Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas and the Civil War - Book Review #1 - Stern's "Christmas Album"

There are a number of books (but not as many as you might think!) specifically about Christmas and the Civil War. Over the next few weeks I will give some highlights and reviews of relevant books in my collection.
Up first is The Civil War Christmas Album, selected and edited by Philip Van Doren Stern (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1961).

The book is long out-of-print, but used copies can be found in the usual places including my favorites: Bookfinder, abebooks, and - occasionally - on EBay. As always, prices for rare/out-of-print titles depend on condition and the inclusion of the dustjacket; a quick search today yielded prices from $5 to $60 for The Civil War Christmas Album.

Published in 1961, The Civil War Christmas Album was obviously intended to take advantage of the interest generated by the Centennial (1961-1965). The book is divided into several different sections:

PEACE - which describes the last Christmas before the war; WAR - which includes more than a dozen selections about Christmas at the front selected from Robert E. Lee's correspondence, to Raphael Semmes memoir, to the reminisces of veterans, to Walt Whitman; SANTA CLAUS IN WARTIME - which includes a few delightful fiction pieces; CHRISTMAS AT HOME - with more than a dozen selections, including excerpts from Godey's Lady's Book, Christmas at the White House, short stories from Harper's Weekly, and more; and finally and happily: THE FIRST PEACETIME CHRISTMAS.

The book includes dozens of wartime engravings showing period Christmas traditions.

It need not be read from cover-to-cover. Favorite stories can be found and read on their own, and children will enjoy the engravings and some of the shorter stories, especially.

The Civil War Christmas Album may be a bit hard to find but well worth adding to your library and holiday reading table!

Other reviews are coming but I would LOVE to hear about some of your own favorite books about Christmas in the Civil War!


Richard said...


The only 2 I have read are "We Were Marching on Christmas Day" by Kevin Rawling and "God Rest Ye, Merry Soldiers" by James McIvor.

I think "Marching" can be a bit hard to find or pricy, but it is very well worth it for the description of how some of our Christmas traditions were developing in the Civil War era.

"God Rest Ye" provides somewhat similar information, but is a good read on its own.

I'll have to keep watching for more that you suggest

Richard (aka captainrlm)

B. Forbush said...

Thanks for letting us know about this book, I'd never heard of it. I read that Thanksgiving was more of a 'big thing' in camp, back in those days and Christmas celebrations were quieter. I do have a letter that mentions local Christmas traditions in Maryland. I posted about it last year on my blog.
I'll check out this book and,
Merry Christmas to you !

Jim Schmidt said...

Thanks, Guys! I'll also be providing reviews of "Marching..." and "God Rest Ye..." One I have not read is "General Sherman's Christmas" (?) by Stanley Weintraub, who has made something of a specialty of wartime Christmas books, I think. Another one is an 1890s children's fiction Christmas story with a great Civil War theme.

Brad - thanks fo rthe tip on your Maryland letter!

I think you are right about "quieter" Christmases in the 1860s...I don't think it was declared a national holiday until 1870, is that right?


Richard said...

I thought it was the late 1870s before it became a national holiday and I seem to recall that it became a state holiday around the south before moving up to New England, which is kind of contrary to popular believe.

I believe one of those other books I mentioned discusses it more. I think Louisiana may have been the first state to have Christmas as a state holiday - that doesn't exactly bring about images of snow-covered villages and ice-skating, does it?

B. Forbush said...

Michael Medved has done a show on the evolution of Christmas traditions in our country. I cannot remember when it became a National Holiday, but from what I remember, Richard is correct. Christmas was more widely celebrated in the South, to begin with.

I am a big fan of Washington Irving, and his "Knickerbocker's History of New York" has one of the first American Characterizations of St. Nick, or Santa Claus.