A Glorious Conclusion: the Surrender of Vicksburg


To mark my 100th blog post regarding the Civil War, I wanted to put something together regarding one of the most poignant events of the war, the surrender of Vicksburg, Mississippi on July 4, 1863. Widely regarded (with Gettysburg) as the turning point of the conflict, many of the veterans of both Grant’s and Pemberton’s armies penned memoirs and reminiscences of the events leading up to the surrender. For this post, I’d like to share the memories of a few soldiers of the 32nd Ohio who were eyewitnesses to the negotiations and eventual surrender of the city, interspersed with accounts from Generals Grant and Pemberton.
 
Sgt. Henry G. Lehmann, Co. H, 32nd O.V.I.
          Sergeant Henry G. Lehmann Co. H, 32nd Ohio had just finished some clerical work for Colonel Benjamin Potts and was about to commence sharpshooting on the Rebels when he spied two Rebel horsemen approaching with a white flag. “Turning to the colonel, I shouted, ‘There comes a white flag!’ He replied, ‘Order the men to cease firing.’ I at once jumped over our works, running and walking rapidly, met the two officers bearing the white flag near an oak tree which was about halfway between our line and that of the Rebels. One of the officers said to me, ‘Where is the commanding officer of this line of works?’ I turned pointing to where I had just left the colonel when I saw that he was coming halfway between where we then were and our works and replied, ‘There he comes now.’ By the time the colonel came to us, a great number of our boys who had sprung over our works now came up. The colonel, noticing this, ordered all of us to our places in the trenches. The Rebel officers were taken charge of by the officer of the day (Captain William M. Morris, Co. D, 32nd O.V.I.), blindfolded, and conducted to General Andrew J. Smith’s headquarters. White flags appeared upon the Rebel works in our front and hostilities ceased. The Rebel officers who bore the white flag were General John S. Bowen, a division commander, and Colonel L.M. Montgomery of Pemberton’s staff.”
 
Major General John S. Bowen
Died of dysentery July 13, 1863
          General Pemberton employed a bit of clever strategery in sending General Bowen on this mission. Bowen, a former Missouri neighbor of General Grant, was dying of dysentery and perhaps it was hoped that the sight of an old friend in obvious physical distress would soften Grant’s hand against the Confederates. Regardless, General Bowen bore the following dispatch from General Pemberton addressed to General Grant: “I have the honor to propose to you an armistice of x hours with a view to arrange terms of capitulation of Vicksburg. To this end, if agreeable to you, I will appoint three commissioners to meet a like number, to be named by yourself, at such place and hour today as you may find convenient. I make this proposition to save further effusion of blood, which must otherwise be shed to a frightful extent, feeling myself fully able to maintain my position for a yet indefinite period. This communication will be handed to you under flag of truce by Major General John S. Bowen.”
 
Colonel Benjamin F Potts, 32nd O.V.I.
It didn’t work. Grant refused to see Bowen, leaving his old neighbor cooling his heels at Jackson’s headquarters tent.  He wrote a note back to Pemberton stating that his only terms called for the unconditional surrender of Vicksburg and given that those were the only terms he was interested in discussing, he rejected Pemberton’s proposal to appoint commissioners to settle the question. He praised the “endurance and courage” of Pemberton’s army and assured the Pennsylvania-born commander that all “would be treated with all the respect due to prisoners of war.” However, he sent a verbal message that said that he would agree to meet directly with Pemberton to discuss the issue. Bowen returned to Confederate lines with Grant’s reply, and as Pemberton stated “at the joint request of my four division commanders” [Bowen, Carter Stevenson, John Forney, and Martin L. Smith] he agreed to meet with Grant.
 
Pemberton statue at Vicksburg
Lehmann continues his narrative: “At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, General Ulysses S. Grant and Generals Edward O. Ord, James B. McPherson, John A. Logan, Andrew J. Smith, and their staff officers came riding through our lines to the oak tree and were there met by General John C. Pemberton and the two officers who bore the white flag in the morning. [A quick note about this oak tree from Grant’s Memoirs: “Our place of meeting was on a hillside within a few hundred feet of the Rebel lines. Nearby stood a stunted oak tree which was made historical by the event. It was but a short time before the last vestige of its body, root, and limb had disappeared, the fragments taken as trophies.”] This meeting was nearly opposite the right of the regiment in plain view and close enough I could almost hear the conversation going on. After introductions and handshaking Grant and Pemberton withdrew a little to one side on the slope next to the enemy, lighted cigars, and entered into a conference. Presently Grant and Pemberton arose, and the conference was ended. The white flags still remained upon the Rebel works and hostilities ceased to await the result of the correspondence with reference to acceptance of the terms offered by General Grant.”
  
