‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a soldier was stirring—not even the dog…
And then, as the mantel clock struck midnight, there came the faint jingling of distant sleigh bells. The guard on his perch at Andersonville pricked up his ears. He could just make out the sleigh, dashing across the snow, the moonlight glinting off the bells and buckles of the reindeer’s harnesses. Santa Claus was right on schedule! Jimmy’s mouth began to water and his whiskers twitched as he thought of the mounds of “eggs and bakey [bacon]” that he, his fellow guards, and all their prisoners would enjoy in the morning. For one day—well, two days because Santa always gave them enough for leftovers—no one would be hungry.
Suddenly, his eyes widened and he gripped his rifle tighter. A dark shadow loomed behind the sleigh.
Jimmy knew it was best if only he saw Santa tonight, but this was an emergency! He raised his rifle and took careful aim over Santa’s head. This was the quickest way to raise the alarm! He fired.
Immediately, the dioramas around him burst into noise.
“What was that?”
“What’s going on?”
“Do we get presents if we’re awake?”
“Who fired the shot?”
“Where’s my hat?”
“What’s going on??”
Over it all, Jimmy bellowed, “COVID ALMOST HAS SANTAAAAA!!!!!!!”
8,824 sets of cat ears, 724 sets of horse ears, and 1 set of dog ears perked bolt upright.
“Fire!” Lt. Greene on USS Monitor ordered. “Over the sleigh, boys! Lay down cover! Fire!”
The two massive guns roared and the little ironclad rocked. CSS Virginia opened fire too. The cats from the damaged gun on the port side gamely beat out the flames that licked at the wooden backing of the ship. They still wore their nightshirts and fuzzy slippers, but they’d do anything for Santa.
The smaller field artillery of “Kemper’s Advance” and Cowan’s lone gun opened up as well, trying to buy time for Santa.
But now a new thunder rolled behind them, low and steady, and Jimmy cheered and waved his hat. “Go on!” he shouted, caught up in the excitement of the flashing sabers and pounding hooves. “Hurrah!”
Col. Mosby dashed past first—his raiders were always in the saddle and ready. Sometimes Jimmy wondered if their equivalent of sleep-walking was sleep-raiding Union wagons. They were fully awake now as they galloped past, fur bristling and ears flat. They’d give COVID a run for its money before they let it catch Santa.
The reindeer were covered in snow that steamed off their sweaty bodies. Magical or not, they were beginning to lag, and all wished Rudolph, Donner, and Blitzen hadn’t picked this year to take off for a vacation to Maui. The sleigh was getting too heavy to pull at full speed for ten miles, short-handed. But maybe they could make it to the safety of Civil War Tails.
Suddenly, Santa saw Mosby and his cats come boiling over the hill to his right, their horses’ hooves kicking up a mini snowstorm as they swept around behind COVID and surrounded it.
With a sigh of relief, Santa turned back to his team—and gasped! Materializing in front of him, pounding at full charge, sabers lowered, came a looming line of Union and Confederate cavalry, unbroken to left and right, horses neighing, cats howling, and out in front, four lengths ahead and swerving to narrowly miss Dasher, was Gen. Custer yowling, “Come on, you Wolverines!” The line miraculously—or so it looked to Santa—split and flew past the reindeer and sleigh.
Safe at last, Santa tugged on the reins, but he didn’t really have to—the reindeer of one accord had already slowed to a weary plod. Up ahead, he saw the welcome glimmering lights of the campfires and now the Christmas trees themselves, as cats hurried to throw the switches, knowing that nothing refreshed Santa and his team quite so much as Christmas tree lights and lighted garlands—and Civil War Tails had plenty to do the job!
Kemper’s infantry tramped past, followed by the cats from Little Round Top. Santa heard Tom Chamberlain shout to his brother, “Hey, Lawrence, isn’t this just like in 2017?”
Gen. Grant appeared, holding a steaming cup. “Haven’t got eggnog, but the ladies say it’ll be ready in a jiffy. But we’ve got hot chocolate!”
Santa chuckled. “I thought you fellows always have coffee on hand, ‘round the clock.”
Grant grinned. “Not always. On Black Friday, the boys in the Confederate camp change their coffee pot into a hot chocolate pot. Gives it a nice mocha touch.”
Santa raised his eyebrows as he took a sip. “It is good!”
Even the reindeer perked up at the smell of the hot chocolate.
“There’s plenty. Come on over and sit a while.”
“Thanks, but we’ve got work to do. Maybe I’ll stop by on my way out.” Santa turned the reindeer’s heads toward Andersonville. “Merry Christmas, General! Ho Ho Ho!”
As he drove away, Custer came trotting back, his face and black velvet uniform covered in snow, but wearing a broad grin. Behind him, the combined forces of his Michigan Brigade and Hampton and Fitz Lee pranced proudly. A few cavalrycats coughed or sniffed, but still grinned. Behind them, in a commandeered sleigh pulled by a couple of Mosby’s raiders, COVID wriggled and whimpered and blubbered, trussed up like a turkey. Mosby jauntily carried the grim reaper’s sickle over his shoulder.
Up on his pigeon roost, Jimmy saw the cavalry pass by and breathed a sigh of relief. Mosby caught his eye and held up the sickle with a grin, and tipped his hat in thanks for the alarm. Jimmy blushed and waved, then blushed even deeper when Mosby’s cats raised three cheers for him. But then his attention was drawn to movement by the gate and the muffled jingling of sleigh bells still packed with snow from the frenzied drive but gradually ringing clearer as the snow fell out. Drawing himself to his full 7/8-inch height, Jimmy took a deep breath and yowled over the camp below, “Wakey, wakey! Eggs and bakey!!”