Thanksgiving in 1863: A Tale of Resilience in Gettysburg
Amid the American Civil War, Thanksgiving in 1863 held a special significance for Tillie Pierce and the residents of Gettysburg. The quaint town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was forever changed by the events of July 1-3, 1863, when it became the epicenter of one of the war’s bloodiest battles. Despite the turmoil that had torn the town apart, Thanksgiving that year was a moment of solace and unity amidst the chaos of war.
Tillie Pierce, a young girl of 15 at the time, provides a unique perspective on the experiences of the Gettysburg residents during that tumultuous year. Tillie’s diary, “At Gettysburg, or What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle,” has provided invaluable insights into the daily lives and challenges faced by the citizens of Gettysburg.
In 1863, Thanksgiving was not the nationally recognized holiday we celebrate today. Abraham Lincoln had proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday just a few weeks earlier, on October 3, 1863. In the midst of such turbulent times, the concept of giving thanks may have seemed incongruous to many. Yet, the people of Gettysburg had much to be thankful for, and the Thanksgiving holiday took on a different, poignant significance.
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, the town was still reeling from the devastating Battle of Gettysburg. Tillie Pierce, who had courageously assisted the wounded during the battle, described the town as “a vast hospital,” with makeshift medical stations set up in homes, churches, and public buildings. The streets were littered with debris, and the stench of death hung heavily in the air. The sounds of suffering and the mourning of loved ones echoed throughout the town.
Despite the overwhelming tragedy that had befallen Gettysburg, Thanksgiving was a day for the community to come together and find solace in each other’s company. Tillie Pierce’s diary recounts the townspeople, both residents and the wounded, gathering in churches and homes to offer prayers of gratitude for their survival and to seek hope amid the destruction.
Many Gettysburg residents generously shared what little they had with the wounded and needy. Thanksgiving meals were held, and the residents provided whatever comfort they could to the soldiers and their fellow citizens. Tillie’s diary mentions her family’s modest Thanksgiving celebration, where they offered a meager but heartfelt meal to their guests. Such acts of kindness and compassion symbolized the resilience of the Gettysburg community.
In the face of such adversity, the first nationally recognized Thanksgiving in 1863 was a testament to the enduring American spirit. Tillie Pierce’s diary reminds us that even in the darkest of times, people can find strength in unity, compassion, and gratitude. The people of Gettysburg, who had experienced the horrors of war firsthand, understood the importance of coming together to give thanks for the blessings they still possessed.
Looking back on Thanksgiving in 1863 in Gettysburg, we are reminded of the extraordinary courage and resilience displayed by Tillie Pierce and her fellow citizens. Their ability to find moments of gratitude amidst the chaos and destruction is a poignant lesson in the enduring human spirit. Thanksgiving in Gettysburg that year was not about extravagant feasts or material abundance but about the simple yet profound act of giving thanks for the precious gift of life.
As we reflect on the history of Thanksgiving, we should remember the residents of Gettysburg in 1863, who faced adversity with unwavering determination and kindness. Their story is a testament to the power of community, compassion, and the enduring human spirit, even in the darkest of times. Thanksgiving in 1863 was a reminder that no matter the circumstances, there is always something to be thankful for and a reason to come together in unity and hope.