In 1907, the newspaper in Ripley, Mississippi, published a letter written by Cornelius H. Ray, who was then living in Texas but had grown up in Tippah County, Mississippi. This is an interesting letter written by someone who was a child during the Civil War, explaining how the conflict impacted his family:
THE TEXAS LETTER
As I write this my mind runs back to the time when a lad in the hills of Tippah County, Miss., being born in January 1859, I can remember some things that occurred during the war of ’61 to ’64. The people call it the civil war, but I don’t. I call it the cruel war, as all others have been. My father was a Southern soldier and fought four years in that war, but I want to say now that while I am full of Southern blood and had all the Southern principles instilled into me that yet, with me the war is over. I could not be the sort of Christian man I ought to be and hold malice against my fellow-man, so I love them all, and any reference that I should make to the things that I remember about the war is not mentioned in malice, but only as matters of interest.
I remember when the first Northern soldiers came into Tippah county that they wore the uniform of the Southern men, and as they came up by Ruckersville, the good old Dr. Rucker lived there and had a shotgun, and they asked him what he had that gun for, and he said: ‘To kill Yankees with,’ so they took him along with them, and up a little further they met my grandfather, Spencer Gibbs, and my father, Mack Ray. They had started to mill horseback and were in their shirt sleeves, and as they saw the soldiers grandfather hallooed: ‘Hurrah for the rebs!’ so they took them in. In the same raid they got Uncle Jess Ray and took them all off to a Northern prison. Uncle Jess died there, as did many others, and the rest of them wished for their coats after being captured that day. Grandfather saw Dr. Rucker and said, ‘Hello, doctor; what are you doing here?’ He answered that he saw that crowd needed a gentleman in it, so he had just come along with them.
[Editor’s Note: Cornelius Ray’s father, Marion “Mack” Ray, his uncle, Jesse “Jess” Ray, and grandfather, Spencer Gibbs, were Confederate soldiers. All three enlisted in the 2nd Mississippi Infantry (Davidson’s) Army of 10,000, in December 1861. The three were discharged when the unit disbanded in early 1862, and they all later enlisted in Company G, 7th Mississippi Cavalry. Their service records do not mention the incident of being captured by the Federals, but it could have happened before they enlisted for the second time. (Compiled Service Records, Accessed on Fold3.Com). The “Dr. Rucker” may be Charles Covington Rucker, a local physician who lived in Tippah County (1860 Tippah County Census, page 471)]
I remember how my poor mother and our grandmother cried as they came back by home with father and grandfather, and how, as they looked up the road after them as they carried them off. But begging did no good; it was war time and a time it was. I don’t know how long it was before they got back home, but a good while, and I have forgotten what became of that corn. I guess they took it also with the men, mules and horses, as all were needed in war.
[Editor’s Note: Cornelius Ray’s mother was Elizabeth “Eliza” Jane Ray. The grandmother he was speaking of may be Sarah Ann Gibbs, the wife of Spencer Gibbs. (Findagrave.com listings for Elizabeth Ray and Sarah Ann Gibbs).
Later I remember that grandfather had an old fashioned gin and thresher combined, and that it had a lot of wheat straw around it, and one day a man rode up to the gate and asked for a chunk of fire to light his pipe with. Grandmother took it to him and he rode off to the gin and threw it in the straw, but mother went at once with a bucket of water and put it out, so it stood long after the war was over. My grandfather’s place was ten miles south of Pocahontas, Tenn., on the Ripley and Pocahontas road. Many Tippah County folks knew where it is or was. I remember the battle of Corinth. I remember to have heard the cannon and the roar of battle. I was 25 miles away, but we could hear it plain. This letter is long enough. More by and by.
Southern Sentinel (Ripley, Mississippi), September 19, 1907
Cornelius H. Ray was born on January 8, 1859, in Union County South Carolina. His parents and grandparents moved from South Carolina to Tippah County, Mississippi, in the late 1850s. The findagrave.com listing for his grandfather, Spencer Gibbs, notes: “He and his family joined a caravan of several families moving from the Cross Keys area in Union District to Jonesborough in Tippah Co, MS in late October 1859.” The Ray family moved to Texas in the 1870’s, and eventually settled in the town of Weatherford. Cornelius H. Ray became a Baptist minister in Weatherford, and lived there until his death on March 12, 1941.
I have often seen it written in histories of the city of Vicksburg, that after the surrender of July 4, 1863, the citizens did not celebrate another 4th of July for 82 years – that it took the end of World War 2 before the people could bring themselves to mark the occasion of the American colonies from Great Britain. As with many popular stories, it does have a grain of truth; celebrations of Independence Day were rather muted for many years. But to say that they were entirely absent for those 82 years is just not true.
