Nesmith, Arthur Sidney
Autograph Letter Signed, Avenue House, Washington, D.C., July 4, 1866, to his sister, Annie Nesmith, Franklin, New Hampshire

octavo, 2 pp., in very good, clean and legible condition.

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        “I sent to Mr. Ryan … to send me my old Regts. Papers The first returns are the only ones that give me any trouble and I can fix them without swaring out as is the custom generally. I was introduced to Col. Johnson from Ft. Smith Ark and he knows Cousin Robert very well. Says Bob is engaged in distilling whisky now … The 4th promises to be about as dull here as in Franklin, the negroes are the only people who celebrate to any extent …”

Nesmith, a Captain in the Quartermasters Department of an Infantry Regiment, served until the end of the War, though he had nearly died of malaria after only a year’s service in South Carolina. The holiday to which he refers was the first July 4th of the Reconstruction era, when there was still much ill-feeling in Washington, D.C. between Union Army veterans and “reconstructed rebels.” The newspapers reported that, except for the morning sound of church bells ringing and Army cannons firing, it was a quiet “Sabbatic” day, with no fireworks, drunken parties, patriotic rallies or public demonstrations – except by the city’s African-Americans. In April, they had already celebrated “Emancipation Day” – the third anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – and now, on the 4th of July, 5,000 African Americans, mostly Sunday School children, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, from the White House to the Capitol, where a “colored” Army Band played, the children sang, and a speaker noted that, just three years before, whenever four or five Black slaves stood together on a Washington street they would be ordered by police to “disperse” as an “unlawful assemblage.”