Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from the Prattville Dragoons, SCV Camp 1524

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season. 

The wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote this article describing how the Davis family spent the Christmas of 1864 in the Confederate White House. It was published in The New York World, December 13, 1896 and has since been reprinted often. 

...Rice, flour, molasses and tiny pieces of meat, most of them sent to the President's wife anonymously to be distributed to the poor, had all be weighed and issued, and the playtime of the family began, but like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky came the information that the orphans at the Episcopalian home had been promised a Christmas tree and the toys, candy and cakes must be provided, as well as one pretty prize for the most orderly girl among the orphans. The kind-hearted confectioner was interviewed by our committee of managers, and he promised a certain amount of his simpler kinds of candy, which he sold easily a dollar and a half a pound, but he drew the line at cornucopias to hold it, or sugared fruits to hang on the tree, and all the other vestiges of Christmas creations which had lain on his hands for years. The ladies dispersed in anxious squads of toy-hunters, and each one turned over the store of her children's treasures for a contribution to the orphans' tree, my little ones rushed over the great house looking up their treasure: eyeless dolls, three-legged horses, tops with the upper peg broken off, rubber tops, monkeys with all the squeak gone silent and all the ruck of children's toys that gather in a nursery closet.

Makeshift Toys for the Orphans

Some small feathered chickens and parrots which nodded their heads in obedience to a weight beneath them were furnished with new tail feathers, lambs minus much of their wool were supplied with a cotton wool substitute, rag dolls were plumped out and recovered with clean cloth, and the young ladies painted their fat faces in bright colors and furnished them with beads for eyes.

But the tug of war was how to get something with which to decorate the orphans' tree. Our man servant, Robert Brown, was much interested and offered to make the prize toy. He contemplated a "sure enough house, with four rooms." His part in the domestic service was delegated to another and he gave himself over in silence and solitude to the labors of the architect.

My sister painted mantel shelves, door panels, pictures and frames for the walls, and finished with black grates in which there blazed a roaring fire, which was pronounced marvelously realistic. We all made furniture of twigs and pasteboard, and my mother made pillows, mattresses, sheets and pillow cases for the two little bedrooms.

Christmas Eve a number of young people were invited to come and string apples and popcorn for the trees; a neighbor very deft in domestic arts had tiny candle moulds made and furnished all the candles for the tree. However the puzzle and triumph of all was the construction of a large number of cornucopias. At last someone suggested a conical block of wood, about which the drawing paper could be wound and pasted. In a little book shop a number of small, highly colored pictures cut out and ready to apply were unearthed, and our old confectioner friend, Mr. Piazzi, consented, with a broad smile, to give "all the love verses the young people wanted to roll with the candy."

A Christmas Eve Party
About twenty young men and girls gathered around small tables in one of the drawing rooms of the mansion and the cornucopias were begun. The men wrapped the squares of candy, first reading the "sentiments" printed upon them, such as "Roses are red, violets blue, sugar's sweet and so are you," "If you love me as I love you no knife can cut our love in two." The fresh young faces, wreathed in smiles, nodded attention to the reading, while with their small deft hands they gined [?] the cornucopias and pasted on the pictures. Where were the silk tops to come from? Trunks of old things were turned out and snippings of silk and even woolen of bright colors were found to close the tops, and some of the young people twisted sewing silk into cords with which to draw the bags up. The beauty of those home-made things astonished us all, for they looked quite "custom-made," but when the "sure enough house" was revealed to our longing gaze the young people clapped their approbation, while Robert, whose sense of dignity did not permit him to smile, stood the impersonation of successful artist and bowed his thanks for our approval. Then the coveted eggnog was passed around in tiny glass cups and pronounced good. Crisp home-made ginger snaps and snowy lady cake completed the refreshments of Christmas Eve. The children allowed to sit up and be noisy in their way as an indulgence took a sip of eggnog out of my cup, and the eldest boy confided to his father: "Now I just know this is Christmas." In most of the houses in Richmond these same scenes were enacted, certainly in every one of the homes of the managers of the Episcopalian Orphanage. A bowl of eggnog was sent to the servants, and a part of everything they coveted of the dainties.