To begin with, one must remember that Vicksburg was occupied by Union troops after
the surrender of the city, and remained Federal territory until the end of the war. For the Union soldiers stationed in Vicksburg, July 4, 1864, was not only the birthday of the United States, it also marked the anniversary of one of the greatest victories of the war, the surrender of the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy.”
On July 2, 1864, The Vicksburg Herald, a newspaper run by former Union soldier Ira A. Batterton, wrote of the importance of Independence day:
FOURTH OF JULY – Monday being the 4th day of July, we desire to consecrate it to the noble memories of the glorious men who on that day ushered into existence a mighty nation. Printers regard it as little short of sacrilege to work upon that day, and we shall therefore issue no paper on the 5th. Let us all do honor to the glorious 4th. Let gay banners flaunt in the air, and grateful hearts be lifted up in ardent prayer for the salvation of the Union which has made us great. Printers, too, are fond of doing the honors of the 4th in the manner customary among gentlemen; and those of our patriotic produce merchants who wish to aid us in properly appreciating the day, will please forward their bottles of —– at as early an hour today as convenient, as we are naturally slow about drinking, and unless we start today may fail in taking on sufficient patriotism to run us through the fourth.
(The Vicksburg Herald, July 2, 1864)
The Herald was as good as its word about not publishing an issue on July 5th, so the next day’s paper carried the story about the Independence Day Celebration in Vicksburg:
THE FOURTH OF JULY IN VICKSBURG
The historic importance of the fourth of July to the city of Vicksburg suggest that the day should have been celebrated in grand old style; but we are sorry to say that there were no general arrangements made for the celebration of the first anniversary of the surrender of the city and the 88th of the Independence of the United States. This was a subject of almost universal regret on part of many of our citizens who seemed to have anticipated a grand gala-day. Why there were no preparations for a general celebration, we are not able to state.
Early in the morning the city exhibited some signs of patriotic demonstrations. The streets
were crowded with persons anxiously enquiring the programme of the day. The greater number of business houses in the city displayed the “Stars and Stripes.”
The day began very pleasantly; there was no dust to add to the discomfiture of travelers – a fine shower of rain having fallen on the day previous. The contrast between this day and its anniversary is quite noticeable. The white flag floated over the city, and a victorious army marched through its streets after besieging it for forty-seven days. Well do we remember the grateful relief felt by besieger and besieged upon the capitulation of the city. What a grand sight it was to the Union soldier to see the white flag floating in the breeze along with the “Stars and Stripes,” and when that noble ensign of American liberty was seen waving from the dome of the Court House, the Union soldier, so deep were his emotions, could do or say but little else than point to “that dear old flag” and exclaim “long may it wave.”
Feeling the necessity of some kind of a demonstration to relieve the tedium of the day an impromptu celebration was gotten up by Lieut. E.S. Johnson, Post Quartermaster, who turned out the full force of his department for the occasion. There were six twelve mule teams in the procession, headed by a brass band. [Editor’s Note: Lieutenant E.S. Johnston was quartermaster of the 93rd Illinois Infantry. I found an order that he was “Relieved from duty as post Q.M. at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and will join his regiment without delay. The order was dated June 14, 1864, but must have taken some time to reach Johnston, as he was still on duty in July 1864. (Army & Navy Gazette, Volume 2, Page 14. Published in 1865)
The procession proceeded to the headquarters of Major-General Slocum, where it was halted and speeches made. Captain J. W. Davis, Commissary of Subsistence, was introduced and made a very appropriate and patriotic speech of an hour’s length, during which the Captain was frequently cheered. We regret that we are not able to give a synopsis of his speech. It will be remembered that the Captain is a war democrat of the Logan and McClernand school, and is wholly devoted to the cause of his country.[Editor’s Note: J.W. Davis apparently stayed in Vicksburg after the war, as I found a notice in the local paper that mentioned he was “Late of the U.S. Army and solicitor of the Freedman’s Bureau.” (Vicksburg Journal, March 8, 1866)
Private Gregg of the 124th regiment Illinois infantry, was next introduced and spoke for nearly an hour in regular old-fashioned 4th of July style, drawing forth frequent cheering. Major Barnes, U.S.A., was loudly called for, and responded in a short and telling speech, after which it was announced that the Grant-Pemberton monument would be erected at three o’clock in the afternoon, under the direction of Major McKee, Provost Marshal. The assemblage then dispersed.[Editor’s Note: “Private Gregg” was Private George W. Gregg of Company B, 124th Illinois Infantry. He enlisted in the regiment on September 10, 1862, and was mustered out on August 15, 1865. He was a resident of Batavia, Illinois. (https://civilwar.illinoisgenweb.org/reg_html/124_reg.html)%5D
Owing to the ill health of Major McKee, the erection of the monument was given by him in charge to Major Barnes and Captain Anderson U.S.A., who proceeded to the site, and found that every preparation had been made for the ceremony by Mr. Ed Miner, foreman in the employ of Captain William Finkler, Assistant Quartermaster, and to whom belongs the credit of having originated the scheme under the direction of the Captain.[Editor’s Note:
“Major McKee” was Major George C. McKee of the 11th Illinois Infantry. After the siege ended, McKee remained in the city as Provost Marshal of the District of Vicksburg. On November 1, 1864, he was appointed Brigadier General of Enrolled Militia of the District of Vicksburg. McKee remained in Vicksburg after the war and got involved in politics, and served in the United States House of Representatives from 1869 – 1875. (http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/gcmckee.htm)%5D
Quite a large assemblage having collected, the monument was placed in position at 4:30 o’clock, under the direction of Major Barnes and Captain Anderson, assisted by several other persons among whom the editorial “we” was to be found. The affair passed off splendidly, and every one engaged felt as though he had performed only what duty required, without display or ceremony.
