The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has planned an event at Mt. Zion Church Historic Park from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday aimed at teaching participants about Civil War soldiers’ activities during the holidays. The authority issued the following press release about the event:
“Tomorrow is Christmas and we are not goin to drill. We are goin to keep Christmas and we are goin to have a little fun …” So wrote a soldier in a letter home to his mother in December of 1861. What was it like for soldiers, in both blue and gray, far from home and in the midst of war during the holiday season?
By the year 1860, most of the traditions we associate with Christmas were well established in America. Christmas trees had gained in popularity since Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, set up the first tree in Windsor Castle in 1841. Stockings hung by the chimney, Santa Claus and carolers were found in abundance. These are just a few of the many customs that Civil War soldiers tried to replicate in their camps.
Alas, their first Christmas was often far from merry. Private Robert A. Moore, of the 17th Mississippi – who had spent time in the Aldie area early in 1861 – wrote in his diary from Loudoun County, “This is Christmas & a very dull Christmas it has been to me. Had an egg-nog tonight but did not enjoy it very much as we had no ladies to share it with us.”
But not all was misery and despair. Entertainment could be found in many camps, snowball fights took place and, yes, even eggnog was available to many of the soldiers. Accounts from soldiers’ diaries of the time included entries such as: “The boys got hold of eggs and whiskey and had a big time …” and “… not a few buckets full of ‘egg nog’ was dispensed by the different messes …”
Games of football, or competitions of climbing a greased pole or catching greased pig were popular holiday past times. Many soldiers received packages from home, especially early in the war, and sometimes even a sleigh ride or a gala ball could be found.
Experience some of these holiday activities by joining Confederate troops for a Civil War Christmas from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9 at Mt. Zion Historic Park, 40309 John Mosby Highway, in Aldie.
Members of the 28th Virginia Regiment will celebrate the holiday with visitors as it was done in wartime. Experience the customs they brought in to camp with them from home, help to decorate their Christmas tree, and enjoy refreshments typical of those from the time period. Admission is free, but donations are gratefully accepted. For more information, contact Site Supervisor Tracy J. Gillespie at 703-327-9777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mt. Zion Historic Park is a property of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. For more information, visit www.nvrpa.org/park/mt_zion.
For more information about Civil War soldiers and their holiday customs in war time, read We Were Marching on Christmas Day: A History and Chronicle of Christmas During the Civil War, by Kevin Rawlings, from which some of the information in this article was found.