A Civil War Thanksgiving for Illinois

Thanksgiving started with the pilgrims, right? Well, yes and no. Celebrations of gratitude for a bountiful harvest were traditional for Native Americans and Europeans alike, and these ceremonies have occurred since before the earliest days of Europeans settling in North America. It wasn't until 1863, however, that President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be a national holiday of Thanksgiving.

Wait a second, the last Thursday? That's right. At least until 1939 when Thanksgiving fell on the fifth Thursday in November, leaving a shortened holiday shopping season during an already tough economy. President Franklin Roosevelt changed the holiday to the fourth Thursday in November, and Congress signed on in 1941.

But back to 1863. How were folks back in Lincoln's home state celebrating the first nationally recognized Thanksgiving? According to reports in the Chicago Tribune, civilians and soldiers alike (this was during the Civil War, after all) attended worship services and enjoyed delicious meals.

The line officers of the 72nd Illinois First Board of Trade Regiment gave a dinner for the field officers and staff. The patriotic women of Chicago collected, sewed and delivered 275 shirts and 391 other garments to the Sanitary Commission on Thanksgiving Day. In Springfield, several women's organizations put on a dinner for soldiers at Camps Yates and Butler. And back in Chicago, James McVicker, owner and manager of McVicker's Theatre, helped pay for a dinner for soldiers at Camp Douglas, the U.S. General Hospital and the Marine Hospital, and invited them all to attend performances at his theater free of charge.

How will you celebrate Thanksgiving this year?

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