Wrapped in Gloom and Fearful Forebodings: The Not-So-Glorious Fourth of 1862

In an era of Covid restrictions and societal change and upheaval, this year's Fourth of July celebrations were muted to an extent not seen thus far in my lifetime. Reading through these accounts from six Buckeye soldiers during the Civil War gave me some solace that this isn't the first time we've had a less-than-glorious Fourth of July. July 4, 1862 was the second Independence Day the nation passed in the midst of a Civil War. The key question of the day, and it is mentioned in several of these accounts, was what would be the outcome of the battles outside of Richmond? Was McClellan's army really defeated? Would the war continue to go on? When would the Rebels quit, and what policy should be adopted if they refused to submit to Federal authority? 

One thing that struck my in reading these accounts was how much they speak to our present-day situation; its puts into perspective that much of our current national struggle for identity, mission, and meaning has been a struggle in ages past, too.They are the hallmarks of the eternal struggle for liberty, justice, equality, and peace. 

Private Charles Hay, Co. H, 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
 Flat Top Mountain, Mercer Co., Virginia
July 4, 1862
          On this beautiful day, from our camp here on the summit of the mountain, I can gaze far to the south and view scenery enough to enliven one in ordinary times, but now, nothing is sufficient to raise my dormant spirits, consequent considering the condition of my country. Today is the ever-glorious 4th. But the glory of this day hath departed, if not forever, for a time at least. When peace reigned throughout the land, it was a pleasure every 4th to celebrate this glorious day which gave birth to American independence. Today, I cannot indulge in thoughts of gladness as formerly, but am sad beyond account. Throughout our land all is wrapped in gloom and fearful forebodings. A dreadful conflict rages, brother against brother, and father against son, and our land is deluged in blood as a result of this fratricidal and unnatural strife. Incendiary politicians North and South, abolitionists and fire-eaters, have, by their unlawful actions, transformed the former Eden into a present Tophet, and have arraigned former friends against each other in mortal combat. Who denies that ambitious politicians, North and South, have hastened the present crisis to a culminating point, and that this struggle could have been avoided?

First Sergeant Ransom E. Eggleston, Co. G, 41st Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Camp near Athens, Alabama
July 4, 1862

          I sit under a shade tree writing upon a drum head which is all ages and countries in times past and present is the great romantic idea of a soldier’s life. It is a little strange to choose a thing to which we bear so great an enmity as a drum to share our secret meditations: its startling rattle disturbs our sweet early morning slumbers, proclaims the hour for drills, roll calls, musters, reviews, etc. Each of these may be considered a serious disturbance as it necessitates motion in the intense heat which is best borne in the shade reclining. But on this day, its monotonous clang is a reminder of things long past. At an earlier period of this country’s history, it called together thousands of determined men as it does not, each offering his life upon the shrine of liberty.
          We are encamped two miles east of Athens, quite a flourishing town for this country, the Central Alabama Railroad passing through it. It is to be the scene of a military Fourth of July celebration. The division entire will be reviewed this afternoon at 4 o’clock. By celebration, it is not meant to be such as we have at home. We shall be fed sumptuously upon hardtack served in the most inviting style, washed down by the purest brand of camp coffee. There is scarcely a man in camp but has expressed a desire to spend the Fourth at home, and would most gratefully welcome the appearance of mother’s well-spread loaded table. Some of the men who are known to have hands of strong grip will have roast lamb, chickens, potatoes, and more for dinner.

Private Charles A. Tenney, Co. H, 7th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Alexandria, Virginia
July 5, 1862

          The 7th Ohio is enjoying a good rest after the severe labor which it has endured and quite acceptable it is, too. Since we left Romney on the 10th of January, we have been constantly under arms until a week ago today. We anxiously await news from Richmond to which all eyes are turned. The past week has been one of intense excitement and in the absence of legitimate intelligence, thousands of rumors of victories, defeats, surrenders, retreats, strategical movements, etc. were put into circulation, keeping the public pulse up to fever heat and doing more harm than the official announcements of the defeat of our army before Richmond. Newspaper reporters inform us that this is done to “influence the stock market” but we doubt if the government tolerates such transactions and could the originators of these false reports be found, they would be rigorously dealt with.
          The Fourth passed off very quietly, the only demonstration being a hasty review of the Third Brigade by Brigadier General Erastus B. Tyler, and a short address by Chaplain Wright. A national salute of 34 guns [for the 34 states] was fired from most of the forts around here, awakening us with a remembrance of former days when war was unknown, save in history, and peace alone dwelt within our borders. Heaven speed the day when this may again be the case. We received new arms today and right well pleased the boys are with the change. Hitherto, we have simply had the old musket (which is very effective at close quarters but useless at long range) while our new arm is the improved Springfield rifle, the most effective and by far the neatest arm in the service.

