Christmas in Hagerstown, 1861

Posted on December 25, 2011 by


For those in western Maryland who considered themselves Southerners AND Unionists… (and, considering the circumstances as Southern Unionists… perhaps it should be “Unionists AND Southerners”) the first eight months of the Civil War must have proved trying between the back-and-forth of uncertainty regarding Maryland and secession, and the division in sentiment with those, mostly across the Potomac, with whom was shared common culture… as Southerners. Of course, the dividing line set the distinction of how differently the opposing sets of Southerners saw their future… with the Union, or apart from it.

By December, a fair number of men had made their way into the ranks of the Union army (and a lesser number into the Confederate army), and for the first time, no matter the side of choice, the families left behind began to feel the void. No doubt, Christmas made that absence an even greater pain.

In an effort to keep the Christmas spirit at home upbeat, the editors of Hagerstown’s Herald of Freedom and Torch Light ran the following editorial, 150 years ago today… Christmas Day, 1861…

Christmas. – This morning we have the pleasure of congratulating our readers on one more return of what is usually termed happy-hearted, merry old Christmas. There are, however, circumstances of gloom and peril environing the present advent of this time-honored season of joyous salutations, to which we need not allude, but which cannot fail to cast a deep shadow upon every scene of festivity which it may inspire. – Still we should make the most of it. The event it professes to commemorate ought to fill the heart alike with gladness and gratitude, even though the nation may be convulsed by one of the fiercest of civil wars. Though thousands of men are arrayed against each other in deadly strife within only a few miles of our homes, the roar of whose artillery is daily heard by us, still Christmas, as of yore, furnishes a fit occasion for the indulgence of the better and kinder feelings of our nature. The associations of the day are all kind and cheering; it is ever known and celebrated as “Merry Christmas.” Its observance is social, and tends to cherish good feelings and right affections toward our neighbor. It is a time for good wishes, kind words and the sending of gifts, and it should be improved to that end in an especial manner on the present occasion, since we have so many soldiers around us who are battling for the safety of our homes, and the preservation of our free institutions, and who pre-eminently deserve to be kindly remembered by those for whom they are doing so much.

Were it only for the amount of unfeigned delight Christmas brings to our children, surely we should regret its abolition from the observances of social life, and feel a blank when its date returned. Who can stand near the entrance of one of our depots for the sake of toys and confectionery, and watch the looks of the little folks that enter and that leave those fairy regions of childish delight and coldly wish the joyous anniversary blotted from the calendar? No! let those whose religious aspirations consecrate the day as sacred, indulge the feeling it is calculated to awaken, and hallow its return by the offerings of a sincere devotion; – while those who acknowledge no such impulse in the observance, or even disapprove of the celebration as an ecclesiastical appointment, enjoy the day as one of welcome, rest, and relaxation; as an occasion for the meeting of family circles and the renewing and brightening of the chain of old friendships; for the visits of kindness and heavenly charity; for making orphans glad, and causing the widow’s heart to sing for joy. As an appropriate song of joy and devotion, we subjoin the following verses written by Rev. Dr. MUHLENBERG: –

Go to the forest.*
Where the myrtles grown,
Where the pine and laurel
Bend beneath the snow;
Gather them for Jesus
Wreath them for his shrine;
Mark his temple glorious
With the box and pine.
Carol brothers, Carol, Carol joyfully,
Carol the good tidings, Carol merrily,
And pray a gladsome Christmas
For all good Christian men,
Carol Brothers, Carol, Christmas day again!

Carol, but with gladness,
Not in songs of Earth,
On the Savior’s birthday,
Hallowed be our mirth;
While a thousand blessings
Fill our hearts with glee;
Christmas day we’ll keep, the
Feast of Charity.
Carol, Brothers, Carol, &c.

At the merry table,
Think of those who’ve none,
The orphan and the widow,
Hungry and alone;
Bountiful your offerings
To the Altar bring,
Let the poor and needy
Christmas Carols sing.
Carol Brothers, Carol, &c.

Listening Angel-music,
Discord sure must cease;
Who date hate his brother
On this day of peace?
While the Heavens are telling
To mankind good will,
Only love and kindness
Every bosom fill
Carol, Brothers, Carol, &c.

Let our hearts resounding
To the seraph band,
Wish this morning’s sunshine
Bright in every land;
Word and deed and prayer,
Speed the grateful sound;
Telling “Merry Christmas,”
All the world around!
Carol, Brothers, Carol, &c.

*Isaiah ch 50, v. 13.

A Christmas ad from the December 4, 1861 issue of the Herald of Freedom and Torch Light

Christmas ad from the December 18, 1861 issue of the Herald of Freedom and Torch Light.

Another Christmas ad from the December 18, 1861 issue of the Herald of Freedom and Torch Light.

… and so, with the formalities of the blog post and the events of Christmas 150 years ago being covered… Cenantua’s Blog wishes all of its readers a very Merry Christmas!