To all in the states, a Happy Thanksgiving! For everyone else, Happy Thursday!
So what can I say about Thanksgiving in the Civil War? Well, it’s Lincoln’s fault. Before you seize in shock and outrage, I’ll explain. It’s also Jefferson Davis’ fault.
By November of 1861, the country has been thrown into a Civil War where northern and southern men were shooting away at one another. Death on a grand scale hadn’t been so keenly felt by this country’s people since the Revolutionary War, and even then it was nothing compared to Manassas and all the battles to follow.
To honor the dead and their sacrifice thus far for “The Cause”, Jefferson Davis made a proclamation that November 15th would be set aside for a day of “fasting, humiliation and prayer”. Fasting, in the traditional sense, is used to help the person focus on something else besides their own bodily needs. It’s a spiritual act of sacrifice and Davis intended it to be used in the act of Thanksgiving.
Two years later in 1863, Lincoln had a similar notion but directly made it a day set aside for “Thanksgiving and Praise”. In November of that year, the Confederacy was rather crippled. In that year – Chancellorsville being the exception – the Confederacy wasn’t doing too hot. The battle at Gettysburg, though bloody and costly in its own right, had been acclaimed as a glorious victory for the Union. Lincoln, ever looking to capitalize on every northern victory, wanted to boost the morale of the people by making them turn their attention to their many blessings and everything they have to be thankful for. What it became was a tradition that the American people would cling to on the last Thursday of November almost every year following.
Thanksgiving has its roots in the American Civil War – just like Memorial Day – and was made an official national holiday in 1941.
If you want to celebrate in good Civil War style, here’s a recipe for “Republican Pudding“, which dates to the very year Lincoln first issued his order for nation-wide Thanksgiving.
Transcript for President Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation from October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States
The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and even soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.
In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.
Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.
By the President: William H. Seward. Secretary of State.