Celebrating the Fourth of July in 19th Century Dixie

1-Mike Staton
The author of this post is Mike Staton.

Well, the Fourth of July holiday is over. How did you celebrate?


Did you have a cookout on the back deck or patio with family and friends, then watch fireworks? Or maybe the family went to the local park and had a picnic with grandparents, aunts and uncles, then watched fireworks? Maybe your Independent Day included a softball or an American Legion baseball tournament? Or perhaps you went to a band concert of patriotic music and then watched a community-sponsored fireworks show? Or if you’re from another country, you did nothing at all, beyond watching a news roundup of how Americans celebrated their Fourth of July.

Cripple Creek, Colo fourth of july-Use
A Fourth of July parade in Cripple Creek, Colorado, in the late 19th Century. I couldn’t find a parade in what had been the Old Confederacy.

Back in 2011 when I worked as a reporter for a North Carolina weekly newspaper, I decided to do a look-back feature story on bygone Fourth of July celebrations. I looked online and in the local library, searching for folksy accounts of turn-of-the-century festivities – Independence Day during the 1900 era, not the year 2000. I got a history lesson on the South after the Civil War.


Online, I found all kinds of photos of men and women in parades and at church picnics, wearing patriotic attire, the clothing style late-Victorian. But they were all from states like California, Iowa, Ohio, New York, Maine and Massachusetts. Nothing from North Carolina – or the rest of the South, for that matter.


Fourth of July picnic in a park in Irvvine, Calif.-use
Here’s a Fourth of July picnic in park in Irvine, California captured by a late 19th Century photographer.

The year 1900 was just thirty-five from Appomattox where General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General U.S. Grant. Many Confederate veterans were still living. They and their families were not yet ready to celebrate the Yankee holiday. That would have to wait until World War I when the Rebel veterans’ grandsons became Doughboys and sailed off to Europe to fight the Hun. Those Southern veterans of the American Expeditionary Force under General John Pershing resurrected Fourth of July parades, concerts and firework displays in cities and towns in the South.


For some, it may be hard to believe that the South went for more than fifty years without generally celebrating the nation’s birthday. Many preferred to celebrate the Lost Cause. Bitterness dies slowly and painfully.

# # #

pretty girls around 1900-use
Pretty young girls circa 1900 celebrate July 4th.

I’m now writing a Civil War novel titled Blessed Shadows Deep and Dark. The plot centers on a teenage Confederate soldier from Duplin County, North Carolina, who joins up with the Wilmington regiment – the 18th North Carolina, famous for accidentally shooting and wounding General Thomas Jackson at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. Jackson died a few days later. The novel has elements of historical fiction, romance, and fantasy.


An ebook publisher in business since 2001 has published my fantasy genre trilogy, Larenia’s Shadow. Through the three novels the plot entwines the lives of an aristocratic family with a sword imbued magical powers. Dragons, elves, dwarves, princes, thieves… you’re find them in my novels, The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin and Assassins’ Lair. Where can you purchase them? Where else? The websites of Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.


20 thoughts on “Celebrating the Fourth of July in 19th Century Dixie

  1. Interesting about the south not celebrating the fourth. Hadn’t thought about it. Since so many settlers/pioneers celebrated it here in Wyoming at Independence Rock, and I would assume some came from the south, I wonder how that went over. Hadn’t thought of it as a yankee holiday either. Enjoyed your post and fresh insights it brought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Remember, It wasn’t until the late 1870s that Yankee occupation troops left the Southern States. In the 1876 presidential election, Samuel J. Tilden of New York, a Democrat, outpolled Ohio’s Rutherford B. Hayes in the popular vote. After a first count of votes, Tilden won 184 electoral votes to Hayes’s 165, with 20 votes unresolved. Southern states brokered a deal with Rutherford and the Republicans that made him President of the United States in exchange for Federal troops leaving the South, ending Reconstruction. I’m just amazed that you don’t find a whole lot of photographs of Southerners of the 1880s and 1890s enjoying the Fourth of July.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can believe the southern states didn’t celebrate. Many relatives were from that part of the country.
    For myself, childhood memories of picnics, fireworks and fish fries. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wanted to find a picnic example from around 1900 and that one jumped out at me. Gosh, they dressed so differently back then. And they probably thought they were “dressing down” compared to how their grandparents dressed in the 1860s.


  3. I really liked this post, Mike. It was interesting to know the South didn’t celebrate our most precious holiday for a long while. We are in our summer place at a campground in Wisconsin and we had a great 4th. We rested, visited with friends, had our own fireworks show, and all the golf carts did a parade through the campground throwing candy to the little ones. Lots of fun!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. All red white and blue and some were really decked out. One cart even had a gorilla driving it! The kids loved it! Since our cart is red and black it’ll be easy to decorate next year, but the people with purple, green, orange and whatever other colors they had really did a good job. I can’t wait for next year!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Mike- I’m not actually surprised that the south didn’t show signs of acknowledging Independence Day when there were still survivors who remembered what the time was like during the Civil War. They say ‘old habits die hard’ and 1900 was too fresh for some- change was resisted. (In a lot of ways I understand that) It’s different now, though, since we have such a lot of almost ‘first hand’ knowledge of change through the media- even though it’s a very biased media, at times.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very educational and enjoyable post, Mike. Greg and I celebrated Independence Day in a few ways: with family in North Carolina and a traditional hamburger barbecue on the actual day and a fun-filled evening of baseball and fireworks at a Cardinals game in St. Louis on July 1. Fun, family, and food — not much better than that!


  6. We didn’t go to any fireworks, but our neighbors put on a pretty spectacular show. WV just legalized the sale of more powerful fireworks and that was obvious, both on the 4th and for the next few nights.


      1. That’s sometimes an issue here, but this year everyone was putting them off between thunderstorms on the 4th, so I don’t think that was a problem.


  7. We had a covered dish dinner at my Grandson’s and then two of our grandsons had bought some really great fireworks. I also got to watch the Little Hocking parade. I believe I told ya’ll all about it last year. 3 tractors, 2 floats, and 15 emergency vehicles. We lost the goats, horses, and bulldog this year. So I guess it’s getting even smaller, but I’ll try to be here next year to watch it again. I’ve watched it since I was 12 years old, the year I participated in all the festivities, including riding on top of the seat of a convertible. Cher’ley


  8. The Fourth of July holiday has certainly been resurrected here in Falling waters WV. We have 3 neighbors that put on fireworks displays that rival any the towns around here put on. There are cook outs with bands, and lots of food and people. Later in the evening the bond fires begin followed by fireworks. Unfortunately hubby usually has to work ( retail) so we opted for a late night supper on the deck as we watched the neighbors displays.


    1. Fabulous that your neighbors are able to spend the cash to get fireworks that rival the spectaculars that some town’s do. Kind of like some folks at Christmas who do up their houses in extraordinary light shows accompanied by music. One Christmas several years ago some friends from the Columbus, Ohio, area took me to see a neighborhood with quite a Christmas light show with lots of holiday music where the lights’ were time to flash with the beat of the holiday music.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s