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.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation, October 3, 1863.
The Soldiers Thanksgiving
by John C. Baxter
Hurrah for the Turkeys ! Thanksgiving has come !
Hurrah for the Turkeys ! I’ae Turkey’s from home !
The nicely browned Turkeys they bring us good cheer;
Hurrah for the Turkeys, we welcome them here !
Our table, though humble, we’ll thankfully fill,
While home, with its loved ones, our bosoms shall thrill ;
We’ll join in the banquet they freely bestow,
Then onward to duty we’ll joyfully go.
We’re fighting for freedom, we’ll Jehovah will give.
The vict’ry we’re seeking ; the Union must live.
Her glorious banner ” in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the Free ,” not the home of the slave.
Hurrah for the President, for Lincoln, the just,
Again he will guide us, and conquer we must !
Hurrah for our triumph, our country, our home !
Three cheers for the Union, the Turkeys have come !
As you sit down with your family this Thanksgiving Day, take a moment to understand that this holiday did not come about as a result of Pilgrims in the 1600’s, it is a religious holiday that came about during the Civil War. That we have secularized it, and turned it into a triumph of capitalism and our consumption economy, would shock our ancestors who celebrated the true first Thanksgiving as we know it today.
On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln, issued a proclamation that declared “the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” Lincoln had been encourage by the poet Sarah Hale in a letter she had sent to Lincoln that September in which she urged him to consider creating a “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” What is remarkable is not that Lincoln acted on Hale’s suggestion, but that he was aware of her letter and had read it at all, for Lincoln received between 250 to 500 pieces of mail each day during the war.
A year later, the second Thanksgiving celebrations were planned well in advance for Union soldiers. Lincoln received a letter on November 25, 1864 from John C. Baxter, with the poem above enclosed and a note informing Lincoln, that “the enclosed lines have been sent by large quantities, in the boxes of Turkeys, to our brave boys at the Front. They were written by my good-wife at the request of a mother who has a noble son in the ranks battling for Freedom.”
Those turkeys would not reach all the men for whom they were intended. The year 1864, the final full year of fighting, was the costliest of the entire war in terms of human life. Between cholera, battle field casualties and malnutrition of soldiers confined in prisoner of war camps, more soldiers and civilians lost their lives than any other year of the conflict. Given the grim circumstances, it is remarkable that thoughts of thanksgiving were shared with the troops. I wonder if the beloved son of the Mother who had enclosed the poem returned to their home after the war was over?
It was widely known that Lincoln enjoyed poetry and so it was not uncommon for poems to be included in letters sent directly to the President. Lincoln also wrote poetry. Fortunately, he did write serious poetry, and not much of it has survived. There is too great a contrast between the words of Lincoln the poet, and the words of Lincoln the President of the United States at a time when we were not united.
This Thanksgiving, weary of the pandemic and the growing divide of partisanship in our politics, I will give some thought today for all that I am grateful. I will give some thought to the importance of what we can only do united as a country and pray that despite the state of politics in the United States,that we remain united, so that we can as a nation, accomplish what lays ahead for this planet to solve the environmental challenges that threaten us all.
By Abraham Lincoln
You are young, and I am older;
You are hopeful, I am not—
Enjoy life, ere it grow colder—
Pluck the roses ere they rot.
Teach your beau to heed the lay—
That sunshine soon is lost in shade—
That now’s as good as any day—
To take thee, Rosa, ere she fade