The monument is of white marble, surrounded by an iron fence, the whole presenting a neat but rather imposing appearance. There is a square base upon which stands the main shaft of about eight feet in length, which is surmounted by the ornamental ball. The full height of the monument is about twelve feet. Upon the western face is the inscription:
Site of Interview
Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant, U.S.A.,
July 3rd, 1863
The Daily Herald (Vicksburg, Mississippi,) July 6, 1864
In addition to the impromptu celebration held in Vicksburg, another, better organized commemoration was held at Brierfield, the home of Jefferson Davis, located at Davis Bend, south of Vicksburg. The local newspaper had a very detailed account of the July 4th festivities held there:
Celebration of the Fourth of July,
At the Residence of
Davis’s Bend, Mississippi
THE FREEDMEN”S PARADISE
By invitation of the “Committee of Arrangements” a party of teachers and their escorts and other friends of the Freedmen, embarked on bard the “Diligent” on the morning of the 4th inst. The Diligent left the levee at Vicksburg soon after 7 o’clock a.m., and made a pleasant trip in about three hours, down the river, stopping at the landing at Davis’ Bend, whence the party were conveyed in ambulances, wagons, buggies and other vehicles, to the late residence of JEFFERSON DAVIS, about two miles from said landing.
This is one of the most extraordinary bends of the wonderful Mississippi river, and has received its name from the fact of the settlement on the peninsula formed by the bend, two members of the Davis family, known as “JEFF,” and “JOE.” This peninsula is some twelve miles in length, and at the point where it is attached to the mainland of the State of Mississippi, it is so narrow, that the enterprising planters have dug a canal across, not unlike the celebrated Butler canal of Vicksburg fame, although not near so long. This canal is called the “cut-off,” and in high water the peninsula becomes, in fact, an island. This tract of land is of great fertility, being entirely a deposit of the rich soil washed from the prairies of the great west. On this tract is some six plantations of from 800 to 1200 acres each. Two of the largest and best of these were owned by JEFF and JOE DAVIS, and are known now as the “JEFF. An JOE places.”
The form of this peninsula is such that a few companies of soldiers with one or two stockades can keep out an army of rebels, and the inhabitants, although frequently surrounded by the hordes of Southern murderers and thieves on the opposite banks of the river and canal, dwell in peace and comparative security. In fact this site, from being the home of traitors and oppressors of the poor, has become a sort of earthly paradise for colored refugees. There they flock in large numbers, and like Lazarus of old are permitted, as it were, to “repose in Father Abraham’s bosom.” The rich men of the “Southern Confederacy;” now homeless wanderers, occasionally cry across for the Lazarus whom they have oppressed and despised, but he is not sent unto them, because between the two parties “there is a great gulf fixed; so that they which would pass from hence cannot.” On this Freedmen’s paradise parties for cultivating the soil are organized under the superintendence of missionaries, each party cultivating from ten to 100 acres, with a fair prospect of realizing handsomely. These efforts are aided by the government, rations, teams, &c, being supplied and charged to each party, to be deducted from the proceeds of their crops. Cotton is chiefly cultivated, and some very handsome “stands” appear.
THE “JOE PLACE.”
The “JOE PLACE” is nearest the landing. The fine brick house, however, is nearly demolished, but the cottage used as a sort of law library and office, is remaining uninjured. The negro quarters also remain.
