Tuesday, October 9, 2012

GALVESTON SURRENDERS - 150 Years Ago Today! (Book Excerpt!)

"A bleak day in our history. Galveston is in the power of the enemy…I feel deeply grieved and humiliated." - William Pitt Ballinger Diary entry, October 4, 1862

In my previous posts (here and here) I described how the Union navy demanded the surrender of Galveston on October 4, 1862; the refusal by the Confederates to surrender; and the verbal agreement of a 4-day evacuation period.

150 years ago, today, Galveston did surrender to Union authorities.

The excerpt below from my book, Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom (The History Press, 2012), describes the day:

In a letter to Governor Lubbock, a Confederate officer confesses that the fall of Galveston had “produced a profound and painful sensation among our people.” See the original at the TSLAC here.
On October 9, 1862, Union naval commander William B. Renshaw met with a delegation of leading citizens (the mayor and the city council had evacuated) onboard the USS Westfield and informed them he had come to claim Galveston by hoisting the U.S. flag on the public buildings but would not (yet) occupy the city or interfere with its daily affairs or commerce as long as the flag and his forces were respected. Renshaw ended with a declaration that he was determined to “hold Galveston at all hazard until the end of the war” and that the enemy “could not take the port from me without a navy.”

Later that day, a contingent of sailors and marines, including Private Henry O. Gusley [learn more about Gusley, a United States Marine, here], arrived on shore. He wrote in his diary:

The Mayor [pro tem] received us…he delivered the keys to [to the Customhouse] to Captain Wainwright…who immediately took possession of the building and proceeded to the roof with a proper guard and raised the flag. The battalion of colors presented arms as the colors were flung to the breeze, and the crowd of spectators expressed their delight…Altogether it was quite a gala occasion for the marines and sailors and when we marched back to the boats nearly every one of our muskets was decorated with flowers, which the women and children gave us. Of the people of Galveston we must say, that a more respectable and well behaved set we have never seen. 

The surrender of the city was a great blow to the citizens of Galveston and of Texas. In a letter to Governor Lubbock, one Confederate officer confessed that the fall of Galveston had “produced a profound and painful sensation among our people.” The citizens of the island were humiliated and indignant, even more so when some of the state’s newspapers blamed them “for the surrender of the city to a few ferryboats.” For their part, the citizens of Galveston placed the blame squarely on the military authorities, especially General Hebert, who was decried as “a cautious, timid commander, possessing none of those dashing, brilliant qualities” that attended to already-famous Confederate leaders such Lee, Jackson, Longstreet or Hood. They consoled themselves by looking to the day when the island might be in Confederate hands again.

  • Galveston Weekly News, October 15, 1862 
  • Henry O. Gusley was a United States Marine attached to the USS Westfield and later the USS Clifton. He maintained a diary from June 1862 to September 1863, but it was lost (or confiscated) when he was
    captured at the Battle of Sabine Pass, Texas, on September 8, 1863. The Galveston Tri-Weekly News printed the diary in regular installments from October to December 1863. The clippings are collated and annotated in Edward T. Cotham’s The Southern Journey of a Civil War Marine (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006); This quote appears on pp. 106-7.
  •  General T.A. Harris, letter written October 24, 1862, to Governor Francis R. Lubbock, Records of Governor Francis R. Lubbock,Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
  • Hayes, Charles W. History of the Island and the City of Galveston, 2 vol., Austin, TX: Jenkins Garrett Press, 1974., 1:525. 
  • ORN, series 1, vol. 19, 254; 300; 260; 319.

NEXT POST: The wartime U. S. Custom House in Galveston - a wartime building that still exists!

NEXT: An Uneasy Occupation: Admiral Farragut happily reported the capture of Galveston to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles in Washington, D.C.  But, having accomplished the goal of capturing the coast of Texas, Farragut and Renshaw now had the burden of keeping it.

You can learn about this great story in my new book: Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom (The History Press, 2012)



Mark said...

So cool! I'm always interested in the conquered/conqueror relationship. I think people identify quickly with loss in a story and that gets people into the narrative much more quickly whether it be fact or fiction.

Jim Schmidt said...

Mark - What an interesting idea! I had never even thought of that! The Union occupation of Galveston was short-lived...less than 3 months...and - because of the Union blockade - times were very hard on Galveston civilians when the Confederates recaptured the island on Jan. 1, 1863. Thanks for the comment! Great thought!