Much has been made of the problems facing America and the world today. There is much uncertainty and doubt, there is vitriolic criticism and unabashed patriotism for America and what she stands for. In fact, it is what America stands for that initiates so much debate. With Independence Day merely days away, it is a good time to remember how we celebrated another trying time in our history.
War Between the States
The American Civil War was probably the most crucial event in American history. Certainly the American Revolution gave birth to the nation, but the Civil War ensured that it would survive and completely transformed the face of the nation and the path it would follow until present times. After suffering defeat after defeat at the beginning of the war, the morale of Americans was probably at its lowest.
In 1862, the war that was supposed to end after a few weeks had no end in sight. Americans clung to whatever positive news they could find. On July 4th, 1862 it was confirmed by the New York Times that Conferedate General “Stonewall” Jackson had been killed, giving some relief to the northern citizens. McClellan’s bloody Peninsular Campaign was coming to an end, with less than satisfactory results. The Times reported with some suspicion that “treason of some one within our lines who possessed a knowledge of our plans” had led to Confederate advantage in some of the smaller battles. But Americans still went out and celebrated the nation they were trying to save.
The Monitor and the Merrimac
On July 4, 1862, New York City held a pyrotechnic gala, a recreation of the epic battle between the ironclad vessels Merrimac and Monitor. In March, these two ships had engaged in the first pitched battle between ironclad vessels, forcing the Confederate Merrimac to withdraw. A technical marvel and considered a great success by the north, it was something to celebrate come Independence Day. Isaac and Joseph Edge pitched the idea of creating a re-enactment of the great battle. The Times claimed tens of thousands gathered to watch the spectacle, which was wildly well received and ended with the Federal Monitor victorious.
The grind of bloody, bitter warfare continued, with July 1863 being a commonly accepted “turning point” of the conflict. In what would become quite possibly the most jubilant Fourth of July ever celebrated by Americans, wonderful news arrived. In an almost scripted twist of fate, the Federals experienced two great victories that put the Rebels on their heels. General Ulysses S. Grant had achieved a crucial victory in the Western Theater, ending the siege of Vicksburg and forcing the Confederates to retreat. In the Eastern Conference, the great battle of Gettsburg had ended with the Union victorious, having successfully defended home soil from the forces of Robert E. Lee.
News did not reach the rest of the country, including President Abraham Lincoln until July 7th, and by then the nation was in full celebration. Even the sometimes sullen Lincoln was cheered by the news. Benjamin French reported later that “The countenance of President Lincoln, never very demonstrative, beamed all over with gladness; and the sun that rose that day, on many fears, went down in glory on the universal idea that the Union was saved.”
It was in this way that a nation at the most critical stage of her existence managed to cling to the positives and ride out the storm, celebrating their freedoms and successes every Fourth of July.References and Suggested
Fourth of July Stories
Lincoln’s Fourth of July Address