Monday, May 31, 2021

Civil War Veteran's Memorial Day Poem

Like stars that sink into the west,
So one by one we seek our rest;
The column’s brave and steady tread
With banners streaming overhead,
Will still keep step, as in the past,
Until the rear guard comes at last.
Ah, yes, like stars we take our flight,
And whisper, one by one, “Good night.”
Yet in the light of God’s bright day,
Triumphant, each again will say,
"Hail, comrade, here has life begun,
The battle’s fought, the victory’s won!”

by George M. Vickers

p.127 Under Both Flags  A Panorama of the Great Civil War as Represented in Story, Anecdote, Adventure and the Romance of Reality  Edited by C.R. Graham. 1896


    Graham cites three other poems by George M. Vickers in his book. On page 456 Graham gives a brief biography of George Vickers. “The author was a private soldier in the Second Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Corps, when commanded by Colonel, afterwards General, McCandless, and in more than one desperate battle witnessed [McCandless’s] heroism.” From the sentiment of this poem, it is definitely written post-war, as the veterans are dying off one by one. 
    Memorial Day observed on the last Monday of May, remembers and honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War with the great loss of life and the establishment of national cemeteries. By the late 1860s many towns across the US began to hold springtime tributes to their lost soldiers like this. There is much dispute as to the “origin” of this holiday. What seems most probable is that it arose as “tradition” in many towns across the US in both the north and the south in the years following the end of the war and gradually became part of the spring time tradition that finally became officially nationalized as an official federal holiday in 1971. It arose out of the grief over the loss of husbands/sons/fathers/brothers in the war as a means to find some relief in remembering and honoring them.
    On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance he called Decoration Day. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” The date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle.
    On the first Decoration Day at Arlington National Cemetery, General James Garfield made a speech to 5,000 who attended and who decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there. Many Northern states held similar commemorative events, with the tradition being repeated in subsequent years. By 1890 each one had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states, on the other hand, continued to honor their dead on other days during the spring until after World War I.


Children’s Project:
Have your child draw a picture showing what Memorial Day means to them.
Or
Ask your child to compose their own poem about Memorial Day

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Letter Writing and Postage Stamps Importance to the Civil War Soldier

     John D. Billings' recollections of his time served in the Army of the Potomac have many interesting insights into life in the army during the Civil War.  In 1887 he published them in his book Hard Tack & Coffee -- Soldier's Life in the Civil War.  I hope you will find Billings' brief description of letter writing and dealing with postage stamps in the chapter "Life in Tents" as interesting as I have.  [page 62-63].

Letter writing was important
"The manner in which the time was spent in these tents [Sibley style] and, for that matter, in all tents varied with the disposition of the inmates.  It was not practicable for men of kindred tastes to band themselves under the same canvas, and so just as they differed in their avocations as citizens, they differed in their social life, and many kinds of pastimes went on simultaneously.  Of course, all wrote letters more or less, but there were a few men who seemed to spend the most of their spare time in this occupation.  Especially was this so in the earlier part of a man's war experience.  The side or end strip of a hardtack box on the knees, constituted the writing-desk on which this operation was performed." 
                                                  
     I've always appreciated the fact that the many letters written during that time have given us greater insight into "what was going on" than the historical headlines about "date and location and armies fought here" could ever do alone.  Sadly our modern means of communications (which are very helpful and enjoyable) will not do the same for future generations looking back on us.  Oh well, life moves on.  For reenactors who wish to portray letter writing at an event, using a wood board as a writing desk might communicate to spectators better the creativity of the soldier-in-the-ranks  overcoming obstacles.  "Let the officers have their fancy writing desks.  We men in the ranks can get the job done even without the advantages of privilege."  The picture here is from the book.  I have seen it before but didn't know where it originally came from.

Postage Stamps were a necessary Challenge
     Then Billings gives insight into why and how postage stamps became important to the soldier, as well as the challenges of keeping the stamps usable:

"It will be remembered that in the early months of the war silver money disappeared, as it commanded a premium, so that, change being scarce, postage stamps were used instead.  This was before scrip was issued by the government to take the place of silver; and although the use of stamps as change was not authorized by the government, yet everybody took them, and the soldiers in particular just about to leave for war carried large quantities away with them -- not all in the best of condition.  This could hardly be expected when they had been through so many hands.  They were passed about in little envelopes, containing twenty-five and fifty cents in value.
Many an old soldier can recall his disgust on finding what a mess his stamps were in either from rain, perspiration, or compression, as he attempted, after a hot march, to get one for a letter.  If he could split off one from a welded mass of perhaps a hundred or more, he counted himself fortunate.  Of course they could be soaked out after a while, but he would need to dry them on a griddle afterwards, they were so sticky."

