The Fourth of July celebrations of today are somewhat different from those in the early days after this date was declared a federal holiday. However, no matter how it is celebrated, the Fourth of July is a day to fly our flag and remember our Declaration of Independence. From a diary entry dated Sunday, July 2, 1876, written by William Perry Darwin, we are told about plans his son had for the Fourth of July Celebration that year. W.P. Darwin wrote that his son, William Peyton Darwin went home with a friend so that they could go to Chattanooga the next day to be at the 4th of July Celebration in that city. Unfortunately, no details are given to let the reader know what the celebration will be like.

The Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day, is a federal holiday celebrated in the Unites States, which honors the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. This document declared independence from Great Britain, and is celebrated in a variety of ways. Many citizens hang the American flag outside their homes; some also celebrate with fireworks, parades, barbecues, carnivals, races, fairs, picnics, concerts, baseball games, family reunions and many other observations of the holiday.

According to research, during the American Revolution, the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain occurred on July 2, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution of independence that had been proposed in June of that year. Then, after Congress voted for independence from Great Britain, the group turned their attention to the Declaration, which had been prepared by a Committee of Five, with Thomas Jefferson as the principal author. On July 2, the Congress voted for independence from Great Britain in a closed session. Next, Congress revised the wording, and approved the Declaration on July 4, 1776.

Historians have disputed as to whether Congress really signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, even though Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin all wrote that they had signed it on that day. Many historians think that the Declaration was signed almost a month after its adoption, on August 2, 1776, and not on July 4 as is widely believed.

In 1870, the U.S. Congress made July Fourth a federal holiday, and in 1941 it became a paid holiday to all federal employees. Even though the political importance of the holiday has declined over the years, July Fourth has remained an important national holiday and a symbol of patriotism.

During the War Between the States, the Fourth of July held a great deal of meaning for soldiers and families in both the North and South. For the North, Independence Day was a symbol of fighting for preserving the union; and for the South, it meant celebrating their “founding fathers” and separation from a government they did not agree with. However, no matter which side a person was on, July Fourth was a reminder of America’s past and gave a purpose to all people.

According to history, celebrations before and during the war had an entirely different look to them. In the South during July 4 of 1860, local militia companies marched in their uniforms and celebrated the talk of war. However, the July 4, 1861 celebrations were of a more somber nature. In 1861 these young men were now Confederate soldiers far away from home, sitting in camps waiting for the enemy to approach. These men were remembering the picnics and buggy rides with their sweethearts from a year before, and praying that they would live to go home when the war was over.

As the war progressed, there was less celebrating of July Fourth because everyone was concentrating on surviving from one day to the next and helping the Southern Cause in any way possible. However, in 1864, a group of Union soldiers were preparing to celebrate July Fourth with a picnic. A Confederate troop surprised them, and they were said to very generously donate their food to the Confederates! The Southern group ate the food hurriedly, then continued their own celebration by a display of fireworks-or firearms-and chased the Yankees out of the town and across the river! That just shows what the element of surprise can do.

As we celebrate the Fourth of July this year, let us remember our ancestors who fought during the American Revolution to get rid of the tyranny which was imposed upon the American Colonies. We need to thank those who have kept and are keeping our country safe and free, and pray that we will not have to undergo that kind of ruling ever again. Also, we should always learn from the past in order to be able to live in the present and be part of the future.

Pat Guffey can be reached at pat459@charter.net