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4th of July in Georgia

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For the Federal soldiers taken prisoner at Shiloh, and held captive in dreary, dispiriting prison pens for months afterwards, there were few opportunities for mirth and amusement. So it was with keen anticipation that, as the Fourth of July, 1862 approached, the two hundred officers confined on the top floor of a 3-story cotton manufactory at Madison, Georgia decided to 'properly celebrate the occasion.'

 

The best singers among the captives formed themselves into a choir, and spent days practicing their songs. Some officers were tasked with 'offering toasts,' while others were requested to 'provide responses.' Everyone else labored to decorate the largest room with materials that had come to hand; and tables and seats were constructed and arranged. As preparations neared completion, all looked forward to the arrival of the 'Great National Anniversary.'

 

At 9am on July 4th, the prisoners seated themselves on the south side of the room, facing north, towards the specially constructed stage, upon which was the Master of Ceremonies, General Benjamin Prentiss, with the choir arrayed to his left. The General requested that the day's commemoration be led off with a prayer; it was ably provided by Lt George Stokes, 18th Wisconsin. As he concluded, the choir struck up The Star-spangled Banner... naturally, all those assembled joined in. As Capt Edward Van Duzee remembered the occasion: 'We sang with a will; our hearts were in the song, and our love for the dear old flag gushed forth...'

 

The song concluded about the time the Prison Commandant, Capt Calhoun, made his appearance at the door. He stood watching, as the first regular toast 'To Our Country' was given. LtCol Isaac Pratt, 18th Missouri, rose and offered his 'response:'  an eloquent, precise summation of the history of the woes then affecting the nation, and his outlook regarding their remedy.

 

As Col Pratt resumed his seat, the room erupted in applause. Capt Calhoun marched straight to General Prentiss, and ordered proceedings immediately stopped. The General repeated Capt Calhoun's direction to the assembly, then advised them: 'We will conclude with the singing of Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean. All who wish to take part, gather round the stage...'

 

Thus ended the Fourth of July celebration at Madison, Georgia.

 

[From Edward Van Duzee, Capt, Co I, 12th Iowa. Full account contained in A Perfect Picture Of Hell, (Genoways), University of Iowa Press, 2001, pp. 148-9.]

 

 

 

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