THE “JEFF. PLACE”
The “JEFF. PLACE” is also a very fine plantation. The residence has not been injured, except the door locks and one or two marble mantels broken up, apparently for trophies. The JEFF furniture has been removed, but the rooms are still furnished with furniture brought here.
THE HOUSE THAT JEFF BUILT
The house is in its ground plan, in the form of a cross – but one floor with large rooms and ample verandas. The portico in front is supported with pillars, and these form the only ornamental features of the house, except such as were added for this occasion by the artistic touches of our Northern sisters. Of these were festoons, wreaths, stars and garlands, mysteriously woven in evergreens and flowers. Over the portico entrance outside, were the following inscriptions, the letters being formed by cedar foliage:
“THE HOUSE THAT JEFF. BUILT.”
The latter motto was arched and with the festoons made a very beautiful appearance. Inside were beautiful stars and garlands of flowers and over the exit at the back door the following inscription, surmounted by a star;
It was facetiously remarked by an observer, that the moral was:
“Down with the traitor
And up with the star.”
We understand that to Miss Lee, of Pa., and Miss Jennie Huddleson, of Inda., the party was indebted for those ingenious and appropriate devices. Very likely, for wit and satire, for traitors and a cordial welcome to the loyal and patriotic, are characteristics of these whole-souled missionaries. The reception rooms were also decorated with flowers, and everything around showed that “gentle hands” had laid on “the last touches” of fragrance, grace and beauty. [Editor’s Note: “Miss Lee” is probably Henrietta Lee, who is listed as a teacher of freedmen at Davis Bend in the Book “The Evangelical Repository, and United Presbyterian Review, Old Series XLII, New Series Vol. IV, Page 96.]
These “ladies of the management,” were dressed in neat “patriotic prints;” they needed no addition to their toilets to add to the charming air of comfort which they so appropriately infused. Their smiles of welcome needed no verbal explanation; and the heartiness with which they were engaged in their “labors of love,” and the evidence of their success in all the surroundings, showed that they perfectly understand the science of “making home happy.” Whether they have read Mrs. H.B. Stowe’s “House and Home Papers” in the Atlantic, we know not, but there are many others, besides that literary lady (Mrs. S) who understand “how to keep house; “ by magic touches, to turn the most simple objects into luxuries of ornamentation. We suspect that Mrs. M. Watson and Miss Lizzie Findley had been engaged in these preparations, although appearing more in the character of guests. [Editor’s Note: Lizzie Findley is listed as a teacher of freedmen at Davis Bend in the Book “The Evangelical Repository, and United Presbyterian Review, Old Series XLII, New Series Vol. IV, Page 96. On Page 98 of the same publication it is noted that Lizzie Findley had died “Since the last Meeting of the Assembly.”]
There were some other ladies to whom we had not the honor of an introduction, who doubtless deserve particular mention; but your reporter, as the sequel of his story will show, only received his appointment as a publication committee after all was over, and consequently, if he should omit anybody’s name that deserves mention, this must be his apology. He now declares his desire to be just to all, and especially to those whose devotion and patriotism rendered the fourth of July, 1864, the happiest day of the year.
On the grounds, in front of the residence the gunboat crew, suspended a string of signal colors, on each side of the “starry banner,” presenting an effect amid the dense foliage of the live-oaks, and the grey moss, “altogether beauteous to look upon,” while on the tables under the trees were spread things not only “pleasant to the sight,” but “good for food.” And when we saw these pleasing objects, the “work of their hands,” and the merry, happy faces of the guests and their “escorts” and reflected that the sable sons, by a guard of whom we were surrounded, were “no longer slaves;” that they had with thousands of their brethren been brought out from the House of Bondage, by the “God of Abraham;” that the very house now occupied by missionaries and teachers had but a year ago, been in the service of despotism; built in fact as a temple of slavery by the great chief who preferred to rule in a miserable petty despotism, to serving in a great and magnanimous Republic, we could but think that Heaven looked approvingly upon the scene; that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.”
Rev. Dr. Warren conducted the exercises as President of the occasion, and he did it with that ease,
freedom, and regard for the rights and interests of all, which usually characterize his public and social conduct. He opened the proceedings under a grove of trees in front of the house with an appropriate prayer, and then called upon those appointed to take part.
MR. ROUNDTREE read the “Declaration of Independence” in a clear, emphatic and impressive manner. It was listened to with becoming reverence for the great truths it contains by both the white and colored races. It is quite improbably that these “self-evident” truths were ever expressed before publicly in this locality, and within hearing of every one within the “House that Jeff. Built.” REV. MR. LIVERMORE, of Wis., delivered an appropriate oration. The meeting then adjourned for dinner. A gentle shower at this time rendered the air cool and pleasant, but rendered it necessary to remove the dining tables to the house.
