Supporting The Troops on “Thanksgiven.”

Every year on Thanksgiving I pull out a little Civil War diary that was left to me by my grandfather, Rubert J. Longstreet. My middle name is Longstreet and over the years both Grandpa and I have enjoyed knowing we have a direct connection to several Longstreets who fought in the Civil War.

On the Confederate side, our ancestor was the formidable Lt. General James Longstreet. (Look him up and you’ll see he was a bad-ass you did not want to meet on the field of battle.) On the Federal side, we had another ancestor – 15-year-old Frank D. Longstreet, a drummer boy for the 4th Rhode Island Volunteers. When their armies met at the great battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, neither Longstreet likely knew they were facing another.

Fredericksburg was one of the low points for the Federal army, led as they were at the time by the blisteringly incompetent General Ambrose Burnside. Burnside squandered his 30,000-troop advantage by ordering wave after wave of kids into an impregnable fortification manned by Longstreet’s troops. Watching the slaughter in front of the infamous Stone Wall, General Longstreet assured Robert E. Lee that “a chicken could not survive on that field.”

On the northern bank of the Rappahannock River that day was young Frank. Observing from behind the lines he wrote: “It was mostly an artillery duel until about 2 o’clock P.M. when the infantry were brought into action and the slaughter was terrible…. Our loss must be 20,000 men in killed and wounded.” As you can see from the drawing above, Frank used his drum as a table and upon it sits his diary, pen, and inkbottle.

The country’s first “official”  Thanksgiving had happened a bare 16 days earlier. (It had only recently been named a national holiday by President Lincoln.) On the final Thursday of November 1862, Frank Longstreet’s unit was in northern Virginia still making its way towards its horrible appointment with history in Fredericksburg. And on Thursday, November 27th, 1862, he noted the passing of the first “Thanksgiven.”

To day is Thanksgiven. ‘Though if it were not for the papers and kind letters which we are receiving daily from home no one would mistrust it here. The same routine of duty has to be gone through with. The same soft junk and hard bread to be eaten three times a day. And in fact, today is so much like yesterday and last Sunday that you could not discover the difference. Sunday, Monday and Thanksgiven day are all the same to us.  Everything passed off as usual until 4 o’clock this afternoon when we were ordered to Strike tents. We were all packed up and off in less than half an hour. We did not march far, the object simply being to change our camp ground for a better one. We are now {6 o’clock P.M.} encamped in the woods about a mile from the city of Fredericksburg. The rebles still hold the city. Our cavalry men water their horses on this bank of the river and theirs on the other. They converse with each other quite frequently. –Frank

I always read this passage around “Thanksgiven” and I give thanks for my many blessings.  I also send a prayer and a thought of thanks to the troops overseas, yes, but also to these troops of old, the Blue and the Gray, kids no different than our troops today, just kids who answered the call of their country some 148 years ago.


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