Thanksgiving Reverie 1898

Thanksgiving During the Spanish-American War

During the Spanish-American War, the people of Georgia were anxious to show the valor of the southern soldier, and their patriotic commitment to the defense of the Union. Many commanders in the southern corps of the U.S. Army corps were reconstructed Confederate officers.  General officers from the south had honor guards of Confederate veterans.  Very few African-Americans were accepted to serve in the U.S. Army, and where they were allowed they were organized into segregated regiments.

On Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1898, Berrien County men Walter A. Griner, Carl R. O’Quinn, Pythias D. Yapp, Zachary T. Hester, W. Dutchman Stephens, Samuel Z.T. Lipham, James M. Bridges, Charles A. Courson, Love Culbreath, George C. Flowers, James L. Jordan, George A. Martin, Aaron Cook , Luther Lawrence Hallman and William F. Patten were with the Third Georgia Regiment, U.S. Volunteer Infantry, encamped at Savannah, GA. The Third Georgia Regiment was awaiting passage to Cuba, where they would serve in the occupation force following the Spanish-American War.

Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1898 was a beautiful Autumn day in the south. That morning, sermons were preached by local pastors in the assembly tents of the regiments. At noon,  in recognition of service to their country and courtesy of the ladies of Savannah, a Thanksgiving Dinner was to be provided to all U.S. regiments encamped at Savannah. At least for all the southern regiments. For the northern regiments, the cost of the meal was paid by the troops.  The Savannah ladies did offer to do the preparation and serving, but some northern regiments declined the courtesy.  Although some offense was taken by the ladies, the Colonel,”with the feeling that the money, once raised the serving would be a comparatively easy and pleasant task… made the preparation and the serving of the dinner a strictly regimental affair.”

Somehow, through an oversight or miscalculation, the ladies of Savannah were unable to obtain an adequate number of turkeys for the celebration and on the day of feast the Third Georgia Regiment had to make do with other fare.  There was provided, however, an abundance of fruit and cakes for the Third Georgia Regiment, for which the men were most thankful to the ladies of Savannah.

Meanwhile, the Savannah camps of the northern regiments feasted. At the encampment of the 161st Indiana Regiment, William Edward Biederwolf reported

“The boys did not have the ladies but they had warm turkey instead and plenty of it. One thousand one hundred pounds of turkey were furnished by Armour & Co., to be accounted for in surplus meat. There were ninety gallons of oysters that day; there were cranberries and celery and mince pies and other delicacies which appeal to the inner man and which go hand in hand with the day thus observed. An enlisted man, who having disposed of nine pounds of turkey, a quart of cranberries, two mince pies and other edibles in proportion kicked because his capacity for consumption went back on him at time so inopportune. Some of the officers dined with “the boys” at the noon meal then had dinner in the officers mess, “during which service the table fairly groaned under its load of good things.”

After the Thanksgiving dinner,

The afternoon was given over to a diversity of amusements upon which the boys were privileged to attend; many cheered the picked baseball nine of our regiment while it secured a victory over a similarly chosen nine from the First North Carolina on the parade ground of our regiment; others attended the shooting match between picked teams of the best shots from the Seventh Army Corps and the Savannah Gun Club at the rifle range of the latter east of the camp; still others witness the football game in which an eleven from the Second Louisianas contested for supremacy with the First Texas Knights of the Gridiron at the City ball park; not a few attended the matinee at the Savannah Theater or saw the Rough Riders in their exhibition at Thunderbolt. 

The Rough Riders

On Tybee Island the  hosted a free oyster roast; in

The day ended most auspiciously in the evening when some of the ladies of Savannah gave an elocutionary and musical entertainment in the assembly tent at which some of the best talent in the city appeared in the various numbers, a favor highly commendable and thoroughly appreciated; and thus the entire day was one joyous occasion that will long be remembered by every man in the regiment.

The aforesaid festivities were followed on November 25th by a sham battle between the two brigades of the Second Division; the First Brigade was assigned to a position behind the huge earthworks thrown up east of Savannah for the protection of the city at the time of Sherman’s famous march to the sea; the works in question remain intact although overgrown to a considerable extent by forest trees and shrubbery and are a grim reminder of the fruits of war in the terrible strife of ’61 to ’65.

 

Thanksgiving Dinner was not always a southern tradition. During the Civil War by both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln issued proclamations calling for “a day of thanksgiving. ”  In the south it was “a day of national humiliation and prayer“; In the north it was a day to be observed “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.”  But in New England, the day of thanksgiving had also been a feast celebration of the bountiful harvest.

The article below, published while the Berrien men were in the field in the Spanish American War, explains how Thanksgiving became accepted in the New South, and a truly national holiday in the United States.

