it must have been for the loved ones at home to see a vacant chair as they celebrated the birth of the Savior and the turning of the New Year.
(Our discussion of the parts of the Battle of Antietam, the Emancipation Proclamation and the horrific Battle of Fredericksburg will resume shortly. Best wishes to all for the New Year.)
(Thanks to Ms. Tonia Joyce Smith, a friend of the columnist, who found the poem by McCabe on the Internet. Ms. Smith is a fellow member of the columnist in the Civil War Discussion Group, one of the many Yahoo! Groups.)