Harper’s Weekly – December 31, 1864

Of the 42 cartoons relating to Christmas that Thomas Nast drew for Harper’s Weekly, The Union Christmas Dinner probably had the least to do with the holiday and the most to do with politics. Its allegorical political message was twofold: overtly, Sectional Reconciliation; more subtly but equally important, Reconstruction Policy.

The obvious focal theme was President Lincoln welcoming Jeff Davis, Robert E. Lee and their associates to the Union Banquet Hall. The Northern governors — all recognizable — were seated at a long table opposite a row of empty chairs, each reserved for a specific Confederate state. An olive branch at the upper left and the return of the prodigal son at the upper right completed the allegorical imagery. If the Confederacy would lay down its arms, surrender unconditionally and be contrite, the Union — with Lincoln as its dominant forgiving father — would welcome Rebeldom back into the fold.

The prophetic vignette at the lower left anticipated Lee’s surrender to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox by exactly 100 days. William Sherman was on Grant’s right with George Meade, who won at Gettysburg and was Grant’s second-in-command in Virginia, next to him. George Thomas appeared for the first time in a Nast cartoon, receiving John Bell Hood’s sword.

Confederate General Joseph Johnston was barely discernible behind Hood, who had replaced Johnston six weeks before the fall of Atlanta. In February 1865, Johnston was reassigned and led the Army of the Tennessee through the Carolina Campaign. His surrender to Sherman on April 26, seventeen days after Appomattox, marked the closing chapter of the war.