I’ve been wished a Happy Fourth of July for much of my life, including many times this week. While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m not a big fan of celebrating the Fourth of July. It’s a day on the calendar, the 185th on a non-leap year calendar, which 2019 is. It’s not that different from July 29th, or August 10th, or any other day in the summer. So why do we set it aside? Because the actual holiday is Independence Day in the United States. I always wish people that instead, wanting people to join in the holiday being celebrated, not just some random day in the middle of the summer.
It might be unfashionable to call it Independence Day, but that is the holiday. It’s the day the Declaration of Independence was approved and delivered to the public. The separation was actually voted for by the Continental Congress on July 2nd, but the wording of the Declaration was debated a little longer to ensure everyone was on the same page. John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, predicting that the legal separation would become the day of great celebration.
The second day of July 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
Well, only two days off, John.
Still, Independence Day is a great time to celebrate the history of this country. So I’ve found a few stories of remarkable American figures who’s stories remind us of our heritage and past. Enjoy!
On April 19, 1775, the British Regulars marched to take the munitions held by the Massachusetts Militia in Concord. Along the way, they encountered 77 Militia on the Lexington Common for the first skirmish of the American Revolution. The Regulars marched onto Concord and were turned back. On the march back, 78 year old Samuel Whittimore, a veteran of King George’s War and the French & Indian War and retired farmer in Menotomy (present day Arlington), saw a rescue brigade led by Earl Percy headed aid the retreat.
Whittimore rallied to join the fight. He loaded his musket and dueling pistols, and equipped a sword. He took position along a wall and fired his musket, killing a Regular. He then unloaded his pistols, killing a second and mortally wounding a third. The Brits figured out where he was and rushed him as Whittimore drew his sword. He engaged, though it ended poorly. The 78 year old was shot and bayoneted many (some say 18) times, and beaten with the butt end of a rifle. The Brits left him for dead in a pool of his own blood.
When the colonial forces found him, not only was Whittimore not dead, he was reloading his musket to get another shot off. The locals took him to Medford’s Dr. Cotton Tufts (yes, as in that Tufts family who’s name adorns a prominent university in Medford). The good doctor proclaimed there was no hope for Whittimore’s survival. In fact, not only did the man live another day, he lived for 18 additional years, passing at 96 years of age on February 2nd, 1793. He is interred at the Old Burial Ground in Arlington and is memorialized with a monument on the town common. In 2005, Massachusetts proclaimed Whittimore as the Commonwealth’s official hero.
A year after Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia unanimously approved the Declaration of Independence, as it exists today. What happened to the 56 singers of that revolutionary document? Well, many lost money, fortune, family, property, and their own lives. Paul Harvey’s telling of their stories is so good that I will simply link it below. It’s a tradition of mine to watch this and be awed at the courage present in America’s birth.
Its often I look on the course of my life and realize I’ve had it easy compared to my ancestors. But no story has so thoroughly given me that feeling than the tale of Civil War hero John Lincoln Clem. Born in 1851 in Newark, Ohio, his mother was killed in a train accident when he was 10 years old. Shortly thereafter, Clem ran away to try and join the 3rd Ohio Infantry as a drummer boy in the Union Army. They rejected him because he was too small. He then went to Michigan and tried to join the 22nd Michigan Regiment. They didn’t allow him in, but he followed behind and was adopted as a mascot and drummer boy. There is plenty of myth surrounding his service, but what is clearly true is a rapid rise up the Military ladder.
In September, 1863, a Union offensive was pushed back at Chickamauga, in Northwestern Georgia. Over the course of three days, from the 18th to the 20th, nearly four thousand soldiers died and an additional 24 thousand injuries. It’s one of the bloodiest battles in American history, only edged out by Spotsylvania Courthouse and Gettysburg. Famed journalist and Investigating Agent of the War Department Charles A. Dana wrote of Chickamauga: “My report today is of deplorable importance. Chickamauga is as fatal a name in our history as Bull Run.”
In the midst of the Union retreat, Clem was in the grasp of a Confederate Colonel and shot his way out of danger. For his bravery in the fight, the Drummer Boy of Chickamauga was promoted on the spot to Sergeant of the Army of the Cumberland. He was 12 years old at the time. He continued fighting and a month later, was captured in Georgia by a Confederate Cavalryman. He was included in a prisoner exchange shortly after and was most upset about the confiscation of his uniform, including his cap with three bullet holes. His service in the war was actually used as Confederate war propaganda. Many newspapers in the South asked the question “What sore straits the Yankees are driven, when they have to send their babies out to fight us.”
Clem, despite his young age and small stature, fought bravely in the Union Army and helped win the Civil War. He continued to serve in the American military until 1916 and was the last living Civil War veteran at the time of his passing on May 13th, 1937. He was 85 years old.
These are just a few of the heroes who sacrificed life and limb to create our home and give a free nation to us today. I call the Fourth of July Independence Day because of the heroes who went before us. And I’m eternally grateful to those who lived and died to make this country a reality.
Happy Independence Day everyone!