The Battle of Port Hudson

May 27, 1863 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks directed his Federal Army of the Gulf to attack the strong Confederate defenses at Port Hudson, Louisiana.

Federal army and navy forces continued surrounding Port Hudson, the last Confederate bastion besides Vicksburg on the Mississippi River. Rear Admiral David G. Farragut arrived from New Orleans and informed Banks that the Confederates were holding firm against the naval bombardment, but the naval guns would continue firing until the fort was destroyed. Meanwhile, Banks continued advancing his 30,000 Federals against the fort’s land sides north, south, and east. Farragut’s fleet would prevent any Confederate escape or reinforcement from the Mississippi.

Federal General Nathaniel Banks | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The Federals marching from Bayou Sara to the northwest and Baton Rouge to the south converged and encircled Port Hudson. From left to right, Banks positioned the divisions of Generals Thomas W. Sherman, Christopher C. Augur, Cuvier Grover, and Godfrey Weitzel. A smaller division of U.S. Colored Troops, consisting of free blacks and former slaves from Louisiana, was used for manual labor, scouting, and guard duty.

The Confederate garrison, commanded by Major General Franklin Gardner, held strong defenses that included heavy guns on the bluffs to guard against either a ground or naval attack from any direction. The one weak spot northeast of Port Hudson was quickly shored up with breastworks built by Confederate troops and slaves.

As the Federals assembled outside Port Hudson, Banks received a letter from General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck written three weeks ago. Unaware that Banks had decided to attack Port Hudson, Halleck wrote:

“I regret to learn that you are still pursuing your divergent line to Alexandria. If these eccentric movements, with the main forces of the enemy on the Mississippi River do not lead to some serious disaster, it will be because the enemy does not take full advantage of the opportunity.”

Halleck told Banks that “the Government is exceedingly disappointed” that he and Major General Ulysses S. Grant were “not acting in conjunction… If Grant should succeed alone in beating the enemy and capturing Vicksburg, all will be well,” but if Grant failed, “both your armies will be paralyzed and the entire campaign a failure.” By this time, both Vicksburg and Port Hudson were surrounded, making Halleck’s letter somewhat irrelevant.

By the 25th, Banks had linked two Federal divisions from the south and three from the north, a military maneuver that Napoleon had called the most difficult to execute. Banks had 90 guns against Gardner’s 31. Skirmishing soon ensued, resulting in the capture of the Confederate steamers Starlight and Red Chief on the Mississippi.

With all his men in place, Banks began planning to take Port Hudson by frontal assault. He held a council of war on the 26th, during which his commanders expressed reluctance to move so quickly. Augur argued in favor of reconnoitering the Confederate defenses a few more days, while Sherman said that since the Confederate supply line had been cut, the enemy could just be bombarded and starved into submission.

Banks countered that Major General Richard Taylor’s Confederates in western Louisiana could attack them at any time, or Taylor could try regaining New Orleans, which was guarded by a skeleton occupation force left behind after most troops came to Port Hudson. Banks announced that the attack would take place the next day, with the object being to destroy the Confederates, take Port Hudson, and then drive north to join forces with Grant at Vicksburg.

The plan called for the Federal artillery on water and land to begin a heavy bombardment at dawn. Sherman on the left and Augur in the center would then get their troops into position and “take instant advantage of any favorable opportunity” to attack. Weitzel and Grover on the right and right-center were to follow suit, but only if they saw Sherman and Augur making progress.

Coordinating movements between the Federal divisions would be very difficult because Banks failed to specify a time to begin the infantry attack. Banks also did not consider the harsh terrain, which included dense brush, thick woods, and deep ravines. This could easily break up even the most coordinated attack before the troops reached the enemy. Moreover, in the five days between the Federals’ arrival and their pending assault, Gardner had fortified weaknesses in his line and prepared his Confederates for defense. Banks’s orders simply concluded, “Port Hudson must be taken tomorrow.”

At Banks’s request, Farragut’s gunboats bombarded the Confederates at various times throughout the night to keep them awake. Farragut’s fleet consisted of the U.S.S. Hartford, Richmond, Genesee, Essex, and Monongahela. The land batteries opened fire on the Confederate works at dawn as scheduled, joining the naval cannon already bombarding the enemy. Banks proclaimed, “Port Hudson will be ours today!”

The infantry assault began at 6 a.m., when Weitzel advanced without waiting for Sherman or Augur to go first as planned. The Federals were slowed by the ravines and brush. They attacked a Confederate salient, but they were quickly pinned down in a deadly crossfire.

Fighting outside Port Hudson | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The black troops of the 1st and 3rd Louisiana Native Guards (i.e., the Corps d’Afrique) came up to rescue them, with their captain hollering orders in English and French before being killed by an artillery shell. The men advanced under heavy enemy fire; they sustained horrific casualties but did not waver, thus disproving the theory of many Federal officers that blacks lacked the mettle for combat duty.

