Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Civil War Christmas

A sketch of John Milton Scanland that appeared in the Sunday News in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. Dec. 30, 1894. 
John Milton Scanland was the brother of William Henry Scanland, the proprietor and editor of the Bossier Banner from 1859 until his death in 1916. Like his brother, John Scanland was a newspaperman his entire life except for his time as a soldier in the Civil War. The following article, “My Christmas as a Soldier,” appeared in The Bossier Banner on Dec. 27, 1900.

The Bossier Banner - July 6, 1939.
“At the beginning of the war between the States I enlisted in the first battalion that left my State for the front. Christmas day found our command defending a fortification, and as the provision trains could not catch up through danger of capture, my first Christmas in the army was a fast, broken only by a little boiled rice and a ration of whisky – about half a glass.

“That night I was detailed as one of the guards. My post was about fifty yards from the breastworks, and on the bank of Warwick river, a shallow stream perhaps twenty yards wide. It was the duty of the sentinels to fire upon the enemy if they attempted to cross the stream. The firing of the gun would alarm camp, and thus prepare the battalion for defense. The wind was cold and cutting. Sleet continued to fall, and the night was as dark as moonless skies and a forest of trees could make it. I was required to stand in one position during the two hours duty, so as to be concealed from the enemy, and the better to observe his movements by watching a particular point. It was also safer for myself, for he would likely shoot at a moving object.

“I had been on duty perhaps an hour, the bright barrel of a gun concealed under my oil-cloth. I stood behind a cluster of bushes, which reached to my shoulders, giving me a view of the creek, only obstructed by the blackness of night. I could only see the open space of the river, and an occasional white ripple of water, where the current was disturbed by something jumping into the river. The noise was about like that made by some one wading across, and I naturally concluded that the enemy were crossing either by wading, or in small boats.

“Every few moments I heard a plunge, and the thick brush on the opposite bank looked like a body of soldiers in line. I could see the waters moving. Surely the enemy were crossing! It was my duty to alarm my 500 sleeping comrades, or else they would be captured, together with the fort – the key to our strategic position on the peninsula. I realized that the alarm would be my death, as the enemy would fire at the flash of my gun, for when a surprise night attack is frustrated the attacking party makes sure of the pickets. I also recollected that a false alarm would bring upon me not only the censure of the ‘officer of the day,’ but that my comrades would never cease jeering at me for shooting at nothing. I stood at ‘aim,’ and as I saw what I thought were soldiers in a boat about midway in the stream, I put my almost frozen finger to the trigger, and was almost in the act of firing, when a couple of musk-rats – for such they were – began to fight and chatter. I then breathed much freer, and my heart which had almost stood still, began to beat regularly.

“No one who has not faced death or imagined himself in that desperate position, can imagine one’s thoughts at such a trying moment.”

To learn more about John Milton Scanland, the Scanland family, or Bossier Parish’s involvement in the Civil War, visit the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center at 2206 Beckett Street, Bossier City. I hope you all have a very merry Christmas!

By: Amy Robertson

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