At last quiet settled on the household and the older members of the family began to stuff stockings with molasses candy, red apples, an orange, small whips plaited by the family with high-colored crackers, worsted reins knitted at home, paper dolls, teetotums made of large horn bottoms and a match which could spin indefinitely, balls of worsted rags wound hard and covered with old kid gloves, a pair of pretty woolen gloves for each, either cut of cloth and embroidered on the back or knitted by some deft hand out of home-spun wool. For the President there were a pair of chamois-skin riding gauntlets exquisitely embroidered on the back with his monogram in red and white silk, made, as the giver wrote, under the guns of Fortress Monroe late at night for fear of discovery. There was a hemstitched linen handkerchief, with a little sketch in indelible ink in one corner; the children had written him little letters, their grandmother having held their hands, the burthen of which compositions was how they loved their dear father. For one of the inmates of the home, who was greatly loved but whose irritable temper was his prominent failing, there was a pretty cravat, the ends of which were embroidered, as was the fashion of the day. The pattern chosen was simple and on it was pinned a card with the word "amiable" to complete the sentence. One of the [missing] received a present of an illuminated copy of Solomon's proverbs found in the same old store from which the pictures came. He studied it for some time and announced: "I have changed my opinion of Solomon, he uttered such unnecessary platitudes -- now why should he have said 'The foolishness of a fool is his folly'?"

On Christmas morning the children awoke early and came in to see their toys. They were followed by the negro women, who one after another "caught" us by wishing us a merry Christmas before we could say it to them, which gave them a right to a gift. Of course, there was a present for every one, small though it might be, and one who had been born and brought up at our plantation was vocal in her admiration of a gay handkerchief. As she left the room she ejaculated: "Lord knows mistress knows our insides; she jest got the very thing I wanted."

Mrs. Davis's Strange Presents

Mrs. Varina Davis (Library of Congress)
For me there were six cakes of delicious soap, made from the grease of ham boiled for a family at Farmville, a skein of exquisitely fine gray linen thread spun at home, a pincushion of some plain brown cotton material made by some poor woman and stuffed with wool from her pet sheep, and a little baby hat plaited by the orphans and presented by the industrious little pair who sewed the straw together. They pushed each other silently to speak, and at last mutely offered the hat, and considered the kiss they gave the sleeping little one ample reward for the industry and far above the fruit with which they were laden. Another present was a fine, delicate little baby frock without an inch of lace or embroidery upon it, but the delicate fabric was set with fairy stitches by the dear invalid neighbor who made it, and it was very precious in my eyes. There were also a few of Swinburne's best songs bound in wall-paper and a chamois needlebook left for me by young Mr. P., now succeeded to his title in England. In it was a Brobdingnagian thimble "for my own finger, you know," said the handsome, cheerful young fellow.

After breakfast, at which all the family, great and small, were present, came the walk to St. Paul's Church. We did not use our carriage on Christmas or, if possible to avoid it, on Sunday. The saintly Dr. Minnegerode preached a sermon on Christian love, the introit was sung by a beautiful young society woman and the angels might have joyfully listened. Our chef did wonders with the turkey and roast beef, and drove the children quite out of their propriety by a spun sugar hen, life-size, on a nest full of blanc mange eggs. The mince pie and plum pudding made them feel, as one of the gentlemen laughingly remarked, "like their jackets were buttoned," a strong description of repletion which I have never forgotten. They waited with great impatience and evident dyspeptic symptoms for the crowning amusement of the day, "the children's tree." My eldest boy, a chubby little fellow of seven, came to me several times to whisper: "Do you think I ought to give the orphans my I.D. studs?" When told no, he beamed with the delight of an approving conscience. All throughout the afternoon first one little head and then another popped in at the door to ask: "Isn't it 8 o'clock yet?," burning with impatience to see the "children's tree."

David Helped Santa Claus
When at last we reached the basement of St. Paul's Church the tree burst upon their view like the realization of Aladdin's subterranean orchard, and they were awed by its grandeur.

The orphans sat mute with astonishment until the opening hymn and prayer and the last amen had been said, and then they at a signal warily and slowly gathered around the tree to receive from a lovely young girl their allotted present. The different gradations from joy to ecstasy which illuminated their faces was "worth two years of peaceful life" to see. The President became so enthusiastic that he undertook to help in the distribution, but worked such wild confusion giving everything asked for into their outstretched hands, that we called a halt, so he contented himself with unwinding one or two tots from a network of strung popcorn in which they had become entangled and taking off all apples he could when unobserved, and presenting them to the smaller children. When at last the house was given to the "honor girl" she moved her lips without emitting a sound, but held it close to her breast and went off in a corner to look and be glad without witnesses.

"When the lights were fled, the garlands dead, and all but we departed" we also went home to find that Gen. Lee had called in our absence, and many other people. Gen. Lee had left word that he had received a barrel of sweet potatoes for us, which had been sent to him by mistake. He did not discover the mistake until he had taken his share (a dishful) and given the rest to the soldiers! We wished it had been much more for them and him.

