The United States of America turns 245 years old today — with a healthy dose of Old Glory, bunting and barbecues, parades and picnics, fifes and fireworks.
On July 4, 1776, 56 men including John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, and Secretary Charles Thomson signed those fighting words known as the Declaration of Independence. A Revolutionary War victory over England and the Treaty of Paris later, the United States became a sovereign nation.
Since 1776, the Fourth of July has been a day of firsts and a day for other historic events as well.
July 4, 1801 – President Thomas Jefferson welcomed the Marine Band and other Marines to the White House for the first-ever presidential review. A year later, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point opened.
July 4, 1804 – A year after the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition celebrated the Fourth for the first time west of the Mississippi River in Kansas. They fired their cannon and gave their men an extra shot of whisky to commemorate it, six weeks into the more than three-year-long trek.
July 4, 1826 – Jefferson again figured in a July 4 event, when he and his presidential predecessor, political foe, and personal friend — John Adams died a few hours apart. Adams, unaware of Jefferson’s death first, uttered “Thomas Jefferson still survives” before taking his own last breath.
July 4, 1832 – A children’s choir at a church in Boston sang “America” — written to the tune of England’s “God Save the King” — for the first time in public.
July 4, 1846 – After the Bear Flag Revolt forced Mexican General Vallejo surrender, flags of the United States and the California Republic flew at Sonoma. Two years later, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War with Mexico ceding more than 50 percent of its land to the U.S. On September 9, 1850, California became the 31st state of the Union.
July 4, 1863 – The siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi by General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union Army compelled Confederate General John Pemberton to surrender during the Civil War. The Southerners saw 32,363 casualties including 805 dead to the North’s 4,910 casualties that included 806 dead. Grant also ended slavery in Vicksburg that day, two years before the war ended and enslaved people in the other parts of the South learned they were free. Grant so impressed President Lincoln with his leadership that Lincoln soon placed him in command of the entire Union Army. Coupled with General Robert E. Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg the day before – where he lost more than 28,000 (3,903 killed) of 75,000 rebel troops in the three-day battle – July 4, 1863 represented the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. Union General Meade’s forces suffered 23,049 casualties (3,155 dead), among them a brigadier general who was the grandson of Paul Revere.
July 4, 1872 – Calvin Coolidge was born. He went onto become the 30th U.S. president.
July 4, 1959 – The first 49-star U.S. flag flew in the nation’s capital recognizing Alaska, which became the 49th state in July 1958. A year later, the 50-star flag made its debut in Philadelphia, following Hawaii’s admission as the 50th state in 1959.
July 4, 1997 – And last, but not least, NASA’s Pathfinder landed on Mars, 21 years after the Vikings I and II craft arrived on the Red Planet.
May the Fourth be with you. Happy birthday, America!
Sources: This Day in Military History and Militarymuseum.org