Grover tried relieving Weitzel by sending his troops against the northeastern sector of the Confederate line, but the attacks were piecemeal and ineffective. During this time, Banks questioned why Sherman and Augur had not attacked farther south yet. He rode to Sherman’s headquarters, where he learned that Sherman had deployed guns to bombard the Confederates but would not order something as suicidal as an infantry attack. Sherman finally relented when Banks threatened to relieve him of command.

As Sherman’s Federals advanced, Augur would not commit his men unless directly ordered by Banks. All Federals under both Sherman and Augur finally began advancing around 2 p.m. Sherman led a charge to within 70 yards of the works, but the Confederates opened with deadly canister, and the troops used both their own guns and those of the sick and wounded to fend off the attackers. Sherman was wounded and carried from the field.

The assault ended around 5 p.m. when a New York officer raised a white truce flag to collect the dead and wounded. The Confederates agreed, and the Federals withdrew, their attacks having been a complete failure. Although Banks did not properly coordinate or commit his entire 35,000 men to the engagement, he announced, “My force is too weak for the work it had to do.”

The Federals sustained 1,995 casualties (293 killed, 1,545 wounded, and 157 missing). The Confederates lost only about 235 killed or wounded. Black troops saw their first combat action and performed valiantly; Banks reported to Halleck, “It gives me pleasure to report that they answered every expectation. In many respects their conduct was heroic. No troops could be more determined or more daring.”

The next day, Banks informed subordinates, “We shall hold on today, and make careful examinations with reference to future operations.” He requested “a suspension of hostilities until 2 o’clock this afternoon, in order that the dead and wounded may be brought off the field.” Gardner agreed, then allowed a five-hour extension to finish the work. This enabled Federals pinned down by Confederate rifle fire to pull back to their original positions, out of harm’s way.

Banks would ultimately decide to surround Port Hudson from land and water and try starving the Confederate garrison into submission.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18700; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 288; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 395-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 300-02; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 164, 166; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 206; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 357-59; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 637; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 596-97

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The Siege of Vicksburg

May 25, 1863 – Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton offered Major General Ulysses S. Grant a truce, while President Jefferson Davis tried hurrying Confederate reinforcements and Federal army-navy forces began a siege.

Lt Gen John C. Pemberton | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Pemberton’s defeats outside Vicksburg had alarmed Confederate authorities at Richmond, but his two victories within the Vicksburg defenses renewed their confidence that he could hold the city. The day after Pemberton’s second victory, Davis still did not know that Pemberton could no longer join forces with General Joseph E. Johnston, whose 23,000 Confederates were beyond reach in northern Mississippi. As such, Davis telegraphed Johnston stating he was “hopeful of junction of your forces (with Pemberton’s) and defeat of the enemy.” Davis then wired Pemberton: “Sympathizing with you for the reverse sustained.”

As Davis worked to get reinforcements to Johnston and Pemberton, a response came from General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma: “Sent 3,500 with the General (Johnston); 3 batteries of artillery and 2,000 cavalry since; will dispatch 6,000 more immediately.” Davis replied, “Your answer is in the spirit of patriotism heretofore manifested by you. The need is sore, but you must not forget your own necessities.”

The next day, Davis expressed confidence to Johnston that Pemberton would hold Vicksburg, “but the disparity of numbers renders prolonged defence dangerous. I hope you will soon be able to break the investment, make a junction and carry in munitions.”

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

That same day, Grant directed his Federals to start digging trenches and building earthworks of their own to lay siege to Vicksburg. Grant called on his Memphis garrison to join the siege, and soon his army swelled from 45,000 men to 70,000. He assigned part of his force to guard against any attempt by Johnston to break through the siege lines and rescue Pemberton.

Grant had previously promised to send reinforcements to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf confronting Port Hudson, down the Mississippi from Vicksburg. But now Grant rejected Banks’s plea to send him 10,000 men because Banks no longer faced a serious threat from the Confederates either at Port Hudson or operating in western Louisiana.

Grant submitted his report on his most recent defeat against Pemberton’s defenses. This report reflected his growing dissatisfaction with Major General John A. McClernand as XIII Corps commander:

“I attempted to carry the place by storm on the 22d but was unsuccessful. Our troops were not repulsed from any point but simply failed to enter the works of the enemy… The whole loss for the day will probably reach 1,500 killed and wounded. General McClernand’s dispatches misled me as to the real state of facts, and caused much of this loss. He is entirely unfit for the position of corps commander, both on the march and on the battlefield. Looking after his corps gives me more labor and infinitely more uneasiness than all the remainder of my department.”

