The Fairview Area Historical Society
Posted on December 24, 2015. First posted on December 8, 2008
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Of all the seasons, Christmastime seems to be the most sentimental. Childhood memories encroach and those who have good memories hope to relive them in some way, or recreate them for their own children. Christmas is a religious holiday, but it is also family time and means sharing love as well as gifts. But, there is a melancholy to it, especially in time of war. Soldiers frequently are promised they will "be home for Christmas," though that promise does not often come true.
During one war, however, an attempt was made to keep such a promise. In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, the entire Pennsylvania 111th Regiment from Erie County was sent home for the holiday. Included in that regiment was Company C, which included many men from Fairview.
This regiment was formed in February 1862 and sent to Baltimore for training. Once away, they would not see home again for nearly two years. Local men included such names as Brindle, Caughey, Irwin, Sceivis, Werntz and Yeagla. Oliver Hazard Perry Ferguson, whose father served during the War of 1812, held the rank of Captain. Arthur F. Glazier was a sergeant. The remainder from Fairview were privates.
Once training had concluded the men in the regiment were sent off to battle, and there were many battles. That year, 1863, during the Battle at Gettysburg the regiment served with such valor at Culp's Hill that a monument was later erected in their honor.
By November 1863 the weather had turned miserably cold. News from the front was received in an agonizingly slow process and Fairview families worried that their young men were suffering as much from the weather as with war wounds. As 1863 neared its end, they were cheered by the fact that their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands would soon be at the end of their two-year enlistment.
On November 23, a Monday, the regiment particpated in the Battle of Lookout Mountain where a bronze tablet honoring them was later placed on the palisades of Point Lookout. Two days later they fought in the Battle of Missionary Ridge. They fought these battles under terrible conditions. When the weather turned cold they had neither blankets nor overcoats. They began the latter battle with a supply of rations for just one day, although the battle lasted eight days. During that time they received more rations, but only enough for three more days.* They built fires at night to keep from freezing and cheered tyhemselves as best they could. December and Christmas were coming. Perhaps they comforted each other with stories of days and celebrations gone by. Surely they longed for home and the warmth of family and friends as well as the family hearth. At the end of that battle they began a 12-hour march back to their camp at Lookout Valley, a distance of 26 miles.
Said their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Walker, "The sturdy valor and uncomplaining endurance of my men suffering from hunger and cold are only another exhibition of the pluck of the American volunteer."**
Meanwhile, Congress passed an act to encourage reenlistments among the seasoned fighting men. As were other regiments from other states, the Pennsylvania 111th was needed to help win the war. The men were offered a bounty of $402 each plus a 30-day furlough that would not begin until they had actually reached home. Almost every man in the regiment reenlisted and they were officially designated as the "Veteran Volunteers."
Getting home was now their paramount concern. It took most of the month for the remustering to be concluded. They boarded unheated freight cars and began their two-week trip back to Erie County. They built fires in the cars to warm themselves and managed not to burn either the cars or themselves. Their route was circuitous. On reaching Nashville they went on to Indianapolis, then Cleveland and finally to Erie where they arrived on January 14, 1864, to begin their 30-day furlough and finally, to celebrate Christmas.
The reception for these heroes was huge and joyous. "Gallant Soldier, Welcome Home," stated the banners across the streets and displayed from windows. There was a formal celebration at Brown's Hotel, with speeches by Erie's mayor and a huge feast prepared and served by the ladies of the community.
The next day they were released to find their way to their own homes and families. "The bronzed and eager veterans were dispersed among the homes which they had left nearly two years before, for the enjoyment of their well-earned vacation."***
Although belatedly, they were Home for the Holidays .
* Soldiers True, the Story of the 111th Regiment , by Dr. John Richard Boyle. 1903
This account is excerpted from Twice Around the Township, Fairview History Revisted, pp 156 - 158, by Sabina Shields Freeman.
Tradition: the handing down of information, beliefs, or customs from one generation to another.
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The Fairview Area Historical Society is one of 26 members of Erie Yesterday, a county-wide consortium of historically-oriented organizations and individuals. Together these organizations are saving history for the future. For more information, see erieyesterday.org
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