     One time a few years ago I had a reenactor ask me for an assortment of my reproduction stamps so that he and his fellow comrades could use them as "money" as they played card games at events as the spectators walked by.  In spite of my not wanting to encourage gambling (after all, I do portray the U. S. Christian Commission), I did share some with him because I agreed that it would allow them to portray more accurately to the spectators what the soldiers did back then.
      Billings' description about the stamps getting wet and stuck together is an interesting insight into the many challenges soldiers faced as they lived on the march. When the war broke out the uncertainty over what was going on and people's distrust over the value of the Greenback paper money being issued led to the hoarding of coins made of copper & silver & gold.  But people still needed to give or get back small change in making purchases such as a 3 cent loaf of bread or a 5 cent quart of milk.  During the first few years of the war stamps became by common acceptance and out of necessity "money".  In July 1862 Congress attempted to address the coin shortage by passing a law which allowed postage stamps to satisfy debts owed to the government of up to $5.  People incorrectly presumed that this officially approved stamps as usable for any type of debt or purchase.  In 1862 John Gault came up with the creative encased postage stamp coin solution.  Using button making machines he enclosed postage stamps in silver or brass buttons with a thin mica layer on one side which allowed you to see the stamp's denomination -- this helped preserve the actual stamp better.  He would later add on the back of the encasement button advertisements for various company about their products or services.  His invention was short lived as in 1863 the U.S government issued official script factional currency to over come the coin shortage.  Also during this time various vendors issued "private issue tokens" that they gave out as change when sales were made.
     All this shows the creativity of the people back then as they faced the challenges arising from society being torn apart.  I've often marveled at the fact that postage stamps back then could be cut in half and still used to mail out letters.  For example, you could take a 2 cent Black Jack, and cut one stamp in half, put it on the envelope next to a complete 2 cent stamp and that would total up to the 3 cents needed to mail the letter.  Can you imagine trying to do that today?  The US Postal Service would probably call the police and have you arrested!  Times have certainly changed as the bureaucrats have gotten greater power to control us with "the official regulations and procedures".
     When we forget history, we lose examples of how people before us have risen to the challenge of "changing times".  We should never be herded into the socialist mentality that "the government" or "the experts" will solve what's wrong.  We as individuals need to always be experimenting with options to overcome the difficulties.  It may be having to use a board for a desk or having to soak apart stamps and then dry them on a griddle.  Creativity needs to come from each of us.  That makes us better and stronger, and will also make for good stories later on we can tell around the campfire.






Saturday, September 8, 2018

Southern Contraband of War Fleeing North -- Gen. Butler's Account of the Contraband Tag being Applied to Runaway Slaves

Major General Benjamin Butler gives this account of his inspiration to classify escaping southern slaves as "contraband":

