As our nation sits down to a table filled with food on Thanksgiving Day, each of us should thank God for our blessings and give to those less fortunate. (By the time you are reading this newspaper you will have begun on leftovers, or become very tired of turkey!) I am always thankful for our military, serving both here and abroad, so that we can have freedom, not only to serve God, but to live a life of independence. Even in a peace-time setting we can find it interesting to note that Thanksgiving became a national holiday during a time of war in order for the military to have some small comfort reminding them of “home.” Even though Thanksgiving Day has come and gone, the season for being thankful is just beginning.
In April, 1862 and July, 1863 (after Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg) President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed several thanksgivings. Then, in October of 1863, Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving Day to be observed on the last Thursday of November, 1863. This proclamation began, partially as a result of seventy-four year old Godey’s Lady’s Book magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale. Sarah, who was the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” had spent forty years campaigning for a national annual Thanksgiving holiday. She saw this as a way to give hope to a torn nation, and Lincoln, as President, and politician, also needed something to bring the country together during war time. According to one of the President’s secretaries, the document was actually written by Secretary of State William Seward, the original being in his handwriting. History tells us that the original was sold a year later to benefit the Union. The Proclamation from Lincoln is as follows:
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
History tells us that the Confederate army was very near starvation during the war, and that the South had very little, if any, food left afterward. We can understand that fact when we read about soldiers such as W. G. Allen, returning home to Washington in Rhea County after the War Between the States. Allen wrote that there were no crops remaining, and no horses could be found. He also stated that his home, along with many others, had been burned, and that he and his wife started over with a “sifter” of corn meal and some borrowed bacon.
According to historians, during the War Between the States, Northern farms produced great harvests because of the McCormick reaper and the John Deere plows and cultivators. Even though the South had originally used these machines, they could not repair or replace the machinery or their parts after the war began. (The reaper was invented in Virginia, but McCormick moved the manufacturing plant to Chicago in the 1840’s.) Then the Union troops began to take livestock, destroy warehouses, and ruin the harvests of the Southerners. Naturally, both sides suffered, with the enlisted men feeling the most hardships. The Confederate troops received cornmeal, rather than the wheat-flour soft bread or hard bread of the Union troops. This hard bread soon became known as “hardtack” shortly after the beginning of the war. From a first-hand account by a Massachusetts veteran, the hardtack could be “moldy, maggoty, or weevil-laden.” Another food item worthy of attention was the dehydrated vegetable cake, which could be boiled to make a “sort of” soup! This was part of the soldier’s diet in order to fight scurvy and other nutritional diseases. For protein, there was salt pork and bacon, or what the soldiers called “vile” salt beef. The salt beef was raw beef handed out immediately after the animal was slaughtered; this was seared over a campfire by each soldier, then salted and eaten.
The Spartan girls made history in Rhea County with their benevolence to their brothers, fathers, sweethearts, and neighbors who were in Civil War companies. They took clothing, food, and other items to these men for their comfort. Naturally, “something from home” would make men in a wartime situation feel somewhat better.
As we begin thinking about our own Thanksgiving meal, it is interesting to look at some of the foods in cookbooks from the 1800’s. From “Mrs. Putnam’s Book and Young Housekeeper’s Assistant”, published in 1860, is a recipe for Split Pea Soup, which was used as a starter for the Thanksgiving meal. Next, are two appetizers, Battered Oysters and Pumpkin Chips, which are from “The Carolina Housewife”, published in 1847. The instructions for roasting turkey are from “The Young Housekeeper’s Friend”, 1863. In these instructions we find the “wishbone” of today called the “hug-me-close” bone; it has also been called the “merrybone.” The stuffing is from a cookbook published in 1832; the sweet potato pudding, green beans, and beets are found in a cookbook originally published in 1837. Pumpkin pie is from “Godey”s Lady’s Book”, published in 1860.
As we make “Grandma’s” recipes, we can be grateful for so many things. We should be thankful for the freedom of worship, and the food we have on the table. Also, we need to have gratitude that our military is given a “real” Thanksgiving meal. In addition, we should be thankful that our country is not enduring a war such as the War Between the States at the present time. And we should definitely remember to learn from the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.