Thanksgiving and a Civil War Diary

In 1864, a 20 year old man named Daniel Lowber enlist with the 13th Independent Battery of Wisconsin Light Artillery. In March of the same year, he transferred to the 37th Wisconsin Infantry, eventually rising from the rank of private to a captain by September. Lowber was twice wounded at Petersburg (in 1864 and 1865), but he survived the Civil War and lived until 1902. He kept a diary during 1864, and it currently resides among our Civil War collections. 

What is of particular interest this week, even though this isn’t a History of Food and Drink related collection, per se, are two entries made in November 1864.

Entries from Danial Lowber's diary in late November 1864.
Entries from Danial Lowber’s diary in late November 1864.

Friday 25th The weather is fine. Our Thanksgiving Turkeys have not got along yet.

Saturday 26th The Turkeys have arrived. They are very nice. [At least, we think that last word is “nice.”]

Thanksgiving has a long history in the United States and it was a long road to becoming a national holiday, a feat not completed until FDR’s third term in office.  Individual presidents issued proclamations prior to the war, but Lincoln began the tradition of yearly proclamations in 1863 (in large part to the 20+ years of work by Sarah J. Hale). You can see see George Washington’s 1789 and Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation, as well as the 1941 the joint resolution by Franklin Roosevelt and the 77th Congress here.

More to the point in this post, Daniel Lowber was a soldier in the Union army during the second Thanksgiving (federally celebrated, at least) of the Civil War. His two entries, short as they are, include some of the few references in our collections to a holiday that might have otherwise escaped notice. The turkeys may have been two days late (Thanksgiving in 1864 was on November 24), but it would likely have offered soldiers a small respite and for those lucky enough to have turkey, a change in the usual fare. The next day, camp life returns to routine and the day after than, Lowber’s regiment was on the move. (You can read more about his diary here.)

Wherever you are this year, we hope your Thanksgiving does include turkey and we hope you enjoy the holiday to its fullest. Happy Thanksgiving!

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