Grant assured General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “The enemy are now undoubtedly in our grasp. The fall of Vicksburg and capture of most of the garrison can only be a question of time.” President Abraham Lincoln fully supported Grant’s efforts. When someone criticized Grant’s recent defeats, Lincoln said, “Whether Gen. Grant shall or shall not consummate the capture of Vicksburg, his campaign from the beginning of this month up to the 22nd day of it, is one of the most brilliant in the world.”

By the 25th, Grant still had not requested a truce to bury his dead or collect his wounded outside the Confederate works. Military tradition stipulated that the defeated commander must request a truce from the victor to tend to casualties, but Grant would not admit defeat. Pemberton finally sent a messenger to Grant’s headquarters:

“Two days having elapsed since your dead and wounded have been lying in our front, and as yet no disposition on your part of a desire to remove them being exhibited, in the name of humanity I have the honor to propose a cessation of hostilities for two hours and a half, that you may be enabled to remove your dead and dying men. If you can not do this, on notifications from you that hostilities will be suspended on your part of the time specified, I will endeavor to have the dead buried and the wounded cared for.”

Grant “consented” to the request, and Federal burial parties came out under white flags at 6 p.m. to inter the corpses of their comrades. All firing on both sides stopped, as opposing soldiers came out to confer with each other and trade items such as tobacco, coffee, and newspapers.

On the Confederate side, Davis informed Pemberton, “Bragg is sending a division; when it comes, I will move to you.” Davis then wrote General Robert E. Lee in Virginia, “Pemberton is stoutly defending the entrenchments at Vicksburg, and Johnston has an army outside, which I suppose will be able to raise the siege, and combined with Pemberton’s forces may win a victory.” On the 29th, Pemberton notified Johnston that his army could not escape Vicksburg. Two of the eight roads leading out of town remained open, but Grant soon sealed them with incoming Federals.

Meanwhile, Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron continued its invaluable support of Grant’s army. Gunboats on the Yazoo River began moving up the Sunflower River to destroy supplies earmarked for the Vicksburg defenders. Colonel Alfred W. Ellet’s Federal rams patrolling the Mississippi River burned Austin, Mississippi, after residents reported the Federals’ movements to the Confederates.

Porter suffered a setback on the 28th, when the U.S.S. Cincinnati under Lieutenant George M. Bache was destroyed while supporting Major General William T. Sherman’s assault on Fort Hill, the westernmost Confederate strong point on the Mississippi. Both Grant and Sherman thought the fort could be easily captured because the Confederates had moved their batteries to weaker points covering the land. They were wrong.

Bache started the Cincinnati downstream toward the fort at 7 a.m. As the vessel turned to fight the strong downstream current, Confederate artillerists directed plunging fire on her unarmored stern. The ship took multiple hits from a “Whistling Dick,” or a smoothbore cannon outfitted by Confederates to be rifled; this conversion caused shells to fire erratically and produce a whistling sound.

The Cincinnati sank in 20 feet of water around 10 a.m.; 13 men drowned and another 19 were killed or wounded by enemy fire. Surviving crewmen nailed the flags to the mast as the vessel went down. This was the second time the Cincinnati had been sunk; she also went down in the Battle of Plum Run Bend just over a year ago. Federals later raised her and returned her to service a third time.

The day after the Cincinnati was sunk, Porter directed the crews of his flotilla that–

“… it will be the duty of the commander of every vessel to fire on people working on the enemy’s batteries, to have officers on shore examining the heights, and not to have it said that the enemy put up batteries in sight of them and they did nothing to prevent it.”

Porter next began supporting Federal efforts to clear Confederates between the Yazoo and Big Black rivers. Grant hoped to secure the Mississippi Central Railroad bridge, which was used to supply the Confederates in Vicksburg. Federal gunboats rescued troops cut off from their main force at Perkins Landing, and Porter loaned Sherman two naval howitzers for his men to use on land. All these efforts helped strengthen the siege of Vicksburg going into June.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 368-69; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18569, 18728; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 288-90; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9440; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 385-88; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 301-03; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 134, 136-40; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 357-59; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 633; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 167; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 238, 501; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 820; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q263

The Second Battle of Vicksburg

May 22, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant resolved to send his Federals against the Confederate defenses outside Vicksburg once more.

Maj Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

After sustaining a sharp defeat while trying to penetrate the Vicksburg defenses on the 19th, Grant conferred with his corps commanders (Major Generals William T. Sherman, James B. McPherson, and John A. McClernand) on the morning of the 20th and ordered a careful reconnaissance of the Confederate positions before attacking again. Grant told his commanders to spend the next two days preparing “for a renewed assault on the 22d, simultaneously, at 10 a.m.” Unlike the disjointed attack of the 19th, the upcoming assault was to be closely coordinated.

