|In the early morning of June 6, Davis’ gunboats sailed up the Mississippi River to Memphis. Quickly, Confederate Captain J. Edward Montgomery engaged his eight warships in an attack upon the Union flotilla. The residents of Memphis rushed to gather along the shore, waving and shouting encouragement to the Southern fleet. However, their cheers would soon turn to groans of despair.
With vastly superior armaments, Davis barraged Montgomery’s men with gunfire. Some of the rebel ships collided and sank during the ensuing chaos, while others were captured by the Federals. Within two hours, the Confederates lost all but their flagship, the General Van Dorn.
After Memphis formally surrendered late in the morning, a Union soldier took over the city’s telegraph and found a note from his Confederate predecessor. Addressed to any “Lincolnite,” the letter stated, “although you can whip us on the water. . . if you will come out on land we’ll whip you like hell.”
Indeed, the Union’s land forces were suffering humiliating defeats in Virginia during this point in the war. However, the morale of the North improved drastically after the surrender of Memphis.
Mort Künstler painted this scene, a detail from The Glorious Fourth, which typifies the surrender of a southern city.