Thanksgiving: Days of Thanks and Despair in Wartime

VFW Magazine, November/December 2009 | Go to article overview

Thanksgiving: Days of Thanks and Despair in Wartime


Thanksgiving can occur on any date from Nov. 22-28 since being designated the fourth Thursday in November by a 1941 law. Here is a brief overview of some key dates in the history of this unique American holiday. The chronology incorporates representative battles from major wars that occurred on or around Thanksgiving, in ilie early years of the nation, special days of thanks were declared to commemorate military victories and so they are included even when occurring outside the month of November.

1623: Pilgrims hold their first true day of thanks.

1630: Massachusetts Bay Colony ( Puritans) celebrates its first day of thanks.

1675-76: KING PHILIP'S WAR Connecticut cancels its day of thanks in 1 675 because of the warfare.

Fall 1676 - General Court of Connecticut declares a public day of thanks for "subduing our enemies." This was the deadliest war per capita in American history: more than 600 colonists were killed (8% of adult males) and 2,000 Indians (10% of total population).

1680: Massachusetts Bay Colony begins its annual festival of thanksgiving.

1754-63: FRENCH 8c INDIAN WAR

1758-Nov. 26 is declared a day of thanks for the victory over the French at Ft. Duquesne, Pa.

1759-Autumn witnesses celebrations of thanks for the victory over the French at Quebec. Colonies from New Hampshire to Georgia participate.

1774: Massachusetts declares the first American (not by British authority) day of thanks for Dec. 15.

1775-83: REVOLUTIONARY WAR

1775, Nov. 23 - Continental Army besieged in Boston observes a day of thanks.

1777: Battle of Saratoga Oct. 17).

Dec. 18 - Continental Congress proclaims this first national day of thanks "for the support of our troops, and to crown our arms with most signal success." (Gen. George Washington does likewise.) First such celebration ever proclaimed by a national authority for all 13 states.

1781: Battle of Yorktown (Oct. 19).

Dec. 13 - Congress authorizes this day of thanks for the victory over the British in Virginia.

1782, Nov. 28 - 13 states celebrate, grateful for the peace ending the Revolutionary War.

1783, Dec. 11- Continental Congress declares a day of thanks for peace.

1789, Oct. 3 - President George Washington proclaims Nov. 26 the first day of thanks designated by the national government.

1798-99: QUASI-NAVAL WAR WITH FRANCE President John Adams proclaims a day of thanks both of these years.

1812-15: WAR OF 1812

Congress requests President lames Madison to set aside as days of fasting and prayer: Aug. 20, 1812; Sept. 9, 1813; and Ian. 12, 1815.

1815, April 13 - Madison proclaims as a day of thanks for the victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans (Ian. 8).

1861-65: CIVIL WAR

1861, Nov. 24 - Union forces gain ground at Fort Pulaski, Ga.

1862, April 13 - Federal government proclaims a special day of thanks in gratitude of victory on the battlefield (Shiloh in Mississippi, for example.)

1863, Aug. 6 - President Lincoln proclaims as a national day of thanks for the Union victory at Gettysburg, Pa. (JuJy 1-3).

Oct. 3 - Lincoln proclaims a nationwide Thanksgiving Day for the last Thursday of November for a "year filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies." Thanksgiving is observed annually hereafter.

Nov. 23-25 - Chattanooga Campaign: Battles of Orchard Knob (Nov. 23), Lookout Mountain/The Battle Above the Clouds (Nov. 24 ) and Missionary Ridge (Nov. 25). 56,359 Union vs. 64,165 Confederate troops. 5,824 (753 KlA) Union casualties vs. 6,667 (361 KIA) Confederate.

1864, Nov. 24 - Lincoln proclaims as Thanksgiving Day. …

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