"Peace on Earth," a North Carolina soldier wrote in his diary on Christmas Day, adding a pointed question, "good will to men?" Another diarist wrote, "Christmas once again; but oh! how changed from that of former times, when our beloved land was not draped in mourning."
A Tarheel officer who was able to ride to Petersburg to attend Christmas services at St. Paul's Church remembered the scene: " Five festoons of cedar hung from the five ornaments in the center of the church to the banisters of the gallery on each side. .....The church was crowded and many were outside and could not get seats at all."
The night ended with a "starvation" party, where there were no refreshments, at a neighboring house. The rooms lighted as well as practicable, someone willing to play dance music on the piano and plenty of young men and girls comprised the entertainment. Sam Weller's soiry, consisting of boiled mutton and capers would have been a royal feast in the Confederacy. The officers who rode into town with their long cavalry boots pulled well up over their knees, but splashed up to their waists, put up their horses and rushed to the places where their dress uniform suits had been left for safekeeping. They very soon emerged, however, in full toggery and entered into the pleasures of their dance with the bright-eyed girls, who many of them were fragile as fairies, but worked like peasants for their home and country.
Out along the trench lines, both sides enjoyed an impromptu and unauthorized truce. According to a Georgian, "The men had suspended their work without being so ordered and in a few minutes they were passing in full sight of each other, shouting the compliments of the season, giving invitations to cross over and take a drink, to come to dinner, to come back into the Union,....and other amenities, which were a singular contrast to the asperities of war."
Many of the Union troops enjoyed what a New Hampshire soldier noted in his diary as a "fine Christmas dinner for all.' On the Confederate side there was a concerted effort to see that the men at the front got something special this day. "The newspapers urged the movement forward, committees were appointed to collect and forward the goods to the soldiers," wrote a Virginian in gray. The effort paid off for some. "We had....a big Christmas dinner and....our Christmas passed off very pleasantly," reported a North Carolina infantryman. In another company the men eagerly waited for the Christmas bounty to arrive. When it did finally show up (two weeks late) it consisted of "one drumstick of a turkey, one rib of mutton, one slice of roast beef, two biscuits, and a slice of highbred." It was the thought that counted the most, and, recalled a young Rebel, "we thanked our benefactors and took courage."
Yet even amid these holiday reflections, signs of the end were apparent. A New York boy, writing home on December 25, observed, "We have cheering news every day....it is evident that the confederacy is rapidly falling to pieces."