Thanksgiving Day in Schuylkill County – 1864

On November 24, 1864, the residents of Schuylkill County had much to celebrate and to be thankful for. On the second national celebration of Thanksgiving, the United States Army had begun a string of remarkable victories and the Confederacy seemed on the brink of defeat. The Civil War, it seemed, was entering its final stage.

For others, the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln seemed to reason to give thanks. His policies would see the war to its successful conclusion.

Lincoln_1865 (1)

But assuredly, there were also those who spent a beautiful November day mourning instead of giving thanks. The year 1864 was the bloodiest year of the Civil War and many soldiers from Schuylkill County had been killed or were maimed in the course of their service to the Union. 

50th PA
Officers of the 50th Pennsylvania, most of whom originated from Schuylkill County. (LOC

This mix of sorrow, celebration, and giving of thanks marked the holiday season in November 1864. The Miners’ Journal of Pottsville put these sentiments to print in two successive issues of their newspaper.

From the November 26, 1864 edition of the Miners’ Journal:

Thanksgiving

Thursday was beautiful. There was an Indian Summer haze in the atmosphere that mellowed the sharp crests of our hills and subdued the rich carnation of the changing leaves. Nature was in her most placid mood – she is evidently favorable to Thanksgiving.

In the morning the various places of public worship, with the exception of the Catholic, were open for divine service, and were well attended. Appropriate sermons were preached by the different pastors. The Methodist and Baptist congregations met together in the edifice of the former. A collection in aid of the Christian Commission was taken up in the Methodist Church, which amounted to nearly $70.

In the afternoon a magnificent supper was given at the residence of Mr. Charles Heffner, by the Union ladies of the western end of Market Street and vicinity. It was one of the most pleasant affairs of the kind that ever came off in Pottsville.

Thanksgiving_Day_--_The_dinner_(Boston_Public_Library) (1)
A Thanksgiving dinner in the Civil War era. (Harper’s Weekly)

The ladies who got it up deserve the greatest credit for the successful manner in which it passed off. Some three hundred invited guests were present, among whom was a number of returned soldiers. The rooms of Mr. Heffner’s residence were festooned with the American flag among the folds of which peeped out, at intervals, the portraits of American statesmen and patriots. The supper was enlivened by strains of excellent music from the Pottsville Band.

In short the country could have been successfully challenged on the day to produce a merrier, happier party than that which met at Mr. Heffner’s. After the supper excellent speeches were delivered by Rev. Mr. Koons, Lin Bartholomew, Esq., and Nathaniel J. Mills, Esq. The sentiments they uttered were warmly applauded. The company separated at an early hour, pleased with the entertainment, themselves, “all the world, and the rest of mankind.

We learn that a pleasant Union jubilee was held on Thursday evening last, at the hotel of Michael K. Weand, Port Carbon, which was interspersed with toasts, speeches, and songs…

Thanksgiving, from all we hear, passed over very pleasantly to the great mass of our people.

Pottsville
Pottsville during the Civil War era (NYPL)

 From the December 3, 1864 edition of the Miners’ Journal 

Union Celebration in Port Carbon on Thanksgiving Evening

Editors, Miners’ Journal:

Permit me through the columns of your valuable paper to give a short account of a grand demonstration in the shape of a Supper given by the lovers of the Union cause of Port Carbon and Palo Alto at the [hotel] of M.D. Weand, on Thanksgiving evening, [November] 24th, in honor of the glorious victories achieved by our brave armies under Generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan, and also of the Union citizens on the 8th day of November in the re-election of Honest Old Abe, for another term of four years.

Port Carbon 2
Port Carbon in 2019

The arrangements…were under the management of Messrs. U. Gane and H.B. Sessinger, who performed their duties very efficiently. The Supper was gotten up in splendid style by mine boss Mr. M.D. Weand.

At 9 o’clock Supper was announced and 40 earnest supporters of the Union cause sat down and made fearful slaughter of the good things of life. After doing justice to the good things upon the table, the meeting was called to order…

The Doctor [Dr. George H. Brown] upon taking the chair, addressed the meeting in splendid style as follows:

‘My friends of the Union cause, we meet here tonight under circumstances of no ordinary kind; we have met together this evening to celebrate the glorious victories, achieved by our brave armies, and the still more glorious victories over the combined enemies of the Government on the 8th day of November. Look at the success of our Government in the cause of freedom within the last four years, and the great benefit derived from the Emancipation Proclamation of our noble President, and is there not a vast change today, even in many of the Slave States; no more will the vile curse of Slavery pollute the soil of Maryland.

A base scheme was concocted by traitors North and South, to separate our beloved Union, but the combined efforts of our brave and loyal citizens with the assistance of Providence, defeated their base design, and today our sky is bright, rebellion and treason is fast fading away, and soon peace and prosperity will cover our land, as the waters cover the great deep.’

The Dr. was much applauded throughout.

A song was next called for, and the Glee Club sang with good effect a campaign song.

Mr. O.C. Tiffany was next called upon to address the meeting.

“I see,” said he, “but one party here tonight; it has been said by our opponents, that the Emancipation Proclamation tended to divide still further, the North from the South; perhaps it did for a short time, but the subject became a matter of necessity, inasmuch as slavery aided the rebels to a great extent, in their wicked machinations against the best Government upon which the sun ever shone; our enemies also tell us that if the Crittenden Compromise had been adopted, that today we would have no rebellion, but who are to blame for its defeat; their own Representatives having failed to vote for the measure, and why did they fail to support it? Their object was plain to be seen; they wanted to be divided from the North, and form a confederacy of their own. I say in conclusion, let us rally in defense of our glorious cause, and success is ours now and ever.”