[Editor’s Note: The “Rev. Mr. Livermore” may be Daniel Parker Livermore, a Universalist Minister from Massachusetts. His wife, Mary A. Livermore, was an associate manager of the Chicago Sanitary Commission, and she made a trip to Vicksburg in 1863 to bring supplies to the troops. (Chicago Portraits: New Edition, by June Skinner Sawyers, Page 197.
A sumptuous dinner was served on the veranda at the back of the mansion. There was an abundance of all that could be desired. A blessing asked by REV. MR. ALLEN. This being concluded, the following sentiments were presented and responded to in an impromptu, but appropriate manner by the various speakers:
1. The day we celebrate – The old ship was launched in ’76; the bow anchors cast out last year at Vicksburg and Gettysburg. May the stern anchors be dropped to day at Richmond and Atlanta.
Response by MR. ISRAEL LOMBARD,
[Editor’s Note: There was an Israel Lombard, Junior, from Boston, Massachusetts, that was a supporter of abolition, and he is mentioned several times in the anti-slavery newspaper “The Liberator;” This may very well be the same man. (See The Liberator, January 5, 1855, and May 18, 1860)]
2. The President – Proved honest and wise by four years of unprecedented trial, we shall keep keep him there.
Responded to by DR. WRIGHT,
3. Lieut. Gen. Grant – We can tie to him in a gale.
Responded to by COL. CLARK,
4. The house that Jeff. Built.
Responded to by CAPT. POWELL,
The following song composed for the occasion, was lead by Mr. McConnell:
THE HOUSE THAT JEFF. BUILT.
Air – “Auld Lang Syne,”
How oft within these airy halls
The traitor of the day
Has heard ambition’s trumpet calls,
Or dreamed of war’s array!
Or of an Empire dreamed, whose base
Millions of blacks should be:
Aha! Before this day’s sweet face
Where can his visions be?
Those Empire dreams shall be fulfilled,
But not as rebels thought –
Like water at the cistern spilled,
Their boasts shall come to nought.
From gulf to lake, from sea to sea,
Behold our country grand!
The very home of Liberty –
And guarded by her hand.
We revel in his halls to day:
Next year where will he be?
A dread account he has to pay:
May we be there to see!
And now for country, truth and right –
Our heritage all free,
We’ll live and die, we’ll sing and fight:
THE UNION! Three time three.
5. The Army and Navy: Veterans of three years; The heart of the Nation beats anxiously at the cry, “Onward to Victory:
Response by DR. FOSTER,
6. Our Patriot Dead: Silence their most speaking eulogy.
7. The Union: The storm will but root it more firmly.
Response by REV. A.J. COMPTON,
The Star Spangled Banner – sung by the whole company, led by MR. MCCONNELL.
8. Missionaries to Freedmen – Peace has its heroes.
Response by REV. MR. BUCKLEY, Chaplain 47th U.S.C.I.
9. General Sherman, second in command “All I am I owe to my government, and nothing could tempt me to sacrifice my honor or my allegiance.”
Response by CAPTAIN GILPIN, C.S.
[Editor’s Note: “Captain Gilpin” was Captain James B. Gilpin, who served as Depot Commissary Officer at Vicksburg. (Vicksburg Herald, June 30, 1864)]
10. The Freedmen – Slaves yesterday; to day free: what shall they be tomorrow?
11. Our Revolutionary Fathers: – “Their memory is sweet,
and blossoms in the dust.”
12. Our Mothers at Home: Let us not, while givign praise to the noble sons, forget those who fought for each one of us in the fierce battle of life in by-gone days. Let the memory of their unselfish love make us true and brave in this our country’s darkest hour.
Response by Mrs. FRANCES D. GAGE,
[Editor’s Note: Frances D. Gage worked for the Western Sanitary Commission – I wrote a lengthy blog article about her in 2014 – it can be found here: https://mississippiconfederates.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/three-weeks-in-the-soldiers-home-at-vicksburg/]
13. Our Colored Troops: Deserving of freedom because they fight like men.
Response by LIEUT. WAKEMAN.
Song – “Babylon is fallen.”
14. Sweethearts and Wives; Woman, lovely woman. Nature made you to temper man; we had been brutes without you. Angels are painted fair to look like you. There is in you all that we believe of heaven, amazing brightness, purity and truth, eternal and everlasting love.
Response by REV. MR. ALLEN, Episcopal minister of Aurora, Illinois.
The party, after selecting a few simple trophies, such as fig branches for walking canes, large pond lillies, flowers, wreaths and boquets, returned to the landing, and reembarked for Vicksburg.
