Tazewell Republican, Tazewell, VA

December 22, 1910


A True Story of Life in The Camp of the Sixteenth Virginia Cavalry on Christmas Day Forty-Seven Years Ago.

We take pleasure in giving our readers this week a true story of a Christmas in camp during the "Late Unpleasantness," written by Major Otis Caldwell, of Tannersville. Major Caldwell, who is now ninety years of age, has the proud distinction of being the first Republican in Tazewell county, which, of course, means almost the first in Virginia.


Well boys, you have asked me to tell you a story of a Christmas spent in camp during the war between the two divisions of our own great country, which came so near tearing asunder the most perfect government a nation has ever known and setting up instead two opposing governments - one in the North, the other in the South.

I am now ninety years of age and nothing gives me more pleasure than to gather around me a number of the youths of the day and give them a story of our trials and hardships during this same war.

It was the winter of 1863. My command of 60 men were ordered to go to New Garden, Russell county, into winter quarters, three days before Christmas. We had been in the rear of the Yankee army on the Ohio river until when we reached New Garden my men were nearly naked and half starved, and no cooking vessels, no provisions.

We reached New Garden just in time to get together a little something to eat, and provide ourselves with a comfortable place in which to spend the rest of the winter when I received an order from General Jenkins to report to headquarters at Lebanon the day before Christmas.

I begun at once making preparations to go to Lebanon when my men gathered around me and asked if they might send to an old gentleman not far from there who was stilling, and get them a Christmas dram. I told them "yes," if every man in the command would give me a solemn promise he would take only a dram. They gave me their promise, and I took my departure, with my men calling after me: "You shall have a Christmas turkey, too, Major." I went to Lebanon and returned to camp on Christmas day. When I came in sight of camp such a sound of merry-making as greeted me I never heard.

I was met at the road by a number of my men, who lifted me from my horse, bore me on their shoulders to the house in which we were camping, and there, on the wide-open fireplace, was a two bushel kettle. They carried me up to the fireplace and set me down, telling me to ask no questions, and when the lid was lifted lo, there were six bouncing turkeys merrily simmering away for our Christmas dinner. And, never before nor since, did a crowd of hungry men enjoy a Christmas as that one was enjoyed; but a few days later 'Squire Aston began to rave and charge about someone stealing his turkeys. I called up my men and asked them if it were possible that they had satisfied their longing for a Christmas turkey by visiting 'Squire Aston's turkey roost. They replied: "Major Caldwell, we told you you should have a Christmas turkey; we went to 'Squire Aston to buy the turkeys, he flatly refused to sell them, and we said in return for our Christmas dram you should have a turkey; we went to 'Squire Aston's and took the turkeys, and if he wants to preach let him preach; he wouldn't sell the turkeys, we took them ahd have cooked and eaten them, and he will ever remember getting anything for them now. But we have taught him this lesson: that when we ask for a thing we intend to have it. If we can get it no other way we will steal it."

The result was that I paid for the turkeys and no more was said.