General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, continued working to relieve Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederate army trapped in Vicksburg. Johnston soon assembled about 23,000 troops in northern Mississippi, but that was not enough to confront Grant’s army, which was growing as Grant pulled resources from various posts in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee.

Johnston wrote the Confederate commander at Port Hudson, Major General Franklin Gardner, that Port Hudson was “no longer valuable,” and therefore “all the troops in the department should be concentrated as soon as possible.” But by the time the message reached Gardner, his troops were being surrounded by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf on land and Federal naval forces on the Mississippi.

Meanwhile, Confederates in Vicksburg faced a continuous artillery bombardment, as well as the danger of being killed by sharpshooters waiting for anyone to rise above the breastworks. Pemberton wrote Johnston, “At present, our main necessity is musket caps. Can you send them to me by hands of couriers or citizens?” This indicated that Pemberton’s supply lines had been cut, making it only a matter of time before his army was doomed if Johnston did not rescue him or he did not break through the Federal lines.

On the 21st, a Federal gunboat flotilla led by Commander James Grimes forced Confederates to abandon Yazoo City. Grimes led the vessels from Haynes’s Bluff and destroyed a Confederate navy yard, along with several tooling shops and boats. The Federals destroyed three warships under constructions, including “a monster, 310 feet long and 70 beam… she would have given us much trouble.” Outside Vicksburg, Grant’s Federals continued entrenching around Vicksburg in preparation for their attack the next day.

The Federals opened a massive artillery barrage at 6 a.m. on the 22nd, as 200 guns on land joined 100 naval guns on the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. Confederate return fire scored several hits on the river fleet, as a master’s mate on Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s flagship wrote, “It is useless to try to remember the different times the vessels were hit.” But none of the gunboats were seriously damaged.

After a four-hour bombardment, Federal troops from all three corps began advancing in the first-ever assault coordinated by synchronized watches (done because the signal guns could not be heard above the artillery barrage). Spread across a three-mile front, the men struggled through the dense brush and deep ravines with orders not to fire until they entered the Confederate works.

When the Federals came within range, Confederate artillerists opened fire with every gun they had, pouring grape and canister into their lines. Then the Confederate infantry, “rising in the trenches, poured into their ranks volley after volley with so deadly an effect that, leaving the ground literally covered in some places with their dead and wounded, they precipitately retreated.”

Fighting at Vicksburg | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federal charge devolved into mass confusion like the assault three days before. Men of Sherman’s corps temporarily seized one area of trenches but were quickly repelled. Grant was about to call off the assault when McClernand insisted that his men could break through the Railroad Redoubt with another charge. Though skeptical, Grant ordered the three corps to renew the attack around 3 p.m., with Sherman advancing on the right and one of McPherson’s divisions supporting McClernand on the left.

Just as Grant feared, the assault failed. Sherman watched the carnage and told an aide, “This is murder. Order those troops back.” The Federal survivors pulled back all along the line. This was the bloodiest engagement of Grant’s campaign. He sustained 3,199 casualties (502 killed, 2,550 wounded, and 147 missing), while the Confederates lost less than 500 men. Sherman reported to Grant, “We have had a hard day’s work, and all are exhausted.” Grant notified General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“Vicksburg is now completely invested… Today an attempt was made to carry the City by assault, but was not entirely successful. We hold possession however of some of the enemy’s forts and have skirmishers close under all of them. Our loss was not severe.”

Grant later expressed regret for ordering the second assault, which “only served to increase our casualties without giving any benefit.” He had ordered it based on McClernand’s exaggerated claims of success. This added more tension to the already tense relationship between McClernand and Grant.

Grant had resisted the idea of besieging Vicksburg because capturing the city could take months. But he finally realized that no attacking force could penetrate such strong defenses, and starving the enemy into submission was the only way to win. Grant informed Admiral Porter, “I now find the position of the enemy so strong that I shall be compelled to regularly besiege the city.” He announced to his officers that night, “We’ll have to dig our way in.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 368; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 320; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18605; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 286; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 383, 386; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 300-01; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 127, 130-32, 136-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 356-57; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 632; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 166; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

Port Hudson: Federals Close the Escape Route

May 21, 1863 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf finally began advancing on Port Hudson, Louisiana, after conducting a series of ancillary operations.

Port Hudson, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi besides Vicksburg, was located on a sharp bend in the river about 147 miles above New Orleans and 22 miles above Baton Rouge. The heavy guns defending Port Hudson had nearly destroyed Rear Admiral David G. Farragut’s Federal warships as they tried passing the stronghold.

Major General Nathaniel P. Banks | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Since then, Banks had turned away from Port Hudson and instead tried gaining control of the Red River, the principal waterway that Confederates used to transport supplies from the west. Federal General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck called these movements of “secondary importance,” and the Lincoln administration had been pressuring Banks to turn his attention back to Port Hudson.

