(A partial rewriting of a post from July 3, 2011).
Today is July 4, Independence Day for the United States.
I first found this story out on Ken
Burn's classic TV mini series on the United States Civil War. (As I
write, keep in mind that I am a native of New York State.)
Vicksburg, Mississippi, in a former Confederate state, has an online listing of community events.
Listed in here, along with the Farmers Market, Faith Fest and the Old
Court House Flea Market, is the "Red, White and Blue" Fourth of July
weekend, and the 4th of July fireworks. Nothing special, here. Nothing
different than what thousands of other cities and towns in the United
States offer in celebrating our nation's Independence Day.
Or is it different?
Several generations of citizens of Vicksburg, Mississippi didn't know
what a hometown 4th of July celebration was like-because they didn't
have one. Stores remained open. People went about their business. And
stories were told, dark stories, about the Siege of Vicksburg and its surrender to the Union Army on July 4, 1863. It is said that
General Pemberton, the commanding general of the Confederate States of
America forces at Vicksburg, chose to surrender Vicksburg to the Union army
on Independence Day as he thought they would get more favorable terms
After that surrender, Vicksburg did not celebrate Independence Day until 1945.
Even in 1997, they still had a problem with it.
We must try to understand why Vicksburg felt that way. Vicksburg is
located on the Mississippi River, one of the most important waterways in
our nation. It was just as important, if not more so, in the 1860's.
It was vital for the Federals to take control of the Mississippi in
order to win the war.
Vicksburg stood in the way.
So, it was put under siege by Union forces commanded by
General Grant and starved into submission. As a young girl growing up
in the Bronx, I remember drawings in a textbook showing how the
residents ended up taking refuge in caves dug into hillsides, and what
they used for food as the siege progressed. Rats would have been a gourmet treat.
Towards the end, they were printing their newspaper on wallpaper because they had run out of paper.
For Vicksburg, July 4th didn't stand for our country's birthday but
rather was symbolic of what its fellow citizens did to it back in 1863. I can only
think that its citizens going overseas and fighting World War II side by
side with the descendents of its former enemies of 80 years before, to
fight a strong evil threatening to overtake the world, is what finally
started to heal those wounds.
As William Tecumseh Sherman said, "War is Hell". Especially for civilians caught in the crossfire.
In another twist of history, the same Union General Sherman, the day after Vicksburg's surrender, started practicing for what would become his infamous "March to the Sea" by marching through Central Mississippi and burning Jackson.
The descendents of those people still remember, too.
Indeed, the wounds of the Civil War
are still there, right underneath our collective skin, both North and South, not fully
healed. This was true when I first wrote about Vicksburg in 2011, and is still true today. The wounds may not fully heal even in my lifetime.
Tomorrow, back to my regular blogging schedule.
If you are in the United States, have a wonderful Independence Day.