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What is it about nice people that attract total idiots?Nice people are martyrs. Idiots are evangelists.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

July 4th, 1863

When you think about this date- if you have a passing knowledge of Civil War History- you think of the glorious change of events that spelled the eventual doom of the rebellion.  In the North, Meade was watching Lee climb down from Pennsylvania; in the South, Grant was collecting swords and guns from Pemberton's half-dead garrison.  The Union was saved, the South was divided, and the British would now send those half-finished Southern ironclads "to Russia".  But like all things in history, the fireworks didn't exactly go off immediately- or everywhere.

News wasn't as easy as clicking on the TV.  In some places (as I learned, like Canton, OH), the great news got scattered reports on the inside of the paper, not getting front-page coverage until the eighth.  In Chicago, the Gettysburg news reached them right away by telegraph- but the Vicksburg reports, travelling upriver, were 5 days to a week behind.

In Vicksburg, those reports had been, for the last few weeks, printed on wallpaper when newsprint ran out.  The last of those, set on the 2nd, had a Union-added postscript attached on the fourth.  It promised it would be the last wallpaper news, and "you will no longer have to hear about the luxuries of mule meat and fricasseed kitten". And from what I read about living in caverns under the city and eating rats, that was being kind.

I wondered at the slow reporting of the Canton Democrat when I read of how northern Democrats, commonly called Copperheads, were using the celebration to yet again attack what they called "the nigger war".  Too bad Democrat leaders aren't still as honest with the African-American community about their feelings as they were then.

On the other hand, Union prisoners at Libby Prison in Richmond spent a week making a Union flag out of scraps of underwear, to honor the country they fought for, refusing to move when the camp commander ordered it taken down.  In Knoxville, Tennessee, at the same time, the local newspaper editor was writing,  “Today is the 88th anniversary of the Declaration of American Independence. It will — doubtless — be celebrated throughout Yankee land with more than the usual amount of fireworks and orations. Since American independence has been abolished by Lincoln, and it has become reminiscent of the past, the imagination of Doodles (a reference no doubt to the 17th century song, Yankee Doodle) will paint its beauties in extravagant terms.”

And the two famous battles weren't the only game in town.  In Helena, Arkansas, elderly (in a military sense; he was 59 and soon to be accused of losing her memory) General Theophilus Hodges was commanding four different groups in an attempt to forestall Grant by taking a garrison town to the north.  The attack became a collection of missed communications, missed opportunities, and the beginning of a feud between two of his commanders that would end in a duel- with Brigadier General John Marmaduke shooting dead his commanding officer, fellow Brigadier Lucius Walker.  It seems that Walker refused to cover Marmaduke's flank for fear of exposing his own- and then repeated that action a month-and-a-half later at Reed's Bridge, Arkansas.  Marmaduke refused to serve under him anymore, Walker claimed he'd been called a coward.  Major General Sterling Price ordered them to stay in quarters, but "an unfortunate set of mishaps" kept the orders from being delivered.

 Price also had his problems at Helena.  Hodges ordered the attack to "begin at daylight"; the commander Price was to support thought that meant first light, while Price thought it meant sunrise, and thus the other guy got thumped for an hour before Price even moved.

And life had to go on, the war included.  Even as Vicksburg fell, the Southern leadership on one side of the Mississippi were making arrangements to ship stores of Louisiana cotton by rail to Houston and thence to Brownsville before they and the parishes they were stored in fell to Grant; on the other side, they were begging Texas planters to "hire" their slaves to the Army to use as teamsters. 

D.H. Hill won the only praise the Confederate army got that day, bravely marching from Petersburg to defend Richmond from an enemy that was still licking its wounds in Pennsylvania, to the relief of the capitol's panicked citizenry.  The Richmond Dispatch declared sagely:  "July promises to be a month of important battles, if not the great month of the war."  And in the heavy rain falling on Gettysburg, the body of a Chinese immigrant-turned Union soldier called John Tommy lie waiting for burial.  The Potomac was on the verge of becoming a death trap for Lee; and the Mississippi brought a coded message in a bottle that morning to the garrison at Vicksburg:

“You can expect no help from this side of the river."

Years later, a Confederate officer who had lost both hands on Graveyard Hill to a shell from the Tyler wrote, "Since that day at Helena I tell the boys I would rather buck against a voodoo than to try to down Old Glory on the Fourth of July... Yes, the union is good enough for me on the Fourth of July and every other day in the year, and I don't regret the price I paid for finding out!"


  1. CWM:
    Now THAT is a great history lesson about what the 4th of July is (and was) about.
    How soon we forget how many Independence Days were NOT as "festive" as we make them to be today.
    If faced with similar situations as you chronicle, how would WE be able to deal with it?

    The siege of Vicksburg alone tells that tale.
    We have come SO far from those days, and yet, there are times I wonder how we make it from day to day, given the mindset of many in this nation.

    Again, kudos for a great example of the 4th.

    Stay safe up there.

    1. Thanks. I really just wanted to paint a truer picture than we usually get... sometimes we think that the disagreements we have now are new. But they aren't... and neither are the attitudes and opinions that form them.

  2. I'll bet those Copperheads would have gotten into some serious trouble with the Food Network.
    If it wasn't 1863.
    Damn creepy ass crackers.

    1. And yet, they were Democrats... the party that loves minorities...

  3. We live smack dab in the middle of all of this history and I so much cool Civil War mementos [you would be jealous, trust me] that this post was GREAT.

    But really. . . you have to pull the Democrat card in a war that happened so many years ago and freed people that should have never been enslaved? Just to make your point about how much you hate the current administration?

    How is that even fair CW? I mean, really?

    I hope we remain friends after this comment, as I respect differing opinions, and you know I care deeply for you, but I really don't see the point in the hatred you carry.

    Sorry buddy. Really. You know how I feel.

    1. It is a hatred of stupidity. By protecting welfare and illegal immigration, the Democratic party fosters economic/intellectual slavery just as much now as it did the physical slavery then. And the people their policies oppress the most keep voting for them because they get theirs and the hell with the future.
      They are the party of divisiveness. Find the minority group, give'em what they want at the expense of the rest of us, and they keep voting for ya. So yeah, I have to.

      And that is far, far from the current administration, but this admin certainly gives enough excuses. Now they are going around trying to get groups from girl scouts to the NFL to pimp Obamacare for them?

      The point isn't hatred. It is worth it if I can get one Democrat to open their eyes and think for themselves.

      I don't think this should affect us in any way. We ain't Congress, we can agree to disagree. All I can tell ya is, when I start throwing snowballs, duck!

  4. Wow. I learned more here than I ever did in school. Which makes me wonder what they are teaching our kids now...

    1. I taught myself history- and did a damn sight better job.