July 4, 1863

by Doug Wead

All this business about the fourth of July missed one of the more remarkable days in American history. I am speaking of July 4th, 1863. There were celebrations in the streets of Washington because of the apparent outcome of the battle of Gettysburg. The people of the north were hungry for a victory and they thought this was it. They massed around the White House calling on the president to give a speech.

Well, Abraham Lincoln was not so sure. He had been disappointed before. What they all knew was that General Meade and the Union armies had held their ground at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania against Robert E. Lee and a Confederate invasion of the north. On July 4th, Lee and his army was returning South.

Abraham Lincoln was very circumspect, he just issued a statement. He was awaiting the outcome of the battle of Vicksburg, which would have divided the Confederacy and taken full control of the mighty Mississippi River. And that battle was still hanging in the balance. Or so Lincoln thought.

But as is often the case, the people were right. Gettysburg was huge. It all but guaranteed that Great Britain would not recognize the Confederacy. And unbeknown to them all, on that very day, Southern General Pemberton was surrendering to Ulysses S. Grant in Vicksburg and the Union was winning that battle too. So July 4, 1863 marked the turning point in the Civil War. And it was one of Lincoln’s greatest moments, he just didn’t find out about it until a few days later.

And that is how Abraham Lincoln came to give his July 4th speech, three days later on July 7, 1863.

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