Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas, 1862

Most of the members of the Seventeenth Kentucky Infantry spent the Christmas of 1861 in camp at Calhoun, Kentucky.  Fresh from the relative comforts of home and anxious to put a quick end to the uprising in the southern states, they were immediately concerned with the communicable diseases decimating the camp and the approaching winter weather.  The recruits of the 17th and 25th regiments, numbering about 400 strong and proudly sporting their new Union blues, spent their time drilling and adapting to the rigors of military life under the tutelage of General Thomas Leonidas Crittenden from Russellville, Kentucky who was to survive the war only to be killed in 1876 in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

This second Christmas of the war finds that the survivors of Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Buell's campaign in northern Alabama and pursuit of Bragg are encamped along the Louisville and Nashville Railroad tracks bounding the northern side of Russellville, Kentucky.  The two regiments have been combined into one which continues to bear the 17th Kentucky Infantry banner and numbers about 200 battle-hardened and road-weary grizzled veterans.  Their colonel has been dismissed from the service for respecting the legal rights of Kentucky's  slave-owning citizens, contrary to a general order issued by his Commander-in-Chief.  The entire regiment is on the verge of a mass desertion.  Colonel A.M. Stout is facing the challenge of his life, assuming command and trying to maintain the discipline and combat readiness of his troops.  The period of "guard and rest" at Russellville is nearing an end and rumors of an impending redeployment are spreading through the camp.

The volunteers are grateful to be stationed so close to home for this holiday season. Although rarely allowed personal leave, their friends and family could make frequent visits and supply some of the niceties of life that the quartermaster failed to provide.  The hardships they had endured (sub-freezing nights bivouacked on the open ground at Fort Donelson, miserable slogs through the bogs of flooded northern Mississippi forests and grueling 20-mile marches in the 100+ degree heat along the dusty roads of northern Alabama and southern Tennessee) are now becoming distant memories- nothing more than campfire stories to entertain and frighten the new recruits. All in all, this Christmas will be fondly remembered, due in part to it's stark contrast with the remaining two years of their enlistment.

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