    On the day after my arrival at the fort [Fort Monroe}, May 23 [1861], three negroes were reported coming in a boat from Sewall's Point, where the enemy was building a battery.  Thinking that some information as to that work might be got from them, I had them before me.  I learned that they were employed on the battery on the Point, which as yet was a trifling affair.  There were only two guns there, though the work was laid out to be much larger and to be heavily mounted with guns captured from the navy-yard.  The negroes said they belonged to Colonel Mallory, who commanded the Virginia troops around Hampton, and that he was now making preparation to take all his negroes to Florida soon, and that not wanting to go away from home they had escaped to the fort.  I directed that they should be fed and set to work.
    On the next day I was notified by an officer in charge of the picket line next Hampton that an officer bearing a flag of truce desired to be admitted to the fort to see me.  As I did not wish to allow offices of the enemy to come inside the fort just then and see us piling up sandbags to protect the weak points there, I directed the bearer of the flag to be informed that I would be at the picket line in the course of an hour.  Accompanied by two gentlemen of my staff, Major Fay and Captain Haggerty, neither now living, I rode out to the picket line and met the flag of truce there.  It was under charge of Major Carey, who introduced himself, at the same time pleasantly calling to mind that we last met at the Charleston convention.
    Major Carey opened the conversation by saying:  "I have sought to see you for the purpose of ascertaining upon what principles you intend to conduct the war in this neighborhood. . . ."
US57
    "I am informed," said Major Carey, "that three negroes belonging to Colonel Mallory have escaped within your lines.  I am Colonel Mallory's agent and have charge of his property.  What do you mean to do with those Negroes?"
    "I intend to hold them," said I.
    "Do you mean, then, to set aside your constitutional obligations to return them?"
    "I mean to take Virginia at her word, as declared in the ordinance of secession passed yesterday.  I am under no constitutional obligations to a foreign country, which Virginia now claims to be."
    "But you say we cannot secede," he answered, "and so you cannot consistently detain the negroes."
    "But you say you have seceded, so you cannot consistently claim them.  I shall hold these Negroes as contraband of war, since they are engaged in the construction of your battery and are claimed as your property.  The question is simply whether they shall be used for or against the Government of the United States.  Yet, though I greatly need the labor which has providentially come to my hands, if Colonel Mallroy will come into the fort and take the oath of allegiance to the United States, he shall have his Negroes, and I will endeavor to hire them from him."
    "Colonel Mallory is absent," was Major Carey's answer.
    We courteously parted.

Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major General Benj. F. Butler: A Review of
His Legal, Political, and Military Career  (Boston: A.M.Thayer & Co. 1892.  p256-58)

    In the pages which follow this summary of how he came up with the "contraband" tag Gen. Butler gives a rebuttal of those who suggest it really didn't originate with him.
    The Union cover "Secession's Moving Foundation" pictured above reflects the reality that came out of Butler's decision to not return the slaves to their owner.  Many other slaves followed and were taken in by Northern forces.  Their exact status of slave/free would remain undetermined until later in the war after more formal policy was established.  But the artist of this cover catches the fact that things are changing, that Southern culture as it was is being challenged.  
    I don't know if I'd class this cover as an "abolitionist" cover.  Probably I'd see it more along the lines of cheering the fact that the South is being weakened both economically and structurally with each escaping "worker".  By this I mean, if we view patriotic covers as 1860s bumper stickers declaring political opinions of those who use them, then I do not think this covers's use would be limited only to strict abolitionists.  

Sunday, December 24, 2017

I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day -- Christmas and the Civil War

    What value is the "promise of Christmas" amidst the struggles of life?  Is it only for the happy hearts who can blithely sing Christmas songs and madly shop for gifts?  Is the no room for the sad struggling heart?
    The words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his 1863 poem "Christmas Bells" wrestles with the tension between "joy" and "sadness" at Christmas.  Understanding the history of his times and life will expand our appreciation of the familiar Christmas carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."
    Yes, the upbeat "hope came on Christmas Day" is true.   Jesus, the Son of God was born, and He is the hope of the world.  In Him alone is our hope for forgiveness of sin and the restoration to peace with God the Father.  Through Jesus there is "peace on earth, good will to men"
    But does that mean that all "struggle of faith" is magically eliminated?  No.  The world is often not a happy place full of "good cheer and joy".  It wasn't during the night of Jesus' birth for the Jewish nation living under the tyranny of Roman rule and it wasn't for Henry Longfellow in 1863.  But out of Longfellow's struggle with grief and perplexity over the turmoil of the war came the words for a Christmas carol that many today casually sing as "just another song".  The poem "Christmas Bells" that he wrote in December of 1863 reflects his struggle to put the optimistic "promise of Christmas" into perspective within a life of sadness and struggle and loss.

"Christmas Bells"
(verses 4 & 5 were edited out to create the Christmas Carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" published in 1872)

1)  I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of  peace on Earth, good will to men!

2)  And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men!

3)  Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on Earth, good will to men!

4)  Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered from the South,
And with the sound,
The carols drowned
Of peace on Earth, good will to men!

5)  It was as if an earthquake rent
the hearthstones of a continent,
and made forlorn
the households born
Of peace on Earth, good will to men!

6)  And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on Earth" I said:
"For Hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men!

7)  Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on Earth, good will to men!

