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A Civil War Christmas

Updated on November 28, 2016
Virginia Allain profile image

In researching my Civil War ancestor, I became fascinated by all aspects of that war. If you're a Civil War buff, check out my topics.

A modest Christmas tree from the Civil War era.
A modest Christmas tree from the Civil War era. | Source

What Was Christmas Like during the Civil War?

In researching my Civil War ancestor, I wondered what Christmas was like for the soldiers in their winter camps and for their families back home without them. I searched a number of sources, including some diaries by soldiers.

Here's what I've found about Civil War Christmas time.

I hope it answers any questions you had about what Christmas was like in the 1860s during the War Between the States. If not, then leave your question in the guestbook and I will research it further.


Vintage Tree and Wooden Toys by vintagegiftmall

In this family both parents are there, but during the war, many families would be without a father at home. The trumpet and drum are typical gifts of that time. The rocking horse indicates a fairly affluent family. One child has a toy sword and there's a figure of a toy soldier on horseback as well. In the lower part of the picture are alphabet blocks and a small Christmas tree. One child has its hand in a stocking. Other gifts in the illustration include a doll, a storybook, and a sled.

You will also notice that the family has seven children. In this era, families were quite large though some of the children did not survive to become adults.

You Can Buy Similar Toys Today - from Amazon

Toys like the ones given to children in the 1860s for Christmas gifts. These could be store bought in the 1860s or you could make your own sled, set of blocks and wooden rocking horse yourself.

Alphabet Blocks

Uncle Goose Classic ABC Blocks - Made in USA
Uncle Goose Classic ABC Blocks - Made in USA

This classic educational toy still retains its popularity after all these years.

 

A Tin Drum for a Child

Schylling TD Tin Drum With an adjustable strap and two wooden drumsticks
Schylling TD Tin Drum With an adjustable strap and two wooden drumsticks

With so many men gone into the armies, toys relating to military themes were popular, like this drum.

 

A Civil War Christmas (YouTube Video)

My Civil War Ancestor Had a Little Daughter

Laura Ann Tower was almost 3 years old when her father enlisted in Company G, 93rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry. The war would continue on and three Christmases would pass before the little girl saw her father again.

Perhaps she wanted a china head doll like the one shown below. More likely her mother made her a rag doll for that Christmas.

A Doll for Christmas

China Head 16 Inch [Toy]
China Head 16 Inch [Toy]

If the family was comfortable, this might delight the daughter of the house on Christmas day. For families that could not afford such a doll, one made from corn husks or a rag doll could be made at home.

 

Here's a Vintage Doll Like a Child in the 1860s Might Have

This doll is in the Bryant House in Kentucky.
This doll is in the Bryant House in Kentucky. | Source

A Homemade Checker Board

A homemade checker board with slices of corn cob as the checkers.
A homemade checker board with slices of corn cob as the checkers. | Source

More Civil War Christmas Gifts - Kaleidoscope

G.W. Schleidt KS145-40A Kaleidoscope Expandable Dark Continent French Motif
G.W. Schleidt KS145-40A Kaleidoscope Expandable Dark Continent French Motif

Unique with an old world map design on the outside. All ages find a kaleidoscope fascinating. As the patterns shift and change with each turn of the tube.

 

Sewing a New Dress for a Child Might Be Their Christmas Present

1869 Princess Dress for Young Girls Pattern
1869 Princess Dress for Young Girls Pattern

A sewing pattern from 1869, how cool is that. You can make a dress for a Civil War re-enactment.

 

This Game (Battledore and Shuttlecock) Could Be Played by Boys and Girls

Franklin Sports Intermediate 4 Player Badminton Set
Franklin Sports Intermediate 4 Player Badminton Set

Get a set and play a little battledore and shuttlecock just like in the 1800s.

 

Selections from the musical "A Civil War Christmas" - Watch these YouTube videos to learn more about Christmas during the Civil War

I'd love to see this musical performed in a theater.

Trailer for A Civil War Christmas

Illustration from a vintage book showing children in clothing from the mid-1800s. Perhaps they are writing a letter to their papa who is far away serving in the military.
Illustration from a vintage book showing children in clothing from the mid-1800s. Perhaps they are writing a letter to their papa who is far away serving in the military. | Source

A Civil War Christmas - theater clip

Harper's Weekly Print - The Wonders of Santa Claus - from 1857

This gives you some idea of how the legend of Santa Claus was developing in the mid-1800s. Christmas was not even a national holiday at the time though it was a popular celebration across the country. It was in 1870 that it was established as an official U.S. holiday.

Read Louisa May Alcott's descriptions of Christmas - in the 1860s

Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Treasury
Louisa May Alcott's Christmas Treasury

The only complete collection of her Christmas stories.

