Once Upon a Time

Thousands turn out to celebrate July 4 in 1863

A procession marched from the Adams County Courthouse on North Fifth Street (fifth building from right, with columns), making a circuit back to Washington Square (at left) to commence the July 4, 1863, observance. | Photo courtesy of Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County
Posted: Jun. 28, 2020 12:01 am

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was first published in 2013 and has been revised and reissued as a remembrance of the July 4th celebration in Quincy 157 years ago.)


The first week of July 1863 was one of the most significant of the Civil War.

The Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania was fought on the first three days of the month, and on July 4, Confederate soldiers who had held Vicksburg, Miss., surrendered to Union forces. Telegraph lines were down, and the Quincy newspapers didn't report on the victory at Gettysburg until July 6. Likewise, news of the July 4 surrender at Vicksburg was received several days after the city fell.

Quincy residents were awakened in the early hours of July 1, 1863, by an electrical storm, bringing much-needed rain. The wheat harvest was underway, and all indications were that the yield would be the largest in years.

Occasional local reminders of the war included an attempt to kill a soldier in southern Adams County, just north of the Pike County line. A party had ridden out of Quincy to arrest deserters when a soldier riding in advance of the others was ambushed and seriously wounded. The Quincy Whig on July 4 commented that the Fall Creek area was a notorious location for Copperheads, northern Democrats who opposed the war and desired an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates.

Preparations were underway for the annual Independence Day celebration. Several days before July 4, a large platform was erected in Washington Square to accommodate the reader, orator, committee and singers. Also, the top mast of the square's flagstaff was raised to 170 feet.

National flags, from 6 inches to 15 feet, were for sale at F. Gaushell's Hat Store on Hampshire Street. Henry Zimmerman, near Fifth and Maine, offered a large assortment of lamps and Chinese lanterns to illuminate patriotic processions. Downtown merchants Aldo Summer, William Metz and F. Flachs sold firecrackers, torpedoes, Roman candles, skyrockets, tourbillions, pinwheels, scroll wheels, triangles, verticals, blue lights, Bengal lights, flower pots, and misses' serpents for those wishing a loud and colorful celebration.

Postmaster Abram Jonas announced that on July 4 the post office would close at 10:30 a.m. and remain closed. This news came as Quincy residents were digesting the previous announcement that letters being delivered within the city of Quincy needed 2 cents instead of 1 cent as of July 1. Letters not paid in full would not reach the person named and go to the dead letter office in Washington D.C.

The Rev. Norman A. Millard of the Center Congregational Church, at Fourth and Jersey, urged congregants to attend his sermon on temperance on July 5.

A meeting for the sale or rental of pews was planned from 7 to 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Church, on Maine between Sixth and Seventh, on July 6. All people wishing to retain their seats or to get new ones were told to be punctual.

Independence Day, July 4, 1863, dawned extra warm and dusty. Thousands came to Quincy by railroad, steamboat, wagon, horse, mule and on foot, filling the principal streets. A nine-block-long procession made up of fire companies, bands, military units, dignitaries and ordinary citizens marched from the courthouse up Maine Street to Eighth, up Eighth to Broadway, down Broadway to Fifth, and then into Washington Square.

At a stand in the square, Dr. Hiram Rogers presided (Gov. John Wood was out of town), and the Rev. Dr. Foote invoked the blessing. A choir sang the "Battle Cry of Freedom" as well as several other patriotic songs. The Declaration of Independence was read.

Orville Browning's 70-minute oration followed. The former U.S. senator praised the U.S. Constitution as the source of America's freedom and prosperity. He attributed the nation's misfortunes to the Constitution's violation and urged Americans to unite to crush the traitorous foe. The singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" concluded the formal activities. A dispersion to dinner followed with hotels and restaurants filled to capacity, private citizens entertaining hosts of friends, while people from the country enjoyed a lunch under the trees in Washington Square.

Later, fire companies from Quincy, Jacksonville, Galesburg, Springfield and Hannibal, Mo., competed in several contests of skill and strength, much to the delight of the crowd.

By dusk, the multitude headed to 12th Street, where fireworks were set off in the prairie to the east. Observers recorded their admiration but noted many fireworks were hastily set off, one being started at times before another one finished.

After the crowd left Washington Square for fireworks, city officials forgot to replace the wooden fence surrounding the square that had been removed to accommodate the public. It didn't take long for a small herd of cows to begin pasturing there. The Quincy Daily Whig's editor on July 7 commented that as a consequence of being trampled down on the Fourth, aided by drought and heat, Washington Square looked something like a "suckled orange or a Copperhead ‘bummer' on the 5th of July. Let the Square be taken good care of, for it is the noblest property the city owns."

During the Independence Day activities, there had been very little rowdyism or drunkenness. One Missourian was knocked down by a Marceline Unionist for hurrahing for Jefferson Davis, an experiment he did not repeat.

Once there was confirmation of the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, an elaborate parade was planned for Friday evening, July 10. A torchlight procession was formed at Washington Square where the Needle Pickets were holding a bazaar for soldiers. The parade crisscrossed the downtown streets with John Wood as the parade marshal. There were cannon salutes along the way, and fireworks were shot from the top of Wood's octagonal mansion being built at 12th and State.

While there was much to celebrate, it was not lost on those enjoying the Union victories that the Vicksburg campaign saw more than 35,000 casualties, and 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, captured, or missing.

The Civil War would continue for two more years, as would the daily lives of Quincy's residents with the memories of early July 1863 ever present.


Phil Germann is a retired executive director of the Historical Society, having served for 19 years. Though he no longer lives in Quincy, he is remembered as a former history teacher, a local historian and speaker, a member of several history-related organizations and a civic volunteer.




"At the Garden of Peter Oehmen." Quincy Daily Whig, July 6, 1863, p. 2.


"Attempt to Murder a Soldier." Quincy Whig, July 4, 1863, p. 3.


"Celebration of the Fourth of July at Quincy." Quincy Daily Herald, July 4, 1863, p. 3.


"The Demonstration Last Night." Quincy Daily Herald, July 11, 1863, p. 3.


"The Fourth in Quincy." Quincy Whig, July 4, 1863, p. 3.


"The Fourth in Quincy." Quincy Daily Whig, July 6, 1863, p. 3.


"Grand Torch-light Procession and Splendid Illuminations in Honor of The Late Victories." Quincy Daily Herald, July 10, 1863, p. 3.


"Keep the Cattle Out." Quincy Daily Whig, July 7, 1863, p. 3.


"Pew Renting at the Unitarian Church." Quincy Daily Whig, July 3, 1863, p. 3.


"Post Office Notice." Quincy Daily Whig, July 2, 1863, p. 3.


"A Sermon on Temperance." Quincy Daily Whig, July 3, 1863, p. 3.



This article was first published in 2013 and has been revised and reissued as a remembrance of the July 4th celebration in Quincy 157 years ago.