Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Celebrating Independence Day in Vicksburg, 1877

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on July 4, 2016

Vicksburg

It’s an old saw that the citizenry of Vicksburg, Mississippi, did not celebrate the Fourth of July until well into the 20th century. While it’s certainly true that the anniversary of the fall of that city to Grant in 1863 continued to resonate with Vicksburg residents down through the years, in fact the date was observed by plenty of local residents, white and black, even if the celebration was unofficial and somewhat more muted there than elsewhere. And they were celebrating it even when the war itself was a recent memory. From the Vicksburg Daily Commercial, July 3, 1877:

To-morrow being the anniversary of our Nations independence, all patriotic citizens of this great Republic are expected to observe it as a holiday. We desire to be reckoned among this class of patriotic citizens, consequently no paper will be issued from this office to-morrow. The glorious Fourth happens to come in hot weather this year, and we are glad to be able to observe it ‘neath the shade of country forests.

And a follow-up, on July 5:

The people of Vicksburg came nearer celebrating the glorious Fourth yesterday than they have done for several years. True, there was no general suspension of business, as indicated by closed doors, but so far as the profits of trade were concerned doors might as well have been closed, for the salesrooms were deserted almost entirely. Everybody was out of town, apparently, enjoying the holiday in some way. Several hundred people attended the Hibernian picnic at Newman’s Grove, and not withstanding the extreme heat, all seemed to enjoy the festivities of the day. The colored population turned out in large force, fully one thousand men of them going down the river on excursion boats to picnic-grounds, yet there were enough of them left in the city to form a very respectable procession of colored Masons, and a very large audience to listen to the oration of Judge J. S. Morris, and to assist in laying the corner-stone of King Solomon’s Church. There was no prolific display of fire-works on the streets, but occasional reports from fire-crackers and large torpedoes could be heard, accompanied now and then by a patriotic cry, “rah for the Fourth of July!” We do not wonder at the lack of patriotic enthusiasm displayed on our streets. No amount of patriotism could have induced any sane man to exert himself very considerably on such a day when the thermometer registered very nearly 100° Farenheit [sic.] in the shade. However, the observance of Independence Day yesterday, slight as some may have thought it, was yet sufficient to indicate the prevalence of a broader National sentiment and a determination to at least partially forget the past which renders the Fourth of July especially distasteful to Vicksburgers, and make it in future “The Day We Celebrate” as much as any other National holiday.

To be sure, the Fourth of July remained a bitter date for many Vicksburg citizens, for a long time. Undoubtedly there are some who still reject the date as one for celebration. But in this, as in so much else about the legacy of the war, the reality is more complex than some would have us believe.

_____________

A version of this post originally appeared here on July 4, 2011.
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18 Responses

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  1. Pat Young said, on July 5, 2016 at 9:01 pm

    Was the “Hibernian picnic” organized by the Irish immigrant community, or was that just a style of picnic?

    • Andy Hall said, on July 5, 2016 at 11:05 pm

      I don’t actually know. I’ll let you know if I find out.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 5, 2016 at 11:06 pm

      When I read that I guessed it was the Irish community, but never confirmed that.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 5, 2016 at 11:15 pm

      Vicksburg Daily Commercial, July 2, 1877, p. 4:

      • bob carey said, on July 6, 2016 at 10:43 am

        As a member of the Hiberians (JFK Division Albany NY), I would be disappointed if adult beverages were not offered at the picnic. LOL But on a serious note I’ve noticed that the article describes the 4th as “glorious”, not a word you would use if there was a concern about celebrating the holiday.

        • Andy Hall said, on July 6, 2016 at 11:07 am

          Our (Americans’) understanding of history tends to get distilled and truncated down into simple, easy-to-remember tropes. The tradition of Vicksburgers not celebrating the Fourth of July until sometime in the 20th century is a neat story, but it’s fundamentally not true of the community as a whole (although it undoubtedly was true for individuals). The reality, as it usually is, is quite a bit more complex.

  2. Leo said, on July 6, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    It should be noted that those in Mississippi today who reject the fourth as a holiday also reject the nation in its entirety and are such a small collection of malcontents they are hardly worth mentioning beyond something akin to a sideshow oddity.

    • Andy Hall said, on July 6, 2016 at 1:09 pm

      But they keep reassuring each other that they are massive in numbers. Just the other day the Virginia Flaggers posted a meme claiming they were 36,000 strong — which is the total number of Facebook “likes” they’ve gotten, as opposed to more tangible forms of support.

      • Leo said, on July 6, 2016 at 1:15 pm

        “Just the other day the Virginia Flaggers posted a meme claiming they were 36,000 strong — which is the total number of Facebook “likes” they’ve gotten, as opposed to more tangible forms of support.”

        I almost spit my drink all over my computer after reading that. You have to admire their persistence.

        • Andy Hall said, on July 6, 2016 at 1:30 pm

          Last year I saw a calculation that, in the couple of months after the shooting in Charleston, those much-heralded Confederate flag rallies involved something like 23,000 people. Which seems like a lot, until you consider that that number is (1) spread over a dozen states, (2) over two months, (3) over 100+ individual events, and (4) were entirely transient in nature. For the large majority of those folks, their commitment to the cause consisted of little more than driving around with a truck and flag for a couple of hours.

          And even in aggregate, 23,000 people is still fewer than the 2015 average Astros home game attendance.

          • Leo said, on July 6, 2016 at 3:31 pm

            They do seem to inflate their numbers.

            For all the fuss and fighting over the Mississippi state flag, the pro-flag side never managed to produce anything close to impressive numbers for their flag rallies. Their first rally at the state capitol manages around 60 and their largest barely broke 100.

            • Andy Hall said, on July 7, 2016 at 5:10 pm

              Social media, and particularly Facebook, have a tendency to make groups (of whatever persuasion) seem larger and more dynamic than they are. It’s easy to collect a bunch of likes or supportive comments online, but those mostly don’t translate to effectiveness in the real world, where change comes about through persuasion and voting. It’s like online petitions — I seriously doubt most pols pay much attention to them. They’re concerned with their own constituents’ view, not those of someone three states away.

            • Andy Hall said, on July 8, 2016 at 1:58 pm

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              • Leo said, on July 8, 2016 at 2:44 pm

                How much for 100,000 black confederates? 🙂

              • bob carey said, on July 9, 2016 at 11:01 am

                Instant fame, all for a mere 215 US Dollars.

              • woodrowfan said, on July 10, 2016 at 7:24 pm

                but how many are hot Russian single women who want to meet YOU?

  3. dmf said, on July 30, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    hey andy hope yer well, thought this might be of interest:
    http://www.ttbook.org/book/boundary-and-horizon-mississippi-river-african-american-history
    cheers


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