July Fourth during the Civil War

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Fourth of July at Fortress Monroe

During the American Civil War July 4th was celebrated by both sides with different meanings. Each side saw Independence Day from a different perspective.

In the North it was a reminder to the citizens about what their soldiers were fighting for and to the heritage of their young nation. Union soldiers celebrated with parades, reviews and artillery salutes.

On July 4th 1862, Sgt. Thomas D. Christie of the 1st Independent Battery Minnesota Light Artillery wrote a letter home to Minnesota. His letter was written in Corinth, Mississippi, where is unit was stationed. 

We have had a celebration here today that has convinced the citizens at least that we have not forgotten the Birthday of our Nation. The Batteries of our Division fired a National Salute of 34 guns at noon amid the cheers of the assembled Infantry.

The Confederates connected to their “founding fathers” and separated themselves from a government that they did not agree with. The Southern sentiment was made known in the Richmond Examiner in July of 1861. The Examiner wrote an article on how the South could celebrate July 4th.

We are happy to see many proofs in our Confederate exchanges, that the 4th of July is to be generally observed throughout the Southern Confederacy. We are glad of this because of the association of the day itself, and of the grand event of which it is the anniversary. Let us never forget that when our fathers were oppressed, and when expostulation and remonstrance and warning proved vain, they manfully assumed a separate existence, and boldly drew their trusty swords to make their independence good. It is well for their sons ever and anon to read the bright record anew, and drink in the spirit of those virtuous and heroic days.

The Fourth of July of 1863 would begin an association between two generals whose careers would become intertwined until the end of the war: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.

Lee who led the Army of Northern Virginia, an army that he thought was invincible, would be defeated by George Meade and the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. Lee’s army would be bled white after a catastrophic charge on the Third Day of the battle. Retreating to his native Virginia, Lee would fend of Meade’s army until the following spring.

Ulysses S. Grant was a rising star in the Western Theater who commanded the Army of the Tennessee. In May 1863 he began to maneuver around the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi seeking to cut off its supplies. After a series of maneuvers and battles he succeeded in putting the city under siege. Eventually, the Confederate commander General John C. Pemberton surrendered his 33,000-man army on July 4th, 1863.

Grant became the hero of the hour and by the following he was named overall commander of all Union armies. From May 1864 until April 1865 the two master generals bloodied the Virginia landscape until Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Four bloody years of war ended after three July Fourth celebrations.

 The city of Vicksburg did not celebrate the Fourth of July again until 1907, a 43-year hiatus.

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