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Fourth of July

In Texas, March 2nd is considered Independence Day, however, to the nation at large, July 4th is Independence Day.  It’s a day to celebrate the Founding Fathers and their courage to stand up to a “tyrant.”  They knew in the Summer of 1776 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, they were pledging their lives to the cause of independence, because if captured they would be deemed traitors and sentenced to death by hanging.  As a result of their courageous stance, the Declaration of Independence was signed and thus a new nation was born.


To me, the 4th has always been a fascinating day for other reasons as well.  Besides celebrating American Independence, July 4th offers other meaning.  Such as in 1826, two of the masterminds of the Declaration of Independence died, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  Although the two were often foes of one another, later in life they reconciled and started a correspondence of mutual respect.  Before Adams died on July 4th, he said “Thomas Jefferson survives.”  However, Jefferson had indeed died hours earlier.  Both died on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Coincidentally, five years later, former President James Monroe died – he was the last of the Founding Fathers. 


However, one of the turning points in American history occurred on July 4, 1863.  Confederate Forces under the leadership of Lt. General James Pemberton surrendered the fortress city of Vicksburg to General Ulysses S. Grant.  Vicksburg was strategically important to the Confederacy because of its geography.  The city sat on top of a bluff at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Yazoo Rivers.  The Mississippi River represented the lifeline to the Confederacy, if they lost control of the river, then they would lose their supply and communication lines.  The Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department would be crippled. 


Beginning in May 1863, Grant and his forces laid siege on the town of Vicksburg, which at the time was the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River.  The Confederacy could not afford to lose this fortress.  However, after 40 days of daily pounding by Union artillery and supplies running out, Pemberton surrendered his position to Grant on July 4th. 


When you take into account Robert E. Lee’s surrender a day before at Gettysburg and losing control of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, the Confederacy was doomed.  From July 4th, 1863 to the end of the Civil War, the Union was in control of the Mississippi River and the entire war effort.


As a historian, focusing on dates can be tricky because of the stereotype which comes along with it – “that history is nothing but names and dates and is so boring.”  However, when you look deeper into the story and events that occurred on that date you can get a greater understanding and significance of history.  The Fourth of July is one of those intriguing dates.  Not just because of American Independence, but because of the totality and significance of the other events that occurred on this great American celebration. 


The Cemetery grounds will be open as usual at 8 a.m. and the gates will close at 5 p.m.  The Visitors Center will be closed.


Jason Walker