Saturday, July 4, 2015

The City That Refused To Celebrate Independence Day

In 2011, I posted this on July 3.  I repeat it today, with some edits.

Today, July 4 is Independence Day in the United States, what we call "the 4th of July" (as if the whole world didn't have a 4th of July on their calenders.  In fact, there's a joke...but I digress.)

But, at one time, not all the United States celebrated their Independence Day.  There was a city that refused to celebrate for many, many years.  Why why they held out makes for a story more relevant today, in the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting and subsequent events, than ever.  Hence:

The City that Refused to Celebrate the 4th of July

The obvious thing to do would be to blog today about the Battle of Gettysburg, which ended 148 years ago today.   It was the day the South lost, although the war lasted for almost two more years.  But, the the purpose of this blog is to write (mainly) about lesser known events and people of the Civil War.  So, I'd like to write about a little nugget of information I picked up while listening recently to a rerun of 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 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?

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 Federals on Independence Day as he thought they would get more favorable terms of surrender.

After that surrender, Vicksburg did not celebrate Independence Day until 1945.

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, basically, 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.

For Vicksburg, July 4th didn't stand for our country's birthday but rather for 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".  The wounds of that war are still there, right underneath our collective skin, not fully healed.  They may not fully heal even in my lifetime.


  1. I visited Gettysburg back in the 70's. I learned more about the war in the museum than I ever learned in high school history. The economics of the country then was heavily intertwined with the slavery issue, which never came up in my civics classes.

  2. I'm not sure the wounds of war will ever heal. People still try to stamp out injustice with the use of weapons. If the soldiers don't die during the battle, they carry home mental trauma. If only war would cease.

  3. Just shows that no matter the day, not everyone will have the same perceptions of it. Every good day has negative connotations to someone somewhere.


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