DURING THE CIVIL WAR ERA, DIFFERENCES IN RESPONSE TO FOURTH OF JULY COMMEMORATIONS BECAME MAGNIFIED. WHEN THE WAR ENDED, AFRICAN AMERICANS FOUND NEW RESONANCE IN INDEPENDENCE DAY, NORTHERNERS USED THE HOLIDAY TO CELEBRATE THE UNION’S VICTORY, AND MANY WHITE SOUTHERNERS STOPPED CELEBRATING THE HOLIDAY FOR YEARS OR, IN SOME CASES, EVEN DECADES.
“The Fourth became a day to argue about who counted as an American and what that meant,” says Paul Quigley, director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. To foster insights into that volatile period, Quigley has joined with David Hicks, a professor in the School of Education, and Kurt Luther, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, in launching Mapping the Fourth of July in the Civil War Era, a crowdsourced digital archive of primary sources.
“We wanted to understand how Americans celebrated Independence Day even as their nation was falling apart,” says Quigley, the James I. Robertson Jr. Professor in Civil War Studies in Virginia Tech’s Department of History. “We realized the answer lies in the tens of thousands of Civil War-era sources, from newspaper articles and speeches to private letters and diaries.”