Tag Archives: Port Hudson Campaign

From Edwin Fay, Minden Rangers

Letter from Sergeant Edwin Fay of the Minden Rangers

Camp 4 miles in rear Mechanicsburg

July 10, 1863

Mississippi State Flag | Image Credit: AllFlagsWorld.com

MY OWN DEAR WIFE:

I wrote you a long letter yesterday but on sober reflection last night while all the Camps were wrapped in sleep I concluded that it was too wicked to send you and I have concluded this morning to write again. I have little indeed to write as news is scarce in this part of the Country. Vicksburg as you will already have heard has been surrendered to the enemy and 17,500 brave Southern men have laid down their arms and given up the stronghold, the key of the Confederacy. It is almost impossible to tell the consequences but if Grant is wise Port Hudson will fall in less than a week and then Mobile, Selma, Montgomery, Atlanta, Augusta, Charleston. There is one escape and I am almost in hopes that Grant will pursue Johnston to Jackson as we learned yesterday that they were skirmishing at Clinton halfway between Jackson and Vicksburg. If we can keep them from Port Hudson till we can get there we may prevent such a series of disasters. God only knows what will be the fate of the Confederacy. I believe that as a power of the Earth it is conquered, but do not near believe the people are subjugated. I have little hope for the future.

But as an offset we hear of the total discomfiture of the Yankee Army in Maryland 12 miles from Baltimore at the Relay House some 30 miles north of Washington, having killed 4 Brig Gen’ls and severely wounded Col. Mead, the successor of Hooker in command of the largest army on the Planet. Washington will doubtless be captured. Such being the case I have a faint hope that a compromise of some kind will be effected which may result in Peace. This is a faint hope but drowning men will catch at straws, you know. The Yankee troops were told that when Vicksburg was taken they would be paid off, discharged, and go home, that peace would be made at once. Poor deluded, miserable wretches to believe a lie. How many thousands of their bones will bleach beneath a Southern sun ere they will see the dawn of peace. If Johnston whips Grant, as he will if he can fight him outside his entrenchments, the Yankee glory will be shortlived. God grant that he may get the opportunity.

Johnston was moving to relieve Pemberton and the time of the attack was to have been July 7th and Pemberton surrendered on the 4th, alleging starvation as the cause. The 10th was agreed upon and the blame rests on Pemberton. Thus we have suffered from Southern men of Northern birth. New Orleans, Vicksburg, and the Confederacy all gone unless by a direct interposition of Providence. We hear that New Orleans is in our hands but it won’t be long if Grant moves down the River. But a truce to War Matters, though a word more. I very much fear you will be visited by the Vandals before long, for I know there is a lack of ammunition on the west side of the river and if so you may look for me home. I may come anyhow. I can’t tell you, you need not be surprised to see me at almost any time. I feel sad to think that all my sufferings and toils are all lost to the Country all in vain. My first allegiance is to my family, my second to my Country.

Mr. Minchew came last Friday but he brought me no letter from you. Others had received letters from Minden by mail since Caufield’s return there, some as late as 19th but none for me and you can imagine how I felt. Tuesday I got yours of the 16th inst. and you don’t know how rejoiced I was to get it, but at the same time I thought it was very tame and cool considering I had not had a letter for nearly two months…

If some terms of accommodation are not come to between the contending powers, this will be a war of extermination. I cannot keep from the War Theme, my pen is like Anacreon’s lyre only its strains instead of those of Cupid belong rather to Mars bristling with his helmet and shield. I wish you to keep that pistol loaded and capped and if the Yankees come to Minden to wear it on your person, never be without it and the first one that dares insult you blow his brains out. This you must do or you are not the woman I married…

The report has just come in that Bragg has fallen back to the Tenn. River, Rosecrans having whipped him or rather flanked him and caused him to fall back. If it had not been for Bragg’s incompetency we would have held possession of all of Ky. and Tenn. We have been thoroughly blessed with incompetents in this Western Dept. Jeff Davis thinks Richmond is Heaven or nearly so while the loss of Vicksburg is incomparably greater than 40 such cities as Richmond, yet the latter has been surrendered, the former held…

But I must close my letter, I know it is not interesting but it is the best I can do under the circumstances. I am glad to hear that you have so much flour. I wish we could get some, for this cornbread will sour in 12 hours and we are required to keep 2 days’ rations on hand all the time. But I must write to Mother a hasty note to let her know I have not been surrendered at Vicksburg, for she will worry if she does not hear. I want to write to Spencer too before long as I expect he is now in Chattanooga. I am tired of this eternal state of suspense. Whatever is to be done I want it done quickly. My love to your Mother, Father and Sisters. What did your Father go to Shreveport for? Don’t let him neglect that matter of Spencer’s. Good Bye, dearest.

Your husband,

E.H. FAY

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Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 156-60

 

The Fall of Port Hudson

July 9, 1863 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf captured the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, opening the waterway to Federal commerce and cutting the Confederacy in two.

The Confederates at Port Hudson, Louisiana, had been under siege for six weeks, enduring an almost constant bombardment from both land and water. On the 1st, the Federal mortar flotilla commander on the U.S.S. Essex reported to Rear Admiral David G. Farragut: “From the 23 of May to the 26 of June… we have fired from this vessel 738 shells and from the mortar vessels an aggregate of 2800 XIII-inch shells.”

