Civil War Blog

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Fourth of July in Harrisburg, 1865

Posted By on July 4, 2011

In Harrisburg, the preparation for celebration of the Union victory of 1865 was well underway as troops returning from the war flooded the capital.  A controversy developed that centered around the desire of Gov. Andrew Curtin to hold a celebration and parade on the 4th of July to recognize and honor the veterans and the desire of the veterans to return home to their families as quickly as possible.  Tens of thousands of soldiers were waiting in Camp Curtin in Harrisburg for their pay and final muster out.  Among those waiting in Harrisburg were many from the Lykens Valley area.   How many actually stayed for the celebration is not known.  Some may have returned for muster out after first going home.  The elaborate preparations are described in a series of news articles of the time.

Governor Curtin to the People of Pennsylvania

Executive Chamber, Harrisburg, June 10, 1865. – To the people of Pennsylvania: – The bloody struggle of four years is ended.  The fires of Rebellion are quenched.  The supremacy of law and right is re-established.  The foulest treason recorded in history has been beaten to the earth.  Our country is saved.

These blessings we owe, under God, to the unequaled heroism, civic and military, of the people.  In the darkest house, under the heaviest discouragements, falter who would, THEY never faltered.

They have been inspired with the determination of our fathers, the continued union of our whole country, and the grand Republican principles which it is their pride and duty to defend for the sake not only of themselves but of the human race.

I glory in saying that the people of Pennsylvania have been among the foremost in the career of honor.  Their hearts have been in the contest; their means and their blood have been poured out like water to maintain it.

The remnants of the heroic bands that left her soil to rescue their country , are now returning, having honorably fulfilled their service.  They have left tens of thousands of their brothers on many a bloody field.  Their memories will be served on our rolls of honor.  For their widows and families a grateful country will suitably provide.

Let the survivors who are now returning to us have such welcome as befits a brave and patriotic people to give to the gallant men who have saved the country and shed new lustre on Pennsylvania.

I recommend that in every part of the State, on the approaching anniversary of Independence, special observances be had of welcome to our returning defenders, and of commemoration of the heroic deeds of themselves and their comrades who have fallen.

Andrew G. Curtin, Governor of Pennsylvania

The Philadelphia Inquirer responded with an editorial:

Governor Curtin has issued a proclamation, which congratulates the country that the was against the rebellion is over, and that our people are once more to experience the joys of peace.  The document is well timed, and its suggestions are appropriate. The recommendation that in every part of the State the ensuing Fourth of July shall be dedicated to “special observances of welcome to our returned defenders and of commendation of the heroic deeds of themselves and of their comrades who have fallen,” will be generally approved.”

There seems to be a disposition throughout the loyal states to make the next Fourth of July such as day as Daniel Webster suggested in the imaginary speech of John Adams, in Congress, July 4th 1776, a day to be celebrated with bonfires, salutes, parades and illuminations.  There would have been a brilliant illumination in this city after the capture of Richmond and the surrender of Lee’s army had not the sudden assassination of Abraham Lincoln turned the national joy into deep sorrow.  But the martyred President “—is in his grave; after life’s fitful fever he sleeps well; Treason has done his worst; nor steel, nor poison, Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing Can touch him further.”

We have paid to his memory the full respect that is due to his virtues and his goodness.  His name will remain, an incentive to the patriot, and a constant reminder that simplicity and honesty will survive the attacks of envious guilt.  Time runs on, and we have duties to perform ourselves.

That we should celebrate the most memorable day in the most memorable tear of our history with more than common enthusiasm, will not seem to be an unnatural determination.  We may, therefore, prepare for such a celebration of the Fourth of July as America has never known; an exhibition of the joy and gratitude of a restored people, who have maintained the principles of human freedom against formidable assaults.

Philadelphia Inquirer, 12 June 1865

The Harrisburg correspondent then reported the plans for the Fourth of July.

Promises to be a grand day here.  Extensive preparations are making for its celebration.  No less than ten general committees have been appointed, embracing an executive committee, and committees on finance, on music, on refreshments, on firemen, on Sunday schools, on fire works and illuminations, on decorations, on the procession and on the military.  It is proposed to have a salute fired, and singing and other suitable ceremonies by the Sunday schools, on the morning early, under the triumphal arch in the square; public prayer meetings at eight, a grand procession of civic societies, the trades and the military, at nine; the Declaration of Independence, an oration and a public dinner in the Capital Park; a fireman’s torch-light procession and a general illumination in the evening.

Philadelphia Inquirer, 16 June 1865

Additional preparations were announced the next day:

The Illumination

The City Councils have resolved to illuminate the public buildings on the evening of the Fourth of July, and have recommended our citizens to provide for a similar celebration.  The proposition will be generally adopted, and already many are preparing to do honor to the occasion.  During the war there were some who objected to illuminations upon account of Union victories, because they were gained “over our brethren.”  But even the most fastidious persons will be happy to illuminate in honor of peace, and there will e additional satisfaction in the hope that there may never be another occasion within their lives calling for a similar demonstration.

Philadelphia Inquirer, 17 June 1865

The first hint that there was a problem with the soldiers was reported as a rumor circulating because the soldiers tied the delay in receipt of their pay with the desire of official to hold them in Harrisburg:

[The regiments] are still awaiting the convenience of the Paymaster, though it is alleged there is some difficulty in regard to the pay rolls.

