Cooper: Christmas comes despite the deprivation of war

Cooper: Christmas comes despite the deprivation of war

December 22nd, 2013 by By David Cooper in Opinion Columns

When Christmas came to Chattanooga in 1863, a month to the day following the Civil War battle of Missionary Ridge, Rev. Thomas Hooke McCallie was pastor of First Presbyterian Church, then known as the Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga.

There were only six churches in town. Each of their pastors had fled the ravages of war -- except Rev. McCallie. He was not on the Union side or the Confederate side but was on the Lord's side and ministered where he could.

He was of the second of six generations of McCallies, not only to be church members, but to be Chattanooga community leaders. In 173 years, he is the only son of the church to have been its pastor.

Rev. McCallie, 26, observed the occupation and battles from the farm he inherited, much of which would today be occupied by UTC. The farmhouse was located at Lindsay and McCallie, now First-Centenary United Methodist property.

The following Christmastime account comes from Rev. McCallie's memoir, written beginning about 1905. It was published in book form in 2011 by his last surviving grandson, Dr. David P. McCallie, who died this past Oct. 7 at 92. The memoir, amplified by Dr. McCallie's editorial notations, is titled, "THM: A Memoir."


I shall never forget the Christmas of 1863. Christmas Eve came. All without was winter. It was winter in the city and winter in the state. Horrid war had desolated everything.

Our church was used for a hospital and no bell rang out on the air telling us of God, His house, His worship. There was no Sunday school. There was no day school. There was not a religious gathering anywhere in the city. The churches were closed, the pastors, all except myself, gone. The old citizens had gone south or had been sent north ....

There were no stores open, no markets of any kind, no carriages on the streets, no civil officers, no taxes, no tax collectors, fortunately. Strangers filled our streets, our highways and our houses. The rattle of spurs of officers and the tramp of the soldiers was constantly falling on the ear. The town was white with tents. Tents, tents, everywhere, soldiers' tents, sutlers' tents with precious little in them, tents for negroes ... sometimes [called] "freeds men.''

It was winter in the home except for a few precious rays of sunshine. We had no milk, no butter, no cheese, scarcely any fruit, but bacon, bread such as we could make without milk or yeast, coffee, sugar and a barrel of pickles in the brine, but no vinegar to put them in.

The rays of sunshine were good health, powerful divine protection, keeping us in peace where so many were being sent away from their home; and a sense of God's forgiveness and gracious watch-care over us.

But Christmas Eve night ... was dark and stormy. The family had all retired to rest. I was sitting by the fire reading. My wife prepared for bed and then, just before retiring, she said, "I always have hung up my stocking Christmas Eve night, ever since I was a child, and now I am not going to let poverty and the Yankees cheat me out of the joy of being a child again. I hang up my stocking by the fireplace.'' And so she did and retired.

"Too bad,'' said I to myself, "that the dear woman should be cheated out of the joy of waking on Christmas morning and finding that Santa-Claus had been here.''

So I waited and when quite satisfied that my wife was asleep, I rose up, put on my over-coat and sallied out into the winter night. I soon found a sutler's tent, where the light was burning. I bought some candy, a case of cove oysters, a can of tomatoes and some little things, hied away home, crept in quietly, put the purchased articles in the stocking and retired.

Well, the next morning was a joy to see. The woman was a child again. She could hardly believe her own eyes. She sat down on the floor, woman-like, took her stocking and rolled out its contents. She wondered where on Earth these things could have come from. The next thing was, "Mr. McCallie, where and when did you get them?''

This installment was provided by David Cooper, former news editor of the Chattanooga Free Press and Times Free Press and author of "Catalyst for Christ," the history of Chattanooga's First Presbyterian Church. For more, visit or call LaVonne Jolley 423-886-2090.