Banks argued that he could not advance on the stronghold until he received the reinforcements that Major General Ulysses S. Grant had promised him. But now that Grant had invested Vicksburg, he could not send Banks any men. Banks finally began arranging to confront Port Hudson when he received word that the Confederate garrison had been weakened by the transfer of some troops to Vicksburg.

Federal mortars began bombarding Port Hudson on May 8. Five days later, Banks requested that the gunboats stay above Port Hudson to support his army. Banks feared that without the gunboats, Confederate supplies would continue flowing west from the Red River, across the Mississippi, to Vicksburg.

Banks sent 2,000 wagons filled with captured supplies south and began moving out of Alexandria on the 14th. The 3rd Louisiana Native Guards, a black regiment, began building bridges for the Federals. Banks planned a two-pronged advance on Port Hudson, with two divisions approaching from Baton Rouge to the south and three divisions approaching from Bayou Sara to the northwest.

As Banks prepared to move, Confederate cavalry raided Federals on the west bank of the Mississippi, taking prisoners and large amounts of supplies that Banks planned to use for his campaign. Banks continued preparing nonetheless. Farragut, commanding the Federal naval forces supporting Banks, wrote to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“We are again about to attack Port Hudson. General Banks, supported by the Hartford, Albatross and some of the small gunboats, will attack from above, landing probably at Bayou Sara, while General (Christopher) Augur will march up from Baton Rouge and will attack the place from below… my vessels are pretty well used up, but they must work as long as they can.”

Meanwhile, General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, saw that the Confederate armies defending Vicksburg and Port Hudson were in danger of being destroyed by the Federals approaching them. Johnston sent an urgent message to Major General Franklin Gardner, commanding the Confederates at Port Hudson, on the 19th:

“Evacuate Port Hudson forthwith, and move with your troops toward Jackson to join other troops which I am uniting. Bring all the fieldpieces that you have, with their ammunition and means of transportation. Heavy guns and their ammunition had better be destroyed, as well as the other property you may be unable to remove.”

In the two days it took Johnston’s message to reach him, Gardner reported that he had an “aggregate present” of 5,715 in three brigades, as well as roughly 1,000 artillerymen, to face Banks’s 30,000 Federals. Gardner positioned his men behind defensive works and fortifications. Three Confederate batteries lined a bluff along the river. Above them was a marsh providing a natural defense, and Confederates lined the land side with four and a half miles of entrenchments and rifle pits.

Gardner dispatched part of his force to stop the Federal advance from Bayou Sara, and then another part to stop Augur’s advance from Baton Rouge. But after a heavy skirmish with Augur’s Federals, the Confederates had to retreat due to low ammunition. A running fight ensued, with the Federals chasing the Confederates back to Port Hudson and clearing the road for the rest of Banks’s men to arrive. Gardner’s last escape route was closed.

Gardner strengthened defenses at Port Hudson as he told his men, “The enemy are coming, but mark you, many a one will get to hell before he does to Port Hudson.” He finally received Johnston’s order to evacuate and recalled that the last time Johnston ordered him to leave, President Jefferson Davis ordered him to “return to Port Hudson with 2,000 troops and hold it to the last.”

And now, with Banks approaching, Gardner could not leave even if he wanted. He replied, “Positive information that the enemy has a large force, and is moving down to cross at Bayou Sara against this place. His whole force from Baton Rouge is in my front. I am very weak and should be rapidly re-enforced.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18700; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 283-86; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 394, 396; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 294, 296-98, 300; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 101-05; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 353, 355-56

The Reorganized Army of Northern Virginia

May 20, 1863 – General Robert E. Lee submitted a request to the Davis administration to reorganize his Confederate army before launching his second northern invasion.

Gen Robert E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Confederate soldiers cheered as Lee returned to the army on the Rappahannock River on the 18th. From his old Hamilton’s Crossing headquarters, Lee began developing plans to invade the North. Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Lee’s most trusted corps commander, argued that the invasion should be offensive in strategy but defensive in tactics. When Lee did not directly object, Longstreet began preparing his corps as if Lee had agreed.

The Army of Northern Virginia had 13,000 fewer men after the Battle of Chancellorsville. These heavy losses, especially that of Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, compelled Lee to reorganize almost the entire army. Longstreet’s First Corps remained intact, but Major General Richard Ewell took Jackson’s place at the head of the Second Corps.

Ewell had recently returned to the army since last August, when he lost a leg at the Battle of Second Bull Run. He had served under Jackson during the famed Shenandoah Valley campaign, and Jackson had once recommended Ewell to succeed him. Ewell had picked up some eccentricities since his wounding, but Lee honored Jackson’s recommendation nonetheless. Major General A.P. Hill, Jackson’s other top lieutenant, took command of a new Third Corps. Hill had commanded the largest unit in Jackson’s corps, the famed Light Division.

