Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Union Santas

In researching the background for Terrel Lee Parker, the hero from my Christmas novella, An Ordinary Angel, I discovered that Terrel Lee was originally from Milledgeville, Georgia. Milledgeville was one of many towns within the path of Sherman’s famous “March to the Sea.” While Terrel Lee was away “fightin’ the Yankee vermin,” his family home was pillaged and destroyed.

That well known march from Kingston to Savannah, led by Major General William T. Sherman, was intended to break the backbone of the confederacy by destroying the factories, railroads and mills in order to hasten the end of the war. Arguing his case to General Grant and the military administration in Washington, Sherman declared, “Unless we can depopulate Georgia it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of its roads, houses and people will cripple their military resources. I can make the march and make Georgia howl!”

From November 12 to December 22, Sherman led 53,923 infantry, 4,438 cavalry, and 1,718 artillery in four parallel columns on different roads, cutting a path of destruction 25 miles wide and over 300 miles long, and creating resentment so deep it still exists almost150 years later.

Sherman’s army occupied Savannah on December 21, 1864. The next day Sherman sent a dispatch to Fort Monroe to be telegraphed to President Lincoln, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, also about 25,000 bales of cotton.” The message reached the president on Christmas Eve.

But armies are made up of men, most of them good men who loved their families and only wanted to be home for Christmas.

On Christmas Day 1864, about 90 Michigan soldiers and their captain loaded several wagons full of food and other supplies. They rode into the ravaged countryside distributing the items to the destitute Southerners and brought a little bit of Christmas cheer to people who had no reason to celebrate. Grateful, the families thanked these unknown Union ‘Santa Clauses’ as the wagons pulled away under the power of mules that had tree-branch ‘antlers’ strapped to their heads.

An excerpt from AN ORDINARY ANGEL

“I don’t hate you, Terrel Lee.”
“You have apologized already, Miss Julianne.”
She sighed. There it was again, the stiff formality she had come to hate. From the other side of the room, he lifted a trap door and motioned for her to join him.
“Why don’t you have any family pictures?” she asked as she peered into the black hole of what was obviously a root cellar.
He heaved an exhausted sigh. Tiny lines of pain etched the chapped skin around his mouth and eyes. His lips were taut and slightly blue. “They were destroyed when General Sherman burned his way through Georgia.”
“What happened to them?”
“I just told you.”
“No, I mean what happened to your family?”
“Julianne, we don’t have time for this. The bank robbers will be here any minute.”
“Please, it’s important to me.”
He surrendered with a defeated sigh. “My family had a large cotton plantation outside of Milledgeville, Georgia. I was the youngest of five. My oldest brother, Beauregard, died of small pox while imprisoned at Camp Douglas in sixty-four. My sister, Emily Rose, died in child-birth, overworked and undernourished, her husband killed at Shiloh. James Robert, died from wounds he received at Cold Harbor. And Samantha Jane killed herself after she was cruelly violated by a loathsome piece of Yankee vermin durin’ Sherman’s march to the sea. My father was shot tryin’ to protect her.” Though what he said had to be painful, he delivered the information in an emotionless, monotone voice.
“I tried to keep things goin’ once I returned home, but the house had been burned to the ground, we owed money in taxes, and Yankee carpetbaggers were crawlin’ out from under every rock. After my mother finally succumbed to her broken heart, I sold what I could and moved out here to start again.”
Her gaze locked with his.
“Is there anythin’ more you wish to know?”

To Purchase: http://www.thewildrosepress.com/an-ordinary-angel-p-3796.html?zenid=6d4444b0f5dd478a038d52440e008317

Christmas During the Civil War
By Walter Gable, Seneca County
The Civil War, A History
By Harry Hansen


  1. Hi All,
    I'm afraid I'm off to work. Short day of inservices. I should be home this afternoon. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. As always, I learned a little bit more about the Civil War from you today. Fascinating information, too. I loved Ordinary Angel. It was the first of your work that I read and I've tried to read everything you publish ever since.
    I wish you all the very best.