    In 1861 the Civil War broke out and our nation was divided by anger and war.  Before the war Longfellow was among those calling for the abolition of slavery, being associated with the New England Anti-Slavery Association.  Longfellow's famous poem "Paul Revere's Ride" published in 1860 was written to call for a new revolution to give freedom to all.  That was a righteous and noble hope.  But no one could foresee the tidal wave of conflict and suffering that would be needed to bring about that change in our nation.  What many presumed at first in 1861 would be a short quick revolution was by 1863 still painfully dragging on battle after battle.  The genuine hope for good was facing the reality of a long drawn out cruel war.  This harsh reality challenged even the staunchest desire to see good change take place.
    In 1861 Longfellow also experienced great personal tragedy when his wife, Fanny, died in a tragic accident.  Her dress caught fire as she lite a candle.  She ran into Longfellow's study for help.  He tried extinguishing the flames with a small rug, but failed, so he threw his arms around her to smother the flames.  Though successful in smothering the flames, Fanny died the next day from her injuries (July 10, 1861).  And Longfellow himself suffered burns to his face, arms and hands so badly that he was unable to be at her funeral.
    In his journal for Christmas day 1861 he wrote "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays."  That next July in 1862 he wrote "I can make no record of these days.  Better leave them wrapped in silence.  Perhaps someday God will give me peace."  On Christmas day 1862 he wrote " 'A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me."  Yes, the bells ring on the Christmas promise of peace & hope, but Longfellow's heart struggles with the harsh realities of life both nationally & personally.
    In March of 1863, Longfellow's oldest son, Charles (born June 9, 1844), left home without his father's permission to join the Union army.  Charles wrote his father "I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer.  I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be any good."
    On December 1st, 1863 Longfellow received a telegram saying Charles had been severely wounded during the battle of New Hope Church in Virginia during the Mine Run Campaign.  The bullet had entered his left shoulder, ripped across his back, exiting the right shoulder.  Would Charles live?  And if he did, would he be paralyzed?  For Longfellow, December was a time of traveling to see if his son was still alive, then bringing him back home for a long painful recovery.
    Longfellow does what writers/poets often do:  he processes his emotions through words, exploring a path through the conflicts within his heart.  Look again at the poem.
    The poem starts off in verses 1, 2 & 3 with observing the "typical expectations" of Christmas.  Yes, the message put out is about peace on earth, goodwill to men, recalling the angel's proclamation to the shepherds the night Jesus was born.  There is hope!  Into this troubled world, the One who will resolved the troubles has come!  That's "the unbroken song" everyone knows and many dutifully nod in agreement "ho hum, heard it all before, let's move on".
    Then Longfellow shifts to the political reality of his times, the Civil War which seems to contradict the proclamation given to the shepherds by the angles.  These two verses (#4 and #5 omitted in the 1872 version "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day") openly wrestle with the conflict of "life's reality" during the Civil War of Longfellow's time vs "the angels' proclamation".  Where is the peace on earth and goodwill to men as the cannons thunder and soldiers die and families are ripped apart with loss and death?  I am sure Longfellow is also wrestling with the sufferings in his private life as well.  Where is the peace on earth & goodwill to men in the loss of my wife, and the suffering of my son?  In his heart he honestly expresses what he feels in verse #6 of his poem:  "in despair I bowed my head: There is no peace on Earth, for hate is strong and mocks the song" that is the message of Christmas.
    These words come across much stronger to me in meaning knowing both the national and personal struggles Longfellow is living with as he writes this poem.  Knowing the history makes the movement into the last verse #7 even more powerful.  Yes indeed, evil and sadness and loss mock the Christmas promise.  Life's realities mocked the promise for the Jewish people living under Rome's crushing rule the night the angels came to the shepherds.  In 1863 national & personal sufferings mocked it to Longfellow.  And even today evil and sadness and loss are still mocking the promise of "Peace on earth, goodwill to men!"  But genuine "Christmas celebration" calls us back to the promise of the angel's proclaimed:   Jesus will be the solution. "God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to men."
    Longfellow in his poem Christmas Bells is laying out the challenge he is facing.  In the process of writing, he is setting a goal that he sees he needs to strive for;  setting out a path of faith that he needs to travel in his heart.  Did writing the poem resolve all his struggles.  I doubt it.  Broken discouraged  hearts are not so simply fixed.  But knowing the path we should travel, remembering the promise we should cling to in the struggles we feel gives us "a way forward".  We no longer have to linger where we are, bewildered in doubt and confusion.  We once again have a goal we can focus on moving our emotions and faith toward.
    One last thought.  I've heard it said by a friend who has spent years studying & portraying Abraham Lincoln that when someone asked President Lincoln if he thought God was "on our side", meaning on the side of the Union cause, Lincoln replied something like this:  It's not 'is God on our side', but are we on God's side that is important.  Christmas challenges us to that goal.  It's not "will God help me to do what I want" in life, but it's God calling us to accept His goals and hope.  He wishes to redeem us from our sin, but we must accept His terms -- that Jesus Christ is the only way of forgiveness.  Christmas, the celebration of Jesus' birth, is not about "having a good time and getting what I want";  it's about remembering that God offers what I really need at great cost to Himself.  In all the distractions of life, the struggles of life, the conflicts of life, do not walk by the greatest gift ever offered: peace with God through His Son Jesus.  When we accept God's gift of forgiveness through Jesus, we then have the anchor we need to navigate our way through the struggles and conflicts and loss of life to our Heavenly Home across the Jordan.  "Merry Christmas" becomes a reminder that Our Heavenly Father "is not dead, nor doth He sleep, the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, goodwill to men". 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Honoring Veterans and Encouraging Those Serving Today

