150 years ago today, the United States–a nation mired in the fourth year of a bloody Civil War–was celebrating the anniversary of its independence from Great Britain. In the ranks of the vast Union armies fighting to preserve that nation, the significance of the day did not go unnoticed.
On July 4, 1864, hundreds of thousands of Union soldiers were spread out across the Southern United States, occupying lands of the Confederacy in what was the final year of the American Civil War. Most notably, two Union commanders were on the precipice of seizing major southern cities. In Virginia, Grant was settling in near Petersburg, beginning a months long siege that would force he and his men to wait until 1865 until their goals of victory in the campaign for Richmond could be realized.
Far to the south, in the state of Georgia, William Tecumseh Sherman’s army group, consisting of the Army of the Cumberland, the Army of the Tennessee, and the Army of the Ohio, rested just miles from Kennesaw Mountain, the imposing height which had stalled Sherman for the latter half of June and the first several days of July. It had only been on the morning of July 3rd that Union soldiers discovered that Confederates had vacated their Kennesaw trenches, having been forced out by yet another flanking maneuver from Sherman. Kennesaw Mountain had been a resounding defeat for Sherman’s men, as each attacking column the Federals sent forward on the morning of June 27, 1864, was handsomely repulsed. Yet, one week later, the Confederates had retreated, and the Union soldiers who had seen their comrades slaughtered in such great number in front of the Kennesaw Line were preparing to push for the Chattahoochee River and toward Atlanta itself.
Thus, 150 years ago, Union soldiers had cause for both sadness and gratefulness, for both remorse and relief. The troubles of Kennesaw Mountain were past, yet the struggle for Atlanta lay firmly in their future.
“One year ago were in Shellbyville Tenn. Wonder next 4th will find us, or me. Enjoying the blessings of peace, I hope. Hardly think it will. One consolation, my term of service will have nearly expired. Weather very warm. A man would have been called insane three years ago, who would have prophesied that the war would last till July 1864”
O.M. Scott, Commissary Sergeant, 121st Ohio Volunteer Infantry
“This is a holiday to all Americans whether it will be so to us remains to be seen.”
Sgt. Israel Connell, 51st Ohio Volunteer Infantry
“We are celebrating the birthday of the Nation by firing an occasional salute on the works of the foe in our front. Company E was on the skirmish line all day, and it was very interesting. A year ago we were at Shelbyville, Tenn., and on that day Vicksburg was taken by General Grant. Where will we be July 4th, 1865?”
Francis McAdams, 113th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
“Thankful should we be to Divine Providence that our ever honored and memoriable National Birthday is thus made the more sacred by a victory over the Nation’s and Freedom’s enemies.”
Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry