The Town That Did Not Celebrate Independence Day
By Morgan Gates
Two hundred and forty-two years ago, one of those interesting little quirks in history transpired when a ragtag army led by a group of backwater intellectuals and a Virginia tobacco farmer fought the world’s greatest superpower to a standstill, and won its independence. As if that were not enough they then proceeded to establish a type of government that had not existed in the world since 27 BC, and they made it work! Even more impressive it started a movement that eventually toppled the great monarchies of Europe. If that is not a cause to celebrate I'm not sure what is! Yet there was a time that is still within the memory of living men when Vicksburg did not celebrate July 4th!
Independence Day is celebrated nationwide with parades and picnics and celebrations. Hearts are filled with pride, stomachs with good food, and streets with happy children. Vicksburg, too, was filled on July 4, 1863 … its beds were filled with wounded and sick men, the fields around the city were filled with thousands of shallow graves, and the streets were filled with Union occupation troops as the siege ends with the city's surrender. For the first time in 47 days, the skies over Vicksburg are not filled with fireworks of a very real and deadly sort! There was not much to celebrate that July 4, 863one hundred and fifty-five years ago, and for a long time, thereafter the shadow of the siege cast a pall over the Glorious fourth! Believe it or not, in those days families actually sat around and talked to each other, so the memory of that terrible war did not fade as quickly as it might today.
Vicksburg was (and is) a thriving city and people from other parts of the country and world continued to settle here, so there were Independence Day celebrations in and around Vicksburg in the years after the War, but they tended to smaller private celebrations. In the South "we've always done it that way" or its converse "we've never done it that way" tend to be powerful forces so soon enough it simply became the custom! The years rolled by, the century turned, and soon we had another great war – it seems every century has its great war—and Americans from both North and South pulled together and made great sacrifices to fight not one but two great enemies in World War II. When that war ended its memory too cast a shadow –of a different kind! In 1947 General Dwight D Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied troops in the European Theater visited Vicksburg ---on July 4th of all days --- and the town turned out with a FIREWORKS display and a PARADE! It was said in 1947 Vicksburg REJOINED THE UNION!
Today, however, Vicksburg does July 4th right with a sunset street party in historic downtown Vicksburg that concludes with a giant fireworks celebration, but what of that other July 4th? We are going to commemorate it as well as we reenact the surrender with Breakfast with Generals, come join us and
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!