     Remembering those who have served our country is not just "a tradition", it is important for us as a nation.  It reminds us, and more importantly it challenges us to also bring dedication and service to whatever we do today.

     My Dad did not talk in great detail about what he did during his service during WWII.  But his honoring of those who served, his taking us to the Memorial Day parades, his marching in them with the other veterans, all instilled in me as a child a respect for our country -- that our country is worth sacrificing for.  My Dad did share some stories about his time in the service.  Some were funny and made me laugh. Some I really didn't understand until I got older.  And some challenged me about "what type of person should I become?" -- the stories help mold my character.
     At my Dad's funeral I shared some of the things he said that I remember as a child which challenged me and help direct my character.  One was a story about his time in the service.  Dad signed up after the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.  He went off to basic training and during that time he got involved in the Army band at the base because they found out he was a talented baton twirler.  Back home in upstate New York he had won some honors in his high school for his talent.  Dad was offered the chance to stay in the states and become part of the Army band to help with the war efforts.  Dad's answer:  "I didn't join the Army to play in a band, I joined to defend my country."  Dad passed up an easy way to serve for one that he felt more directly helped achieve the goal of defending our country.  That example of not taking the easy way, of being willing to step up and do the more difficult/dangerous, of not being "political" but "practical" helped shape my attitude toward life and how I would do things.
     When we honor our veterans, when we listen to their stories, when we remember what they stepped up and did -- it will shape our lives if we only listen.  Yes times and challenges change, but the need for character and courage never ends.

An example of how creative children can be.
Kids have drawn pictures of flags, sunshine,
flowers, stick figure families, submarines,
airplanes, stick figure soldiers, rainbows.
Young children just scribble colors, and the
parent adds a "Thank you" note.

    As we have reenacted at Civil War events as the U.S. Christian Commission over the years, I have watched how "remembering history and sacrifice of soldiers long ago" has helped shape my children's character for the better.  Their exploration of history has given my kids a foundation to better appraise current events.  Add to that they have also grown up interacting with some of the veterans who are involved in reenacting.  One very influential veteran was Capt Keith Howell, a retired military man who led the unit we were with out east, the 66th OVI.  Not only did he teach the boys (and the unit) drill, but also helped them learn discipline and respect for following orders.  For us as a family reenacting (i.e. exploring history and getting to know veterans of our time) has been a good thing to develop love of country and willingness to serve in whatever my kids choose to do in life.  (For an illustration of how doing "living history" helped my children learn see the picture that my daughter drew at age 11 in the post of Nov.16, 2013 "Remember" Honoring Civil War Soldiers by Learning History.  When she handed me that picture, I still remember how proud of her I was, that she was developing a grasp of how the bravery and sacrifice of previous generations needs to be honored.)

     Recently I have started offering to the spectators who come by our USCC tent the option to take a moment and write a simple Thank You Encouragement note to be passed on to a modern soldier.  I explain that just as the USCC back during the Civil War did what they could to encourage the men serving back then, we should be encouraging the men and women serving our nation today.  To those willing to take me up on the offer I give a photocopy page of a Civil War patriotic letter to write on.  I also have colored pencils on hand so that younger children can write or draw a picture.  It is very heartwarming to see the creativity of young kids in "writing/drawing" a note to be passed on.  I am always encouraged when I can get families to do it together.  In some small way I hope these notes do reach out with encouragement to those serving and protecting our country today.  May God bless those who are serving in the armed forces today.

