I could not think of a more appropriate post this week. With the Fourth of July being celebrated nation-wide this Wednesday, I thought it would be interesting to record just how it was the soldiers in the 48th Pennsylvania observed and celebrated Independence Day throughout the Civil War. It's interesting to note that since the 48th Pennsylvania served throughout war in the "wandering" Ninth Army Corps, the regiment celebrated Independence Day once in North Carolina, once in Kentucky, and twice in Virginia.
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July 4, 1862:
The 48th Pennsylvania was stationed along the coast of North Carolina, with half the regiment at New Bern and the other half at Roanoke. Lt. Curtis Pollock recorded in his diary on July 3, 1862, that the officers "held a meeting for the purpose of making arrangements for the proper celebration of the fourth of July. We adopted resolution," wrote Pollock, "and will have a grand time I expect."
It seems, however, that things did not go as planned, for on the morning of July 4, orders came for the entire regiment to proceed immediately to Newbern. So, the soldiers boarded the steamer Cossack and spent Independence Day on board. Wrote Pollock: "The grand celebration did not come off for reasons unknown to myself. . . .It is rather a dry fourth and we have not been doing anything but laying around loose in a most miserable state of existence." The weather must have put a damper on the day. It was "quite cool and cloudy," recorded Pollock. After ten and a half hours on board, Pollock and his comrades in the 48th arrived at Newbern, disembarked and went into camp.
Although there was no grand celebration that 4th of July, Joseph Gould remembered that rumors spread quickly throughout camp that George B. McClellan had taken Richmond, and that the soldiers would be home by Christmas at the latest. . .Of course, these rumors proved false.
Oliver Bosbyshell was also disappointed by the way in which the 48th Pennsylvania celebrated its first Independence Day in the army. "When the fourth arrived, its celebration was greatly interfered with by the . . .movement of the Cossack, for by 4:30 in the morning that staid old vessel was plowing its way through the waters of Pamlico Sound, heading for Newbern. " However, Bosbyshell did remember "National salutes were being fired by the gunboats and shore batteries, bells were ringing and flags flying when the Regiment arrived at the wharf at Newbern."
Bosbyshell also wrote of the rumors of McClellan capturing Richmond, but, alas, wrote: "McClellan was not in Richmond, he was very, very glad to be under cover of the navy's gunboats at Harrison's Landing, and wait promised reinforcements. So the regiment knew its destination."
He was right. Just four days later, on July 8, 1862, the 48th Pennsylvania, along with most of Ambrose Burnside's 9th Corps made its way north to Virginia to reinforce the Union armies operating in that state. . .
Throughout the summer and fall of 1862, the 48th saw action at 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, and then, after Burnside was relieved of his command of the Army of the Potomac, the 9th Corps traveled west with their commander. The 48th Pennsylvania was named Provost Guards of Lexington, Kentucky, and it was here where they would spend the summer of 1863.
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July 4, 1863:
The 48th Pennsylvania spent Independence Day 1863 as Provost Guards for the city of Lexington, Kentucky, and their celebration that year was much more successful than in 1862 while encamped along the sandy beaches of North Carolina.
"We celebrated the 4th of July," wrote Gould, "with a very pretty street parade through the city during the day and fireworks at night. Our camp was crowded with the elite of the city, and everybody went away happy."
Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants of the 48th PA, commanding the Lexington Post, sent out orders on July 3, 1863: "At the present time, when the United States is making gigantic exertions to crush out a rebellion which threatens to destroy its nationality, it is especially appropriate that the anniversary of the day when the liberty of its people was achieved, and their rights secured, should be held sacred and suitably celebrated." Continued Pleasants, "It is therefore ordered. . .that in honor of the eighty-seventh anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America (July 4, A.D. 1863) two National salutes of thirty-five guns each, be fired from Fort Clay--one at dawn, and the other at mid-day. It is also ordered that the Forty-eighth Regiment P.V. have a street parade at 7 o'clock a.m., to be ended by a battalion drill."
For Lieutenant Curtis Pollock, the celebration began late on July 3, 1863. Late that night, Pollock and a few others attended a grand ball at the Broadway Hotel "and had a pleasant time." "It was very warm dancing," wrote the young lieutenant, "but I managed to get through with quite a number of dances." The dance ended sometime around 4:00 a.m. on the morning of July 4, but the late hour did not deter Pollock and "a party of Gents" from going downtown, procuring a number of firecrackers, and "started in the 4th of July." After being up all night, Pollock rejoined the regiment in time for the 7:00 a.m. parade. "We started down town about 7 o'clock with about two hundred men and marched all over town and when we got to the Court House Square we went through the Manual of Arms and the firings and did it very well." Finally, at 11:00 a.m. the regiment returned to camp and Pollock took a bath in the warm waters of a nearby creek. He took a nap that afternoon but was up that evening to witness the "quite extensive fire works."
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July 4, 1864:
By the spring of 1864, the 48th Pennsylvania was back in Virginia with the 9th Corps. Throughout May and June of that year, the regiment suffered heavy casualties in some of the war's heaviest fighting: at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and at Petersburg. Hundreds of men killed and wounded during these two months put a serious damper on any celebration as the Fourth of July rolled in. Indeed, neither of regiment's two histories make any mention, whatsoever, of the 48th celebrating Independence Day that year. And Lieutenant Curtis Pollock, who recorded the daily actions of the regiment since his enlistment in August 1861, was now dead, mortally wounded in mid-June at Petersburg. Instead of celebrating the nation's Independence on July 4, 1864, the 48th Pennsylvania occupied its time in tunelling under the Confederate defenses, a project that began some two weeks earlier. One of the men who did the digging, Samuel Beddall of Company E, recorded the following in his diary:
"Monday 4 July: as this day is almost allways most highley celebrated by the Civil & Millitary homes it was passed to day with out anny thing transpiring unusually. it passed off very quiet. talking of home was the most thing"
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July 4, 1865:
There is no mention in any of my sources how the 48th celebrated its final 4th of July in the army. But with the end of the war and the cessation of hostilities, Independence Day 1865 was no doubt much better celebrated within the ranks than it was just one year earlier. With the regiment stationed near Alexandria, Virginia, most of the men probably wished they were back home in Schuylkill County observing the Fourth of July with their families.
Two weeks later, the 48th Pennsylvania was mustered out of service, and the men headed for home.
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Four Fourths in the ranks of the 48th Pennsylvania. . . Some more memorable than others and certainly all, from 1865 forward, observed by the survivors at home with more meaning and importance.