By MAGGIE MARCONI
Special to the Register
Each November during the American Civil War, families, both Northern and Southern, found themselves separated from loved ones.
Amidst presidential and gubernatorial proclamations for the Thanksgiving holiday, local members of the Soldiers’ Aid Society were busy with plans to make the holiday brighter for the families who had a loved one on the front lines.
In 1863, over the course of the two weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday, a flurry of notices appeared each day in the Sandusky Daily Register.
The women requested community members to pitch in to provide for a Thanksgiving Day meal for each of the 80 soldiers’ families in Sandusky.
In an editorial, the Register praised their efforts, saying “We hope that the indefatigable ladies composing that Society will be favored with the most ample response to their appeal. Let all give and give according to the bounty and safety with which Providence has blessed them.”
As the holiday drew nearer, the editors again applauded the ladies’ efforts, entreating readers to contribute: “If articles of food are not handy, we have not a doubt, money will be acceptable. Either or both will be received. We would like to see their rooms filled with provisions and their hands with greenbacks.—Their hearts, we know, are full of their work.”
Quickly, as it turned out, their rooms at the Customs House were also full. The Customs House, located at the southwest corner of Columbus Avenue and Market Street (today the location of a parking garage) was a relatively new building in 1863, that served both as a Customs House and Post Office.
The women headquartered their organization there, and for the two weeks before Thanksgiving there was a veritable horse and buggy traffic jam as area residents tried in vain to find someplace to tie up their horses so they could drop off their contributions.
Perkins Township joined in on the act, coming together at a township church, where they gathered flour, meal, potatoes, apples, meat, and more, as well as cash. Donations also came from Margaretta, Berlin and Kelleys Island.
The day before Thanksgiving, the women of the Soldiers’ Aid Society found themselves “up to their eyes and over their head, in pies, cake, bread and other articles of food ready for the table, with chickens, turkeys, meat, butter, beans.”
Area residents had been so generous with their donations that the original room overflowed into nearly the rest of the Customs House. Barrels of flour and apples were in the Post Office rooms, sacks of potatoes, turnips, onions, cabbages and squash were housed in the Mail Agents’ Room and potatoes, apples, corn and live chickens were in the cellar.
Cords of wood were in the back yard. It was estimated that there were 125 bushels of potatoes, 100 bushels of apples and 75 bushels of corn. Eight barrels of flour, a barrel of salt, and 100 pounds of butter were distributed among the families. It was fall, so there was a bounty of squashes and pumpkins. In addition to the aforementioned chickens, there was a “startling array of fowl.” Cash donations amounted to $154, which today would be the equivalent of about $2,700.
The Register took care to point out the donations made by children. Two girls who lived west of Venice walked all the way into town carrying a basket of provisions between them, in order to donate them to the cause. A 7-year-old girl saved up a dollar (the equivalent of $17.50 today) and delivered it in person so that she could see the impact her contribution would make.
The women spent all day on Thanksgiving distributing the contributions to the 80 families throughout the community. After they had visited the last soldier’s home, they had plenty of provisions remaining, and so they continued their good deeds. Just a few weeks before, fearing an uprising at the prison on Johnson’s Island, an artillery unit was placed in Sandusky. Two gun crews were stationed on the island and four on the mainland. At the Saint Lawrence Hotel on Water Street, a hospital was quickly established to minister to the needs of the soldiers of the artillery unit. The women of the Soldiers’ Aid Society kept watch over the men in the hospital, and on Thanksgiving Day they provided the sick men a holiday meal. The remainder of the artillery soldiers unit were also provided with an impromptu holiday dinner. Two days later, this short item appeared in the Register:
Sandusky City, Nov. 26, 1863
Ed. Register: At a meeting of the members of the 24th Battery O.V.A. in this city this evening, Lieut. Wm. March presiding, it was unanimously
Resolved, that we hereby tender our most hearty thanks to Mrs. Converse, Austin, Simpson, Vinton, Butler, Mathews, Adams, Eldis, Smith, Miller, Barber and daughter, and Mrs. Moss, and Messrs. Smith and Adams, and the other Ladies and Gentlemen associated with them, for the rich and bounteous Thanksgiving Dinner they prepared for us to-day; and that our grateful acknowledgments are due the Ladies of this city for their kind and unremitting attentions to the sick of our company. May Heaven reward them with choicest blessings.
SAMUEL LYLE, Jr.,
Serg’t 24th Battery O.V.A.,
In addition to the work done locally, the Sandusky Ladies Aid Society also heeded the call of a national appeal for assistance by shipping seven barrels of whitefish, 12 boxes of grapes and three cases of wine to Nashville. The ladies also packed up a box, which was shipped to Libby Prison.
This effort was so deeply appreciated and so generously contributed to that it was continued the following year, in 1864. By 1865, the war had concluded, and the Soldiers’ Aid Society had likely dissolved.