This Day in the Civil War

Thursday July 4 1861

Abraham Lincoln called a special session of Congress on this most sacred of American patriotic holidays, to deal with the extraordinary matter of the secession of states from the American union. He listed the actions taken by the ‘’erring sisters”, and the measures he had taken to control, correct, or at least oppose them. The similarities between this list and the one composed by the Founding Fathers noting the offenses of King George III, are striking. The most important military matter dealt with was the request by the President that the Congress authorize the raising of an army of 400,000 volunteers to prosecute a war to bring the Southern states back into the Union whether they wanted to be there are not.

Friday July 4 1862

As the aftermath of the Seven Days’ battle continued, the fighting on land might be over with but the conflict continued on the water. Two vessels in particular had been conducting a running fight for some time. The CSS Teaser was victorious today as a lucky shot caught her opponent, the USS Maratanza, in just the right spot and exploded her boiler. When the Federals searched the wreckage of the Teaser they found a number of interesting items: floating mines ready to be laid in the James River; “peculiar fuzes” which were sent to Washington for examination; and, most intriguing of all, an observation balloon and the equipment needed to launch it. The balloon itself became an object of legend. It was made of silk for the sake of lightness. The silk, it was said, was obtained by sewing together the donated dresses of the women of Richmond.

Saturday July 4 1863

Scholars argue to this day which event was “more critical” in bringing about the victory of North over South in the war. What is not in dispute was that the two of them together combined to make a Northern victory inevitable. In the East, Robert E. Lee gathered the remnants of the Army of Northern Virginia and began the long march home from Gettysburg. Meade’s had arranged brilliant defenses, first of the ends of his line on Cemetery Hill and then of the middle, which did not break under “Pickett’s Charge” yesterday. The Confederates retreated slowly, in good order, and their only regret was that some 6000 of their most severely wounded had to be left on the field for the Yankees to care for or bury. In the West, Gen. John Pemberton selected the Fourth of July to surrender the besieged city of Vicksburg, Miss., to U.S. Grant, figuring he would get better terms today than any other. In fact they seemed surprisingly easy: all soldiers, after turning in their weapons, were given paroles and allowed to go home, although they could not fight again until the paroles expired. In fact, many just went home and never fought again. The Confederacy had lost the Mississippi River, and was cut in two. The significance of this was not lost: Confederate currency, never strong in world markets, suddenly depreciated by 1000 per cent.

Monday July 4 1864

As Grant continued to grind away at Lee’s forces around Petersburg, the work in Washington was beginning on how to go about re-integrating the South into the Federal nation. The word “Reconstruction” began to be in use around this time, and virtually nobody agreed about how it should be accomplished. Abraham Lincoln was being very judicious in releasing the details of his plans, which were surprisingly conciliatory to what was, after all, a conquered nation. It was less the Democrats giving him trouble than the members of his own party, known as the Radical Republicans, including the more fanatical abolitionists. Lincoln today pocket-vetoed a measure called the Wade-Davis bill, which would have barred any man who had ever borne arms against the Union from voting or holding office. Essentially the debate was over whether Congress or the President would control the rebuilding process.

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