1863 July 18: The Way Vicksburg Was Surrendered
From the July 18, 1863, issue of The Prescott Journal we find this first-hand, but unknown, account of the surrender of Vicksburg.
The Way Vicksburg was Surrendered.
On the 3d another flag of truce came into our lines, brought by two Confederate officers, one of who proved to be Maj. Gen. Brown.¹ The messengers were blindfolded. They remained awaiting the return of Gen. Smith [William F. Smith], who took the dispatches from Pemberton [John C. Pemberton] to Grant.—Their eyes were unbandaged after an hour, and they conversed freely with the Union officers. One messenger said—“Iron enough had been thrown into the city to stock an immense foundry, and build monuments for all the citizens and soldiers who had fallen.”
When Smith returned the messengers were again blindfolded and conducted to a safe point, from which they could enter their own lines again.
Curiosity was manifested by the officers and soldiers to learn the contents of Pemberton’s dispatches, which was finally gratified. The rebel General saw fit to intimate that unnecessary effusion of blood and loss of lives might be prevented by a brief cessation of hostilities, during which Commissioners might be appointed for the surrender of the city.
He also intimated that he could hold the city for an indefinite period.
Grant’s reply was very brief, saying that Pemberton had it in his power at any moment to stop the bloodshed. The Commissioners were unnecessary, as the only stipulation he could accept was unconditional surrender. It was concluded with a deserved tribute to the bravery and endurance of the rebel garrison, and said if they surrendered, they should all be treated with the courtesy due prisoners of war.
The rebel messengers had not been gone long, when Pemberton sent again, asking a personal interview with Grant, which was promptly granted.
At 3 P. M., the same day, a conference took place about midway between the fronts of the contending forces. The scene was witnessed by thousands of federal and rebel soldiers, who for the first time in weeks, showed themselves with impunity above the rifle pits, and during all these weeks they had been within five yards of each other.
Grant came slowly to the place of rendezvous smoking a cigar, and apparently the only unexcited person in the vast assemblage.
Pemberton first remarked he had been present when different fortresses had surrendered to Federal arms in the Mexican war, and in these the enemy were granted terms and conditions, and so he thought his army was as well entitled to favors as a foreign foe.
Grant listened and then proposed a private conversation, to which Pemberton agreed. What was said during the conference can only be judged from the results.
After little more than an hour terms were agreed upon, and the rebels surrendered.
It was arranged that the Federal forces should enter at 10 o’clock on the 4th.
The rebels were all to be paroled.
The prisoners are allowed to retain their horses and four days rations, to be taken from the rebel stores.
The prisoners are liable to exchange. The enemy numbered from 20,000 to 30,000.
By Pemberton’s arrangement there fell into Grant’s hands along with the small arms, the forts, defenses, etc.
Cannon are plenty, and in quality equal to the best in the Confederacy.
At 10 A. M. on the 4th Gen. Steele [Frederick Steele] and a division marched into and garrisoned the city, the bands playing national airs. The flag was soon seen above the buildings where of late only the rebel ensign met the breeze, and Vicksburg was in loyal possession once more.
Not long after a formal possession had been taken of the city Col. Markland² made his entrance and took charge of the Post office, and agreed to establish Federal mail routes with the rest of the world.
1. Martin Luther Smith (1819-1866) was one of the few Northern-born generals to fight for the Confederacy. He graduated from West Point and spent much of his early military career in the South. In February 1862 he was appointed colonel of the Confederate 21st Louisiana Infantry. He served under General David Twiggs, helping plan the defense of New Orleans. In April of that year he was promoted to brigadier general. In May of 1863 he took charge of constructing the defenses of Vicksburg, as well as leading a division. After Vicksburg fell, he was held as a prisoner of war for seven months and was exchanged in early 1864. He served briefly as the head of the Engineer Corps for the entire Confederate Army, when he became the chief engineer for the Army of Northern Virginia. Later, he held the same position for the Army of Tennessee. As chief engineer of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana at the end of the war, he prepared the defenses of Mobile, Alabama, where he remained until the city fell. After the War he established a civil engineering company in Savannah, Georgia, but died less than a year later.
2. Absalom H. Markland of the Army mail service.