On the boat the following business was transacted:
Vote of thanks to COL. THOMAS and staff for getting up the celebration: to the Orator of the day, PARSON LIVERMORE, to the President, REV. DR. WARREN, who made a brief response; and also to CAPTAIN WIGHTMAN and officers of the “Diligent.”
Cheers were given for Abraham Lincoln, and groans for Jeff. Davis. The song, “The House that Jeff Built,” was again sung, and CAPTAIN GILPIN, C.S., appointed a committee to furnish a copy of the same to the New York Tribune and also to JEFF. Davis.
CAPTAIN HENRY S. CLUBB A.Q.M., was appointed a committee to furnish a report of the proceedings of the day to the Vicksburg Daily Herald. The Diligent arrived at Vicksburg at half-past eleven o’clock, p.m. The celebration was regarded as a great success, and expressions of satisfaction and enjoyment were universal.
In the course of my research, I also managed to turn up an account of the 4th of July Celebration at Davis Island written by a member of the crew of the ironclad U.S.S. Mound City, who only identified himself by the initials “B.A.” The unnamed crewman wrote:
And now I wish to give you a little idea of how we spent the glorious 4th in this land of cinnamon seeds and sandy bottoms. The day was ushered in at sunrise by a rousing salute of 21 guns from the Mound City. They were no ear splitting six pounders, but full charged nine inch guns and 100 lbs. rifles fired at regular intervals, their sullen thunder reverberating for miles through the forests on either side the river. A similar salute was fired at meridian and again at sundown.
The arrangement was made to give all the loyal people in the vicinity an opportunity of celebrating the 4th at the residence of Mr. Jefferson Davis, Esq., novel idea! Through the exertions of several “Yankee school marms,” the house was tastefully decorated for the occasion…”
The banquet was spread in the wide verandas and the tables groaned beneath their weight of good things. The cusine had been well attended to and there was no lack of delicacies or substantials. About 10 a.m., the steamer Diligent arrived from Vicksburg with a merry party of ladies and gentlemen to participate with us. It would hardly be proper to dignify the gathering as a celebration, and pic-nic would be better adapted, therefore we will call it a pic-nic on the 4th of July at Jeff. Davis’ house, Briarly place, his residence, his plantation.
Let the northern people for a moment suppose what the practical position of things must be, should enemies be on that day revelling at the house of Abraham Lincoln, at Springfield. The thought should inspire any Union man with hope. I was credibly informed that an invitation was passed through the lines to be forwarded to Old Jeff. to be present on the occasion; but his non-appearance was easily accounted for.
(Fox Lake Gazette, Fox Lake, Wisconsin, July 20, 1864)
The Civil War ended in 1865, and within a few years the occupation troops were gone
from Vicksburg, but some residents did continue to participate in celebrations of the 4th of July. In particular, Vicksburg’s African American residents made sure that Independence Day was remembered. In 1884 a Vicksburg newspaper noted:
‘All the high-toned colored people that reside for miles around’ excurted on on the steamer Cherokee yesterday to Anthony’s Ferry, in celebration of the glorious fourth. A colored picnic on DeSoto Island was also a strong feature of the days celebrations in the Hill City. (The Vicksburg Herald, July 5, 1884)
As time went on, white residents of Vicksburg began to celebrate Independence Day as well. On July 4, 1917, a Vicksburg newspaper carried the bold headline “Glorious Fourth To Be Observed Today,” and wrote that
Many Vicksburgers will participate in the celebration of Independence Day today. A barbecue and picnic at Swett’s Pond will be the chief feature of attraction during the day and tonight, beginning at 8:30 o’clock, an appropriate and patriotic program will be presented at the Carnegie Library…Many of the stores of the city will close during the afternoon hours, in order to allow their clerks to attend the barbecue. Conveyances will operate between the grounds and city throughout the day. (The Vicksburg Herald, July 4, 1918)
In July 1945, with the war in Europe over, and the war against Japan in its final months, the city of Vicksburg held a 4th of July celebration that was claimed at the time to be the first since the Civil War.
While it was not the first celebration of the 4th of July in Vicksburg since the Civil War, it was almost certainly the largest. The day’s festivities included a parade, baseball game, and an air show that included fly-over’s by B-29 Bombers and P-51 fighters. (The Clarion-Ledger, July 1, 1945)
Having found the 1945 July 4th celebration to be very popular, Vicksburg’s city fathers invited United States Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson to be the guest of honor at the 1946 Independence Day festivities. Patterson accepted the offer, and 1,700 soldiers from Camp Polk, Louisiana, were sent to Vicksburg to march in the city’s parade. (The Clarion-Ledger, July 4, 1946).