Officers in a Starvation Dance

The night closed with a "starvation" party, where there were no refreshments, at a neighboring house. The rooms lighted as well as practicable, some one willing to play dance music on the piano and plenty of young men and girls comprised the entertainment. Sam Weller's soiry [sic, soiree refers to a party or reception held in the evening], consisting of boiled mutton and capers, would have been a royal feast in the Confederacy. The officers, who rode into town with their long cavalry boots pulled well up over their knees, but splashed up their waists, put up their horses and rushed to the places where their dress uniform suits had been left for safekeeping. They very soon emerged, however, in full toggery and entered into the pleasures of their dance with the bright-eyed girls, who many of them were fragile as fairies, but worked like peasants for their home and country. These young people are gray-haired now, but the lessons of self-denial, industry and frugality in which they became past mistresses then, have made of them the most dignified, self-reliant and tender women I have ever known -- all honor to them.

So, in the interchange of the courtesies and charities of life, to which we could not add its comforts and pleasures, passed the last Christmas in the Confederate mansion.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Prattville Dragoons Camp Meeting for November 2011

Delinquent in posting the notes from the Prattville Dragoons, Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 1524 November camp meeting.  We were honored to have JM, Field Representative and Past Commander of the SCV Army of Northern Virginia and he gave an outstanding and astounding discussion on the H.L.Hunley from a technilogical standpoint pointing out the ingenuity of the Southerners who invented and created this ground breaking submarine.  The following summarize his notes:
Since the CSS Hunley has been raised from its watery grave, many aspects of the engineering and technological advances that were pioneered by our very ingenious and deeply motivated ancestors have come to light. One of the things we have enjoyed most from working with the Hunley excavation team is the admiring remarks from those who are astounded by the advanced ideas that were incorporated into the design and function of the world's first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship.
            First, let's look at the six aspects of hydrodynamic efficiency found in the Hunley:
     The bow and stern are very sharp. 
     The bow is concave, like that of a modern vessel.
     The rivets are countersunk and flush with the hull, a feature truly ahead of its time.
     Cutwater plates parted the water, added stabilization, and could provide a safety system to prevent any obstruction from snagging the conning towers.
     Mechanical engineers say the Hunley is so sleek she appears to have been designed on a CAD-CAM computer!
     This design also directed the flow of water to the propeller and rudder for increased efficiency.
            While all hands sat on the port side, their weight was exactly perpendicular to the center axis of the vessel as they were always leaning forward, in a fetal position, to work at the hand crank.  Here are four engineering feats of this crankshaft, which was offset to the starboard side of the vessel:
     It had a large gear that drove a smaller gear on the propeller shaft by a chain, thus giving a multiplication of speed per revolution of the crank.
     The crankshaft incorporated a flywheel to give a smooth, constant speed.
     A brake was able to slow things quickly when needed.
     The throws on the crank were 51 degrees and a few minutes each. This is 1/7 of 360 degrees, thus giving an equal share of work and balance to the force needed to make smooth rotation.
            Ballast tanks with an equalization tube connecting them, diving planes, depth gauges, a "joy stick" for rudder control, snorkel tubes for fresh air (backed up by opposing hatch lids to obtain large volumes rapidly when on the surface), a keel ballast designed for quick release in an emergency--these are but a few of the many firsts that are part of our proud heritage of Southern Ingenuity! But that is not all. Perhaps the crowning technological innovation is something almost no one knows. That is that Southerners developed and had functioning a galvanic-battery-powered electromagnetic motor for propulsion! (This was, however, replaced by the hand crank once again since it only developed 2-3 knots and the harbor current was 5). The liberals who are detractors of everything Southern do not want us to be aware and thus proud of our rich heritage. Such suppression of information should trouble all Americans greatly, and especially Confederate descendants!
            Three methods of attack were developed for the Hunley. First was the contact or percussion-fused torpedo. It was rejected, since the new large capacity, containing 90 lbs. of black powder, would be a danger to the sub itself. Next, the same type of bomb was floated behind. This worked well in trials until one night the turbulent Charleston Harbor wound the line into rudder mechanism and nearly brought disaster. (The harbor of Charleston is known to be tricky, as the Ashley and Cooper rivers join there before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean). The third method was invented by Mr. Singer, who already had several patents from the Confederate government. It was thrust into a vessel and backed away until a 150' lanyard unreeled and jerked the triple-fused torpedo. You know the rest of the story:  Southern technology put the USS Housatonic on the floor of the ocean in just over 3-1/2 minutes!
            And what went wrong after that successful attack? No one knows, at least not yet--and maybe not ever--but several theories and conjectures have been put forth. Rather than speculate, which is premature at this date, let’s save that for the future. The future is what these brave men of the Hunley were looking to as they lifted the blue calcium light at that moment of highest elation. The signal was received on Sullivan's Island but their journey home that night was not to be. They had to wait over a hundred years. Now, true to the mettle of any real Southerner, we have brought our dead home, home not only to their port, but to a proper Christian burial with their comrades.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dragoons in the Prattville Christmas Parade

