Celebrating Independence Day in Vicksburg, 1877
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.