Celebrating the 4th of July, when the country is at war with itself
July 4, 1861 – The bugle tune of “Reveille” awoke the 18th N.Y. at 4:30 a.m., at Camp Harris, in downtown Washington. Brass bands began to send out songs of “Hail Columbia” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” from neighboring camps. Quite the atmosphere for soldiers. By day-break, national salutes were fired to herald America’s 85th Anniversary of Independence, (then at war with itself for the 1st time).
The commander of New York regiments (20,000 men) in D.C. ordered all twenty-three available Excelsior organizations to march in Washington’s first Grand Review parade of troops. At 6:30 a.m., the 18th N.Y. marched to 16th Street, opposite the White House, and waited for placement. Regiments fell into sequential order, divided into four special brigades. The 18th N.Y. was the lead regiment for the second brigade, and took their place at 7:30 a.m., near Lafayette Square.
At 8 a.m., they stepped off and trekked down Pennsylvania Avenue. As they neared the White House, the cheerful crowds swarmed. Above their heads, a raised platform was erected upon the sidewalk in front of the White House, with beautiful silk flags and bunting draped around the canopied suite where President Lincoln, General Scott, and several members of the Cabinet and military stood and viewed the New York regiments.
After their salutes were rendered to the honored guests as they marched by, the 18th N.Y. pushed on through several city streets, with less onlookers. They marched a total of 12 miles before they eventually returned to camp. Although the day was cooler than others - owed to a welcoming breeze - the men still had on their full woolen uniforms, and had an order to not drink from their canteens while on the march. They couldn’t drink freely on the march unless ordered to. This exhausted several, and became an early lesson learned by all.
At night, camps all around built large bonfires and sang over many bands that played. Somehow, the men of the 18th N.Y. managed to shoot off a display of fireworks within their camp. The celebrations were undoubtedly heard across the Potomac to the ears of the looming Confederacy.
Happy 4th of July!