We continue our week long Civil War Thanksgiving celebration with an excerpt from William Wheeler’s November 11, 1861 letter to his mother:
Camp Observation, Md., November 11, 1861.
Dear M., — Thanks for your promptness in answering my last letter. Yours was the first received after reaching this camp, and I was saved a disappointment when the mail came in, the night of that stormy Saturday…Now, however, I am very much more comfortable in my way of living; I have had an oven built in my tent, of large stones, with a flue running out for some distance behind the tent, covered with stones and plastered with clay; the chimney is made of two beef barrels, placed one on top of the other; the draught is generally very good, except when the wind blows from the east, and early in the morning my boy comes in, just after reveille, and lights up a good fire, so that when I rise, I find the edge taken off from the morning frost considerably. These stoves, of this simple construction, are all the rage among the officers in the camps here, and they are a grand institution; only some of them are unable to get beef barrels, and build their chimneys of sugar barrels, which are liable to catch fire, and cause a great deal of disturbance and fun in being extinguished; the Philadelphia Fire Zouaves, the nearest regiment to us, recall their former days, and run “with the machine” to put out the officers’ chimneys. Grub, too, has manifestly improved; we have a man who waits on our mess who is a great forager, and scours the country round for provisions, wherewith to vary the daily bill of fare, of government salt horse and hard biscuit. Not unsuccessful is his scouring either, as that excellent leg of mutton which we had for dinner yesterday, and that loud-clucking hen in the next tent might testify. A rumor, too, has been blown hitherward, of sundry turkeys in a farmyard not very remote, and I think it highly probable that we shall celebrate the New York Thanksgiving day, by fleshing our teeth in a secesh gobbler…
The news from the South is most cheering, and I think that every one will rejoice that South Carolina should receive the just reward of her iniquities, and that, too, when she thought that she had removed the noise of war and tumult far away from her borders. I hope that you will all have a good time on Thanksgiving Day this year. I shall think of you as eating turkey together, and shall try to put myself en rapport with you in that respect, if such a “bird of loudest lay” can be had.
Source: Wheeler, William. “Letter from William Wheeler, November 11, 1861,” in Letters of William Wheeler of the Class of 1855, Y.C. (Privately published, 1875).
Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, November 26, 1863.