Four generations of the General Dodge family were present for a sumptuous Christmas dinner in the Dodge home. Included were the general, his daughter, Lettie Dodge Montgomery, Grenville Montgomery (the general’s grandson, his wife, Anne, and their young daughter, Elizabeth Montgomery), Mrs. Grenville Parker (the general’s granddaughter) and Langford Montgomery (the general’s grandson) joined in the gathering.
Later in the evening, General Dodge and his daughter, Lettie Dodge Montgomery, hosted a delightful holiday dance in honor of the general’s Grandchildren, who had come to spend Christmas at the Dodge family home on Third Street.
The house was delightfully decorated with Christmas greenery: holly, mistletoe, poinsettias, and large ferns. After dinner the parlors and large hall were cleared for dancing after which a delicious supper was served in the dining room.
The table was decorated with white roses and lighted candelabras with stunning crystal shades. The nearly one hundred guests were the young married set and friends of Mr. Langford Montgomery, who has many friends in Council Bluffs and Omaha. A brilliantly decorated Christmas tree added to the festive occasion.
General Dodge loved his family, his adopted city of Council Bluffs, his country and the military. After the Civil War Dodge started a special Christmas fund; the interest from this account was to be used for a Christmas Celebration for his comrades and the children left orphaned by the conflict.
In 1889 the general sponsored his first Christmas party for the old veterans and their families. The general was so delighted with the festivities that it would become his annual Christmas treat. One hundred dollars ($2800 today) was spent annually for this event, which was the highlight of the year for the veterans and most often it was the only merriment they had.
At the conclusion of one party the General stood from his chair and after the applause finally subsided he addressed the standing-room-only crowd: “You are brought together with a view not only of giving you pleasure and making you happy with the little presents you get, but that you may bring vivid before you the fact that your fathers and other relatives served their country so bravely, that you may know and have kept fresh in your memory the story of their deeds and also to impress upon you that you should hold sacred their memory and keep fresh in your minds the history of what they accomplished for you and our great country.”
From that first party General Dodge remembered the children and grandchildren of the old soldiers in Council Bluffs by providing them with a merry Christmas every year. This was looked forward to with much anticipation, and General Dodge stood second only to Santa Claus himself in the affections of the youngsters who benefited by his gracious generosity.
The General’s brother, N. P. Dodge, served as master of ceremonies for many years and when the general couldn’t be present, N. P. would read the generals’ greeting to the crowd.
This free celebration eventually became so popular the old soldiers had to obtain advance tickets for their families by providing proof of their military service.
A heartfelt quote from General G. M. Dodge on his wish for Peace on Earth from one of the gatherings: “May we hope that when you assemble next Christmas that all differences which now exist between this and other nations will be amicably settled. Those of you who were born since 1866 cannot appreciate the hardships and sufferings of the old soldiers during the war and since, as the result of that service.
“Ask one of them to describe to you those sufferings and he cannot find words to express it. Ask him if he regrets his enlistment and if he should do it again. If a young man, he will answer: ‘My experience in serving my country has so engrafted upon me my love for it that I am always at its command.’ To the youth I would say let your prayer be for peace, but if war comes always carry in your heart a love for your country that will hold you ready to respond at your country’s call.”
These cheering and wholesome words of counsel from one who had seen and was in some of its most horrid aspects; and who, if an honorable peace cannot be preserved suggests what the duty of patriotism is under such circumstances, no matter what the cost may be.
Dodge not only remembered the veterans but also held a soft spot for others in the city and gave generously to brighten their Christmas. He provided a holiday feast for those staying at the Crèche, a home for neglected women and children. General Dodge sent a box of fresh fruit and numerous other good things to eat. Five chickens formed the center piece of the dinner which was served late in the afternoon in order to give the ladies opportunity to fit up the Christmas tree in the dining room. Early in the evening the children were ushered into the room where presents were distributed among them.
The General would often send a fine-looking tree to Reverend Henry DeLong’s Mission, where it delighted the children at their own Christmas celebration and added to the happiness of the occasion.