A young man takes me up on the offer to draw a picture
to be passed along to a soldier.  He took the challenge
very seriously drawing a picture.  His parent helped him
write out a note of thanks under the picture.
     I have offered to come to a church or group and make a presentation in "first person" as a USCC delegate from 1863 sharing the challenges and opportunities of helping the soldiers serving in that war.  My goal is to show from history how "little things" can encourage others.  The application of the "history lesson" is to challenge "us today" to get involved in passing on God's love to others in "little things".  As a practical example I would offer the opportunity for those in the group to write a simple letter to be passed along to service men & women today through Hugs for Soldiers.  Haven't had any one take me up on it yet.  Probably it sounds too strange.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

In Honor of my Beloved Wife Vicki Lynn Rowe

An Observation about "Hair Strands" -- Reminders of love
    Hair strands can bug you at times.  Guys, you know, that strand of hair in the lunch she packed or the cake she baked, that strand of hair randomly appearing on the shirt just put on.  Vicki would always apologize for the hair strands as she picked them off my shirt or coat.  I would sometimes "pick on her" about finding "evidence" she had been there.  Other times I would just laugh and say "see, it says you love me".
     Guys, value those hair strands you find.  Treasure them as evidence that God has given you a woman who loves you, puts up with you, works with you, and blesses you with her sharing her life with you.  I am still finding hair strands around the house.  Reminders that God blessed me for over 41 years with a woman who made me a better person than I would have ever been on my own.  Guys, if you still have that woman in your life, thank her for the reminders she leaves around you.  And always remember, she is God's gift to you -- on loan -- treasure her.  (written March 11, 2016)

     Vicki went home to be with her Lord & Savior, Jesus Christ, March 3, 2016.  She let the love of Jesus flow through her life to others as she served and fed them.  Our involvement in reenacting
Vicki Lynn Kammeyer Rowe
Born:  Sept.8, 1953
Went Home:  March 3, 2016
the United States Christian Commission came from her heart that she could feed the reenactors as we shared with them the history of the USCC and showed them the love of Jesus.  Her servant's heart changed our involvement in reenacting from an enjoyable interest in exploring history into a gentle ministry of love and encouragement for Jesus' honor.
     She was always concerned if we would have enough food to give away, and if it would taste good enough for the men coming to our tent.  "Some how" we always had plenty to share and it always tasted good.  The soldiers would come in under the tent fly and always find enjoyable variety to go along with a tin can of refreshing lemonade or mint tea.  For lunch we would put out slices of cheese, pepperoni & crackers -- a simple lunch for many a soldier who came by because Vicki did not want any of the guys to go hungry for lunch.
     The sign we hang on the tent reads "Free Food for the Soldier.  God bless You" and we mean it.  If any reenactor hesitates or asks "how much?" our answer always is "God's love is free, so is this soldier! Come on in!  Want something to eat?  Some lemonade or mint tea?"
     Vicki would spend days before an event baking and preparing.  Some things could be baked ahead a few days.  Other items had to be baked the day before to "taste just right".  She would often stay up late baking.  Or sewing on projects to be put out on the gift table for the men -- like draw string comfort bags or pocket handkerchiefs.
     Set up was directed by her doing and giving directions at the same time.  She was always thinking about how to do things efficiently while having room for the kids -- then grand kids -- in the tent and still be organized to feed the troops.  She would periodically upgrade the coverings we would use to cover the serving tables, hay bales, food tables to get them to fit better/ look better.  She enjoyed the challenge of being creative with sewing.  But all that she did was for the goal of better serving those who would come to our tent;  that they would feel welcome, that they would enjoy coming; that we would represent well the USCC delegates who served the soldiers during the Civil War.
     Our children grew up learning to serve others at reenactments as well as in the churches we served in.  They learned a lot from their mother's example.  Vicki was an example to all who came to our tent of what the original Christian Commission Delegates were to the Civil War soldiers -- servants of others as they served Jesus Christ.
     Through Vicki's love and compassion reenacting the USCC has been for us a positive family experience of serving others while exploring history.  She has fed thousands of strangers over the years on many a battlefield.  As I said at the Reenactor Memorial Service:  "Vicki loves you guys, and Jesus loves you even more."

