Across the North, citizens came together to mark the birthday of a beloved American statesman. The nation’s first president was born on February 22, 1732. Nearly a century and half later, as the country was mired in bloody civil war, people looked for a unifying figure. Who’s more unifying than George Washington? That being said, celebrating Washington’s birthday was not a new phenomenon.
In the Union Army encampments across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., it seemed the perfect time for a party with strong sentiments and stronger drink. They were merely acting as President Abraham Lincoln had ordered:
“It is recommended to the people of the United States that they assemble in their customary places of meeting for public solemnities on the 22d day of February instant and celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Father of his Country by causing to be read to them his immortal Farewell Address.”
We’ve been examining the Civil War escapades of the 96th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry here at Wynning History. How did they mark the occasion?
Luckily, a correspondent submitted a letter to the Pottsville Miners’ Journal and published in early March that describes how the regiment’s officers observed “public solemnities” on February 22, 1862.
Headquarters 96th Regt. Penna. Vols.
Camp Northumberland, Fairfax Co., Va., February 24, 1862
Dear Journal –
The old, familiar, and truly acceptable Journal, arrives at Camp Northumberland regularly every week, and it is always welcomed by our boys, and its contents eagerly devoured. We are, indeed, much indebted to you for the kindness you exhibit in sending us several copies, gratis, every week.
Thinking that a few lines, regarding the manner in which the 22nd passed way in camp, may prove somewhat interesting to your many readers, and also to our many friends. I will endeavor to inform them.
The day was ushered in by the booming of cannon in all directions. Company C’s battery was brought out, and a national salute fired. The Band played all the national airs. It was the intention of Lieut. Col. Frick, (Col. Cake being absent) to read Washington’s Farewell Address to the regiment, but owing to the inclemency of the weather, this important part of the programme had to be dispensed with. A sumptuous dinner was prepared and served up in excellent style by the cook, Louis Bocam (who has been dubbed “Honest Lou”) for the officer’s mess.
In the evening, a majority of the officers assembled at the hotel; Lieut. Col. Frick being among the party, acted as chairman.
After stating the object of the meeting, the chairman proposed “the memory of the immortal Washington.
Toast – The ladies, not of Alexandria, but the Ladies – Lieut. Col. Frick.
Capt. Boyle responded in his usual happy manner.
Song – “Donald Blue” – Lieut. Coyle
Song – Lieut. Charles Dougherty
Toast – The Schuylkill County Volunteers – Capt. Boyle
Lieut. Royer responded, paying a high tribute to the gallant sons of old Schuylkill.
Toast – Lieut. Col. Frick, may he be in heaven in three days before the devil knows he is dead – Lieut. Boyer, Company K.
Lieut. Col. Frick responded.
Toast – The charge of the 96th – Captain Boyle.
Lieut. Boyer, Company D responded.
Toast – The memory of the gallant sons who fell defending the flag of our country at the taking of Fort Donelson – Capt. Anthony
Song – “Hurry up the Cakes” – Lieut. Byrnes
Toast – Arlington Heights – Capt. Boyle.
Lieut. Boyer, Company E, responded.
Anecdote by Lieut. Royer.
Music – “Washington’s March” by the Band
Toast – “Washington’s March” – Lieut. Col. Frick
Music – “Red, White, and Blue” – Band.
Song – “Drink it Down” – Lieut. Chas. Dougherty
Song – “Halla-loo-ja-rum” – Lieut. Royer.
Music – “Yankee Doodle” – Band.
Anecdotes related by Lieut. Col. Frick, Capt. Anthony, Capt. Budd, Lieut. Royer, and Lieut. Boyer of Company D, caused much merriment.
Music – “Pivot Waltz” – Band
Toast – Major Martin of the 96th – Capt. Boyle
Major Martin responded.
Music – “Comin’ Through the Rye” – Band
Toast – Old Rye – Lieut. Col. Frick
Anecdote by Capt. Anthony.
Song – “Bonaparte on the Isle of St. Helena” – Lieut. Charles Dougherty.
Toast – The memory of Napoleon – Lieut. Col. Frick.
Music – “I’ll think of thee, Maggie” – Band
Toast – The Band, may the devil and poverty always be a day’s journey behind them – Lieut. Boyer, Company K.
Music – “Gay and Happy” – Band
Toast – The storming of Arlington Heights – Captain Boyle.
Capt. Hay responded.
Music – “Pop goes the Weasel.”
Patriotic Toast by Lieut. Chas. Dougherty.
Music – “Plain Waltz” – Band
Patriotic Toast by Lieut. John Dougherty
Song – The Pilsen Serpent” – Louis Bocam
Toast – The Health of Honest Lou – Lieut. Col. Frick.
Dance – Sailor’s Hornpipe” – Honest Lou
Toast – Old Schuylkill County – Capt. Hay
Captain Boyle responded
Toast – Our worthy commander, Colonel H.L. Cake – Lieut. Col. Frick
After a few remarks, Capt. Boyle proposed a toast – Dublin.
Music – “Bold Sojer Boy” – Band
Toast – The President of the United States – Major Martin
Comic Song – “Why didn’t you get Married while you were Young?” Lieut. C. Dougherty.
Music – Medley by the Band.
Song – “Landlord, Fill the Flowing Bowl” – Lieut. Royer.
Music – “Pivot Waltz” – Band
Song – “Katy Dear” – Lieut. Charles Dougherty
Music – “Dixie Land” – Band
Song – “Shells of the Ocean” – Lieut. Boyer, Company D.
Scotch song by Capt. Anthony.
Music – “Hail Columbia” – Band
Song – “The Star Spangled Banner,” by the party
Music – “St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning – Band
The hour for closing having arrived the party adjourned, and all declared themselves exceedingly gratified at the pleasant manner in which they had passed the evening.
I must not close without saying a few words in regard to the Band. Few are there who reside in Schuylkill County, that have not often listened to the sweet and soul-stirring music of the Pottsville Cornet Band, and since their departure from Pottsville, they have improved so rapidly, under the excellent leadership of N.J. Kehr, that it compares favorably with the best in the service; in fact. I feel justified in saying that few bands can equal, and none excel the Regimental Band of “ye gallant 96th.”
Fearing of trespassing too much upon your precious time, I’ll conclude. If acceptable, more anon.
I imagine that “exceedingly gratified” points to the buzz brought on by sixteen toasts over the course of only a few hours.
This may not be all as the writer made it out to be.
Our next story will feature a rebuttal to this article published in the Miners’ Journal. And somebody is in big trouble.