"Wartime Christmas" by Paul E. Akers, Free Lance-Star opinion page editor, Fredericksburg, Virginia
Christmas is a time, the songs say, when hearts long for home. It is so during peacetime; how much more it must be for soldiers far away from their loved ones and all the comforts of hearth and home. Often, poignant letters open windows into their hearts. One hundred forty-nine years ago, a young man from South Carolina named Tally Simpson penned these words:
Camp near Fred'burg, Dec 25th, 1862, My dear Sister
This is Christmas Day. The sun shines feebly through a thin cloud, the air is mild and pleasant, [and] a gentle breeze is making music through the leaves of at the lofty pines that stand near our bivouac. All is quiet and still, and that very stillness recalls some sad and painful thoughts…. Will another Christmas roll around and find us all wintering in in camp? Oh! That peace may be restored to our young, but dearly beloved country and that we may all meet again in happiness.
I have often read of sacked and pillaged towns in ancient history, but never, till I saw Fredericksburg, did I fully realize what one was. The houses, especially those on the river, are riddled with shell and ball. The stores have been broken open and deprived of every thing that was worth a shilling…. Such a wreck and ruin I never wish to see again…. Yet notwithstanding all this, the few citizens who are now in town seem to be cheerful and perfectly resigned. Such true patriots are seldom found. This will ever be a noted place in history.
Tally Simpson was killed at the battle of Chickamauga in 1863; his descendent Edward W. Simpson Jr. found his letters along with those of his brother, Dick, in an old chest and transcribed them. They're published in a book aptly titled "Far, Far From Home," edited by Guy R. Everson and Edward W. Simpson Jr. (Oxford University Press). How grateful we are for the record of their thoughts--and for the sacrifice of all soldiers who have spent their Christmases far, far, from home.
This editorial, along with the Thomas Nast illustration, appeared in my local paper. I wanted to share it with the SST committee. Merry Christmas to all and may this season's spirit of peace inspire us all to be better men and women.