The American Civil War 150th Anniversary: Thanksgiving in 1861

Residual of fall flowers

For a layperson in 2011, researching American Civil War history is difficult, like looking at the dried husks of autumn plants and trying to reconstruct how things once grew there naturally. What did those flowers look like last summer? 

However, regarding my search for what happened in America back in 1861, I have found a little nugget today.

Jeff Davis’s 1861 Thanksgiving proclamation

Today, on Thanksgiving 2011, I learned that Jefferson Davis had issued a proclamation of Thanksgiving for the Confederacy in 1861 (hat tip to Cracked.com [warning: this otherwise excellent humor site does contain cuss words and/or other offensive material, including occasional use of the F-bomb; visit it at your own discretion]).

That 1861 proclamation was not a lighthearted matter – Mr. Davis, like many Southerners, must have had some idea of the difficulty of what was coming:

WHEREAS, it hath pleased Almighty God, the Sovereign Disposer of events, to protect and defend us hitherto in our conflicts with our enemies as to be unto them a shield.

And whereas, with grateful thanks we recognize His hand and acknowledge that not unto us, but unto Him, belongeth the victory, and in humble dependence upon His almighty strength, and trusting in the justness of our purpose, we appeal to Him that He may set at naught the efforts of our enemies, and humble them to confusion and shame.

Now therefore, I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, in view of impending conflict, do hereby set apart Friday, the 15th day of November, as a day of national humiliation and prayer, and do hereby invite the reverend clergy and the people of these Confederate States to repair on that day to their homes and usual places of public worship, and to implore blessing of Almighty God upon our people, that he may give us victory over our enemies, preserve our homes and altars from pollution, and secure to us the restoration of peace and prosperity.

Given under hand and seal of the Confederate States at Richmond, this the 31st day of October, year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty one.

By the President, JEFFERSON DAVIS

(Source.)

According to PilgrimHall.org, the USA had no presidential Thanksgiving proclamations from 1816 to 1861. Reportedly, Abraham Lincoln did order government departments to close on November 28, 1861, for a local day of Thanksgiving, but it was not a national thing at that time.

Two Presidents

Today we forget just how close our country came, starting 150 years ago, to this (image also by way of Cracked.com):

What if the CSA had won

A photoshopped image is one thing (they got the flag wrong, by the way) – but there really were two American presidents in 1861. Think about that.

And let’s all give thanks that today there is still only the one, just like at the beginning of things. What we have is not perfection…but it is continuity, and that counts for a lot in this difficult world.

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