July 4, 1864




On July 4, 1864 Abraham Lincoln had much to pre-occupy his mind.  Grant’s drive on Richmond had bogged down into a stalemated siege to the south of Richmond around the city of Petersburg.  Grant, due to the appalling Union casualties of the campaign, was routinely denounced as a butcher in Northern newspapers, a charge echoed privately by Mary Todd Lincoln.   On June 27 Sherman had been bloodily repulsed at Kennesaw Mountain, and his campaign against Atlanta appeared to be very much in doubt.  Lincoln suspected that he would not be re-elected and that the Union might very well lose the war.  So what did he do on July 4?  He, along with Mrs. Lincoln and most of his cabinet, attended a fundraiser held on the White House lawn to build a Catholic church!


In June of 1864, a group of black men, residents of Washington, knocked on the White House door and asked to present a petition to President Lincoln.  In those simpler times they were ushered in after a short wait to see Mr Lincoln.  Their spokesman, Gabriel Coakley,  told the President that they were Catholics and that they wished to obtain permission to hold a lawn party on the White House lawn in order to build a Catholic church in Washington to serve the black Catholic population in the capital.  Lincoln agreed immediately and told them to go to see General French, the commissioner of public buildings, and to tell him that he had given his permission for the function.  A permit was issued by General French on June 30, 1864.  It required the signature of the President, and Gabriel Coakley waited outside a cabinet meeting for several hours until the President came out.  Lincoln saw him, was advised that the permit needed his signature, signed it, and told Coakley that he hoped the event would be a success.

Lincoln helped ensure the event was a success on July 4, by attending.  The event raised over $1,000.00, a very large sum at a time when a private soldier earned $14.00 per month.  With the funds the church was constructed,  the Blessed Martin De Porres Chapel, with the foundations hand dug by parishioners.  The church quickly attracted a large number of black catholics, but also a sizable number of white catholics.  In 1876 the church was replaced by Saint Augustine church.   I am pleased to report that the Saint Augustine parish is still going strong.


Published in: on July 4, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (7)  


  1. A question on matter of fact: Did the Confederacy continue to celebrate July 4, or any of the other republican holidays?

    • It varied from place to place Fabio. During the War the Confederates had an ambivalent relation with the Founding Fathers: celebrating the right of revolution while doing their best to heap scorn on the Declaration’s ringing statement that all men are created equal.

      After the War the South began celebrating the Fourth again pretty quickly contrary to some myths bruited about. For example in Ken Burns’ Civil War it is stated that after the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863 that the Fourth was not celebrated in Vicksburg for 81 years. Simply not true:


  2. The first time I heard this was in the opening minutes of “Run of the Arrow” when I was a wean. It haunted me for years afterwards…

    “I hates the Yankee nation and everything they do.
    I hates the declaration of independence too…”

    “I wish they was three million
    Instead of what we got….”

    Such bitterness…?

    PS I prefer Hoyt Axton’s version to Bobby Horton’s Maister McC! 🙂

    • There was a fair amount of bitterness after the War, and it would have been a miracle if there had not been. However, we also have the story of Gilbert Bates which might be a more accurate reflection of how most Southerners felt:


      • Look at the photos of Sgt.Bates – he even looked like a hero. Handsome face and a chin like Captain America. It’s nice that sometimes people look like what they are.

  3. Agreed Fabio. The most heroic man I ever have known personally described his facial features as “ratlike”. Alas, he wasn’t far wrong. He had the courage of a Captain America but no one would have ever mistaken him for a matinee idol! He married a gorgeous woman and the kids seem to have his courage and her looks, so perhaps there is justice in this World after all.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: