Thanksgiving During Wartime | Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours

Thanksgiving During Wartime


WWI servicemen at Thanksgiving 1918
WWI ended just weeks before Thanksgiving 1918. Returning servicemen enjoy Thanksgiving cheer in New York City. Photo source: U.S. National Archives

As noted in a fascinating blog post by the U.S. Department of Defense, the creation of Thanksgiving can largely be attributed to the military.

“During the revolution, the Continental Congress decided to declare several days of thanksgiving to help inspire our troops to victory. The first such day fell on Nov. 1, 1777, when news of some victories against the British reached their ears.

Gen. George Washington also called for a day of thanksgiving on Dec. 18, 1777, as a victory celebration for the colonial army’s win during the Battle of Saratoga that October. He later issued the first formal Thanksgiving Day proclamation for the U.S. when he was president, setting the date for Nov. 26, 1789.

While that date fell around that of our current-day holiday, Thanksgiving still failed to become an annual tradition until about 75 years later – when President Abraham Lincoln decided to renew the celebration in 1863, during the height of the Civil War.”

We are so thankful for our many guests who have helped us to promote the study and discourse of history by traveling with us to the places where history was made. As you celebrate this hallowed American holiday with your family and friends, take a moment to give thanks to brave men and women who have defended our country and served with distinction since our founding.

We wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving During World War II

WWII soldiers at Thanksgiving

During World War II, C- or K-rations were replaced with turkey and cranberry for the holiday. It was either shipped in by the military or collected from local farmers.

In this photo, WWII soldiers crowd around a field range on Thanksgiving, watching Sgt. Louis S. Wallace of Meadville, Mississippi, prepare two of the many thousands of turkeys that arrived from the America. 

Photo source: U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum

Thanksgiving During the Civil War

Thanksgiving at camp during Civil War

With the Battle of Gettysburg in mind, both the Union victory and the immense loss of life, on October 3, 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation that is viewed as the beginning of the national holiday of Thanksgiving Day:

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving… And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him …, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

Image: Thanksgiving in Camp was sketched by artist Alfred R. Waud on Thursday, November 28, 1861.

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