The 87th anniversary of the founding of the United States of America was a day that marked the turning point in the Civil War.
While the fighting had barely stopped at Gettysburg, major operations and troop movements were not underway for the first time in weeks. The men from both sides were out in open ground finding the wounded and shooting wounded horses and mules.
General Lee asked for a prisoner exchange and was turned down by General Meade. Lee started to send his supply train west toward South Mountain on the Chambersburg Pike. With the supplies went hundreds of Union prisoners destined for places like Belle Isle, Castle Thunder, Libby Prison, and Salisbury Prison Camp.
The men on both sides, exhausted, hungry and thirsty, warily awaited the next iteration of Hell on Earth…but it was not to be…not today, and not here.
That night, in a heavy rain, Lee had a few soldiers stay behind and tend large bonfires on the west side of Seminary Ridge that was supposed to make the Army of the Potomac believe the Army of Northern Virginia was still encamped there. In reality, as Lee’s troops moved southwest on the Hagerstown Pike [Fairfield Road] and climbed South Mountain in the Fairfield Gap and Monterey Gap, the men in blue were well aware of Lee’s departure. At Monterey, General George A. Custer and his cavalry troopers caught up to the retreating troops and captured a large portion of General Richard Ewell’s supply train.
After months of hard marching, hard fighting, and maneuvering, General Ulysses S. Grant received the surrender of the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and its defenses from Confederate General John C. Pemberton. The effort had started seven months earlier in the first phase of operations designed to wrest control of the Mississippi River away from the Confederates.
For Grant’s men, it had been a miserable campaign over miserable terrain, slogging and fighting their way through bayous and swamps, crossing and recrossing rivers and streams, even building a canal. And Grant got an enormous effort from the United States Navy throughout the campaign, from gunboats that were simply floating artillery platforms to transports that ferried Grant’s Army where it needed to go and got it there when it needed to get there. Grant made ample use of the Navy throughout the war, and it paid dividends.
This July 4th, the effort that began the previous December finally came to a victorious end for Grant and his Army, and for Admiral David Farragut and his fleet of Naval ships and boats.
President Lincoln, on hearing of the surrender of Vicksburg, commented, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”
The residents of Vicksburg would not celebrate Independence Day until 1941.
Washington – July 7
President Lincoln did not receive news of Grant’s victory until July 7, which prompted a celebration in Washington, and a speech from Lincoln.
“Fellow-citizens: I am very glad to see you to-night. But yet I will not say I thank you for this call. But I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called. [Cheers.] How long ago is it? Eighty odd years since, upon the Fourth day of July, for the first time in the world, a union body of representatives was assembled to declare as a self-evident truth that all men were created equal. [Cheers.]
“That was the birthday of the United States of America. Since then the fourth day of July has had several very peculiar recognitions. The two most distinguished men who framed and supported that paper, including the particular declaration I have mentioned, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the one having framed it, and the other sustained it most ably in debate, the only two of the fifty-five or fifty-six who signed it, I believe, who were ever President of the United States, precisely fifty years after they put their hands to that paper it pleased the Almighty God to take away from this stage of action on the Fourth of July. This extraordinary coincidence we can understand to be a dispensation of the Almighty Ruler of Events.
“Another of our Presidents, five years afterwards, was called from this stage of existence on the same day of the month, and now on this Fourth of July just past, when a gigantic rebellion has risen in the land, precisely at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow that principle “that all men are created equal,” we have a surrender of one of their most powerful positions and powerful armies forced upon them on that very day. [Cheers.] And I see in the succession of battles in Pennsylvania, which continued three days, so rapidly following each other as to be justly called one great battle, fought on the first, second and third of July; on the fourth the enemies of the declaration that all men are created equal had to turn tail and run. [Laughter and applause.]
“Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme and a glorious occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the theme and worthy of the occasion. [Cries of “go on,” and applause.] I would like to speak in all praise that is due to the the [sic] many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the Union and liberties of this country from the beginning of this war, not on occasions of success, but upon the more trying occasions of the want of success. I say I would like to speak in praise of these men, particularizing their deeds, but I am unprepared. I should dislike to mention the name of a single officer, lest in doing so I wrong some other one whose name may not occur to me. [Cheers.]
“Recent events bring up certain names, gallantly prominent, but I do not want to particularly name them at the expense of others, who are as justly entitled to our gratitude as they. I therefore do not upon this occasion name a single man. And now I have said about as much as I ought to say in this impromptu manner, and if you please, I’ll take the music. [Tremendous cheering, and calls for the President to reappear.]*
As reprinted in the Washington Evening Star of July 8, 1863. Posted in an online article, Abraham Lincoln’s Independence Day Address of July 7, 1863, Researched by James R. Heintze.
Independence Day…so many reasons to celebrate it!