By W. Chapman
Christmastime in the field was not at all festive. Most of the troops were in winter quarters by the time December 25th rolled around, and all attention was turned to making the boring wintertime less tedious. One such diversion was often in the form of a brief taste of home, the Christmas box. Family at home, as well as soldiers' aid societies often assembled boxes, like care packages to be sent to the troops. These would be sent via one of the many express companies in existence at the time so that they would arrive for Christmas.
The practice of sending boxes was quite common, as evidenced by writings from the time. "...returned with the pickets to camp yesterday noon. He was quite surprised to see such a pile of boxes he thought that we might call it an express office," wrote Sgt. William Reichard of the 128th Pennsylvania Infantry.
As for the contents of the boxes, Reichard wrote that his contained: doughnuts (which spoiled because of the fat used to fry them), little round sugar cakes (possibly sugar cookies), a sponge cake, butter, jellies, catsup (sic.), apples, and inkstand, a pen, medicines, teas, bologna sausages, and other items which he "cant bring to mind just now." Also, Reichard suggested that dry beef would have been preferable to bologna. Corporal Taliafferro Simpson of South Carolina wrote, "Never in my life have I enjoyed such good things from home! ...'Tis useless to enumerate how many delicious articles contained in it, but suffice it to say I have been eating, eating, eating, and I am still eating. Oh! how I made them sassengers (sic.) and that old ham howl!" An illustration (http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1862/civil-war-christmas.htm) on the front page of Harper's Weekly on January 4, 1862 shows soldiers tearing into a box full of goods, which include: socks, books, a watermelon, large circular "cakes", a bottle of wine or champagne, and an assortment of fruit.
Assembling a similar box for Christmas today is quite easy. First, get together some items to go inside. I would suggest: hand-knit socks, cookies (period recipes are easy to find), hams, dried beef, summer sausages or other smoked meats that don't require refrigeration, bread, fresh fruit, dried fruit and candied ginger, spices, canned goods, and personal goods such as ink stands, pens, shirts, and others. Many of these items can be found at reputable sutlers or at your local grocery store. Get or make a plain wooden box such as the one in Harper's Weekly and fill it up. Finish it off with an Adams Express label or some painted lettering such as ("No. 55" or "Adams"). This, all together will make a great addition to your next December event or a good Christmas present for any Civil War enthusiast.