Christmas Eve, 1862. The 13th Mississippi and the rest of Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade spent the eve and Christmas Day itself, a Thursday, on picket duty in Fredericksburg.
At least the weather was “clear and warm for the season,” William H. Hill of the Spartan Band wrote.
“We have quite a dull Christmas,” Private Mike Hubbert of the Minutemen of Attala wrote in his diary. He may have been thinking of the Christmas of 1861 which the regiment spent relaxing near Leesburg, on the Potomac River, drinking eggnog and enjoying plenty to eat.
Private Robert A. Moore of the 17th Mississippi likewise found the holiday dull. He, at least,was distracted by the town and some Union soldiers who came over the river in small groups.
“Have spent the day roving over the city & looking at the abolitionists. The enemy have come over in small squads & our boys have returned the visits. Very cheering news from the West. [Confederate Gen. Earl] Van Dorn has made a dash on the enemy’s rear at H. S. [Holly Springs, MS]. Gen. Grant is reported falling back.”
There was also good news from Corps Commander Gen. James Longstreet whose general orders complimented the brigade for their Dec. 11 stand:
“Brigadier-General Barksdale with his brigade held the enemy’s entire army at the river bank for sixteen hours, giving us abundant time to complete our arrangements for battle. A more gallant and worthy service is rarely accomplished by so small a force.”
Small, indeed. Fighting and disease since the summer of 1861 had whittled the brigade down from a high of about 4,000 men to only around 1,600. The 13th Mississippi counted only about 400.
Hill noted that they had a brigade drill Christmas Day. Gen. Barksdale generally made his drills exciting, ending them with a mock bayonet charge.
They pretty much had the city to themselves. “But few of the citizens now remain,” Moore recorded. “The city was nearly sacked by the yanks during their occupation.”
On Saturday, the 27th, Moore added that “Notwithstanding the high price of liquors—from thirty to fifty dollars per gallon—some have been very merry… The boys have had a grand camp dance tonight. The health of our forces were never better…”
Moore spent Sunday reading, having “no preaching as our Chaplain is absent.”
Hubbert, meanwhile, marked the day, his birthday, with humor, in the final, extant entry of his diary: “…having no way of celebrating it, my friends wallowed me well in the mud which has left a lasting impression on my mind.”