Christmas Eve

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There was little cause for joy in the Union Army, or among its loved ones at home, as Christmas approached a century ago. Everywhere the columns in blue seemed to have bogged down, and General William Tecumseh Sherman was writing to his brother, the Ohio senator: “I see no end, or even the beginning of the end.” So it was that the painting on pages 2 and 3, attributed to young Thomas Nast—and an identical drawing Nast made lor a holiday issue of Harper’s Weekly —struck a responsive chord. The Harper’s caption writer pulled out all the stops. At left, he wrote, “we see the fond wife with the likeness of her brave soldier [in] her heart…and with the little ones…nestling so sweetly in their little crib” as a dream of Santa Clans dances above their heads. At right is “the subject of these tender recollections. By the light of his campfire he can plainly see the loved ones looking up at him from the likeness he holds in his hand.” Above him an army Santa distributes “boxes filled with good things by the thoughtful hands at home.” But grim reminders of the war intrude: Federal troops slog through the snow, at lower left; at lower right, one of “our noble ships” plows through wintry seas on blockade duty; between them sleep their fallen comrades. We may smile at the sentimental past, but in our own times, exactly one hundred years later, the republic is beset by equal anxiety—and has the same need of resolution. Other wives worry over other American soldiers sitting by other far campfires with—who knows?—very similar pictures and very like recollections. The painting is now owned by Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch.