Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Changed Perspective: July 4th, 1864, in Diaries

Hell had broken loose that Spring of 1864. Places that once were unknown beyond the local populations would become synonymous with death and suffering. Names like Marietta, Kennesaw Mountain, and Resaca lay in the path of William T. Sherman and his army, and the Confederacy was slowly being ground away from the west. Meanwhile, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant were locked in the embrace of death with names like the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor being forever etched upon the memories of the citizens of both sides.

The Year 1864 was not a good year for some of the men of the Thirty-Fifth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The men had been formed and mustered into Federal service In August , 1862, “for three years or during the war” with some of their officers already veterans, and all ready to serve. The regiment had seen much fighting including fights at South Mountain and Antietam, and Fredricksburg. They transferred west for a time and saw service in Kentucky and East Tennessee, before returning to the east for the Wilderness and the battles beyond. On this July 4, some of the men had been prisoners of war, held at the prison camp at Andersonville Georgia. One of the men, Sergeant Henry Tisdale, was captured May 24 while fighting at the North Anna River (Hanover Junction) in Virginia. He shared a portion of his journal chronicling his life as a prisoner with the committee compiling the regimental history. Here is what he wrote on that bleak day:

Woke to thoughts of home, inspired by “the day we celebrate”. For the last two weeks I have been saving up the extra rations allowed me of the meal and rice,we four having determined to have a Fourth of July dinner, if possible. (his messmates were two other men from the Thirty -Fifth and one from a New York cavalry regiment) The extra rations have at times been liberal, so by scrimping a little we saved what, put upon the market brought us the sum of two dollars and seventy cents. With this we concluded to have a bean soup. We purchased of the Reb sutler two onions for sixty-five cents, six potatoes for eighty cents, a red pepper for twenty-five cents, one and a half pints of beans for thirty-five cents and pork for forty cents. We had a jolly time cooking it and smacked our lips as heartily in eating it as ever at in Fourth of July in the Old Bay State.” [1]

Whilst the Bay Staters were celebrating the day with a fine meal of bean soup, Sergeant Onley Andrus of the Ninety-Fifth Illinois, which was mustered into Federal Service in September, 1862. He writes from Memphis to his sister:

Yesterday was the “Glorious Fourth” at least up in Gods country. I suppose you make it so,but here patriotism is at a discount. I was in the city yesterday a while. The Militia was out and paraded the principle streets. The only noticeable feature in their maneuvers was the long faces and their growlings and mutterings at such proceedings,as it was very warm. The day passed off very quickly at our camp. Only a few got tight, and them not very.” [2]

This is quite a comparison. The boys from Massachusetts were still celebrating with what they had, and the boy from Illinois complains it is hot.

Corporal James E. Hall of the Thirty-First Virginia is still keeping his diary. He has also had a bad year, but his troubles began on another July day in 1863. On July 3 he was wounded at Gettysburg, and as he trailed the Army of Northern Virginia southward as one of the walking wounded he was captured the afternoon of July 5. That was a sad 4th for him also. At first he was confined at Fort Delaware, having arrived there on July 10. He would remain there until October 25 when he was transferred to Point Lookout, Maryland, where he arrived October 27, 1863.

On this July 4,1864 he records:

All quiet still today. Two gunboats lying close to the Point have exhibited an unusual number of national flags,as this is their national day. Have heard no salutes yet.” [3]

Hall was quite faithful about writing in his diary so it may be presumed that he did not hear any “national salutes”. If he had he would surely have noted it. Another thing to notice is his reference to the Fourth as “their national day” and completely dismissing the promise it had once held for both sections. Hall would remain at Point Lookout until February 10, 1865, when he was exchanged. He went on furlough, which was cut short, and rejoined the regiment on March 16, near Petersburg, Virginia. He would see the end of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865.

The end was near, but so far away on the Fourth of July, 1864. Attitudes concerning the day had changed dramatically since the first summer of the war. As can be seen by the diaries of the two prisoners, one still holds the day in high esteem, while the other dismisses it as being their day.

The ladies of the south hold it dear, yet realize their own independence may never come. They also use the day to vent their wrath upon the “Yankees”. Some of the diaries, which were not used here, give no notice whatsoever of the day. As with the 1862 diary entry of James H. Hougland, First Indiana Cavalry, then in Arkansas, writes:

On a scout. 2 companies of the Illinois 33rd, 2 companies of Indiana 8th cavalry, Wisconsin 11th, Indiana cavalry crossed Little Run. Saw Horseshoe and Strate lakes. Saw where the Rebels had camp. Charged. Had a fight at mouth of Rat River. Killed & took prisoners & clothes & provisions. Some of the Rebels ran off naked. Camped at Mr. Stokes's on Little Run. Had plenty of provisions. Pot of coffee.[4]

It is true that coffee was a much welcome commodity to both sides, but what of the day?

July Fourth, 1865 will see the Union whole once more. Unity however will be some time in coming.

The Picket

1- Carruth, S., Cutter, T. E., Snow, E.F., et al, (1884) History of the Thirty-Fifth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, Boston. Mills, Knight & Co. printers
2- Andrus, O., Shannon, F.A., (1947) The Civil War Letters of Sergeant Onley Andrus, Urbana
3- Hall, J. Edmond, Dayton, R. Woods, (1961). The Diary of a Confederate Soldier: James E. Hall.[Lewisburg ? W. Va.] Page 62
4- Hougland, J. H., (1962), Civil War Diary of James H. Hougland,Company G, First Indiana Cavalry,for the Year 1862., Bloomington, Ind,:Monroe County Civil War Centennial Commission and Monroe County Historical Society, 1962

Source 1 retrieved from Googlebooks,
Sources 2-4 retrieved from Hathi Trust,

No comments:

Post a Comment