After two successful celebrations in a row, Vicksburg pulled out all the stops for the 1947 celebration of the 4th of July. Too large to be contained to only one day, the “Carnival of the Confederacy” spanned three days, and was climaxed with a speech by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
A newspaper said of the 1947 celebration:
Vicksburg fell to Grant’s 75,000 men after a 47-day siege during which mule meat became a table luxury for the bedraggled Confederates. But today General Eisenhower was welcomed with welcome arms.
Eisenhower declared that ‘just as Vicksburg was a crucible where differences were fired and joined into a strong and inseparable national unity, so the last war, which ended with an inferno of destruction, can be the start of a world union for peace.’ (The Morning News, Wilmington, Delaware, July 5, 1947)
In 1948 Vicksburg officials invited Harry Truman to be the celebrity speaker on the 4th
of July, but the president declined, and the city had to settle for Senator John Stennis as the guest of honor. The last of the big time celebrations was over, but Vicksburg would continue to acknowledge the 4th of July with less spectacular but very patriotic observances from that day forward. (The Hattiesburg American, June 24, 1948.
On June 25, 1863, the 3rd Louisiana Redan disappeared in a choking cloud of flame, earth, and smoke as 2,200 pounds of black powder were detonated in a mine located beneath the earthwork fort. The blast gouged out a huge crater where the front face of the redan had been, and as the debris settled a Union assault force poured into the breach in the Confederate line, sparking a bloody fight that would last well into the night.
One of the soldiers who took part in the assault on the 3rd Louisiana Redan was John T.
Wiesman, a cannoneer with McAllister’s Battery, also known as Company D, 1st Illinois Light Artillery. In October 1906 Wiesman traveled from his home in Nebraska to Vicksburg for the dedication of the Illinois Monument at the National Military Park. The visit to the battlefield was a moving experience for Wiesman, and after he returned to Nebraska he wrote an article about the trip for his local paper, The Nebraska State Journal, which was published on November 11, 1906.
At the siege of Vicksburg two guns of the battery held positions on the Jackson wagon road near the now famous white house (Shirley house). The other two guns stood in front of the white house on the spot where the Illinois monument has been erected where Capt. Henry A. Rogers and four enlisted men were killed during the siege.
Explosion of a Mine
Sometime after the charge of the 22d of may, which was a failure, General Grant conceived the idea of tunneling under Ft. Hill, called by the confederates the Third Louisiana redoubt. A tunnel was started a short distance from the battery and was run so as to reach directly under the fort. After it was completed, 2,200 pounds of powder was placed in the mine and when all was ready, a fuse leading into the mine was lighted and a terrific explosion resulted, which hurled men and cannons up in the air.
It was a sight never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it. One negro who was tossed up with the earth, came down on our side of the line unharmed. After the explosion, which formed a crater about the size of a half block, the Forty-Fifth Illinois was rushed into the crater to make a lodgment in the confederate line and tried to break through, but the explosion had not accomplished what was expected and the confederates immediately went to work trying to restore their shattered works.
Threw Shells by Hand
After a short time a squad of the battery under command of Lieut. Edgar H. Cooper, afterward promoted to captain, was detailed to enter the crater to throw shells over the enemies breastworks by hand, cutting the fuse at five seconds. While so engaged, David W. Ocker, of our squad, was blown to pieces by the premature discharge of a shell. A.D. Burr of this city and myself were in this squad. As we emerged from the tunnel into the crater, a hand grenade struck Lieutenant Colonel Reese of [the] Thirty-First Illinois which literally disemboweled him.
A Death Crater
We stood for some time on the edge of the crater waiting for orders, seeing sights which were well calculated to freeze the blood in one’s veins. Over on the confederate side of the crater men were grappling with each other, some clubbing with their muskets but at the same time they were gradually rebuilding their works. After awhile, General Logan, Major Stohlbrand, his chief of artillery, led our squad to the confederate side of the crater and we began to throw shells over in the midst of the confederates, who soon returned the compliment by throwing shells by hand into the crater.
It was my duty to hold a lighted taper with which, when the fuse was cut, I lighted the shell when it would be thrown over the breastworks. I lay close to the enemy’s works, that seeming to me to be the safest place. During the fight in the crater the confederates rolled a cottonwood sapling over to our side, striking me square on the back of my neck. Although it was very light, I thought the whole confederacy had fallen on me, Jeff Davis along with the rest of them.
After dark the assault in the crater was abandoned and the army settled down to a regular siege, and when “Johnnie Rebel” had eaten his last steak of mule meat, Vicksburg was surrendered.
