“The Splendid Entertainment:” Christmas Eve in Jackson, Mississippi, 1861

I have just returned from a wonderful Christmas Eve meal with friends and family, which inspired me to find out how Mississippians were celebrating the first yuletide of the Civil War. While reading The Weekly Mississippian, I found the answer I was seeking in the December 18, 1861, edition of the Jackson newspaper:

CHRISTMAS EVE ENTERTAINMENT – We are gratified to learn that it is in contemplation to give

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an entertainment at concert hall on Christmas Eve, the proceeds of which will be appropriated to charitable purposes. It is said that there is to be a Christmas Tree, and that adults and children will receive tickets with numbers at the door which will entitle them to corresponding numbers which are to be attached to a multitude of prizes on the tree. When the arrangements shall have been fully completed our readers shall be notified.

Curious as to what took place at this Christmas Eve party, I looked through later editions of the newspaper, and was rewarded with the following articles from The Daily Mississippian that were published in the December 25, 1861, issue of The Weekly Mississippian.

On December 19, 1861, the Mississippian gave the following update on the party:

THE CHRISTMAS TREE – The Christmas Tree is being rapidly supplied with prizes by donations from the ladies and gentlemen of Jackson and vicinity, and still there is room remaining for a few more. But few persons have an adequate conception of the vast amount of both valuable prizes and toys for the juveniles the branches of the Christmas Tree is capable of containing. It is thought by those who have a right to know from the knowledge of its construction, that it will display several hundred prizes of great beauty and value, and it is but reasonable to suppose that our entire population will desire to witness this great attraction.

The next day, December 20, the Mississippian carried the following endorsement of the party:

CHRISTMAS EVE – Donations for the Tree will be received at Concert Hall on Saturday from 9 till 5 o’clock. Tickets of admission bearing numbers for the prizes will be sold at the same hours on Monday and Tuesday. This is the first Christmas under the Confederate Government, and the object being patriotic, let there be a crowded house.

On December 24, the Mississippian had one final plug for the Christmas Eve bash:

Christmas Entertainment

We would call attention to the splendid entertainment gotten up by the ladies of Jackson, to come off at the Concert Hall on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas Tree, loaded with its rich gifts, for Christmas presents, will be a sight well worth seeing. Each person buying a ticket of admission will be entitled to a prize, corresponding to the number on the ticket. Tickets only fifty cents, half tickets for children, twenty-five cents, all of which will draw a prize.

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“The Christmas Tree” by Winslow Homer, Harper’s Weekly, December 25, 1858.

A raffle will also take place during the evening, for a richly embroidered Vest, and a most beautifully embroidered Child’s dress, both presented to the Ladies Aid Society by Mrs. Angelo Miazza. The proceeds of the entertainment raffle &c., for the benefit of our brave volunteers.

Good music has been engaged for the occasion, and we anticipate the most delightful entertainment of the season. Doors open at 6 o’clock. Tickets to be had at the Post Office during the day, and at the door at night.

In many ways, Christmas Eve 1861 was the last good yule holiday for Southerners. The war was still in its infancy, casualties were few, and hopes were high that the conflict would soon be over. Such sentiments were much harder to believe in the Christmas’ that followed.

To all of my readers, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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The State of My Early Adoption: A Letter from General Nathan Bedford Forrest

In August 1864, the Mississippi legislature passed a joint resolution praising the

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Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest (Library of Congress)

Confederate general who had exerted himself so forcefully to protect the Magnolia State in that tumultuous year. The officer was, of course, Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose exploits in defense of the Confederacy had endeared him to thousands of Mississippians. The resolution read thus:

Joint Resolutions

In regard to Maj. General N.B. Forrest

Whereas, the eminent services of Maj. Gen’l N.B. Forrest have inspired the country with the highest confidence and admiration in his gallantry as an officer and pre-eminent qualities as a commanding General; and whereas his daring bravery and consummate skill, and the devoted heroism of his brave little army have repeatedly saved an important portion of this state from destruction by a ruthless foe: Therefore be it resolved by the legislature of the State of Mississippi, that the Governor be and he is authorized and instructed to cause to be manufactured in the finest style of workmanship and art, a sword, the hilt, blade and scabbard to be embossed, etched or engraved with the Arms of the State of Mississippi, and have engraved thereon the following inscription, “Presented by the State of Mississippi to Maj. Gen’l N.B. Forrest, of the C.S. Army, as a testimonial of the high appreciation of him as a warrior and patriot – and for his distinguished services in defense of her soil and people.” Which sword the Governor shall present or cause to be presented to Gen’l Forrest.

Resolved, that the Governor be and he is hereby authorized to make his requisition on the Auditor, for his warrant upon the treasury for the amount necessary to pay for the manufacture of said sword.

Resolved, that the Governor be requested to forward to Gen’l Forrest a copy of these resolutions.

Passed House of Representatives, Aug. 7, 1864, R. C. Miller, Clerk

Concurred in by Senate, Aug. 9th, 1864, D. P. Porter, Secy. Senate

Lock E. Houston, Speaker of the House of Representatives

W. Yerger, President of the Senate

Approved August 12, 1864, Chas. Clark, Governor

EDITORS NOTE: This resolution is located in Series 2585, Enrolled Bills, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

As far as I can tell, the State of Mississippi was never able to present a sword to General Forrest.  Given the chaotic conditions in the state during the last months of war, procuring a fancy presentation sword had to be at the bottom of a nearly endless list of priorities. Governor Clark did, however, forward a copy of the legislature’s resolution to Forrest, and he sent back the following reply:

Meridian, Miss., Sept. 6th, 1864

Governor Charles Clark

Dear Sir –

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your kind favour of yesterday, enclosing the resolutions of the Legislature of Mississippi. For the complimentary terms in which the Legislature of your state has been pleased to speak of my services, permit me through you, Governor, to return my sincere thanks. The compliment is the more highly appreciated since it comes from the state of my early adoption, the home of my youth & early manhood.

A promise of continued devotion to the interests of the state and her people, is all that I can offer in return for the high estimate placed upon my services. But it has been through the instrumentality of the brave troops which the Legislature has so justly complemented, that I have been enabled to serve the country. To them all the praise is due. It has been through their gallantry, courage and endurance that these victories have been achieved.

I remember with pride and pleasure the associations to which you refer in your letter. It was under

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Portrait of General Charles Clark in his brigadier general’s uniform – Mississippi Department of Archives and History

your order Governor, that I first drew my maiden sword. I regret that our intercourse was of such short duration, for it was one of unalloyed pleasure and harmony. I have mourned your absence from active field service where you were doing such valuable service to the country, and often have I sympathized with you in the suffering you have endured from wounds received in defense of the sacred cause.

Hoping your life may long be spared to the country you have served so faithfully, and thanking you for the kind terms in which you have discharged the duty imposed by the resolutions.

I remain Governor,

Very Respectfully,

Your friend and obt. Svt.,

N.B. Forrest, Maj. Genl.

EDITORS NOTE: This letter is located in the Charles Clark correspondence, Series 768, Box 950, Folder 1, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.