Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving at Camp Griffin, November 1861

I would like to wish readers a Happy Thanksgiving!  As we celebrate this holiday, I thought you might enjoy the following excerpts from a letter written by Zebina Y. Bickford, a private with the 6th Vermont, Company D, who passed the winter at Camp Griffin in Lewinsville.  On November 28, 1861, he wrote to Ms. Emily Bickford:

It is Thanksgiving Day and I have not much to do but write and thinking perhaps you did not hear from Virginia any oftener than you wished to I thought perhaps a few lines from some of us cousins would be very acceptable. . . .  It is just about the time that Vermonters are taking their thanksgiving supper and I have no doubt you are enjoying it first rate. Well so are we soldier boys. You may think that we are home sick today but it is not so, not with me at any rate for we received a box of clothing and a few nicknacks consisting of eatables, from Glover last night and that makes a very good thanksgiving for us. The clothing is the best part of it however. It came just the right time we were all wishing it would come the night before thanksgiving. Our company are gone out on picket guard that is all the well ones and if I had been able I should have gone with them, but I have been sick with the measles and was not able to go. Supper is ready so I can't write any more now. . . .

Thanksgiving supper is over you cant imagine what a lot of fine things we had for supper, so I must tell you. In the first place we had a piece of sour bread and salt pork. This is what we usually have although the bread is not always sour. We generally have good bread and of late enough of it, but when we first came here we were kept pretty hungry we did not have half enough to eat and our meat a part of the time was not cooked at all. Well I almost forgot I was telling you what I had for supper. After the bread and meat I had some of mother's cookies and doughnuts that came in our box. They tasted a good deal like Vermont victuals. Well you must wait a few moments until I can read a couple letters that have just come in. . . .  One of my letters was from Sarah & Alice. They gave me a very cordial to come and spend Thanksgiving with them but the letter was one day to late for Thanksgiving day is passed and evening has come. Therefore I shall have to wait until next year before I accept their invitation. . . .  Charley Refford is passing around his cake that was sent him from home and I must stop once more and help them eat the cake. It was first rate cake I tell you a good deal better than we get here everyday. I suppose you have had a good sleigh ride before this time. I have not had one yet nor do I expect one while we stay in Va. We have not had any snow here yet that stayed on the ground all day. It snowed a little one night but it melted away before noon the next day. The days are very warm here but the nights are very cold. It has been the warmest thanksgiving day I ever saw it as warm as it is in Vermont in September. Last night when we were on dress parade the Colonel read the proclamation of the Governor of Vermont and requested us to keep the day as Vermonters should. After dress parade was over our first Lieutenant told us that those who did not go on picket might get up just as good a supper as the circumstances would permit of we might have baked turkey chicken pie or anything else we chose, but nothing of the kind could be purchased here with love or money. Three were of us went out this forenoon to try and get something for supper but we could not find anything that we wanted so we concluded to let it go till next year when we hope to be at home it does not seem as though this war could last more than a year longer but perhaps it will there is no one knows how long we shall have to stay here I suppose we have got good leaders and those who are capable of managing our army. I hope so at least. . . .

Remember friends that are far away. Write as soon as you get this and do not fail to write over half a dozen sheets for I have nothing to do now but read letters. My love to all. Write soon. Write soon. Write soon. Write soon. Write soon and often. This from Zebina
 (spelling and grammar as in original)
Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1861, by A.R. Waud.  Sketch made in camp of Union General Louis Blenker, around Washington, D.C. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Vermonters celebrated the holiday with what little they had.  At least Zebina and his fellow soldiers were able to enjoy some sweets from home.  Zebina's meal stands in stark contrast to the feast at the camp of the 2nd Wisconsin Regiment in Arlington.  There, men dined on oysters, turkey with jelly, ducks, spring chickens, lamb with mint sauce, sirloin beef, pig, wild goose, baked beans, corn bread, cole slaw, pumpkin pie, and many other culinary delights.  The menu likely had something to do with the visit to camp of Wisconsin Governor Alexander Randall.

Zebina, like many others, celebrated his last Thanksgiving that year.  He died of disease on April 30, 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign.  Zebina is buried at the National Cemetery in Yorktown, Virginia.  The letter in its entirety can be found here, on the website of the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts. 


MarianneMeyers said...

I found this entry very moving, Ron. Thanks for sharing Zebina's letter, it brought me into his world for just a little bit.

Ron said...


Glad you liked reading the letter. I found it moving as well. It was interesting for me when I woke up and looked out the window on Thanksgiving morning. I live near where part of Camp Griffin was located, and I couldn't help but get a chill as I thought about all of those kids who had to celebrate the holiday away from home right in the very area where I would be giving thanks 149 years later.