People today may not realize that winter during the Civil War usually brought an end to combat until the spring thaw.
Winter in northern Virginia brought cold rain and snow. Men, horses and vehicles simply couldn’t move over frozen ground with any ease. So the armies set up winter camps.
As usual the men made the best of camp life and sought out some fun to break up the boredom of camp routine. Even snow provided an escape, as many soldiers from the Deep South, such as William and his comrades in the 16th Mississippi Infantry, were not used to so much of it. The men had a good deal of fun staging snowball battles.
William may have joined other footsoldiers who made sleds out of any material they could find and slid down a steep hill and onto the frozen pond near their camp.
He may have been lucky enough to be among the soldiers invited to parties by mountain folk living in the many nearby cabins. Rations for William and the men improved as Christmas neared. Each company built big fires at either end of their company streets and the men sang and danced to tunes played on a fiddle.
“We did not give up the fun of living [just] because we had constantly to face the chance of dying. We were very much alive,” recalled David Eldred Holt, William’s comrade in Company K.
The men William camped with sought out some spirits with which to celebrate the season. But Holt noted that “General Lee saw to it that the opportunity was wholly lacking.”