Sergeant James E. Larimer, Co. A, 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
 Tuscumbia, Alabama
July 5, 1862

          Perhaps if I give you an outline of our observance of the national anniversary at Tuscumbia, you may judge the popular opinion among soldiers in regard to the prosecution of the war. Thomas’ Division assembled on the principal crossing of the town to hear the Declaration of Independence read, and to hear speeches by several gentlemen of rank. The colors of each regiment were brought to the center and formed in a square around the speakers’ stand, the remaining shreds and ribbons of the gallant 9th Ohio standing in contrast with an unused glittering banner of another regiment. This commanded the admiration of every soldier present. Various citizens were moving around through the crowd, looking very much as though they had stolen sheep.
          A prayer by a chaplain opened the exercises, then General Speed Fry delivered a short speech worthy of the man and the occasion. He regretted the circumstances under which we were compelled to be here instead of at home to celebrate the birth of our government. He had no soft words for traitors and treason. Citizens must be either for or against us. Those for us shall be treated well, those against us compelled to submit immediately. There is no neutral ground. After appropriate remarks he read the declaration amid profound silence and retired amid cheers which told plainly of the popularity of General Fry.
          Colonel James B. Steedman [14th Ohio], being called for, ascended the stand and in his off-hand decisive way procured the strictest attention while his broad wit provoked occasional bursts of laughter. He was a strict law and order man, but it was an injustice to the soldiers to compel them to guard the property of men who are in the Rebel army and of men who heap all kinds of abuse on the guards who are protecting them. The policy was all wrong, it was an encouragement to the rebellion, yet it must be submitted to.
          Colonel John M. Harlan of Kentucky [10th Kentucky] reviewed the causes of the war which had been worn threadbare in the papers long ago, yet said a good thing which met with unbounded approval. He learned that a soldier, giving no offense except that of being a Union soldier, had been shot dead by a bushwhacker. Now if he were general and had the power, he would make five secession sympathizers of that town bite the dust before sunrise. It was the only way to stop such damnable inhuman warfare.
          An Ohio colonel then eulogized the Union in measured terms, growing eloquent against abolitionists, and deprecated any attempts against slavery. We were a band of loving brothers, some down to lock in the embrace of our deluded brethren who had went slightly astray. It was a regret to him that brother must meet brother in deadly strife, and hoped our Southern friends would think better of us and come back to the Union. (Cries of supper, let’s go to supper). He did not vote for Lincoln and wished he was out of the chair (Much confusion). The Union must be preserved (How Jackson-like). He came with a sword in one hand and the olive branch in the other. The war was caused by damnable parties North and South (Increased confusion during which the colonel retired).
          “We come here to fight,” said the gallant Bob McCook, “this is no place to tell political experience or spin political theories, not to smooth over treason. We are here to protect our government, to fight its enemies, to kill every man that opposes it, and treat with kindness all who submit to its laws. (Tremendous cheering) We are not here to shake hands with traitors, or beg them to return to their allegiance. We are here to compel them to return to their loyalty. (The wildest cheering) This is not the time to plead the wrongs of our government and the rights of traitors. They have none! Men talk of emancipation and destruction of property of traitors with the greatest indignation. Now if it is necessary in preserving this government to burn down every house and free every Negro in this state, I am the man who will lead this party to do it. (prolonged cheers) They only way to end this war is to fight it to the end.” He was opposed to all ‘milk and water’ policies and had little faith in any profound strategy or deep science, but believed there was magic in the bayonet. He wanted to see a more earnest and determined warfare against treason. All the leniency we show them only brings down their ridicule upon us. We must not coax but whip them into submission and that as soon as possible. After a few more remarks proving him the right kind of general, and intervals of cheers, proving that he spoke the sentiments of the soldiers, he retired amid cheers in which could be heard the familiar ‘Hoorah for our Bob! Bob against the world! Hoorah for the 9th Ohio.”

