The Fourth of July is a cherished holiday that resonates deeply with Americans as a day of national pride and unity. It is a time when we come together with friends and family to commemorate the triumphs and sacrifices that have shaped the foundation of our great nation. As we gather for barbecues, fireworks, and parades, we not only celebrate the birth of our independence but also reflect upon the ideals and values that continue to define us as a people. There was a period of time though, fairly recently, that the citizens of Vicksburg did not celebrate this iconic holiday.
To understand why they did not celebrate the fourth requires some context. Vicksburg was a unique place in the Old South. While agriculture was the predominate industry in the surrounding area, the Mississippi River brought a wide variety of commerce to the City which made way for a much more diverse group of people and cultures. This also meant that there was a constant flow and differing philosophical and political ideas coming and going, and this variety of ideas were even encouraged by the locals. This is evidenced by the fact that Vicksburg had a growing number of literary clubs, theaters, and lectures halls, each whom had a focus of bringing new talent to the waterfront. While the majority of the Old South hadn’t made much of a shift since their pre-Revolutionary days, Vicksburg had been going through a renaissance period just before the outbreak of secession.
When secession discussions began among the Southern States, Vicksburg’s population had sent their two delegates to vote against leaving the Union in 1861. Natchez was the only other district in Mississippi to cast their votes in opposition, as their demographic was similar to Vicksburg. Despite Vicksburg’s opposition, secession passed and the City was already being eyed by both Union and Confederate governments as a prized military target for controlling the traffic along the Mississippi River. Local Union sympathizers fled Vicksburg fearing they would become the targets of a military campaign, but many did not have the means to escape what was to come. From 1862 until the surrender of Vicksburg after a grueling 47 day siege, the people of Vicksburg were caught in the crossfire of the Union Navy shelling the city and the Confederate forces defending the area. Relief from the bombardment didn’t come until General John C. Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. While the Nation saw this event as a beginning of the end to the War, the citizens of Vicksburg were experiencing the first days of a decade long military occupation that would strip any remaining gratitude towards the victors. Despite their support of the Union, Vicksburg’s residents had to experience some of the harshest consequences of the War on the civilian population.
For nearly a century, the Fourth would come and go without much stir in town. The atrocities of the Siege had left a psychological scar that would take generations to heal. Local editors made note of the absence of celebration throughout the 1870s, such as the Vicksburg Herald stating, “no one would have ever thought of the great National holiday being at hand… is likely to fall upon the public ears about like recollections of unpleasant dream,” or editor J. M. Swords claiming “in old times it was customary to celebrate the day with considerable pomp and spread-eagle vaporing; but now, in this unfortunate section where the great natural rights of safety life, liberty, and property have been almost swept away by out bayonet-rulers, but few are found to do the occasion reverence.” This sentiment carried on into the 20th century.
The conclusion of World War II in 1945 marked the first time Vicksburg gathered to celebrate alongside the rest of the Nation. The holiday was not recognized as Independence Day and was instead named the “Carnival of the Confederacy.” The event was repeated the following years, and in 1947 General Dwight D. Eisenhower had made a trip to Vicksburg to take part in the festivities. Independence Day did not receive its official title here in Vicksburg until 1976 for the Bicentennial of the United States.
The story of Vicksburg’s relationship with the Fourth of July is a testament to the lasting impact of historical events on our community. The scars of the devastating Siege of Vicksburg cast a shadow over the city for decades, dampening the spirit of national celebration that characterized the Fourth of July elsewhere in the country. The psychological and physical toll endured by the citizens of Vicksburg during the war and subsequent military occupation created a deep-seated aversion to the holiday. However, as time passed and wounds began to heal, the city gradually embraced the Fourth of July once again. The celebration of the Fourth of July in Vicksburg today stands as a symbol of unity and a testament to the indomitable spirit of our city.See a typo? Report it here.