It was the winter of 1862, and the little Virginia town of Warrenton – a village, really – was in the hands of the Yankees. But the people of Warrenton were trying to make the best of it as Christmas approached.
One of the women living there was the wife of a Confederate General. He was away, of course, performing his duties. The general’s wife had formed up a dancing class for some of the young boys and girls, and this had given some cheer to an otherwise dreary year. So the children decided they wanted to give a Christmas present to their teacher.
This presented quite a puzzle, as there were no stores, and no money with which to buy anything. The Union soldiers had their provisions, but they were not allowed to sell them because it was reported that the provisions were saved up for the Rebel soldiers.
However, the Yankees would sometimes buy homemade bread from the locals, and furnish supplies for the ladies to make pies and cakes. The children became determined to get some money from their parents for their gift, and collected three dollars. But what to do with it? What would they buy? After a lot of thought the children decided they would buy some sugar, tea and coffee. But where?
One of the girls said, “Why, there is a very nice Yankee who has his headquarters in the lot next to our house, and I believe he would let us buy it if we asked him.” But that brought about the question of who would “face the enemy.” After much discussion it was decided that five of the girls would go.
At this point I will let one of the girls, Janet Randolph, tell the rest of the story:
“You can hardly imagine a more scared set of little girls; but we must get our present, so down we marched and asked the sentinel who walked in front of the officer’s tent if we could see Col. Gardner on ‘important business.’ In a few minutes we were ushered into his presence. I was to be the spokesman, but I am sure if the Colonel had not been so gentle and kind my mouth would never have been able to open. Well, after a fashion, we made known our errand and offered our pitiful little three dollars, which meant so much to us, asking if we could let his sutler sell us that amount in sugar and coffee. (A sutler was someone who followed an army and sold provisions to its soldiers.) Why certainly; it should be sent to us that afternoon. You can hardly think how glad we were and how we thanked the Yankee Colonel.
“Now the pleasant part of my story comes: That afternoon up came the came the Colonel’s orderly with twenty pounds of sugar and a large package of coffee and tea (I suppose five times and much as our money would have bought) and a nice letter with three one-dollar greenbacks, saying that he was glad to contribute to the brave little girls who wished to give a Christmas present to the wife of a Confederate general who had given her time for their amusement. Our delight can hardly be described to the little ones of to-day who have all they want for their comfort and amusement, and I believe that everybody who takes the trouble to read this little story will be glad to know that even in those hard days there were kind Yankees who did feel sorry for the little Confederate girls.”