Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What Thanksgiving Looks Like

Remember the episode of Friends where Joey gets the turkey stuck on head, and Phoebe tries to help him get it off. Then Monica walks in & freaks out. Has that ever happened at one your family's Thanksgiving Dinners?
Or maybe it looks a little more like this:

I know my family's Thanksgivings varied from year-to-year.  No, no one wore the turkey on their head [O.K.  maybe they drank a little Wild Turkey, but definitely no turkeys on the head...]  Most years ours resembled the picture above, but we are an Aggie family.  My dad, brother, and I are all graduates of Texas A&M University.  When I say I'm an Aggie, I mean I bleed maroon [our colors are maroon and white].  It's a way of life.  Anyways, our rival here is that "other" school in Texas, and as per a longstanding tradition we have usually played them in football on Thanksgiving Day.  I and my family have spent many a Thanksgiving on the road on our way to the football game and eaten dinner at a hotel buffet.  Now, let me just say that as the person who always had to set the table "just so," and was also in charge of helping with the dishes, I cannot express enough what an awesome idea the Thanksgiving Day buffet at a hotel is.  No, there are no leftovers, but truth be told, there are only so many meals one can stomach in a row that involve turkey.  Admit it, at some point in the weekend [if you aren't a vegetarian], your body "screams" for beef.  [Well, at least mine does.]  So, we didn't always have that traditional Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving meal, but we were together giving thanks for all the blessings that we had.  And really, that was our family tradition at Thanksgiving.

What Is the Tradition?
This got me to thinking about what the tradition of Thanksgiving really is.  Most would say pilgrims and Native Americans were the ones who started the tradition.  Well, if they had a meal together and they gave thanks for it, they certainly didn't call it "Thanksgiving."  The term "Thanksgiving" wasn't coined until 1863 when Lincoln, on the encouragement from Sarah Josepha Hale ~a magazine editor~ and her readership, signed a Proclamation making Thanksgiving a federally observed holiday.  He did so in hopes of unifying a divided country in the midst of the Civil War.  That first Thanksgiving in 1863 was not really officially celebrated by the troops.  There were some who did what they could with what they had wherever they were.  When I first read this I immediately thought of my own ancestors that I knew had been in the Civil War.  So, I looked them up to see where they were exactly when they may have celebrated the first Thanksgiving as a federal holiday.  After all, it became a federal holiday for them.  I already knew where their families were, but where were my Civil War soldier ancestors on Thanksgiving Day in 1863?  A Thanksgiving meant to ease the suffering of all who were involved in the war ~ those fighting, those being fought, and those being fought for. 

Look 'Em Up
I did this by looking up my ancestors in Ancestry.com's, Civil War Research Database.  It has a link to the regiment and company that they served in.  The regimental history is in chronological order and includes the movement of the regiment and companies as well as the battles they engaged in.  This can give you an idea of where they were at particular times.  I have quite a few Civil War ancestors, but to give an example, my 2nd great-grandfather was a musician in the Civil War for Company G, Michigan 1st Infantry Regiment [Union], having stretched the truth by 2 years when he signed up indicating he was 17years old when he was only 15 years old.  According to the regimental history, Daniel [when he was actually 17yo] and his regiment arrived in Gettysburg 2 Jul 1863, and they were heavily involved in the Battle of Gettysburg as well as many squirmishes and fighting in the surrounding areas until Feb 1864.  Doesn't exactly give me where he was Thanksgiving Day, 28 Nov 1863, but it gives me an idea that if he did celebrate it, it wasn't much of a celebration.  I'm pretty sure, though, he was giving thanks that he was still alive after the Battle of Gettysburg, unlike so many of his fellow soldiers.

An Appeal For Thanks
Then in 1864, under the direction of the Union League Club of New York City, many donations came from all over in abundance, and the Union troops were fed a Thanksgiving meal in the middle of a war that had grown weary. Here was part of the Union League Club's public appeal for donations:
"We desire in the twenty-fourth day of November there should be no soldier in the Army of the Potomac, the James, the Shenandoah, and no sailor in the North Atlantic Squadron who does not receive tangible evidence that those for whom he is periling his life, remember him..."
Captain George F. Noyes from General Phil Sheridan's Army of Shenandoah had this to say about the 1864 Thanksgiving feast:
"The want of proper appliances compelled most of the men to broil or stew their turkeys, but everyone seemed fully satisfied, and appreciated the significance of the sympathetic thank-offering of the loyal North.  One soldier said to me, "It isn't the turkey, but the idea we care for,' and he thus struck the keynote of the whole festival."

