Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas During The Civil War

The image at left is of a Harper's Weekly cover of a "Civil War Santa Claus giving gifts to soldiers in camp, 1863." I've been immersing myself lately in Civil War history, having just finished Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It's an excellent study of what Goodwin calls Abraham Lincoln's "political genius." For Christmas my family gave me Manhunt, about the twelve-day period when John Wilkes Booth was a fugitive, and The Civil War: A Narrative - Fort Sumter to Perryville, by Shelby Foote (the first in a 3-volume set). I'm about 25 pages into Manhunt, and will dig into Foote's work after I finish that.

With both the Civil War and Christmas on my mind, I came across "The Rites of Innocence," by James Robbins, about the way Americans on the side of both North and South saw the world in Christmas 1861. Robbins' sobering final sentences:
Few wars end as they were intended at their start. By Christmas 1861, one could no longer accept the idea that the contest between north and south would be a brief, painless, and chivalrous struggle. The feasts, the merrymaking, at home and at the front, these were the final rites of innocence. In the new year there would be deadly work to be done.
In the same issue of NRO I found "A Lincolnian Christmas," by Michael Novak, which draws some interesting parallels between Christmas 1863 and Christmas 2006. Novak's article brought to mind the many who are now braying that George W. Bush has already sealed his legacy as one of the worst American presidents ever. They should read Novak's piece. It might inspire them to greater circumspection.

Both articles are great reads and will add some reflective moments to your Christmas.


Blogger The Kosher Hedgehog said...

Lowell, I count the reading of Shelby Foote's entire three-volume history, The Civil War , as one of the peak literary experiences of my lifetime. It is a wonderful work, although Foote joked that it took longer for him to write the history than it took to fight the actual war. In reading it, however, one cannot help but compare the passion and idealism found on both sides of that desperate conflict to the utter lack of seriousness that pervades our society, even as it faces a mortal threat from Islamic jihad. Will the United States and the Western world find the resolution to meet this test, or has our time passed? 

Posted by The Kosher Hedgehog

Tuesday, December 26, 2006 1:07:00 AM  

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