The novel’s Union-sympathizing Parthenia Leila Ellis hailed from Alabama where her family’s plantation, The Cedars, was near the former-state capital of Cahawba.
In 1864, Cahawba still had a Female Academy for the young daughters of plantation owners in the vicinity, from which Leila had graduated. One student, a real person not a fictional one, was Kittie E. Watson, 13, who wrote this Christmas essay on Nov. 15, 1864.
“Christmas is the birthday of our Savior, it comes on the 25th of December. Christmas is a happy time for school girls, for then they have holiday. There is a great deal of pleasure in giving and receiving presents. When we get up in the morning, the first thing we do is peep into our stockings to see what Santa Claus has brought us, how disappointed we are if they are filled with switches.
“Then comes breakfast, & the nice Eggnog & then at dinner we have roast Turkey; this is what we all used to have before the war; but I expect a great many of us will miss our roast Turkey & Eggnog this year, & have our stockings filled with switches, as they are more plentiful than most any thing else.
“Some persons have Christmas trees for their children, & they look very pretty with their branches loaded with toys of all kinds, & lighted up with candles. On Christmas Eve Santa Claus pays us a visit. He rides in a sleigh drawn by six Reindeer, & he comes down the chimney with a bundle on his back, looking like a peddler, & fills our stockings with toys, candy, & a great many other nice things. I hope he has not forgotten the way to Cahaba, but will remember us all this year. I wish you all a Merry Christmas.”
The essay is part of the collection of the Cahawba Genealogical & Historical Society, which has long had my interest. My great-great uncle Christopher Claudius Pegues was a lawyer who lived in the town when the war began.
Kit, as he was called in the family, raised a company, the Cahawba Rifles, which joined the 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment of which he was later elected colonel. He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Gaines Mill in 1862, which apparently led to a Cahawba ghost story.
Kit was reared on the actual Cedars, the plantation of my three greats Pegues grandparents, whose Big House was torn down by a descendant after the war and the materials used to build cabins for the emancipated slaves. The Cahawba Genealogical & Historical Society could use your donation. For more information, go here.