 
The Quiet Little Woman: Tilly's Christmas, Rosa's Tale : Three Enchanting Christmas Stories
The Quiet Little Woman: Tilly's Christmas, Rosa's Tale : Three Enchanting Christmas Stories

A gift of a story from the author to a family of girls who wrote to her about Little Women.

 

Soldier's Diaries and Letters for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day - during the Civil War

This gives you a first-hand account of what Christmas was like for the Union and Confederate soldiers in camp on the holidays.

I found a description by a soldier who was in Company G, 93rd Indiana Infantry with my great-great grandfather. Isadore Naviax's pension application described the activity of the regiment for Christmas 1862, saying that they marched from Holly Spring, Mississippi to Grand Junction, Tennessee. It was very rainy and bad weather, so Isadore became ill from exposure and measles. Obviously these soldiers did not have a pleasant Christmas.

Sometimes a Soldier Would Make It Home for Christmas - This sketch depicts such an event in the Civil War

Look how joyful the family is to have their soldier home for Christmas. The wife embraces her husband, while a youngster clings to his father's leg. Grandparents watch from the doorway.

During the winter the troops would set up winter camps. You can see an example of one in the Civil War Museum in Petersburg, Virginia. It was too difficult to move the troops around and hold battles during the winter.

Civil War Themed Christmas Ornaments for Your Tree - Available from Zazzle

This look great on a Civil War buff's Christmas tree or give one to a Civil War re-enactor. There are many more of these for different battles or featuring Civil War generals, flags and battle scenes. Once you go to Zazzle, browse around to see all the Civil War ornaments available. I'm just showing you a sampling here.

Zazzle Christmas Ornament for the Civil War

Celebrate your ancestors who fought in the war.
Celebrate your ancestors who fought in the war. | Source

Scenes and Music Depicting the Civil War and Christmas

The first video, a clip from a documentary about Thomas Nast, is a very enjoyable story. I'd like to see the whole show. The clip is just a minute and a half.

The second video shows a southern Christmas as a slave tries to escape.

The third video is a reading from a Civil War soldier's diary.

The fourth video is a southern Christmas about the troops.

1864 - Civil War Christmas on DVD

Christmas in the Country - The Christmas of 1864
Christmas in the Country - The Christmas of 1864

A wonderfully authentic looking story of a Christmas long ago. Acted out by National Park Rangers.

 

Please Leave a Greeting Here

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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I have seen some etchings by Thomas Nast in a museum. They are wonderful! Times were certainly tough back then on the soldiers as well as their families. Many of your Amazon capsules have disappeared. The same has happened with most of mine. I have replaced some of them with eBay capsules.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Hope your book goes well. I think essentially Christmas had the same spirit back then, although the trappings were somewhat different. Great hub!

    • profile image

      nonya222 3 years ago

      Adds a human touch to history.

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 3 years ago from West Virginia

      I wouldn't have guessed that the 1860's drawing of Santa was Santa!

    • chas65 profile image

      chas65 4 years ago

      Neat to se a historical perspective on Christmas at a time that was so devastating to our country.

    • nightbear lm profile image

      nightbear lm 4 years ago

      Outstanding page, and very eye opening. Sometimes you just forget to think about things like this.

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 4 years ago from So Cal

      Great lens that is going to take a while to read through. Merry Christmas! Blessed

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      You do such thorough research, and it always shows in your excellent lenses. Congratulations on another purple star! The Civil War was terrible for those who had to fight and possibly die during the war, but I so enjoy reading about the people who had to cope with living during that time. What sacrifices and tribulations they had to endure just to get through each day, was a sort of battle in itself. Blessed by a SquidAngel.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      This is interesting for Civil War history buffs. Merry Christmas to you!

      I featured this lovely lens on The Civil War Unit Study. - Blessed!

    • MaryThereseBenn profile image

      MaryThereseBenn 5 years ago

      I guess I should have been a librarian, because I really enjoy this subject and loved your lens! Off to read more of them!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I enjoyed your lens. I've never thought about what Christmas must have been like during the dark days of the civil war. Thanks for sharing this with us. Merry Christmas!

    • Hedremp profile image

      Sandra Wilson 5 years ago from Wilson Education Resource Centre

      this is a wonderful lens showing a great moment in time. I would like to add a link to my Wartime Christmas lens! Thanks for the wonderful work you put into this!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      What a unique perspective on celebrating Christmas. I'd like to read some of the diaries later. Thanks for pulling together these resources. Merry Christmas!

    • Gayle Mclaughlin profile image

      Gayle 5 years ago from McLaughlin

      Really enjoyed the Civil War pictures and greeting cards! What a unique article! You rock!

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 5 years ago from France

      What a wonderful lens, so full of information and beautifully illustrated. Blessed

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Oh to be a fly on the wall. Wouldn't that be fun to see how they celebrated 150 years ago!

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