By James McIvor
Published by Viking/The Penguin Group, 2005
Hardcover, 162 pages, $19.95
Reviewed by Richard G. Williams, Jr.
“Christmas has come once more and it is a very beautiful morning, but O! how changed the scene to what it was last Christmas. Today twelve months ago I was home where I could enjoy the blessings of a comfortable house and home of parents and friends and of religious worship, but this Christmas I am surrounded by warriors, cannons, and guns . . . But I hope and pray that the good Lord in his tender mercy may soon bring this state of things to an end and restore Peace and prosperity to our beloved Country again and turn the hearts of the rulers to peace for ever instead of war.”
This soldier’s heart-wrenching plea for peace and home could have been written by one of our soldiers in
Recounting the events that transpired at Christmas time during the Battle of Stones River (
Perhaps it was, in the words of Confederate Hege, “the blessings of a comfortable house and home of parents” that first made Christmas time so special for those lonely, homesick soldiers. As those thousands of veterans, both North and South, returned home after the war they doubtless looked forward to enjoying that first Christmas of peace with loved ones—thankful to have survived a war that took the lives of so many of their comrades. Yet those painful memories of the war also contained some poignant recollections.
McIvor recounts one such event as the Union and Confederate armies camped near each other at
Then something unplanned and unexpected happened. McIvor writes:
“Finally one of them struck up ‘Home! Sweet Home!’ As if by common consent, all other airs ceased, and the bands of both armies, far as the ear could reach, joined in the refrain. . . Soon the men of both sides, North and South, were all raising their voices to sing the familiar words together.” (p. 102-103)
The final words of the familiar tune must have reminded the soldiers that they might not see home again: “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home, Home! Home, sweet Home!” McIvor recounts the words of one
“And after our bands had ceased playing, we could hear the sweet refrain as it died away on the cool frosty air on the Federal side.” There would be more dying in the days to come yet the men who experienced this very special Christmas—and survived—would carry those special memories home to their loved ones. As the author points out, “The mass migration and social dislocation the war had left in its wake made a holiday tied to the timeless cornerstones of family and children all the more important to a restless and growing nation.” (p. 156)
If you need a last minute Christmas gift for that Civil War buff on your list, readers would do well to consider this delightful book. (This review appeared in The Washington Times on 23 December 2006 - Used by permission)