The Prattville Christmas parade was held Saturday evening December 3rd in downtown Prattville and the Prattville Dragoons, SCV Camp 1524 participated with a beautiful float and a nice contingent of reenactors from Wetumpka led by Mike Whorton.  2nd Lt. Stuart Waldo, Comm. Officer Tyrone Crowley, Commander Bill Myrick and Treasurer Billy Leverette (and his family) marched in the parade with Billy pulling the trailer float.  Chaplain Tom Snowden also helped with the float construction ealier Saturday morning. Commander Chris Booth dropped in before the parade before heading off to help his wife in their parade entry.  The float was assembled on a tandem axle trailer and had a lighted Christmas tree in the center surrounded by bales of hay.  At the front of the trailer in a row stood the Alabama State Seccession flag, the Prattville Dragoons flag, the Stainless Banner, the First National Flag of the Confederacy and in the middle above all others, the glorious Battle Flag.  Tree and tinsel garland was strung along the outside edge of the trailer and illuminated by a string of multicolor LED lights.  The Dragoon entry was led by Stuart and Tyrone carrying a Christmas themed Dragoon/SCV banner.  Then came the float with Billy's wife and kids in the bed of his truck adorned with Santa Claus hats.  The Wetumpka SCV/League of the South group carrying Battle and Confederate National flags brought up the rear of the Dragoons Christmas parade entry.  We were greeted warmly throughout the parade route.  Spectators shouted heartily as soon as they recognized the beautiful Confederate flags displayed on the float and by the marchers.  One person approached Stuart asking for specifics on how to join the Sons or Confederate Veterans.  Fortunately, an SCV coin had just been thrown to his son which had information about the SCV including the 1-800-My South number embossed on it.  These coins are always popular with the kids and it was great to see them scramble after them when they heard the clink of the coin hit the pavement of the downtown Prattville streets.  We ran out of coins and just about all of the candy after tossing some to all the children and well wishers and celebrants lining the parade route.  It was a very enjoyable time and an opportunity for comraderie and fellowship and sharing the Cause of the Confederacy and the SCV with the folks of Prattville as part of the annual Christmas parade.   

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Prattville Dragoons 2011 Annual Christmas Social

The Prattville Dragoons will hold their annual Christmas Social on Friday December 9th at the beautiful Buena Vista antebellum mansion in Prattville starting at 6:00pm. The huge Battle Flag should be flying proudly from the front porch by the time everyone arrives and the house is always decorated wonderfully for the Christmas season.  Following a welcoming social hour, a banquet of turkey with all the delicious trimmings will be served, catered by Red's Little School House.  A program of singing by Chaplain Snowden and piano playing by Ruth Graham will highlight the holiday festivities.  Remarks by your Dragoons camp officers will also be made and of course the prize drawings.  Looking forward to some General Lee's eggnog and fried cornbread and a wonderful time of Christmas fellowship with fellow SCV Prattville Dragoons and SCV Montgomery Semple Camp members. 

Memorializing this Day on the Anniversary of the Death of President Jefferson Davis

Today breaks dreary in Prattville Alabama as a cold front slowly moves across the river region.  Drizzly rain and low clouds make it appear gloomy.  And today marks a somber anniversary of the death of President Jefferson Davis, the only President of the Confederate States of America.  Jefferson Davis died in New Orleans on Dec 6th, 1889 at the age of 81.  Jefferson Davis was also an accomplished military man and statesman having graduated from West Point and served in the U.S. Army as a decorated officer and combat veteran and also was an elected Senator in the U.S.Congress as well as Secratary of War under Pres. Franklin Pierce. Jefferson Davis sacrificed much leading the Confederacy thru it's birth and tumultuous existence and was imprisoned by the U.S. government following the War for Southern Independence.  His funeral was one of the largest ever in the South with a procession from New Orleans to Richmond.  The moument in Fairview KY, his birthplace and his Presidential Library and museum at Beauvoir in Biloxi MS, his final home, are just some of the tributes to President Jefferson Davis and his life's incredible accomplishments.