Lee had considered giving Major General Jeb Stuart, the army cavalry commander, an infantry corps command due to his “great energy, promptness, and intelligence” at Chancellorsville, having “conducted the operations on the left with distinguished capacity and vigor.” However, if the army was going to invade Pennsylvania, Lee needed Stuart to continue leading the cavalry in skillfully providing intelligence and reconnaissance.

By the end of May, President Jefferson Davis approved Lee’s reorganization structure:

  • Longstreet commanded the First Corps
  • Ewell commanded the Second Corps
  • Hill commanded the Third Corps
  • Stuart commanded the cavalry corps, consisting of four brigades

The previous structure had consisted of two corps with four divisions each. This new structure consisted of three corps with three divisions each. Both Ewell and Hill received promotions to lieutenant general. This new Army of Northern Virginia would be ready to conduct offensive operations by early June.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 388; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Clark, Champ, Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 14; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 17857-65; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 289; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 433-34; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 303; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 5606-18, 5660-72; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 360; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 648; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 169

Lincoln Banishes Vallandigham

May 19, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln directed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to banish former Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham to the South for voicing anti-war views that the administration considered dangerous.

Former U.S. Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Vallandigham had been an outspoken opponent of Lincoln and the war since the conflict began. He was a prominent leader of the “Peace” Democrats, or “Copperheads,” in Ohio, where he had narrowly lost his congressional seat due to Republicans redrawing his district’s boundaries.

On May 1, Vallandigham delivered a speech to thousands of spectators at a party rally in Mount Vernon. He asserted that peace with the South could be negotiated, but Lincoln and his Republican Party refused to negotiate. This, Vallandigham said, was because they no longer sought to preserve the Union, but rather to free slaves and enslave whites by destroying civil liberties.

Vallandigham declared that the war would end only if soldiers began deserting in droves and the people hurled “King Lincoln from his throne.” He warned pro-war New Englanders that if they continued supporting the conflict, western states might secede and rejoin the South.

Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Federal Department of the Ohio, had sent two staff members to listen to Vallandigham’s speech. After receiving their report on what the former congressman said, Burnside directed his aide-de-camp to take a company of Federal soldiers aboard a special train and arrest Vallandigham at his Dayton home.

At 2:30 a.m. on the 5th, the troops broke down Vallandigham’s door and pulled him out of bed amidst the screams of his wife and sister-in-law. The Federals dragged Vallandigham to the waiting railcar, which took him to Burnside’s headquarters at Cincinnati, where he was jailed.

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The Federals charged Vallandigham with violating Burnside’s General Order No. 38, issued on April 13. The order stated that “the habit of declaring sympathy for the enemy will not be allowed in this department,” and anyone committing such “treason, expressed or implied,” would be seized and brought before a military tribunal.

Burnside claimed he had the authority to enforce this order based on Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus last September, under which anyone expressing “disloyalty” or discouraging support for the war effort could be subject to military trial, regardless of the constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and expression.

A military commission assembled on May 6 and tried Vallandigham for:

“Publicly expressing, in violation of General Orders No. 38, from Head-quarters Department of the Ohio, sympathy for those in arms against the Government of the United States, and declaring disloyal sentiments and opinions, with the object and purpose of weakening the power of the Government in its efforts to suppress an unlawful rebellion.”

According to witnesses’ testimony–

“… he addressed a large meeting of citizens at Mount Vernon, and did utter sentiments in words, or in effect, as follows: declaring the present war ‘a wicked, cruel, and unnecessary war’; ‘a war not being waged for the preservation of the Union’; ‘a war for the purpose of crushing out liberty and creating a despotism’; ‘a war for the freedom of the blacks and the enslavement of the whites’; stating that, ‘if the Administration had so wished, the war could have been honorably terminated months ago’; characterizing the (Burnside’s) military order ‘as a base usurpation of arbitrary authority’; declaring ‘that he was at all times and upon all occasions resolved to do what he could to defeat the attempts now made to build up a monarchy upon the ruins of our free government.’”

Vallandigham refused to enter a plea, arguing that a military tribunal had no authority where civilian courts functioned. The commissioners convicted Vallandigham the next day, but they expressed reluctance to execute him by firing squad. They ultimately recommended sending him to confinement at Fort Warren, Massachusetts, for two years or “during the continuance of the war.” Burnside approved the sentence, declaring that speeches such as Vallandigham’s were “weakening the power of the Government (to put down) an unlawful rebellion.”

Vallandigham’s conviction sparked protests throughout the North. Democrats and even some Republicans expressed outrage that someone could be thrown in prison for simply delivering a speech, and nearly every member of President Lincoln’s cabinet opposed the action. Nevertheless, Lincoln gave Burnside his “kind assurance of support” after learning of Vallandigham’s conviction in a newspaper.