Private Ezekiel D. Taylor, Co. A, 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Camp Virginia, Cumberland Gap, Tennessee
July 5, 1862
          Thinking of home yesterday and wondering how they passed the day, I thought it might be of interest to know how it was celebrated in the 42nd. In order to enjoy our celebration with us fully, you must know the place where it occurred. Fancy a fine, open grove, mostly pine with a turf as smooth and soft as a well-kept lawn, where the sunlight sifts through in flakes and patches over tents irregularly set, rustic chairs built of poles and bark, and hammocks swinging in the wind, all looking more like some gypsy camp than the assembling of a body of men for the stern struggles of war.
          Early in the morning, our men gave some feeble signs of life. A 4 o’clock, a few went out into the damp and fog and gave two ghostly cheers, breaking down entirely on the third. Soon after, three sleepy wights started off after berries and milk. By 6, the camp was all awake but still for though all felt quite like celebrating, none knew exactly how to commence and so our breakfast was eaten very quietly. I think, too, that recollections of previous anniversaries spent at home had a little to do with the lull in the midst of a noisy camp. Then all lounged in the shade. Lounging is a soldiers’ business during most of the day in this hot climate, and we all turned in determined to enjoy all the independence our forefathers fought for. I did not do it, however, for I was detailed on regimental guard. I tried to repeat that strain about a girl that “had a dear gazelle and it died” by Tom Moore, but couldn’t.
Toward noon, our foraging party returned bringing blackberries, potatoes, onions, green apples, and milk. The cook took off his blouse, put on his apron, lit his pipe, and prepared for action. At 3 o’clock, we sat down to a dinner that need not have shamed the table of an Ohio farmhouse. To us, who had for some time, been on short rations, it was a feast indeed. I, for one, never relished a meal more and never expect to eat another as good.
In the evening, we marched to the front of Colonel Lionel Sheldon’s tent and called on him for a speech. Although the call was entirely unexpected, still he was equal to the emergency and made a stirring speech. Briefly reviewing the early history of the country, he told the story of our fathers’ sufferings, and he gave a glowing description of their patience and fortitude and their hardships and struggles, that our own hard times up the Sandy seemed but play in comparison. Listening to him, all wished for an opportunity of doing more for their country and showing our enemies that we were not degenerate sons of noble sires. He was frequently interrupted by applause, and at the close of his remarks, three deafening cheers told how fully the regiment approved his sentiments.
Then Chaplain Jones was loudly called and, at length, stepped from his tent. He said the news of the day (from Richmond) had made it a sad day for him. It was the first Fourth since his recollection that had not been with him a day of rejoicing. But the colonel’s words had encouraged him much and he concluded that McClellan had gone back to whip. After talking in a mirthful mood for ten minutes, he closed by saying he felt much better. He did not believe McClellan was whipped after all.
Colonel Pardee was then called for long and loud, but was rather slow in making his appearance. At length, he reluctantly came forth. He was no speech maker, he said. When called on fort a speech, he felt as the boys did when they were detailed to break mules: “We did not enlist to break mules.” We all knew that if he did not enlist to make speeches, he did enlist to fight and was more mighty in deed than in word. So we left him to his pipe and with three cheers for him and three more for the Union, we went to quarters.

Captain Francis W. Butterfield, Co. C, 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Harrison’s Landing, James River, Tennessee
July 4, 1862
          We joined McClellan’s army on July 2nd and on the 3rd we were attacked and our division, now commanded by General French was placed in the advance and after a fierce encounter, we repulsed the enemy with the loss of one killed and four wounded on our side. Their loss is now known. Today at noon and just as the national salute was being fired, we were again attacked and our division, still being in the advance, received them cordially with a few volleys well-aimed and a little double quick time put them to flight and now (10 o’clock at night) I am writing under a little pine tree in dense woods and our regiment is sleeping on their arms. The Monitor and several other gunboats are anchored in the river within shelling distance of the enemy.
          Each of our brigades, as well as each of our regiments, are designated by a peculiar flag which is carried at the head of them at all times. The Rebels became well acquainted with these in the Shenandoah Valley, so much so that a prisoner taken this evening says 11 regiments of Jackson’s army were drawn up yesterday to give McClellan battle and upon seeing these flags come in sight, took it for granted that it was Shields’ army and refused to fight. So much for our fighting reputation…


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