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Thursday, June 29, 2023

Unifying America on Independence Day

On the 4th day of July 1861, nearly a thousand men, women and children met at Dr. Johnathan Hale’s mill, just south of the Kentucky-Tenneessee state line, and celebrated the day as had been the custom in former years. They raised a hickory pole, on which was hoisted the old flag. Dr. Hale’s daughters sang the “Star Spangles Banner.” Mrs. Hale read the Declaration of Independence, and the whole concourse of people partook of a bountiful repast prepared by the women, every one of whom opposed revolution in every shape.

The Civil War had begun twenty-two days earlier. Our ancestors had thought this area was too remote to be included in any war, but it came nearly three months later, on Sept. 29, 1861 in the Affair at Travisville in nearby Pickett County, and then almost four months later at the Battle of Mill Springs on Jan. 19, 1862. The war coming here was inevitable. By its end, over 10,000 battles, engagements and other military actions had occurred in 23 different states, including nearly 50 major battles and about 100 others that had major significance. The remainder were skirmishes, reconnaissances, naval engagements, sieges, bombardments, etc. Over 650,000 deaths resulted. An estimated 814 casualties occurred at Logan's Crossroads, 814 on the Union side and 552 on the Confederate side, including General Felix Zollicoffer.

J.D. Hale, who had been born in Stoddard, MA in 1817, began to erect his two-story mill, store and post office in October of 1845. This 100-acre property on Wolf River was in the area where the Farmhouse Restaurant was located on Highway 111 in Pickett County. Hale served as postmaster. It was said that he also operated a manufacturing facility there, producing wagons and furniture. When the Civil War started, he and his family declared for the Union. As a matter of fact, he was among the first to denounce and expose session. The U. S. Army appointed him Captain and Chief of Scouts of the Army of the Cumberlands under General George Thomas, who had led the Union army at Mill Springs. Not only did Hale report on the activities of Confederate leaders Morgan, Forrest and Wheeler, he also recruited area men for the Union army.

The Consequence...

The massive July 4th celebration that had taken place at Hale's Mill, coupled with Hale's expressions of loyalty to the United States, infuriated Confederate sympathizers. He and his family were forced to flee to Albany for safety. Three days after the July 4th celebration, all of Hale's property was destroyed by fire. $20,000 worth of buildings and materials were burned, including his home and two other houses, a large library in Hale’s house, worker's cabins, a barn, stable, store, still house, kitchen, grist mill and saw mill, 1000 bushels of corn, planning machine, mortising machine, running lathe, circular saws, tolls, lumber, wagons, and furniture. In 1864, a military commission would award him $25,000 in an assessment levied against those accused of burning his property.

When the Civil War officially ended on May 9, 1865, the 4th of July celebrations across America were unlike any other in the nation’s history. An uneasy mix of joy, relief, resentment and unhealed wounds was reported as America sought reasons for celebration after a war that nearly tore the country apart.

Following the assassination of President Lincoln, an untested Andrew Johnson was trying to find his way forward as commander-in-chief. He looked to the 4th of July as a launching point to reunify not just the states, but also the hearts and minds of their inhabitants...

“Of all the anniversaries of the Declaration of Independence, none has been more important and significant than that upon which you assemble,” he proclaimed. “Let us trust that each recurring 4th of July shall find our nation stronger in number, stronger in wealth, stronger in the harmony of the citizens, stronger in its devotion to nationality and freedom.”

For the first time in more than four years, Independence Day 1865 had dawned without Americans on the battlefield trying to kill other Americans. Contemporary accounts and newspaper stories depicted a subdued, at times somber celebration in a country struggling to recover a sense of normalcy. In some places, the holiday was barely observed at all. But, on July 4, 1865, a group once again gathered at the Hale's Mill site to celebrate Independence Day, as well as the outcome of the war. They hoisted the 'old flag' and attendants fired a 34-gun salute. Hale’s daughters again sang the Star Spangled Banner and this time it was Hale who read the Declaration of Independence.

By 1871, the Hale family had left this area for New Hampshire. Jonathan died of old age in 1896. In 2011, Tennessee honored him by erecting a historical marker near the site of Hale's Mill. It is located just before Wolf River Bridge, where the Farmhouse Restaurant stood.

J.D. Hale, left, and Tinker Dave Beaty


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