What the Men Think.

The impression prevails among the men of the regiments that they are to be retained here after the Fourth of July, to enable the Harrisburghers to present a large display on Independence Day.

Ambitions for Show.

The Committee on the Military is composed of influential men occupying high military posts at Harrisburg, whose ambition, of course, is to make the display as large as possible.

Where the Boys Want to Spend the 4th.

The soldiers are, however, too anxious to spend the 4th at their own homes.  They desire to be paid off and furnished transportation as soon as possible.

Philadelphia Inquirer, 30 June 1865.

A few days later, there was an attempt to correct the impression that the soldiers were being retained in Harrisburg:

In perverting the meaning of your correspondent’s despatch of the 29th ultimo, in which he said that the impression prevailed among the men of the regiments here that they were to be retained until after the Fourth of July, to enhance the display at the capital, the Associated Press agent was making a mountain out of a mole-hill.  It is not denied that the soldiers had gained such an impression.  It would have been pointer, and more consistent for him to have said that there was no ground for such impression.

The assertion that the men are being rapidly paid off is simply untrue, as every one familiar wit affairs here knows.  Complaints against the paymasters are daily made to the Governor.  Delays have certainly taken place within the last four or five days.  The paymasters have several times stopped at two and three o’clock, without any explanation, though it is now alleged that they ran out of money had to send to Washington for more.

Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 July 1865

Preparation for the Fourth continued and another controversy began to emerge – that the celebrations were to be too partisan “Republican:”

Extensive preparations have been made for the celebration of the Fourth here.  Unhappily, however, the celebration, on the part of a portion of the citizens at least, will assume a partisan aspect.  The committee of arrangements, appointed at the citizens’ meeting, have invited the citizens of Harrisburg and the surrounding country to meet here to celebrate the eighty-ninth anniversary of American Independence and the establishment of freedom throughout all the land.  At sunlight a salute of thirty-six guns will be fired from Capitol Hill and the bells will be rung from five to seven A.M.  Public prayer meetings will be held at eight.

At nine o’clock a grand military and civic procession will march through the city, proceeding to capitol park, where the Declaration of Independence will be read by Col. James Worrall, and an oration will be delivered by rev. T. H. Robinson.  A banquet will be served at two in the afternoon, at which the soldiers will have a special place assigned.  Music by the Sunday Schools, under the arch in the square, at six o’clock.  There will be a general illumination, and a fireman’s torchlight procession later in the evening.

All who love their country and abhor its enemies – all who are devoted to Freedom and detest Tyranny – who have faith in the endurance of Free Institutions – who are honestly in favor of supporting the authorities laboring to maintain the Government, are invited to participate in the proceedings and partake of the banquet.

Or at least a portion of them who are not satisfied with these arrangements, and who contend that Republicans have been appointed to all the posts where “buncomb: speeches may be made, are going to have a celebration of their own.  They have “seceded” from the citizens’ meeting and are going it on their own hook, having invited Mr. Joseph Ingersoll and others to address them.

Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 July 1865

Finally, it took an appeal from  Col. J. B. Kiddoo to the soldiers to remain in Harrisburg for the celebration:

Appeal to the Soldiers.

Head-Quarters Military Forces, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, July 3, 1865. – Fellow soldiers: – Without cause base traitors made war upon our Government.  For more than four years the rage of civil conflict surged from centre to circumference.  The whole country has been drenched with gore and watered with best blood of the nation.  Thank God this fratricidal war has ended, and you, brave men, have brought us peace.

in the hour of distress your country called for help.  You obeyed her commands and did your duty as patriots, as freemen, as heroes.  The victory has been won triumphantly, at immense cost of treasure and of blood; to you belong the praise, the credit and the thanks of the nation.  You have returned from the battlefields covered with glory; the nation will garland your brows with the freshest laurels.  We weep for the lamented dead; we pray for the suffering wounded, and we rejoice at the return of our heroic victors.  We welcome you to the old Keystone Commonwealth.  Yes, bravemen, we extend you a thrice hearty welcome to your families and your homes.

The citizens of Harrisburg propose to give you a public reception on the Fourth of July.  They have sprung triumphant fires under which you will march, and the will honor you with a sumptuous banquet upon Capitol Hill.  Accept the tender of their hospitality, which you have so richly and nobly merited.  It is peculiarly appropriate that we should at one and the same time celebrate the glorious anniversary of our National Independence, rejoice at the triumph of our nationality, of right over wrong, of law over recklessness, and of freedom over tyranny, and welcome to their homes our country’s brave defenders.

We are again united: let us be and remain a happy people, for as the Lord lives the supremacy of our Government must be maintained at home, and shall be respected abroad.

The various commanding officers are invited to report to their respective commands in North Second street, in the city of Harrisburg, by 9 o’clock to-morrow morning, in order to be assigned their proper positions in the parade, and will report to these head-quarters as soon as possible.

J.B. Kiddoo, Colonel Commanding Post.

The Fourth of July Celebration took place as planned, but no records were kept of the individual soldiers who chose to participate.  Personal stories passed down in families might be the only way to determine whether a specific soldier was present.

News articles were obtained through the on-line resources of the Free Library of Philadelphia.






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