Monday, July 2, 2012

July 4th, 1862, in Diaries

By the Fourth of July, 1862, the citizens of the United States and Confederate States had came to the realization that the war was not going to close soon. Since 1861 the casualty lists had lengthened dramatically since the battle at Bull Run/ Manassas (First). That July's casualties seemed miniscule when compared to the bloodletting at Shiloh in Tennessee and the battles outside Richmond during McClellan's Peninsula Campaign (Gaines' Mill and Fair Oaks to name two). Yet there were still many relatively new regiments in the armies of both sides that had yet to see much of the war outside of camp life, and some had yet to even fire their muskets in anger in so much as a skirmish. And of course there were still regiments from the summer of '61 that had “seen the elephant” up close and more often than they cared to see. Some of their thoughts concerning Independence Day made their way into diaries, letters, and regimental histories just as others had in the summer of 1861. The following are examples of such thoughts.

On July 4, 1862, Young Samuel E. Nichols of Brookfield, Massachusetts, wrote a letter to his brother Alpheus. Samuel was then attending school at Amherst College.

And another reason why I should settle up everything this term is that the possibility is I may never come back to college. Have you not thought within the past few days, days undoubtedly of disaster to Union Arms and awfully destructive to our brothers in the field, days whose results seem almost inevitably to decide a policy unfavorable to us from arrogant, intermeddling and jealous nations, have you not thought, I repeat, that it was our imperative duty to take the places of our fallen soldiers, to meet the expectations of whom we have bidden Godspeed, and who are now in extreme peril and also to increase the original strength of the army, which with all its actual strength has nevertheless proven to weak? “Not men enough.” is the cry that passes from lip to lip. Now where are the 15 regiments that are to be formed in Massachusetts to come from, unless such men as you and I signify our willingness to go? I do not expect to go but I think it is my duty” [1]

Clearly Nichols is expecting to enlist despite his claim in the last line. He is but 20 years old, and he is expecting to go to the war and he brings up the “arrogant, intermeddling and jealous” nations, Britain and France, to coax his brother into joining also. Disaster on the battlefield and the threat of foreign intervention was a strong inducement to take up arms to defend the Union.
In less than three weeks, Samuel Nichols would enlist in the 37th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry at Northampton. By his letters it does not appear that Alpheus joined his brother in the ranks.
In stark contrast to the exuberant Nichols is the diary entry of Corporal James E.Hall of the 31st Virginia Infantry. By this July 4 he had over a year of marching and fighting in Western Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. He was 20 years old as well. He writes:

We have been marching all day, but I am lost as to the country about here. Damn such a way of spending the Fourth. I am so awfully tired of war I hardly know what to do.” [2]

Hall at this point was down on the Peninsula but seems to have missed some of the fighting due to illness.

Mrs. Henrietta Fitzhugh Barr, relates the following in her diary July 4, 1862:

Formerly the anniversary of American Independence. The Union Sunday School assisted by the abolition friends are having a picnic, speeches,etc. in the woods.” The speeches were
interrupted by a guerrilla attack at a nearby town. The Federal soldiers in the crowd, a small cavalry unit, flew to their aid. She continues:

I hear the picnic turned out (as such affairs usually do) stale, flat, and unprofitable. The ball that was to come off in the evening was indefinitely postponed. By a paper and dispatches we gladly welcomed the gratifying news of the success of our arms near Richmond. The information is very scanty coming as it does through Federal sources.” [3]

Mrs. Barr was a Confederate sympathizer living in Ravenswood, Jackson county, West Virginia. The Fitzhugh family had founded the town and at the beginning of the war they were one of only 13 families in the area to hold to such sympathy. From the Fitzhugh mansion she said she could look into “Yankee-Land”, or Southern Ohio. The “success of our arms” she refers to is the Seven Days Battles of June 25- July1 1862.

Kate Cumming, a nurse who attached herself to the Army of the Mississippi, (later Army of Tennessee) was at Mobile, Alabama when she wrote:

The day that a few years ago by us was commemorated with so much pride as a nations anniversary for liberty won,now how changed! Part of that nation seeking to enslave the other!”


Independence Day, 1862 and the people of the land North and South still remembered the day but with wide and diverging views as shown in particular by the words of the two Southern ladies. Soldiers attitudes are changing somewhat, but patriotic fervor still lingered to a degree, although Confederates were under conscription since April. The year still held the promise of foreign intervention on behalf of the Confederacy and it was in the forefront of thought in the minds of the people in the North as well.

But it was only July 4. Although Shiloh, Pea Ridge, and The Seven Days battles had cost much in the way of treasure and blood, the sequel to Manassas, Antietam, Stone's River, and Fredricksburg lay ahead. The divided United States had seen nothing yet.

The Picket

1- Nichols, S. Edmund, Underhill, C. Sterling.(1929) Your Soldier boy Samuel: letters of Lieutenant Samuel Edmund Nichols,Amherst '65, of the 37th regiment Massachusetts Volunteers.[Buffalo]: Priv. Print. Page 14
2- Hall, J. Edmond, Dayton, R. Woods, (1961). The Diary of a Confederate Soldier: James E. Hall.[Lewisburg ? W. Va.] Page 62
3- Barr, H. Fitzhugh. (1963). The Civil War Diary of Mrs. Henrietta Fitzhugh Barr (Barre): 1862-1863, Ravenswood, Virginia (West Virginia). Marietta, Ohio: Marietta College Pages 9-10
4-Cumming, K. (1866) A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee Louisville, Kentucky. Page 37
All retrieved from

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