Thursday, July 04, 2013

July 9th 1863 - The Surrender of Port Hudson

From "The Guns of Port Hudson":

Union Officers were decked out in their finest with the men equally polished. At 7 AM the 13th Connecticut band struck up "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and the long column began its belated entry into Port Hudson.  At its head rode Brigadier General Andrews, newly designated post commander with his staff and colors.

As the Column of 1,000 soldiers snaked into Port Hudson, flags flying and bands playing, the effects of the siege were noticed.  On all sides, were broken trees, damaged building and scarred earth.

Soon they came upon a long gray line of ragged Confederate soldiers, their backs to the river, each unit distinguished by its own colors and peculiar uniforms.  The officers stood with their men, some of them dressed in the most outlandish uniforms, complete with peacock feathers, elbow gauntlets, padded epaulets, and bell crowned hats.

Many of the Confederates, only 3,000 in number (the field hospitals were overflowing with sick and wounded)  appeared dejected and sad.  But others were defiant, even to the point of muttering, "They couldn't take us by fighting, they had to starve us out".

The Federal columns turned right, advancing parallel to the Confederate Lines, and turned toward the railroad depot. It was then that the the bands turned from the patriot strains of "The Star Spangled Banner" to "Dixie" and the Rebels stood a little straighter, laughed and smiled, and a few cheers rent the air. Then the Federal column did a left face, and came eye-to-eye with their old enemy, with only the road separating them.

Salutes were exchanged. Officers introduced, hands shaken, and all assumed their proper positions. Then, with a roll of drums, the surrender ceremonies began.

All up and down the ragged lines, Colonels and Captains brought their men to attention, their shouted commands ringing out in procession from center to right and center to left.

Finally, Confederate General Beale stepped forward and gave the command, "Ground Arms". This was followed by the blaring of bugles, at which all Confederates bowed their heads and then placed their muskets on the ground. Some did so reverently; a few flung their muskets to the ground in disgust.

Never had the Commanding Confederate General [Gardner] felt prouder of his men.  Only moments before he had ridden down the line to rousing cheers. "Nobly you have performed your duty. The cheerfulness, bravery, and zeal, displayed during this long siege has never been surpassed.."

Now, with tears in his eyes, he presented his sword, hilt first, to General Andrews and said "Having defended the place to the last extremity, I now surrender it into your hands".

Andrews handed it back, stating "I receive this sword as a token of surrender of this place, but return it to you as a mark of respect for bravery - although I wish it had been shown in a different cause"

Momentarily, the Stars and Bars, were hauled down from the flagstaff.  Ensign Robert Swann sprang to the halyard and rapidly ran up the Stars and Stripes.  No one cheered. Instead, the union soldiers seemed to share the anguish of their beaten foe.

At this time, Union gunboats rolled up a thundering salute to the colors, followed by the blaring of whistles as the Union fleet began to drift downriver. Finally, the bands struck up the happy notes of "Home, Sweet Home" - then both sides cheered - and the matter was finished.

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