Visit to Comrade’s Grave
I went to the national cemetery where over 16,000 of our boys in blue are buried, two-thirds of them in unknown graves and as I stood by the grave of James W. Ditto, an intimate comrade of mine, and thought of him as he looked just before he fell forty-three years ago, a fine, manly, young fellow, scarcely eighteen years old, the idol of the company, my eyes filled with tears. If the recording angel keeps a correct account, the men who were responsible for bringing on the war between the north and the south will be kept very busy explaining matters to Saint Peter when the big book is opened on the day of judgment.
If the old veterans who were at Vicksburg during the siege, should happen to go back there
now, they would be surprised. Vicksburg is not the sleepy city it was then. The government has established a national military park, dotted with fine monuments and markers laid out in beautiful driveways, at a cost of millions of dollars. The city is booming and has taken on a new life. The visitors attending the dedication of the Illinois state monument were royally entertained by the ex-confederate soldiers.
The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska), November 11, 1906
I was intrigued by John Wiesman’s story, and thought I would see what else I could find out about him. My efforts were immediately successful, as I found a letter he wrote to the editor of the National Tribune concerning the battle of the crater at Vicksburg:
The Crater at Fort Hill
Editor National Tribune: I have been very much interested in your history of the Opening of the Mississippi, and take it for granted that you wish to be absolutely correct in your statements. Now, you give a minute description of what took place in the crater at Fort Hill, and only mention what the several infantry commands did. You say that shells were thrown by hand over the rebel breastworks by the tunnel diggers and the infantry. Now, as a matter of fact, not a single shell was thrown by any of them.
Shortly after the explosion, McAllister’s Battery was detailed by sections to throw shells by hand, cutting the fuse at five seconds. Every shell thrown in the crater was thrown by artillery. Serg’t David W. Ocker was killed by a shell thrown from the rebel side, and, by the way he stands today, in the Illinois State Roster, branded as a deserter. How is it possible that this brave boy, who gave up his life for his country in that hellhole, could be marked as a deserter? I cannot imagine, unless it was done by some lunkhead clerk in the Adjutant’s office at the time the roster was printed.
The artillery detail was in charge of Lieut. Edgar H. Cooper, who after the death of Capt. H.A. Rodgers, killed during the siege, was promoted to Captain and afterwards to Major for bravery displayed on the battlefield of Atlanta, July 22, 1864. Major Cooper is still living and resides in Chicago.
As to who threw the shells in the crater it matters little, I suppose, at this late day, but credit should be given where credit is due. After the surrender the 45th Ill., was given the post of honor, being the first to enter Vicksburg. McAllister’s Battery came second, following immediately after the 45th, and was the first artillery to enter the city.
– John T. Wiesman, Co. D, 1st Ill. Art., Lincoln, Neb. (The National Tribune, Washington, D.C.., December 27, 1906.)
I also found a letter, written by Charles Koch, a member of the Illinois Vicksburg Military Park Commission, to William T. Rigby, superintendent of the Vicksburg National Military Park, concerning the part played by Battery D, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, in the fighting at the crater:
June 25th came the day when Fort Hill was blown up. Immediately after the explosion, it having been discovered that the embrasure was not sufficient to permit our troops to march in to Vicksburg, Lt. Cooper was called upon by Gen. Logan and asked to furnish 12 volunteers for the purpose of throwing hand grenade over the works from the aperture made by the explosion into the enemies works. Volunteers failed to respond so Lt. Cooper asked how many would follow him and all responded, so that a choice had to be made of 12 men,…out of the 12 men who entered the crater, viz: E.H. Cooper was unhurt, C.L. Pratt was unhurt; Francis Meek, wounded and died December 1, 1863, at Vicksburg; David Ocker, killed June 25th; Eli Sprague lost a finger; Chauncey I. Cooper flesh wound in left thigh; Vincent Bowers wounded in right leg; John T. Wiesman, flesh wound in the left arm; B.D. Washington wounded in the right wrist; A.D. Burr not hurt; Richard Henderson not hurt; George A. Potter not hurt. (Always in the Middle of the Battle: Edward Kiniry and the 1st Illinois Light Artillery Battery D by David Edward Wall)
After the war, John Wiesman moved about the mid-west before finally settling in Nebraska and becoming a railroad conductor. In addition to visiting Vicksburg, he also attended a reunion at the Shiloh battlefield in 1895. (The Nebraska State Journal, April 10, 1895, and June 1, 1910.) The old veteran passed away in Lincoln, Nebraska, on May 31, 1910, and is buried in Wyuka Cemetery. (findagrave.com listing for John T. Wiesman).