A Corporal Si Klegg Christmas
by Phil Spaugy
To those who study the common Federal soldier of the war, a copy of Si Klegg and his Pard is a must for your bookshelf. No single volume captures the everyday experience of the “Boys of ’61” better than this book. The below is an excerpt of a Christmas during the war.
I hope you enjoy, and a very Merry Christmas to all !
A Corporal Si Klegg Christmas
From Corporal Si Klegg and his Pard
By Lt. Colonel Wilbur Hinman, 65th Regiment Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry
“The day before Christmas the brigade to which Si’s regiment belonged was ordered out on a reconnaissance. It was a rainy day. The brigade went charging over the fields and tearing through the woods and thickets, sometimes on the double-quick, trying to catch a squad of rebel cavalry, and then creeping up to gather in some of the enemy’s pickets. Late in the evening the brigade returned to camp. Si thought he had never been so tired before in his life. All day his drooping spirits had been cheered by the hope of finding his box when he got back. But it had not come, and he was inconsolable.
“Ef I was you I wouldn’t open yer box ‘fore Christmas mornin’,” said Shorty, as he and Si stood around the fire, getting supper. “And what d’ye think now about Pete Jimson’s turkey mince-pie?”
Si didn’t say anything. His grief was too deep for utterance. He didn’t care whether the spangled banner had any stars left at all or not. Wet, weary, footsore and thoroughly disgusted, he went to bed and was soon asleep, dreaming of Christmas at home, and mother, and Annabel, and turkey-stuffing, and plum-pudding.
“Hello, Si, wake up here! Merry Christmas to ye!”
It was Shorty, routing out Si, soon after daylight. As soon as Si opened his eyes he saw his stockings full of something or other, pinned to the tent just above his head. He jumped to his feet with as much eagerness as when, in his juvenile days, he used to find candy apples and jumping jacks sticking out of his well-filled hose.
The average army stocking was wonderfully made. A new one, after being worn a couple of days, looked more like a nose-bag for a mule than anything else.
Si soon found how the boys had conspired against him. They all knew about the box which he had so anxiously expected, and which none of them believed he would get. So, after he went to sleep that night, they slyly pulled off his stockings—for Si slept with them on, as did nine-tenths of the soldiers—filled them with wormy hardtack, bacon rinds, beef-bones, sticks, and bits of old harness, pouring in beans and rice to fill up the chinks, and pinned them to the tent above him.
The greatest mistake a soldier ever made was to lose his temper on account of a harmless joke. Si was wise enough to take it good-naturedly as he emptied the “nosebags ” and drew them on his feet.
It was a raw December morning, with a keen, nipping air. As Si skirmished around for his breakfast he realized that all his festive anticipations of a few days before were doomed to utter and irremediable disappointment.
“It’s tough, fer Christmas, ain’t it, Shorty?” said Si, as he gnawed his hardtack. If his box would only come he might yet be happy, so to speak; but hope had given way to despair.
It was more than four weeks after that time, when the debris of the battle had been cleared away, that Si’s Christmas box found its way to the front. Its contents, what was left of them, were in a condition to make angels weep. The teamsters had pried it open and rioted upon thesavory dainties that loving hearts and hands had prepared for Si. A small section of Annabel’s cake was left, and the ravagers, with a refinement of cruelty, had written on the paper wrapped around it:”This is bully cake. Try it!”
Almost everything in the box had been eaten, and what remained was a hopeless ruin. Rough handling that would have done credit to a railroad baggage-master, had broken bottles of pickles and jars of fruit, and the liquids had thoroughly baptized the edibles that the mule drivers had spared. It was a sorry mess, and Si’s heart ached as he gazed upon the wreck.
The forenoon of Christmas day was dull enough. The boys were let off from drill, and spent the time chiefly in writing letters and chasing the pensive pediculus.
Soon after noon the sergeant-major of the 200th was seen rushing along the line of the officers’ tents with orders. He had air of a man who important tidings. In a few minutes it was known ~”’ through the camp that the commanding general had issued orders for an advance, and the army was to be ready to move at daylight next morning. Tents, wagons, and everything that men did not choose to carry on their backs were to be left behind.
Wonder ‘f we’re goin’ ter have a fight this time?” Si said, with some solicitude.”Looks that way!” replied Shorty
The quiet of the morning was followed by the bustle and confusion of getting ready to move. There was hurrying to and fro. Feet and hands and tongues were busy
The officers made the usual fuss, and kept everybody in a stew. The orderly sergeants had their hands full, as they always did at such times. There were rations to be drawn and issued—for the men were to march with full haversacks; cartridge-boxes to be inspected and replenished; the sick to be sent to hospitals in the city; needed articles of clothing to be supplied; all camp equipage and personal baggage to be packed and sent back; frequent details of men to be made for this, that and the other duty; and all the numberless things that appertained to the beginning of a campaign.
So it was that during that Christmas afternoon and evening fifty thousand men were busily engaged in preparation. While he was hustling around Si thought how different it was from all his previous Christmases, and even from the one he had hoped to have this time. But he was fast learning to be a good soldier and take things as they came.
It was late that night when the work was finished. Then the soldiers wrapped themselves in their blankets to get a few hours of sleep before the reveille should awaken them for the march to battle.
This was the way Si Klegg and all the other soldiers of that army spent that Christmas. Si managed, as did most of the others, to snatch a few minutes to write a brief letter or two. A great mail started northward the next day. Many a poor fellow never wrote again.
The soldiers did not suffer during the night from the gripings of indigestion, in consequence of having overloaded their stomachs with turkey and mince-pie. It is unquestionably true that their abstinence from these time-honored accessories of the festive day was not voluntary, but was due to circumstances over which they had no control. While nightmares were prancing around upon the prostrate forms of their friends at home, the soldier quietly slept, wrapped in army blankets, in their camps that fringed the far-off southern city.
Nor did they sleep any the less soundly because they were under orders to march. At four o’clock they must spring at sound of bugle and at daylight the foremost battalions must file out upon the roads leading southward. The army was soon to look into the very eye of its antagonist, and engage it in deadly conflict.”
Wilbur Hinman, Corporal Si Klegg and his Pard J.W. Henry Publishing, Inc. 1997 Edition.
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