An engaging portrait of Thanksgiving in North Carolina is presented in this letter written by James Cartwright of the 44th Massachusetts Infantry. Its surprisingly peaceful picture of a holiday in camp makes this seem more a festive day at home than a brief respite from war. We are indebted to Mr. James J. Finan, Glastonbury, Connecticut, for bringing this letter to our attention and for allowing us to share it with our readers.
Camp Stevenson Newbern Dec 1, 1862
Knowing that you will be pleased to hear from me how we passed Thanksgiving, I will give you a rough sketch how we passed it, with a few additional remarks. . . . On Wednesday P.M. at Dress Parade orders were read proclaiming Thursday 27 ultfimo] a Day of Thanksgiving in this Department which was hailed with joy by all of our Boys. Thanksgiving Day was ushered in by the booming of cannon & the rising of the sun in all her glory. Thus auspiciously inaugurated the day was carried thro’ in the pleasantest shape. It seems to me that by the variety of amusement & real fun, that all natures must have been suited. Some celebrated the day in real N.[ew] E.[ngland] style by getting up an huge game of foot-ball much to the detriment of some of the poor fellows lower limbs—others went out and visited the Pickets & had quiet strolls in the woods away from the noise and bustle of a Holliday in camp, others went Gunning or Fishing.
I saw one Lt. come in with 10 fine Black Ducks for his share of the sport. But three or four Boys & myself visited the Hospital in the City to see Roberts but unfortunately we were obliged to depart without talking to him, for he had just come out of a fainting turn, & was in perfect agony. His wound had been probed that A.M. & a piece of Flannel taken out, so we spent the A.M. pleasantly in the City, & had the pleasure of seeing the Major Genls Daughter & other Ladies.
We all found our way back to camp before 2 o clock for that was the hour set for our reappearance & then we were ordered to prepare for dinner. Our Co barracks were very tastefully arranged with all manner of decorations, Flags, Guns, swords & equipments, evergreens. It certainly was beautiful to behold. There was a table made full length of the room & covered with Rubber cloth. We were invited at the proper time to vacate the ranch & after a reasonable delay we were filed in one by one & seated The table was not empty rest assured. We had between 30 & 40 Turkeys, some Chickens with all vegetables, Cranberry sauce & apple & we did this course justice. I assure you these things were removed & for Desert were brought on 20 beautiful large Plumb Puddings with accompanying sweet sauce. After the appetites of our hundred men nearly were satisfied, this course was removed & for a social after course were brought on an abundance of apples, Raisins, Nuts, etc. & all those that desired were made the recipients of Cigars & then we commenced to talk. Capt R opened the exercises with a nice little speech followed by the Lts. & then the members of the Co were variously called upon & among them your servant. I did not talk over one hour & 1/2. These pleasant exercises were brought to a spirited close by all hands singing Old Lang Syne.
Immediately after dinner we commenced preparations for the eve’s entertainment. In one end of the room [we] built a stage, arranged Curtains, Foot-lights & decorations & then rehearsed some of the Pieces. Issued invitations to all the officers of the Regt & thro them to all the Co’s. We had a very full even crowded House & was honored with the presence of the Col, Lt Col, Major, & Adjutant at different times during the eve. Taps were not sounded until Ten o’clock. They usually sound at 8,30. Our entertainment was a perfect success & that you may see the class of entertainment I will send you a copy of the Programme. With this entertainment ended one of the happiest days of my existence. I never expect to see such another day.
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Give my love to all the folks, & accept lots for your dear self from