Major General Andrew Jackson Smith
       
          From a distance, the conference may have appeared neat and tidy, but it was a tense meeting that had a visibly upset Pemberton running headlong into a triumphant and stubborn Grant. Lehmann’s statement that he saw Grant and Pemberton go aside in a private conference was correct: what they discussed was not the surrender terms, however. They foisted that messy job on their trusted aides: Grant chose Generals McPherson and A.J. Smith while Pemberton again called upon Bowen and Colonel Montgomery to work out the details. Pemberton wrote that he and Grant spent their time “conversing only upon topics that had no relation to the important subject that brought us together.” After some discussion, the group of “commissioners” rejoined Grant and Pemberton with a proposal that apparently Grant rejected initially, but agreed to send over his own proposal later that evening. The terms Grant proposed were largely those assembled by the “commissioners,” and these were accepted by Pemberton who ordered the surrender of the Confederate garrison on July 4, 1863.
Major General U.S. Grant

Sergeant Lehmann described the way the Confederates surrendered the city of July 4th. “Along toward morning, word had come to us in the trenches that if the terms offered by General Grant were accepted, the ‘Johnnies’ would march outside their lines at 9 A.M., stack arms in front of their works, and march back inside as prisoners of war. At last we saw the head of their columns coming and soon they had marched outside, stacked their guns, and placed their flags upon the gun stacks and returned inside their works as prisoners. To us it was a glorious sight and we felt that our long and weary marches through rain, mud, and sunshine, hard fighting, ceaseless watching by day and by night, exposure to disease and death, were now at an end.”

Sergeant William Pitt Chambers of Co. B, 46th Mississippi was among the humiliated Confederate troops who marched out and stacked arms. He remembered “at an early hour we were informed that terms of capitulation had been agreed upon, and about 10 a.m. we performed the humiliating task of marching in front of our works and stacking arms in full view of the enemy, and under the direction of a Federal officer. Some of us wept as we did this for we realized that this was the end of all our sacrifices. For this ignoble ending we had fought, had watched, had hungered, and shed our blood, and many a brave comrade had gone to an untimely grave. To intensify the humiliation of the men was the suspicion, to many it was a conviction that Pemberton had been false to the flag under which he fought.”

General Pemberton surrendered 2,166 officers, 27,230 men, 172 cannons, and roughly 60,000 stands of small arms. He also sacrificed his standing in the Confederacy, one historian going so far to state that Pemberton became the most reviled man in Confederate gray due to the widespread impression that, as Chambers states above, the Northern-born Pemberton had purposely betrayed the South by surrendering Vicksburg.
 
Logan statue at Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois
Private William M. McLain of Co. B, 32nd Ohio summed up his feelings about the significance of Vicksburg in a letter written to the Urbana Citizen & Gazette on July 4, 1863. “I doubt not but you have had a good time today, but I’ll guarantee that not one heart among you throbbed more joyously than mine when I saw the little white flags stuck on all the forts and the graybacks crawling out to stack arms. I had seen some such a sight once before but then they surrounded me and their significance included me. [McLain is referring to the surrender of Harper’s Ferry the previous September in which the 32nd Ohio, along with the entire Federal garrison, was surrendered to the Confederates.] Now like the Irish officer at Champion Hills who surrounded and captured 20 Rebels (see St. Louis Republican), I surrounded them, and their significance pointed me to a rift in the war clouds. I seemed to see in them the beginning of the end, and need I say that I felt proud of the gallant Grant, proud of the fighting Jack Logan, proud (a little) of myself, proud of every private in the Army of the Tennessee, proud of the noble dead who are ‘sleeping sweetly sleeping till the final reveille,’ in the now quiet valleys that we so lately filled, proud that they fell defending a land worthy of their bravest defense. This is (in homely but expressive terms) the biggest 4th of July that I have ever spent.”

References:
Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. III
Baumgartner, Richard A., editor. Blood & Sacrifice: The Civil War Journal of a Confederate Soldier. [Sergeant William Pitt Chambers] Huntingdon: Blue Acorn Press, 1994
Grant, Ulysses S. Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, New York: Penguin Books, 1999
Lehmann, Henry G. Reminiscences of a Soldier, 1861-65. Np, nd
McLain, William M., Urbana Citizen & Gazette, July 23, 1863, pg. 2


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