July 4th is best known during the Civil War years for the dual Union victories in 1863—at Vicksburg and at Gettysburg—victories that turned the tide of the war in the North’s favor. It was a very different sort of occasion for the 25th Indiana the next year. They were stationed in Decatur, Alabama, which the local population had been entirely evacuated from. This is John Given’s impression from page 345 of Suite Harmonic: “With the regiment back together and all of them quartered in what John considered the last place in the world to live, it struck him even more how blasted Decatur was. It was very easy to get tired of looking at nothing except a soldier’s face and, without women, there was a singular lack of beauty. And color was missing. Clothes were the sea of uniforms, faded to a vague blue, which the men, in the heat, shed as often as they could. In a place where a normal year would have meant a host of summer flowers everywhere, the ground was unplanted—chewed up and battered by the boots of so many men. There were no blossoms of any color. There was no foliage. There was only the wasted, treeless town and the mud and wood of the fort.”
John’s mood on that 4th in those surroundings is documented in a letter to his sister that’s excerpted in the above banner and transcribed here:
“Tomorrow will be the Fourth of July. I hope that you will each of you enjoy yourselves a little for me for my only enjoyment will be the same old fare with no variation whatever except that it will have been passed in another State. Our first in the army was spent in Mississippi. Our second in Tennessee and our third and last will be in Alabama. God only knows where we may pass the next, but if we are alive it cannot be in a less cheerful place than in the Army.
“You will have, of course, a gay and festive time in Harmony on the Fourth and as I cannot leave here before the 19th of August you must give me a true history of the proceedings in detail.”
—John Given, Decatur, Alabama, July 3,1864, to Kate Given