When the Chicago Times backed Vallandigham and attacked the Lincoln administration, Burnside closed the newspaper down. An outraged mob burned the office of the Dayton Journal, the Republican newspaper in Vallandigham’s home town.

The pro-Democrat New York Atlas declared that “the tyranny of military despotism” displayed by Vallandigham’s conviction proved “the weakness, folly, oppression, mismanagement, and general wickedness of the (administration).” The New York Herald feared this was only the first of “a series of fatal steps which must terminate at last in bloody anarchy.”

Another Democrat noted that Vallandigham’s vocal opposition to the war was mild compared to then-Congressman Lincoln’s blistering speech in the House of Representatives condemning President James K. Polk and the Mexican War in 1849. New York Governor Horatio Seymour, a prominent pro-war Democrat whose support the Lincoln administration needed, issued a statement on the incident:

“The transaction involved a series of offenses against our most sacred rights. It interfered with the freedom of speech; it violated our rights to be secure in our homes against unreasonable searches and seizures; it pronounced sentence without a trial, save one which was a mockery, which insulted as well as wronged. The perpetrators now seek to impose punishment, not for an offense against law, but for a disregard of an invalid order, put forth in utter violation of the principles of civil liberty.

“If this proceeding is approved by the Government and sanctioned by the people, it is not merely a step toward revolution, it is revolution; it will not only lead to military despotism, it establishes military despotism. If it is upheld, our liberties are overthrown. The safety of our persons, the security of our property, will hereafter depend upon the arbitrary wills of such military rulers as may be placed over us, while our constitutional guarantees will be broken down. Even now the Governors and the courts of some of the great Western States have sunk into insignificance before the despotic powers claimed and exercised by military men who have been sent into their borders.”

Losing Seymour seriously jeopardized the administration’s hopes for a political alliance between Republicans and War Democrats.

On the 16th, a protest meeting took place in Albany, New York, headed by New York Central Railroad President Erastus Corning. The attendees consisted mostly of state Democrats supportive of Governor Seymour, and they adopted resolutions calling Vallandigham’s conviction a “blow… against the spirit of our laws and Constitution,” and the end of “the liberty of speech and of the press, the right of trial by jury, the law of evidence, and the privilege of habeas corpus.” The resolutions stated that upholding the conviction would be “a fatal blow at the supremacy of law, and the authority of the State and Federal Constitutions.”

Vallandigham’s arrest and conviction raised serious questions about whether a civilian could be seized by military force for giving a speech, and whether a military court could override a civilian court by trying and convicting said civilian. Former Senator George H. Pugh of Ohio applied for a writ of habeas corpus on Vallandigham’s behalf, but Judge Humphrey H. Leavitt of the U.S. Circuit Court for the Southern District of Ohio denied it. Citing the law passed by Congress on March 3 authorizing the president to suspend habeas corpus, Leavitt ruled that the president’s war powers included arresting Vallandigham for incendiary speech and subjecting him to military trial.

Lincoln recognized the political problem of such a harsh punishment, and so he sought a compromise by publicly supporting Vallandigham’s arrest but commuting his sentence. Lincoln ordered the former congressman banished to the Confederacy, and he also directed Secretary of War Stanton to reopen the Chicago Times. Federal cavalry soon escorted Vallandigham to Tennessee and handed him over to Confederate officials, who were reluctant to take him.

Meanwhile, protests continued throughout the month. Petitions condemning the “arbitrary arrest, illegal trial, and inhuman imprisonment of Hon. C.L. Vallandigham” circulated in Ohio. New Jersey Governor Joel Parker told an audience in Newark that the conviction and deportation “were arbitrary and illegal acts. The whole proceeding was wrong in principle and dangerous in its tendency.” Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton, a Republican and Lincoln ally, alleged that the president’s actions emboldened Copperheads in his state. Despite such mass indignation, Lincoln refused Burnside’s offer to resign.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19965-76, 19978-86; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 281-82, 286, 289; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8898, 8921-31, 9361; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 632-33; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 288, 292, 299, 301, 303; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 522-24; Lincoln, Abraham, Abraham Lincoln Complete Works, Vol. Two (New York, NY: The Century Co., 1920), edited by John G. Nicolay and John Hay, p. 239; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 349, 353-55, 357-60; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 596-97; Pittman, Benn, The Trials for Treason at Indianapolis, Disclosing the Plans for Establishing a North-Western Confederacy (Cincinnati, OH: Moore, Wilstach & Baldwin, 1865), p. 253; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 775; Vallandigham, Clement Laird, The Trial Hon. Clement L. Vallandigham by a Military Commission: and the Proceedings Under His Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Ohio (Cincinnati, OH: Rickey and Carroll, 1863), p. 11, 23, 33-34, 40, 259-72; Vallandigham, James L., A Life of Clement L. Vallandigham (Baltimore, MD: Turnbull Brothers, 1872), p. 288-93; “Vallandigham Meeting in Newark,” The New York Times, 31 May 1863; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 188-89; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q263

