Sunday, July 4, 2010

Celebrating the Fourth of July

The following primary accounts document how Union soldiers in the trans-Mississippi celebrated Independence Day; their Confederate counterparts apparently ignored the holiday. Some Union soldiers in Arkansas on July 4, 1863, had a special “celebration” as they fought in the battle of Helena, and on the same day, northern soldiers at Vicksburg, Mississippi, enjoyed a double event as they celebrated the nation’s birthday and the surrender of the Confederate defenders.

Near Grand River, Missouri (1861):
“The next day was that popularly-supposed-to-be-ever-glorious institution, the Fourth of July, and as the men laid down their sore and wearied bodies, they fondly dreamed of a holiday and rest on the morrow. About 3 A.M., the roll of drums awoke them to ‘celebrate,’ which they did by striking their tents in double quick, packing up their baggage, and then making tracks towards the inevitable southwest. All day long we ‘celebrated’ by marching ahead amid clouds of dust and beneath a sun what would broil a mackerel; ‘celebrated’ by limping wearily along at the rate of three miles an hour; ‘celebrated’ by cursing the heat, the dust, Claib. Jackson, and things generally. Not a gun was fired, nary speech, no firecrackers, nobody to speak, and nothing to drink in honor, etc., of the day. Nothing in short peculiar to the day except a procession under charge of Chief Marshal Gen. Lyon” (p. 101-102).

Banasik, Michael E., ed. Missouri In 1861: The Civil War Letters of Franc B. Wilkie, Newspaper Correspondent. Unwritten Chapters of the Civil War West of the River, Volume IV. Iowa City: Camp Pope Bookshop, 2001.

Tucson, Arizona Territory (1862):
“The ‘glorious Fourth’ was celebrated in this place yesterday by the California column, and the people generally, with a good deal of warmth (no play upon the weather is intended; although the thermometer was rising 108 in the shade.) Captain Shinn’s battery fired a Federal salute at sunrise, and a National salute at meridian. The usual drills, etc., were dispensed with, and the soldiers enjoyed a holiday, and I am proud to add, that despite the latitude allowed them by the relaxation of military discipline, the best order and regularity prevailed. In the evening there were two bailes or dances, one for the officers and another for the men. As I did not visit either, I can give no account of them further than that there were an unusual number of headaches on the day following” (p. 220).

Masich, Andrew E. The Civil War in Arizona: The Story Of The California Volunteers, 1861-1865. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.

Pilot Knob, Missouri (1863):
“At sunrise a salute by the thirty-two pounders of Fort Curtis was fired, and at the same time, the reveille of the field band and bugles woke us up….During the course of the day, almost all of the officers got pretty drunk. Every company in the camp received half a keg of beer. Of course, there were a great many drunks. At nine o’clock in the morning, the preacher gave a speech inside the unfinished fort. My duty prevented me from hearing it to the end. The beginning was quite good. At noon two six-pounder howitzers fired another salvo….They were the first shells I had seen being shot and exploding….Their whistling in the air does not exactly sound pleasant, but it is pretty to see them explode….The result of all that beer was excessive drunkenness and then fights!” (p. 184-185)

Potter, James E. and Edith Robbins, eds. Marching With The First Nebraska: A Civil War Diary. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007.

Gibson, Indian Territory (1863):
“To-day being the 4th, or Independence Day, a national salute of thirty-four guns was fired this morning at sunrise, by Hopkins’ battery. The sunrise was unusually fine, and the mountains in the distance, just before the first rays of the sun fell on the plain below, seemed more charming than at any other time since we have been encamped here. Though we have not had a barbecue to-day with all the delicacies of the season, we have made the best of that which we had. Most of the messes have had either rice, or beans, or hominy, or wheat, with coffee and fresh beef” (p. 313-314).

Britton, Wiley. Memoirs of the Rebellion on the Border: 1863. Chicago: Cushing, Thomas & Co., 1882; reprint ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

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