The Jackson Argus
December 2, 1898

Thanksgiving Reverie
WALLACE P. REED

        Thanksgiving Day for nearly 250 years was a sectional holiday. It was observed in New England, and in some of the middle and western states, where New England ideas and customs prevailed.
The old south had no use for the day. Why should the people take a holiday in the latter part of November, when their festive Christmas followed only a month later?
       Prejudice had something to do with this view of the matter. The descendants of the Cavaliers and Huguenots would not tolerate anything that smacked of Puritanism. and it was enough for them to know that Thanksgiving day started with Governor Bradford and the Plymouth colony in 1621.
      So the old-time southerners jogged along in their own way, giving up Christmas week to good cheer, and devoting their days and nights to pleasure. They had their family reunions, social functions, hunting parties and other recreations, and in many things they closely followed the customs of their ancestors in Merrie England.

      Forty or fifty years ago a Thanksgiving proclamation from a southern governor would have been received with jeers, ridicule and severe criticism.
       The people living south of the Potomac were not willing to recognize the great religious and festal day of the Puritans. They did not believe that any custom or institution having its origin in the shadow of Plymouth rock was suited to the civilization which claimed Jamestown as its starting point.
       The two sections seemed to be for ever divided in sentiment in regard to this matter. Down south Christmas was the royal festival of the year, while in the north it passed with slight recognition, the Yankees preferring to enjoy themselves on the holiday instituted by their old Puritan governor.
       With the growing antagonism between the sections, the southern people become more determined than ever to hold fast to their mode of living, their customs, institutions, manners, dress and their principles and prejudices of a political and social nature.
      The tremendous shock of the civil war shattered systems and wrecked many time-honored theories and fondly cherished beliefs. It was no time between battles, when thousands of families were in mourning, for such a mockery as an official day of Thanksgiving in the sorely afflicted south, but as early as 1862 the people became familiar with days of fasting and prayer.
      The loss of Fort Pulaski in the spring of that year was so disheartening that Governor Brown issued a proclamation setting apart a certain day for “fasting, humiliation and prayer.” Here in Atlanta and in other cities and towns throughout the state, the citizens assembled in the churches to hear sermons suited to the occasion. All business was suspended and the day was solemnly observed.
        The southerners of that generation were old-fashioned in their religious beliefs and many who sneered at the New England Thanksgiving accepted very readily the idea of a day of fasting and prayer. Other governors followed Brown’s example and President Davis more than once issued a similar proclamation for the confederate states.
       It is quite likely that this wartime custom prepared our people for the acceptance of Thanksgiving Day, after the restoration of peace.

     After new state governments had been organized in the south the republican governors issued Thanksgiving proclamations, and in short time the new holiday grew in public favor to such an extent that when the democrats returned to power they followed the precedent established by their predecessors of the opposing party.
        The young people liked the change and their elders soon came to the conclusion that one more holiday was a good thing, and they were, readier to accept it when they found that the northern people had borrowed the southern Christmas and were celebrating it more generally every year. Many very old people now living remember that in then young days Christmas was almost ignored in New England, but in the course of a few years after the war for some mysterious reason, it leaped to the front as the most popular festive season of the year.
        The war worked many radical changes in the social, political, moral and industrial conditions which had prevailed in this region for many generations, the new south differed materially from the old south in many respects. In some directions there is a distinct improvement—a step forward—but in others the old timers say that there has been a retrograde movement.
       The millions of angry people who refused for more than two centuries to adopt the Thanksgiving holiday, and then accepted it, did not stop there. Having overcome the prejudices against this custom, they found it easy to allow other yankee ideas, methods and institutions to obtain a foothold in Dixie.
       The older readers of this article will agree with me that great changes have occurred in the southern mode of living m the past thirty years.
       There was a time when a man might have visited every restaurant and boarding house in a southern town without being able to find such articles as baked beans, Boston brown bread, doughnuts and codfish balls. These things followed the invading federal armies, and they came to stay. They are now recognized articles of diet among native southerners, as well as north settlers.
        We have adopted different foods, fashions and methods. Nearly every successful northern idea has been adopted here or is on trial in an experimental way.
       Many New England isms are making headway in the south. Once there were no Spiritualists here; now there are thousands. The female suffrage idea is spreading, and hundreds of callings are open to women in the south which were closed to them before the war.  A generation ago it was a rare thing to find Unitarian, Unaversalist and Congregational churches in this section, but now they are growing in every state.
       We also have Christian Science, the faith cure, divine healers, etc.
       We have become so tolerant that Mormon missionaries come and go, and preach among us without being molested.

      What has all this to do with Thanksgiving Day?
      A great deal. Any one who is familiar with our history can see at a glance the great revolution which has taken place in the south. Perhaps half unconsciously the new south has taken New England as a model, and is gradually shaping herself accordingly.
      In many ways the change is beneficial, but in others it is to our disadvantage. We can learn many valuable lessons from the north in finance, industry, economy, and in such matters as public schools, municipal ownership and commercial progress, but it would be wise to hold on to all that is best of the old south until we are absolutely certain that it will be to our interest in every way to embrace a new civilization.
       But Thanksgiving Day is all right, no matter when or where it originated, and our people will observe it in the proper spirit for all time to come. If we never borrow anything worse from New England we are not likely to suffer.