Robbins: Dr. T.H. McCallie's Christmas 1863

Robbins: Dr. T.H. McCallie's Christmas 1863

December 23rd, 2018 by Mickey Robbins in Opinion Columns

The Presbyterian Church at the time of the Civil War was on the northeast corner of Market Street at Seventh Street.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Thomas Hooke McCallie

Thomas Hooke McCallie

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Thomas Hooke McCallie, pastor at the [First] Presbyterian Church, included Christmas 1863 in excerpts from his "THM, A Memoir."

"Presently we could see the Federal battle lines pressing right up the side of Missionary Ridge, and the Confederates firing directly down on them. This did not last long, till we could see explosion after explosion on top of the ridge, powder smoke rising up in great volumes. So soon as this occurred the great multitude of spectators standing on the hill where I was at the intersection of East End [today's Central Avenue] and McCallie Avenue, most of whom were officers and soldiers on duty in the city, sutlers [traveling merchants] and camp-followers, raised a shout of triumphs that I did not understand. Turning to a man that stood near me I said 'What are they shouting about.' He said, 'Don't you see the Rebs are blowing up their magazines and retreating,' I saw no more of the fight. I turned my back on the scene and went home. I found my wife and family watching from the up-stairs windows facing Missionary Ridge as much of the battle as they could see.

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"I had scarcely arrived at home till poor McNutt our [Union] guard who had been summoned to join his regiment and proceed to the front, came in shot directly through the right hand. We all sympathized with him. He had been so good and kind and so true to us, that we did everything possible for him.

"Our family now consisted of my mother, wife, self and babe, Cousins Nellie and Sallie Hooke, and the colored boy Munster. He staid (sic) with us because he had always been free and did not feel that he had something to gain by leaving us. Our own Negroes, Steve and Kazakh, felt that they would not be free if they remained with us, so they left. They always felt a kind feeling for us and often came back to see us.

"I shall never forget the Christmas of 1863. All without was winter. 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. The churches were closed, the pastors all except myself gone. The old citizens had gone south or had been sent north. Only a few families remained, and they very infrequently saw each other. There were no stores open, no markets of any kind, no carriages on the streets, no civil officers, no taxes, nor 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, or 'contrabands' as they were called then, sometimes 'freeds men.'

"It was winter in the home except for 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 Gods forgiveness and gracious watch-care over us.

"At length in Feby we resolved to open services in our own home on Sunday morning. We so announced it. On the very 1st Sunday morning in Feby we had a house full, using the Sunday school organ, my wife playing and cousin Lizzie Hooke assisting in the singing. The few old citizens that were left came to these services with a sprinkling of soldiers and army officers. The citizens were glad once more to have a place of worship.

The close of the war found our churches in East Tenn in a distressed condition, membership depleted, most of them pastorless, the N. Presbyterian sowing seeds of division, and the whole situation, looking gloomy. One of the agents of the Northern Presbyterian church offered me a thousand dollars if I would come and bring my church with me. This I declined."

Frank "Mickey" Robbins, a Patten and Patten investment adviser, is a vice-president of the National Park Partners. For more visit

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