Independence Day in Highland County in 1863
Ladies and gentlemen, don’t look now, but the Fourth of July – Independence Day if you prefer – is nearly upon us.
If you haven’t checked your calendars, the Fourth is on a Tuesday this year, so the annual Festival of the Bells in Hillsboro will be held July 6-8. While you’re enjoying the festival, be sure to check out Pioneer Day, sponsored by the Highland County Historical Society, at the Scott House on Saturday, July 8, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. You’ll be glad you did.
On Tuesday, July 4, 2023, I’m sure grills will be lit, and fireworks will light up the sky in Highland County, but back in 1863, July 4 was on a Saturday, and it was described in the local newspaper as “by far the greatest popular demonstration ever witnessed in this county.”
You see, during that time, the country was right in the middle of the Civil War, which lasted from April of 1861 to May of 1865. In that same July 9, 1863 newspaper that covered the Highland County Fourth of July festivities, another headline proclaimed, “Glorious News: Lee Defeated! Vicksburg Taken.”
The headline of the local Independence Day article read, “The 4th in Hillsboro. Grand Union Demonstration. From 12,000 to 15,000 People Present.”
Let’s pick up the coverage, shall we?
The Celebration of our National Anniversary in this place on Saturday, was by far the greatest popular demonstration ever witnessed in this county (see, I told you!), on a similar occasion. The Union-loving people of the county, men, women and children, the old, the young and the middle-aged, came together by the thousands, to testify their veneration for the day, and their unfaltering attachment to the Union established by our Fathers on the basis of the immortal principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
The day was ushered in by the ringing of bells and firing of the cannon.
The stores were all closed and business suspended. Flags floated in profusion from the principal business houses and many of the dwellings of our citizens.
A thunderstorm on Friday night moderated the extreme heat and freed the roads from dust most effectually.
At about 8 o’clock the delegations began to pour in from the country by different roads, and as they arrived were formed in procession and took up the line of march for the Fair Grounds. One delegation, from Marshall and Brushcreek townships, was one and a half miles long. The delegation from New Lexington, Leesburg and New Vienna was over one mile long. That from Salem, Hamer and Clay was estimated over a mile long.
The special train from Lynchburg, Westboro and Blanchester, brought up over 1,000 persons, and was accompanied by the Level Cornet Band. The New Market and Concord delegation was nearly two miles long, and also accompanied by a band. The delegation from Jackson township numbered over 600. Union township turned out a fine delegation. The Paint and Whiteoak delegations were each about half a mile long.
The delegation from Pricetown had a long wagon drawn by 34 horses, and containing 34 young ladies and gentlemen, the ladies in white dresses with blue sashes. On the side of the wagon was painted the memorable sentiment of “Old Hickory,” “The Union – By the Eternal it must be preserved.”
The Marshall delegation had a wagon, beautifully decorated with flags, the sides covered with white muslin, on which was the word “Union” in letters of cedar. The wagon contained 35 beautiful young ladies, dressed in red, white and blue, who sang patriotic songs as they rode along.
The scene on the Fair grounds when the people were all assembled was one of the most animating and beautiful we ever witnessed. The spacious grounds were covered with the vast multitude, and with the horses, buggies, wagons and other vehicles in which they had come. Various estimates have been made of the number present, some placing it as high as 25,000, others as low as 8,000. Military gentlemen, accustomed to seeing large bodies of men, placed it at from 12,000 to 15,000, and this we think very near the mark.
Speeches were made from two stands, and at one time three were in full blast, all surrounded by large and enthusiastic crowds, while apparently nearly as many more people were scattered in other parts of the grounds.
From one of the stands the people were addressed by Hon. Jos. M. Root, of Sandusky, Col. R.B. Carpenter, of Covington, Ky., and Rev. A.T. Thompson, of Cincinnati; from another by Hon. S.S. Henkle, of Springfield, and Hon. James Sloane, of this place, and from a third by Rev. J. McDaniels, of Mourytown – the brave and eloquent Union man whom some valiant “peace” Democrats threatened to kill in that village on Saturday week.
The reading of the Declaration by Mr. W.H. Cole was done in good style.
At night, Col. Carpenter made one of the most eloquent speeches in the Court House to which we ever listened.
The Milford Band, led by Mr. Alfred Squires, added much enjoyment of the occasion by their superb music.
Altogether, the celebration of the Fourth in Hillsboro, in the year 1863, was a grand success, and will long be remembered by all who participated in its stirring and patriotic scenes.
Well there you have it, folks – Independence Day in Highland County 160 years ago. Happy Fourth of July everyone!
Steve Roush is chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a board member of the Highland District Hospital Foundation, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.