As a tribute to the millions of participants of the American Civil War (a.k.a. The War of the Rebellion, The War Between the States, etc.) I am passing along the words of a few participants as they reflected on their own new years in a nation at war with itself. As you read this you might discover how much the technology of war has changed but how little the experience of conflict has been altered by time.
"Welcome the new year, and may it be one of less bloodshed and strife but one of great events, is, I hope, the prayer of every true American as well as my own. It is a pleasant day, but it is somewhat lonesome to me to be shut up in the smoky and muddy streets of Nashville. The ground is slightly covered with snow, the ground is frozen beneath. The warm sun overhead has caused it to disappear, and in its stead we have mud. It is not much of a holiday here, and there seems to be but little doing in the narrow and crowded streets but the usual military and commercial business. For me, I have passed the time cleverly, but not pleasantly. I am feeling better tonight." Sgt. Hamlin Alexander Coe 19th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, January 1, 1865 written in Nashville, Tenn.
"Camp life is about as dull as a soldier need wish it to be. A cold, drizzling rainstorm is just now upon us, the pattering rain drops are making merry music on the canvass overhead, while not a few of them manage to find their way inside of our little shanty. At every crack, under the eaves, and all around the water per lists in obtruding its unwelcome presence in our midst. Some of these impertinent raindrops, with a presumption quite unpardonable, pan no attention to the roof of our house, but rush through and from inside as if aware of the superior comfort to be found near our fire, which they have nearly put out. The consequence of all this is that our floor of mother earth is becoming very very muddy and slippery; our blankets, our beds and our knapsacks are becoming soaking wet, and everything in the tent is beginning to present a horrible united appearance. Notwithstanding all these unfavorable circumstances, I have secured myself a positions on my bunk with two knapsacks for a seat, and in the dryest corner of the tent I could find, and here, regardless of surrounding events, I have determined to pen you a few lines, at all hazards." Pvt. Wilbur Fisk 2nd Vermont Infantry Regiment, December 31, 1864 written near Brandy Station, Virginia.
"Barring guard and fatigue duty and the deprivation of female society, our time passes very pleasantly visiting friends in other companies and regiments and playing checkers, chess and cards. Whist and euchre are the games most indulged in, but poker has many devotees, and is the favorite with a couple of messes of our company which occupy cabins on opposite sides of the company street and at the lower end of it. Each givers a peculiar but well-recognized notice of the readiness for a game. When the supper dishes are washed and put away Dick S____ steps outside and cries in his deep bass voice "Char-c-o-a-l! char-c-o-a-l! char-c-o-a-l! in exact imitation of the venders of that commodity in large cities. Following him, or perhaps preceding him, the musical tenor of Walter B_____ is heard singing the first stanza of an old song known as "Old Mother Flanagan," and ten minutes after either call the dining-table of the mess from which it proceeds is surrounded by as many players as can find room to site and the cash to venture. No great amount of money is ever won or lost, for our amateur gamblers have not yet acquired the nerve of professionals, and never go beyond "cent ante."
The dailies of Richmond each us every evening, and from them we learn much that otherwise would remain concealed from us. The great cry and hope is for recognition of the Southern Confederacy by France and England. Every item, argument, and expression on that subject is listened to with an avidity that give the lie to the loud-mouthed declarations of our fire-eaters, that they are thirsting for Yankee gore, and would be ashamed to go home without a smell of the powder of battle. It may convict me of cowardice, by nevertheless I frankly confess that I would be glad to get home without a single test or memento of conflict. I am strictly bucolic in temperament, you see; not in the least warlike. Satisfied that
"The chance of war is equal,
And the slayer oft is slain,"
and, warned by that truth, I have no desire to experience
"The stern joy which warriors feel,
In foemen worthy of their steel."
Still, I propose to take chances with my comrades, and, if there be fighting, do my duty to my country as conscientiously as my legs will permit." J.B. Polley Hood's Texas Brigade, January 3, 1862 written near Dumfries, Virginia.
"The last of eighteen sixty three is passing away as I write. Glad, or sorry, O my soul? How stand your records? It is not singular how sentimentally attached we become to the old year as it expires, not matter what sufferings and heart-aches it caused us in its course? Day aft day we pray "Let this pang pass away, or this grief be forgotten" and sob and moan in our souls for the dawning of the day that brings respite and oblivion- and yet- when time hastening to fulfill our prayers rolls rapidly away bringing the last moments of a year that has been trial and suffering, instantly it becomes "The dear old Year." "The delightful past" and we forget its stings because, forsooth, its moments are numbered, and it will not long affect us for good or for ill. Pshaw! it is only mawkish sentimentality, or a vague idea that all the rest of the world withdraw into their secret souls at this time and examine their past lives. Every body may make the effort; but how many are profited by it? Sarah Morgan December 31, 1863 Writing in Baton Rouge.