The Spirit of Christmas, War, and Death

Community History Liberty/Politics Relationships

Here is a Christmas Story you may not have heard before about a Christmas Carol, the Civil War, and the War in Iraq.

In the midst of the Civil War in 1863 many had died and casualty lists were posted in the newspapers as Americans were getting far too tired of their sons and husbands dying: Murfreesboro 23,515 dead, wounded, or missing; Chancellorsville 24,000 dead, wounded, or missing; Vicksburg 19,233 dead, wounded, or missing; Gettysburg 50,000 dead, wounded, or missing; Chickamauga 34,624 dead, wounded, or missing; and there were many others that were smaller battles that year but they all produced casualties.

At New Hope Church, a small battle where General Meade’s 81,000 men hoped to surprise General Lee and his 48,000 men with a rapid attack on his flank failed when Meade found the Southern army dug in and waiting behind Mine Run. After a small meeting engagement where 1,272 Union soldiers and 680 Confederate soldiers were casualties, General Meade decided Lee’s position was too strong to assault. One of the Union soldiers that fell was Lt. Charles Longfellow, critically wounded by a Confederate bullet. He was the son of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow was widowed, his wife’s dress had caught fire and she died from the burns in 1861, now his son, who joined the Union Army without his permission, lay critically wounded. As the elder Longfellow pondered this he heard the Christmas Bells tolling out the promise of Christmas. As he struggled with the conflicting emotions he sat down, and put pen to paper. And wrote: I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day.

There is more to this story than the Civil War History though. There is family history here as well. You may not know that my mother established a Christmas Carol Coffee in 1956. She invited family, made baked goods, and waited for family and friends to show up. My father was convinced no one would show up and he went hunting. It was not his best moment. Then, when he came home, muddy and tired, he found the house full of relatives and friends who were all dressed nicely for the Christmas Coffee. He got a plate and hid in my sister’s room because he never liked crowds.

The Christmas Carol Coffee was a tradition she maintained her whole life, missing only one year due to a blizzard. When my mother could no longer stay home alone she went to a retirement village and we were able to use their family room to continue the tradition of the Christmas Carol Coffee. I picked it up after she went to the nursing home and continued after she died until I lost my house due to my disability and unplanned retirement. I had to move my family to an apartment and only in the last year was I able to get a house again. One year, as we were getting ready to sing in my home I thought of my oldest son, fighting in Iraq, and I asked to sing “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day.” Knowing the story behind the song I found it difficult for me to sing the entire song and retreated into the kitchen as I reflected upon my son and all the young men who could not be home for Christmas, how my middle son could soon be following my oldest to Iraq, and how my youngest son had never known our country to be at peace in his entire life. Before the song was over I resolved to sing this carol every year until we came to a Christmas when no American Soldier was in harm’s way anywhere in the world. I fully knew that may mean I would sing it every year for the rest of my life.

I want to share this great carol with you but before we get to that I need to share our housekeeping notes. As you know everyone who works for SabersEdge Association was a trooper in the 8th Cavalry but you don’t have to have actually been in the cavalry to become a SabersEdge Trooper. Anyone who has the spirit of a cavalier who loves honor and right is welcome to join us. Do you have the heart of a cavalrytrooper? Join us! The Cavalry is Coming!

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Here are the words to the song and one of my favorite versions is included at the end (it is the version I included on my playlist Songs of My Heart for My Children and Grandchildren):


I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

And the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on Earth, ” I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them? (Peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
(Peace on Earth)
(Peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men

Then ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

And the bells, they’re ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on Earth)
And with our hearts, we’ll hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells, they’re ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The light, the angels singing (peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth, good will to men

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