The nation’s first “Thanksgiving” – November 1863

Published November 30, 2018

He relishes a wonderful few days in Marietta. LTC Rufus Dawes has finally received a well-deserved furlough from the army in late November, 1863, as President Lincoln establishes a National Day of Thanksgiving:

The food is wonderful, and eating at a real table in a warm room, with Mary and both families … Rufus cannot be happier! The whole Gates family is present and between mouthfuls, while trying to stifle uncouth army camp habits, Rufe answers questions about the service peppered to him by Mary’s father, Beman Gates. Mary’s little sister Bettie is a charmer, passing him second helpings with big smiles. Mary’s brother Charley is a bit in awe, but Mary has told him not to pry about details, especially Gettysburg. Rufe asks Charley about his brief field service against Morgan’s raiders, nodding with interest and treating the eighteen-year-old like a veteran. Mary takes notice and loves Rufe even more.

But, the cherished time away from hardship and danger is over too soon. Duty calls:

How he wishes to be dining on turkey and celebrating with Mary at his side, instead of boarding the last train heading south to Rappahannock Station. He arrives in the evening to find the regiment’s camp empty. They and the rest of the army are off on another campaign. He hops a ride on a Fifth Corps mail ambulance and bounces along on a “cold, dreary, freezing” night-time search for the Sixth Wisconsin. Finding his unit’s wagons at Germanna Ford on the Rapidan River, he grabs a couple hours sleep, exchanges his travel clothes for his “battle armor” of sword, revolver, and field kit, borrows a horse, and starts in pursuit of the Sixth at first light on a cold and wet Friday the 27th. He finds them marching in column at mid-morning and is immediately in harm’s way. Dawes locks eyes with a horseman in a blue overcoat. In an instant the man raises his revolver and fires. The bullet just misses, clipping Rufe’s hat brim as it zips by his face. He’s a reb!