Nov 26

The First Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 26, 2015 12:01 AM

By

By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving . . . .

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 20th day of October, A.D. 1864, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD,

Secretary of State .

The modern holiday of Thanksgiving has its origins in several proclamations by President Abraham Lincoln, who proclaimed several different days of thanks during his presidency. But it was in the 1864 Proclamation shown above that set aside the last Thursday in November. That tradition continues until this day.

Thanksgiving 1984

An officer eats Thanksgiving dinner with the enlisted men aboard the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), November 22, 1984. USNI Archives

The First Thanksgiving, as it were, of 1864, was particularly heartfelt. The United States had been at war with itself for three bloody years, and soldiers and sailors all over still did not know when — or if — they would return to their homes and loved ones. But that Thanksgiving was remarkable in another way — it marked the efforts of the Northern public, led by New York City’s Union League, “that on the twenty-fourth day of November there shall be no soldier in the Army of the Potomac, the James, the Shenandoah, and no sailor in the North Atlantic Squadron who does not receive tangible evidence that those for whom he is periling his life, remember him.”

The efforts were a tremendous success by and large, as the following excerpt from the Army and Naval Journal from December 3, 1864 illustrates:

“A visit to the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Thanksgiving Day gave proof of the universal observance of the proclamation of the President of the United States. At almost any other time, workmen could be found in some of the departments toiling as if it were an ordinary week day; not so on this day; the Yard was deserted apparently, save by the marine guard and watchmen. Captain Waugh was at his post to inform the public that no visitors would be allowed inside, and Lieutenant Morris, of the marines, the officer of the day, was having a quiet and lonesome time in the guard room. Admiral Paulding, never ceasing in his labors, was in his office hard at work, and Captain Case found plenty to do in his capacity as the Executive Officer of the station. A few clerks attend to mails were the only ones employed in the office, and by noon the most perfect quietude reigned throughout the Yard.

“About 10 o’clock a representative of the New York Committee on Thanksgiving Dinners for our solders and seamen presented himself at the Navy Yard gate, with a large truck load of turkeys for the men on board of the ships at the Yard. It was not long before, under the direction of Captain Case, a score of huge cases were deposited near the landing stage of the scow which plies on the ferry to the North Carolina. It was not long before the goods were transferred to their proper destination and equally distributed. Many a poor fellow gave thanks for his allowance of turkey. It came unexpectedly but disappeared naturally, and if the Committee only knew how much their good deeds were appreciated they would never regret the time or money they spent in preparing this dinner for the brave defenders of our flags.

“Many of the men had not been forgotten by their friends at home, and more than one familiar home-made pie was spread out and divided on the messtables on this day. To some it was a lonely day; it was the first time in their life they had not been present at the family table and at the yearly assembling of their family. How changed the some to them from a year agone. Hard-tack, salt beef, underdone duff, and overdone pork filed the places of all the delicacies of home, but these little discomforts are only for a year of the war, and are submitted to for the good of the country. On the two following days three of the ships which it was impossible to supply on Thanksgiving day were attended to, so that every Jack Tar to port had a Thanksgiving dinner.”

SMN Richard H. Hershberger (left) of Conton, Ohio, eats Thanksgiving dinner with Boatswain's Mate First Class Joseph E. Keating (rightt) of Quincy, Massachusetts, aboard the USS Boston on November 24, 1955. USNI Archives.

SMN Richard H. Hershberger (left) of Conton, Ohio, eats Thanksgiving dinner with Boatswain’s Mate First Class Joseph E. Keating (right) of Quincy, Massachusetts, aboard the USS Boston (CAG-1) on November 24, 1955. USNI Archives.

It is an easy thing — to write about sacrifice on Thanksgiving Day — but it is another thing entirely to be making that sacrifice. To the soldiers, sailors, and all those whose duty takes them away from their families and their homes this day of Thanksgiving, may yours be a peaceful and happy one, and know that you are not overlooked.

Closeup of the Thanksgiving Day menu aboard the USS Boston (CAG-1), November 24, 1955. Note the guided missile launcher illustrated above the dinner rolls and between the salt and pepper shakers. USNI Archives.

Closeup of the Thanksgiving Day menu aboard the USS Boston (CAG-1), November 24, 1955. Note the guided missile launcher illustrated above the dinner rolls and between the salt and pepper shakers. USNI Archives.

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