Mr. H.B. Sessinger then proposed the following toast:

“The brave Army of the Potomac, Noble 9th Corps., the gallant 48th Regiment, PA Vols,” responded to by Colonel Sigfried as follows: “Our brave soldiers stand up nobly in defense of the good cause, and with our noble President at the helm, and a loyal people to back him, our glorious Flag long shall wave over the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

Dr. Brown then proposed the following toast, which was drunk in silence: “Our honored dead, who have fallen in the rebellion.”

Antietam Graves
Grave of a Union soldier at Antietam battlefield, 1862 (LOC)

Mr. U. Gane being called upon to speak, paid a glowing tribute to the strength and integrity of our Union: “Look,” said he, “at our splendid Army and Navy, such as never was commanded even by Napoleon. Our opponents tell us that we are not going to stop till Slavery is abolished, which fact we freely admit, and we earnestly hope that the day is close at hand when the stain of Slavery will no more pollute our great land; let us my friends unite earnestly together in support of the Government, and rebellion will soon be swept from the land, never again to raise its head.”

Dr. Brown then followed with the following toast: “The Republican majority of Port Carbon, which has been weighed in the balance, and not found wanting.”

Mr. J.B. Sessinger was next called on to speak; the gentleman replied by singing in splendid style, with assistance of his son George, the song called, “All is Well.”

Mr. H.B. Sessinger was next called on unanimously to address the meeting; said the gentleman:

“We have assembled here tonight in honor of the victories, achieved in all quarters by supports of the Government. In vain our enemies say the war is a failure, and who but our enemies say so? Do our brave soldiers who have lost a leg or arm say the war is a failure? Do our gallant boys in the entrenchments of Petersburg say it is a failure? Do our veterans in Gen. Sherman’s army, who today are marching on to victory with fearless tread, say it’s a failure? Did the brave Capt. Summers, who when lost a leg cried out, ‘Pass the batteries boys, and they may have my other leg,’ say the war is a failure?

Nay, verily, none but haters of free Government say so, who cannot see the hand of Providence guiding the affairs of the nation safely through treason and rebellion; in conclusion I would say let us stand shoulder to shoulder, in defense of our Union, and our enemies will be compelled to submit to lawful authority.

A song was next called for, when the Glee Club sang in good style, “The Ellsworth Avengers.” Dr. Brown then proposed the following toast: “The Republican minority of Palo Alto, who always stand up nobly in defense of the Union.”

Mr. R. Allison was next called upon to speak.

“I was,” said the gentleman, “in the early part of the war, a supporter of Little Mac, but long ago I cast him off, and who that was true to the Union did not, when he gave himself over into the hands of traitors, but how does the issue stand today?”

“Abraham Lincoln has again been chosen our standard bearer for another term, by almost one half a million majority, and he has now the assurance from a brave and loyal people, that the support he may need is at his disposal to speedily crush the rebellion.”

The Glee Club next followed with the Red, White, and Blue.

Colonel J.K. Sigfried followed with a toast as follows, “The gallant 50th Regiment Pa., Vols.”

Mr. H. Botten was next called upon to address the meeting, when he in his own good way, showed up the rascality and thieving which brought about the war, etc., illustrating the mean, petty larceny of so small a thing as an old hat, (great applause).

Mr. U. Gane then proposed the following toast: “The gallant 96th Regiment Pa., Vols.”

60cd3-96thpennsylvania
The 96th Pennsylvania in 1862 (NARA)

Messrs. W.S. Chillson, and W.H. Lawrence each addressed the meeting in neat and short addresses, after which, Mr. Wm. Bensinger proposed the following: “The Loyal Ladies of the Union, who have nobly provided for the comforts of our sick and wounded soldiers.”

Mr. J.B. Sessinger then sang by request the Star Spangled Banner, the assembly joining in the chorus.

A more pleasant assembly was never convened together and in the early hours the meeting adjourned, sine die, with three rousing cheers for Honest Old Abe, Andy Johnson, and our brave Army and Navy.

C.L.C.

By early 1865, the Civil War drew to a close, but not without claiming the lives of many more soldiers from Schuylkill County and the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania.


Featured Image: A Thanksgiving Dinner scene from 1870, Wikimedia Commons

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4 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Day in Schuylkill County – 1864

  1. Please give a short, but concise story about what happened to southern civilians; how they were treated by union soldiers, carpetbaggers, and the polltical atmosphere that Southerners had to endure. Also about the dead southern soldiers bodies graves never found? Also a brief on synopsis of the infamous Northern POW camp in Illinois, and elsewhere. Cover the whole history of the in treatment they no received. We have gone from the now ancient archival research to political division of racial hatred revival again with your and similar articles activated.

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    1. This is a blog about Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal fields, not a blog about the Civil War in its entirety. Blaming me for the political divisions related to the memory of the Civil War memory is amusing. Saying that I’ve activating racial hatred is laughable. That we have a long way to go to mend the mistakes of centuries in regards to race is clear. That’s not inciting hatred, it’s a call for honesty and healing. Your desperate attempt to “both sides” the conflict in this space doesn’t make sense. I’m glad you found the blog – you’ll notice that I write about the experiences of those who lived and worked in Pennsylvania’s coal fields. You’ll find complicated stories about the region’s Civil War history. But this isn’t a blog about any of the topics you have cast aspersion on me for failing to mention. For those topics, look elsewhere. I’d suggest the Muster blog from the Journal of the Civil War Era: https://www.journalofthecivilwarera.org/muster/

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