My, How Things Have Changed, But the Sentiment Remains the Same
In contrast, today's troops are fed in a whole different way on Thanksgiving.  Take a look at how we give thanks to our soldiers today for their unfailing service and unselfish sacrifice on our behalf: 

So on this Thanksgiving I have many blessings to be thankful for, but I'd also like to say thank you to all of our troops who keep us free and safe, and to their loved ones who sacrifice their families for our families.  May God bless you all for the sacrifices that you make on our behalf.  May we always remember and never forget all that you do for us:

Credits and Sources: 
Friends Thanksgiving 1992. Digitial Video. Qukez, 2008. You Tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJY6L52RhUs : 2009.

Kurtz, Nick., narrator. Thanksgiving in Iraq. Digital Video. AirForceDJ, 2007. You Tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqFlrwzhFM4 : 2009.
Thanksgiving. cpmsglife, 2006. You Tube. Digital Video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reDiz5nkxK8 : 2009.

Peacock, Tom and Roxanne. "Thanksgiving 1863-1864." Civil War Reenacting and Cooking Blog, 15 Nov 2009. http://civilwarcooking.blogspot.com/2009/11/thanksgiving-1863-1864.html : 2009.

Thanksgiving Over There - The Civil War. Pilgrim Hall Museum. http://www.pilgrimhall.org/thot-cw.htm : 2009.

United States Pennsylvania Lancster County Neffsville. FSA/OWI Black-and-White Negatives. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thanksgiving_grace_1942.jpg : 2009.

National Park Service. U.S. Civil War Soldiers, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007. Original data: National Park Service, Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, online <http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/>, acquired 2007. http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?ti=0&indiv=try&db=nps_civilwarsoldiers&h=3777104 : 2009.

Historical Data Systems, comp.. American Civil War Regiments[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999. Original data: Data compiled by Historical Data Systems of Kingston, MA. http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?ti=0&indiv=try&db=hdsregiment&h=3986 : 2009


  1. I loved reading this post! I never thought about looking up my ancestors to see where they might have been on Thanksgiving during the Civil War. Thank you for the idea, though I'm not sure my family will share the sentiment because guess what I'll be talking to them about on Thanksgiving day now! :)

  2. My grandfather did drink Wild Turkey on Thanksgiving...lol Ours were the traditional and I will be posting some 1950's photos tomorrow. Civil war....will have to look that up. Thanks for the post and Thanksgiving blessings to your and your family.

  3. Just when I thought we could be friends, I find out that you are an Aggie! I have to say that I am a UT graduate. When I lived in League City, I had a neighbor who was an Aggie, and I was wearing my UT t-shirt the day I moved in. Her black lab was wearing an Aggie doggy outfit, and she was barking at my UT shirt! Of course, I have to admit that I don't bleed burnt orange like many people who go to UT because I was only there for grad school. Perhaps if I had went to undergrad there, and I didn't currently live in Baton Rouge where everyone bleeds purple and gold, I could bleed burnt orange. Needless to say, it's very hard to bleed burnt orange in Baton Rouge.

  4. Oh Jennifer, I can overlook some imperfections in my friends. ;) Last year and this year, I didn't have to host the Thanksgiving Dinner at my house. The trade-off? Had to spend it at my brother-in-law's house where they are all longhorn fans. *sigh* The 2 worst places to be on Thanksgiving for an Aggie are Austin and a longhorn fan's house...Have a happy Thanksgiving, oh, and Gig'em Aggies!

    "Beat the Hell Outta t.u.!"

  5. Caroline,

    Thanks for reposting this. I absolutely love it! Especially the videos about our military.

  6. This blot post taught me a lot. Thank you! I didn't know that Lincoln created Thanksgiving by Proclamation in the middle of the Civil War, 1863. And I didn't know about the Thanksgiving meal given to the Union troops in 1864. Fascinating and moving. As it happen, we just saw the film Lincoln. It was magnificent! It takes place in 1865 and is the story of passing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution -- to abolish slavery. Wonderful.


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