What Christ Means to Me
a poem written by Vicki in High School

What Jesus Christ means to me,
I would like to share with thee.
Remember how he lived to die,
To serve each one -- you and I.

He created the heavens and earth,
Including the pearls beyond all worth.
How could I help but love him so,
He left heaven for a world of woe.

Now he wants me to serve Him always,
He's promised to give me the right words to say.
With the pierced ear of service,
I serve him always.

I've told you in brief what He means to me.
Now tell me sir;  What's He to thee?


She loved me enough to marry me August 24, 1974.  She is not here today for me to tell her I love her and thank her for her gift of love to me.  So I write this as a way of honoring her and her love for Jesus and her love for me.  I look forward to the day I get to see her again in heaven, not because of what I've done, but because of what Jesus did for me on the cross -- dying in my place so I could be forgiven of my sins.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Captured Yankee Envelope Used for a Confederate Letter Home

     I have heard of Southern Soldiers using "captured" Union stationery to write letters home.  I recently ran across a reference to an actual historical incident of a confederate soldier doing this.  I pass along this anecdote to give you "support" for doing this in your living history presentations:

When the sun came up the next day, Hotchkiss could see more clearly what had happened at the Battle of McDowell.  "The Yankees abandoned a large quantity of stores here, baggage, etc -- I got quite a number of things and enjoyed plundering them, retaliating for Rich Mtn," he wrote Sara in a letter mailed in a captured "Yankee envelope."  Despite the victory, Hotchkiss admitted that "this country is a scene of desolation.  Living scarce."  
             [pp.262-263 In the Presence of Mine Enemies:  War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863 by Edward Ayers 2003]

     The letter writer is Jedediah "Jed" Hotchkiss, cartographer for Stonewall Jackson in the Valley Campaign of 1862. Ayers cites the above quote coming from a letter Hotchkiss wrote to his wife dated May 10, 1862. Ayers lists the letter as being part of the  "Jedediah Hotchkiss Papers" collection in the "Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Washington DC." 
     I wish I had a picture of the captured Yankee cover, but Ayers does not supply it.  But the citation of Hotchkiss' letter to his wife at least gives a specific instance backing up what I've heard happening from time to time.  Such use of captured stationery makes perfect sense -- "you use what you have" to write home on.  Plus in this instance you can sense the satisfaction Hotchkiss has in sending home some evidence of victory over the invading Yankees.

Some suggested teaching points for integrating this historical practice into your Southern living history presentation:
     1) Shows the frugality of the times:  Soldier's used what they had.  Letters -- staying connected with loved ones back home -- was very important.  You can also share how especially in the South as shortages became more severe, they would reuse envelopes by turning them inside out;  use wall paper to make them, use any sort of paper they could find to make up an envelope.  So obviously using a captured stationery set just makes sense.
     2) Sent home as a Trophy:  Yes, it's a Yankee cover, but hey, they ran leaving spoils of war behind for us.  Using it to write home brings a bit of satisfaction to show our folks back home that we beat them Yanks!
    3) Write over/ change the Northern political message to reflect Southern Pride like I've done on this reproduction cover:

Illustration of how to use a captured Yankee cover
to show Southern Pride
Remember that patriotic envelopes were used to reflect political opinions.  I like to tell people to look at them as "1860s bumper stickers".  So have some fun being creative taking a captured Yankee cover and reversing the message to reflect Southern perspectives like I did with this 1861 Union cover.  By letting family see the Union message being "reversed" it serves as both a trophy and an encouragement for "our southern cause".  At the very least, you could cross out the Northern message to show victory over their aggression.  I trust you can see how you can have some fun with this practice and also help your listeners learn more about Civil War history.  Keep teaching history by making it interesting to your listeners.

     Brief biography of Jedediah Hotchkiss:  born Windsor, NY Nov.30, 1828; died Jan.17, 1899 Staunton, VA.  Was a teacher in Lykens Valley, PA.  Then relocated to the Shenandoah Valley/ Virginia area. He signed on as a Confederate teamster, then as a map maker for various campaigns.  His map making skills helped Stonewall Jackson immensely in defending the Valley.  He continued to serve on various command staffs, including General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, throughout the remainder of the war.  Almost all of the Confederate maps in the Official Records by the US War Department were his.