New Year’s Day, 1862

I’m sure many of you spent New Year’s Day nursing a hangover or perhaps getting a kickstart on some New Years resolutions. Maybe if you had some time in the afternoon, you hopped in the car and drove to the White House to pay a social visit to President Obama. As ludicrous as that may sound here in the modern era, the practice was completely normal in 1862.

Happy New Year and welcome to 2012, or in our case here in the column, the year 1862.

I’m sure many of you spent New Year’s Day nursing a hangover or perhaps getting a kickstart on some New Years resolutions. Maybe if you had some time in the afternoon, you hopped in the car and drove to the White House to pay a social visit to President Obama. As ludicrous as that may sound here in the modern era, the practice was completely normal in 1862. On New Year’s Day, both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis held “open house” events where they opened their homes to guests and visitors from the general public.

New Year’s Day in 1862 was unseasonably warm for the time of year, much like some of the weather we’ve been having lately. The Richmond Whig remarked that the sunny skies and favorable weather “were harbingers of gladness in the future.” That sense of optimism was likely due to a bit more than weather with two recent Confederate victories in Virginia–at Manassas and Ball’s Bluff. However, reports that the Union army was organizing for a large-scale assault hung over the heads of the Confederate leadership.

But you shouldn’t let war get in the way of a good holiday, so celebrate they did:

The leading event of the day was the “reception” at the Presidential mansion, lasting from 12 M. to 3 P. M. Hundreds of citizens and sojourners, including innumerable ladies, paid their respects to the President, who shook hands with each one, and exchanged the “compliments of the season” with that grace and sauvity of manner which distinguish him. The Armory Band was stationed in front of the mansion, from 1 until 2, and enlivened the occasion by some fine music. Richmond Whig, 1/2/1861

The President’s wife, Varina Davis, was ill at the time and confined to her room, so the responsibility of entertaining fell squarely on Jefferson Davis’s shoulders. However, by all accounts he did a splendid job and greeted his guests with “hearty cordiality”. The general favorable opinion of Davis and the event was bouyed, I assume, during the latter part of the afternoon when brandy drinks were served:

Between 2 and 3 o’clock, the Governor’s Mansion was visited by a large number of gentlemen, who called upon his Excellency to wish him a “Happy New Year.” They were not permitted to leave until they had partaken of his hospitality, which was dispensed on this occasion in the shape of a big bowl of apple-toddy, to which the visitors were welcomed by the Governor and his aids. The Armory Band also performed here during this conviviality. Everybody seemed to be in fine spirits yesterday, and it only wanted the news of some important discomfiture of the Yankees to render the jubilation excessive. Richmond Whig, 1/2/1861

Another cause for celebration at the Confederate White House would soon be found in February, when Jefferson Davis was inaugurated for a second term in office, which we’ll cover next month. Soon after though, Richmond would be short on things to celebrate, as Lincoln would bring the war to right to the city’s doorstep–led by none other than George B. McClellan. Richmond would soon come to feel the burden of being the Confederate capitol in a whole new way.

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Phil Williams

In addition to being an amateur Civil War enthusiast, Phil is a musician, beard owner, dance party enthusiast, blogger, technology geek, and spends whatever time is left over working in the advertising industry. He can also be found DJing around RVA as his alter-ego Robot E. Lee.

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