SIGNAL CORPS, U. S. A.,
HEADQUARTERS ARMY POTOMAC,
December 25th, 1864.
I am at leisure for a few hours and I thought perhaps a few lines from a soldier boy of old Bedford, would not come amiss.
There is no news of importance here at present, except of Sherman and Thomas. I presume you have heard of them. I have never heard such cheering in my life, as there was when the news came to camp. The troops are in high glee over the greatest victories since the war, it disheartens the rebels so much that it seems an impossibility for them to rally again. One more blow like the ones Gen’ls. Sherman and Thomas have given them, will hurt them so bad they will be glad to lay down their arms, and return to the good old Union.1
I see by the late papers, that the President has ordered another draft of “Three Hundred Thousand more,” how that pleases the old soldiers; they know it will not be so hard for them. Nothing pleases or cheers a soldier up so much as to see support coming up, and then it makes it look more hopeless to the rebels. They have but one organized army at the present time, and that is the one on our immediate front. My opinion is by the 4th of July next, it will be so badly demoralized that it will not be able to make a stand.2
Gen. U.S. Grant is the man to bring things straight, he says Petersburg and Richmond is ours before many months. There has been considerable heavy firing, north of the James River for several days past, and I think by the sound it is the gunboats, some say the celebrated Dutch Gap canal is completed, but for the truth of the story I am unable to say. If such is the case, you will soon hear of the fall of Fort Darling.3
The rebel deserters tell us it looks dark in Jeff’s dominions and I think the same, for they have not gained a victory for some time. We all think the day is not far distant when peace-a lasting and honorable peace, will come once more to our now distracted and bleeding country. We soldiers are all anxious for peace, and I presume the People North are as much so as we are.
Today is Christmas [December 25, 1864], and a merry one it has been in this army. The boys all enjoyed themselves very well on “hard tack” and “salt pork.” I was out to see the 138th Reg[imen]t. P[ennsylvani]a. Vols., (the regiment I formerly was a member of) today and they had a splendid dinner presented to them by the loyal citizens of Montgomery County, Pa. They had roast turkey, chicken and beef, pies and cakes of every description and apples, in fact, they had everything a man could wish for. I hope the folks at home enjoyed themselves as well as the times would permit.
I have not time to write any more, I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
JAMES A. GILCHRIST, Priv’t.
Signal Corps, U. S. A.4
SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Roy Gustrowsky.
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- SOPO Editor’s Note: These blows are of course Sherman’s capture of Savannah, GA on December 21, 1864, the culmination of his famous March to the Sea, and Thomas’ smashing victory over John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Nashville on December 15-16, 1864. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Hindsight is 20/20, but Gilchrist’s prediction was a bit pessimistic. Lee of course surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, and Johnston surrendered the reconstituted Army of Tennessee in North Carolina at Bennett Place on April 26, 1865. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: I’ve checked the relevant volumes of the Navy and Army Official Records and I cannot find any record of actions, Union or Confederate, on the James River in that vicinity in mid to late December 1864. My best guess is that these heavy guns were from Confederate land fortifications firing at the soon to be completed Dutch Gap Canal. If you know of a possible cause for what Gilchrist heard north of the James River, please CONTACT US. ↩
- “No Title.” The Bedford Inquirer (Bedford, PA), January 6, 1865, p.2, c.6. ↩
By way of contrast, here is an excerpt from a letter written by Captain Henry Jeffers of the 7th South Carolina Cavalry, in General Gary’s Brigade, stationed north of the James. Henry wrote of the “great Christmas Dinner,” a feast that had been called for by the Richmond newspapers, but which did not make it all the way from the citizens to the troops.
From Capt. Henry Jeffers of the 7th SCC, to his father, dated 1 January, 1865:
“The great “Christmas Dinner” so far as we and our neighbors were concerned was a failure. I received seven pounds of meat and about forty loaves of bread for my company, sixty men. I believe it was about in that proportion all along the lines. Major Boykin was telling me about one of the Infantrymen holding out his hand towards him with his portion on it, and with the remark, “Received, Sir, and respectfully forwarded,” swallowed the whole of it. The Maj says it made him feel right bad, though he had nothing to do with it. The people must have made a mistake in computing the number of men in Gen Lee’s Army.”