The turn of the year from old to new has long been celebrated in a variety of ways sometimes with frivolity and sometimes with spirituality, and sadly, sometimes on the battlefield. This is true of the Civil War period also.

Celebrating with Frivolity

According to Alexis McCrossen, writing for We’re History, men and women belonging to what were then known as the “sporting fraternity” caroused much as they did throughout the year by visiting taverns, drinking, dancing, and singing. However, in 1862, a group of celebrants dubbed themselves “The Baxter Muffins”, added some wild costumes to the mix and paraded through the streets of New York playing horns and drums.

Celebrating with Spirituality

Meanwhile, other people gathered in churches to pray the new year in. Attending church services and holding Watch Nights was a tradition in many denominations. But on December 31th, 1862 a special event occurred. Abolitionists and the free black community waited for President Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, which he did on January 1st, 1863.

One such vigil occurred in Tremont Temple in Boston where Frederick Douglass, Anna Dickinson, and other notable abolitionists spoke to a mostly African-American crowd. By the morning of the 1st, thousands had gathered, and when word was received, Douglass led the audience in singing Blow Ye Trumpet, Blow. For many years after, African American congregations held Watch Nights , a practice that has continued to this day in some churches.

Celebrating While at War

But we must remember that while some rejoiced, in 1862, a war was going on to make the freedom for the slaves a reality. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the battle of Stone’s River was being raged on a chill, foggy New Year’s Eve. The forces of General Bragg and General Rosecrans met from December 30th to January 1st in a battle involving over 80,000 men with casualties numbering 23,500.

Battle of Stones River

However, even in the midst of battle, the soldiers took time to mark the occasion. The night of New Year’s Eve, the Union troops played Yankee Doodle, followed by Hail Columbia. The Confederate soldiers hearing the music played Dixie in return. Songs when back and forth across the battle lines throughout the night. The exchange of music ended with the Union playing Home Sweet Home and the Confederate band joining in.

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