The Battle of Vicksburg

May 18, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant followed up his overwhelming Federal victory on the Big Black River by driving toward Vicksburg, the ultimate goal of his campaign.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Federal forces crossed the Big Black using hastily built bridges and headed west toward Vicksburg. Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps, holding the north end of Grant’s line, advanced on Haynes’s Bluff, the formidable defense point north of Vicksburg that the Federals had been trying to capture since the campaign began.

Now, with the Federals coming from the land side in overwhelming numbers, the Confederates on the bluff were finally forced to evacuate on the morning of the 18th. They joined the rest of Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederate army in Vicksburg.

Sherman took the bluff around 10 a.m., where he connected with the Federal gunboats on the Yazoo River to open a supply line. Sherman told Grant, “Until this moment I never thought your expedition a success. I never could see the end clearly until now. But this is a campaign. This is a success if we never take the town.”

Meanwhile, Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps advanced on Vicksburg from the east, and Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps advanced from the southeast. Because General Joseph E. Johnston’s 20,000 Confederates still hovered in northeastern Mississippi, Grant placed the bulk of his forces in the northeast and east sectors to block any attempt by Pemberton or Johnston to join forces.

Pemberton entered Vicksburg with two demoralized divisions under Major General Carter L. Stevenson and Brigadier General John S. Bowen. They joined the other two divisions defending the city under Generals John H. Forney and Martin L. Smith. The troops had spent the previous night strengthening the city defenses, which consisted of entrenchments and breastworks surrounding Vicksburg, with both flanks anchored on the Mississippi River. The defenses were covered by 102 guns.

On the morning of the 18th, Pemberton received a message from Johnston, in “camp between Livingston and Brownsville,” responding to news of yesterday’s defeat on the Big Black:

“If Haines’s Bluff is untenable, Vicksburg is of no value and can not be held. If, therefore, you are invested in Vicksburg, you must ultimately surrender. Under such circumstances, instead of losing both troops and place, we must, if possible, save the troops. If it is not too late, evacuate Vicksburg and its dependencies, and march to the northeast.”

Pemberton called a council of war, where he shared Johnston’s message with his four division commanders and asked for advice on “the question of practicability.” President Jefferson Davis had ordered Pemberton to hold Vicksburg at all costs, but Grant was now closing in on three sides. Federal gunboats covered the fourth side, and they began bombarding the city that day. After consulting with his officers, Pemberton replied to Johnston:

“… the opinion was unanimously expressed that it was impossible to withdraw the army from this position with such morale and material as to be of further service to the Confederacy. I have decided to hold Vicksburg as long as possible, with the firm hope that the Government may yet be able to assist me in keeping this obstruction to the enemy’s free navigation of the Mississippi River. I still conceive it to be the most important point in the Confederacy.”

Grant, having destroyed any hope Pemberton had to join forces with Johnston, wanted to attack the Vicksburg defenses before Johnston was reinforced enough to try breaking Pemberton out. As Federal troops surrounded the defense perimeter, Grant planned to drive through the seemingly demoralized Confederates the next day and take the city.

The “general charge of all the corps along the whole line” was ordered to begin at 2 p.m. on the 19th. Sherman’s corps was ready to attack on time, but McPherson and McClernand were slowed by dense underbrush and deep ravines. Thus, Grant’s plan for a simultaneous assault by all three corps began with just Sherman’s men attacking. They approached Stockade Redan and faced defenses that required a ladder to reach. Already exhausted from marching across the uneven terrain, the Federals were repulsed.

McPherson and McClernand were never able to fully commit their corps to the attack, and those who managed to get close to the defenses were quickly halted by heavy fire. Grant suspended the attack, and the Federals pinned down at the foot of the enemy works fell back under cover of darkness.

The Federals sustained 942 casualties, while the Confederates lost less than 200 men. The Confederate defenses proved to be the strongest works of the war to date, giving the defenders a nearly insurmountable advantage over attackers. Sherman wrote his wife, “This is a death struggle, and will be terrible.”

This was the first time during the campaign that Grant’s army had failed to achieve an objective. Grant, refusing to believe that the defenses could not be taken, planned to strike again before Johnston could rescue Pemberton. Johnston wrote Pemberton that day, “I am trying to gather a force which may attempt to relieve you. Hold out.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 367-68; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 320; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18542-51, 18575-89, 18598; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 286; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 379-81, 383, 413; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 299; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 126-27, 136-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 354-55; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 632; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84