The boys have holiday in honor of the Fourth but more I think to keep up old customs than for any feeling of respect for the day. This is the first Fourth in our memory to pass without a public merrymaking of some kind, but we do not hear of the day’s being celebrated in town or country. There are other and sterner duties before us. It would ill become us as a Nation to be celebrating a day of Independence when we are fighting for our very existence.Other parts of the South did observe the Fourth, at least in the war’s first year, as Adam Goodheart notes in 1861: The Civil War Awakening:
In the latter years of the Civil War, most of the Confederacy would let the day go unobserved, or even openly scorn it. In 1861, however, the Fourth of July was one of the few things that the two halves of the sundered nation still kept in common—more or less, anyway.In one instance, Union troops holding Fort Monroe at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula thought the artillery volley they heard on the other side of the James River was the beginning of a surprise attack—but it was the Confederates celebrating the holiday.
On the morning of the Fourth in the Capitol, at just before nine o’clock, President Lincoln, General Winfield Scott, Secretary of State William Seward and several other Cabinet secretaries mounted the reviewing stand set up under a large canopy on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. Among the hundred thousand drably uniformed troops then camped in the Capitol, one regiment brought a decidedly jaunty note to the morning parade. Goodheart describes the scene:
The day’s great sensation was the Thirty-Ninth New York, a regiment known as the Garibaldi Guards. Its ranks included not just Italians but Germans, Frenchmen, Hungarians, Spaniards, and Swiss, along with a smattering of Russian Cossacks and Indian Sepoys. The men wore green-plumed bersaglieri hats and red shirts . . . The soldiers had already delighted Washington with their habit of singing “La Marseillaise” as they marched along with baguettes speared on their bayonets . . . Now each of the dashing warriors sported a sprig of evergreen or a small bouquet of flowers tucked into his hatband. As they passed, the men flung their botanical offerings onto the reviewing stand with Continental panache. Most seemed aimed at Winfield Scott—whether in tribute to him as head of the army or because he presented such a large target—and before long, the nonplussed general-in-chief resembled nothing so much as a mountainside in springtime.Also of interest:
- Read more about Kate Stone at the Civil War Women Blog
- 150 years ago: The Civil War really begins—in Baltimore, a guest Reader’s Almanac post by Harold Holzer
- “Immigrant Picnic,” a Fourth of July poem, this week’s Story of the Week