  3. Kathy, what a great story. I had no idea there were Santas among the Union soldiers. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Fun information! And An Ordinary Angel is a great Christmas read!

  5. I can't even imagine the devastation, both physical and emotional, from Sherman's March. Overall, I think this was one of the cruelest wars from the day it began to the day it ended, if it ever really did. I'm glad to hear there was some mercy given, no matter how small.

  6. Awesome post, Kathy. We just visited Gettysburg and my interest in the civil War has been renewed. I had a great-great (I think that's the number of greats) who marched with Sherman. He was discharged with dysentery (he survived) before they got to the sea. I found his discharge papers in my mom's old house. Since I am West-Coast born and bred, I love this little piece of family history.

  7. Oh, forgot to congrat you on the Christmas read. It sounds fantastic.

  8. Hi Sarah,
    You're such a sweetie. :) Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Hi Caroline,
    I suppose the soldiers felt bad, and it was Christmas. I don't know. I came across the story by accident, and it was just a tiny paragraph, but I loved it.

  10. Hi Paty,
    Thanks for stopping by. Great hearing from you! Best wishes on all your writing projects.

  11. Hi Jacquie,
    I suppose the emotion of the Civil War will always be felt. Here it is 150 years later and we still remember.

  12. Hi Tanya,
    That's so cool finding actual discharge papers! I believe illness was the number one cause of death in soldiers of the Civil War, and dysentery was right up at or near the top. Your lucky he survived.
    And, An Ordinary Angel is actually a couple of years old. I just thought since it was Christmas time, I'd squeeze in a little promo. ;)

  13. Kathy,
    What a wonderful story to be inspired by just a paragraph you happened upon. :-)

    Makes me wonder if I had any ancestors from Michigan in that group who took gifts to the ravaged people in Georgia. I know one ancestor in Michigan was a circuit riding preacher, but I don't know where or if he served in the War. I'll have to look into that.

    I've been to the antebellum town of Madison, Ga, but it's not as large a town as Milledgeville. It's on the same road which leads north to Athens where the U. of Georgia is located. Beautiful land of farms. I've been there many times for the holidays. Luckily, Madison was spared from Sherman's destruction.

  14. What an inspiring story. I never knew the Union soldier had such a benevolent spirit at Christmas. There is truly hope for our old, sick world when people reach out to those with a different view.
    Best wishes with Ordinary Angel--You have such a gift of writing--but I've told you that before!
    Loved this Christmas post...well done.

  15. I can just picture the false antlers mimicking reindeer when the soldiers delivered food and stuff on Christmas. There is goodness in most people. It is hard to fathom what it was like for the soldiers in the Civil War.

    Great post!

  16. Hi Jeanmarie,
    That's cool that you've been to Georgia. I've only been to Revolutioary War battlefields, though I'd love to walk some of the Civil War sites.

  17. Hi Celia,
    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I see you networking all over the internet. I don't know how you get everything done and still write. I'd love to know your secret. :)

  18. Hi Marybelle,
    Thanks so much for stopping by. Best wishes! :)

  19. Hi Paisley,
    When you think of all the men involved in that march, these few could easily have gone unnoticed.

  20. Oh WOW, Kathy! What a fascinating post! I had no idea. It's amazing what Christmas will do for the love among men who are at war. It's the one time they can have a truce and all relax. What a lovely, lovely story. I really enjoyed your excerpt, too! Sounds like a great read. Thanks for an interesting post. I learned something new today.

  21. Wow, Kathy that was a great blog. And what a wonderful act at Christmas for the union soldiers to play Santa. I have never heard about that gesture before. It touched my heart.



  22. Hi Cheryl and Margaret,
    Thanks for stopping by. I have no idea how they tied the sticks on the horses heads, but they must have been very tolerant horses. Mine would have taken off for parts unknown, dragging their antlers behind them.


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