Thanksgiving During A Turbulent Time

Last night’s episode, “A Day To Give Thanks,” is set during Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1864. Turkeys are being sold and slaughtered in the open-air market in Five Points. In spite of worries about a possible Confederate plot to burn the city, Thanksgiving is being celebrated all over the city, whether at Eva’s Paradise or in Carmansville at the Freemans’ home. This was also the first anniversary of the official Thanksgiving proclamation.

Since 1846, Sara Josepha Hale, author and editor of the “socially influential” Godey’s Lady’s Book, had petitioned the government to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, with pleas to Congress and Presidents of the United States: Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln.

Previously, Thanksgiving was mainly celebrated in New England, and governors of various states would issue their own proclamations for Thanksgiving which were different. And there had been other days of Thanksgiving proclaimed, they were more related to the Civil War’s soldiers rather than the Pilgrims and Native Americans of the 17th century.

It wasn’t until 1863 when Lincoln decided to make a Thanksgiving proclamation. He noted, “In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity,” and wrote, “I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” He also noted its possible unifying power to restore “peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” (Lincoln also made a Thanksgiving proclamation in 1864.)

It’s also believed that the White House tradition of pardoning a turkey originated with Lincoln: As the story goes, Lincoln’s son Tad had befriended a turkey sent to the White House for dinner and begged for the bird’s life to be spared. Tad’s wish was granted.

During the Civil War, Northerners sent Union soldiers turkeys, puddings and pies. Here are some Civil War-era Thanksgiving recipes—stuffed turkey, plumb pudding and cranberry sauce, plus how to cook a full Thanksgiving meal.