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

Banks stayed focused on strangling Port Hudson into submission despite more panicked messages from Brigadier General William Emory, commanding the Federal occupation forces at New Orleans. Emory feared that Major General Richard Taylor would attack him with 13,000 Confederates, and he wrote Banks on the 4th, “It is a choice between Port Hudson and New Orleans. You can only save this city by sending me reinforcements immediately and at any cost.”

By that time, Taylor’s forces were at Thibodaux and Bayou des Allemands, and Taylor had no immediate plans to attack New Orleans. But he hoped to cause enough disorder in western Louisiana to force Banks to leave Port Hudson and confront him. Banks would not take the bait.

During the siege, Banks directed Federal sappers to dig tunnels under the Confederate defenses. Banks planned to detonate heavy mines in the tunnels and then attack with 1,000 troops, but most Federals considered it foolish. In fact, many questioned Banks’s competence as a commander. He had pushed the Confederates to the brink of surrender, but he had also sacrificed many Federal lives in costly failed attacks. Disease had killed or incapacitated thousands of others. Only news of Vicksburg’s surrender, which arrived on the 7th, revived the sagging Federal morale.

Federal reinforcements began arriving from Vicksburg that day, and Major General Franklin Gardner, commanding the Confederates in Port Hudson, learned that night that the city had fallen. He had hoped General Joseph E. Johnston’s “Army of Relief” would rescue his garrison after breaking the siege of Vicksburg, but this news only added to Confederate demoralization already caused by the bombardment and dwindling rations.

Still, some Confederates believed that the Federals were just trying to dishearten them by falsely claiming that Vicksburg had fallen. On the 8th, Gardner sent a courier under a flag of truce to ask Banks to confirm the rumors. When Banks supplied sufficient evidence to prove the claim, Gardner requested surrender terms. His Confederates had withstood nearly seven weeks under siege, during which time they repelled three major assaults and were nearly starved to death. Gardner now saw that any further resistance was futile.

Federal and Confederate officers met between the lines at 9 a.m. Under the temporary ceasefire, soldiers on both sides came out of their trenches and socialized. Some Confederates, knowing they would be surrendered, took the opportunity to sneak through the Federal lines and desert. The surrender agreement was finalized by 2 p.m., with a formal ceremony taking place the next day.

The surrender was unconditional, but Banks agreed to parole the 5,935 soldiers if they pledged not to take up arms against the Federals until properly exchanged. The 405 officers were sent to New Orleans to be either exchanged or sent to a northern prisoner of war camp.

The Confederate troops stood at attention as the Federals marched into their fortifications at 7 a.m. on the 9th. A Federal band played “Yankee Doodle” as Gardner ordered his men to lay their arms on the ground. Banks designated Brigadier General George L. Andrews to accept Gardner’s surrender. Gardner handed Andrews his sword, but Andrews returned it to Gardner “in recognition of the heroic defense” of Port Hudson.

A band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” as Federals raised the U.S. flag over the works. The tune was followed by “Dixie.” The Confederates marched out, leaving the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi to Federal occupation forces. The Federals toured the enemy works as the Confederates received their paroles on the 10th.

The Federals sustained nearly 4,363 battle casualties during the siege (708 killed, 3,336 wounded, and 319 missing), along with another 4,500 due to various diseases or sunstroke. The Confederates lost about 7,200, including the 6,340 officers and men surrendered. The Federals also seized 51 cannon and 7,500 stands of arms. Despite his questionable leadership, Banks stated, “The siege will be remembered not only for its important results, but also for the manner in which it has been conducted.”

Farragut notified Rear Admiral David D. Porter, who had led the naval forces against Vicksburg, that the Federal navy now controlled the entire length of the Mississippi, all the way south to the Gulf of Mexico. Farragut planned to return to the Gulf Blockading Squadron. He wrote his wife about the campaign: “My last dash past Port Hudson (in March) was the best thing I ever did, except taking New Orleans. It assisted materially in the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson.”

On the 16th, the unarmed cargo steamer Imperial docked at New Orleans bearing the U.S. flag after leaving St. Louis eight days before. The Imperial was the first vessel to travel between these two port cities in over two years. However, the resumption of river commerce soon proved difficult because Confederate guerrillas continued attacking Federal shipping from various points along the riverbanks.

Banks soon shifted his attention to ridding western Louisiana of Major General Richard Taylor’s Confederates. President Jefferson Davis wrote Johnston, desperately expressing hope that the Federals “may yet be crushed and the late disaster be repaired by a concentration of all forces.” This hope, like further Confederate resistance in the Western Theater, was becoming increasingly dim.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 68; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 298, 304-06; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 599-600, 614-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 324, 326; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 159, 168; 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. 381-82, 386-87; 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; 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. 162; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 298; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 596-97; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 242

The Second Battle of Port Hudson

June 14, 1863 – Major General Nathaniel P. Banks launched another doomed assault on the Confederate defenses at Port Hudson, Louisiana, but the Federal siege continued.

The Lincoln administration had long expected Banks and Major General Ulysses S. Grant to join forces and capture both Vicksburg and Port Hudson together. However, the slow trickle of information from the west indicated that the two commanders were conducting separate operations, with Grant besieging Vicksburg and Banks besieging Port Hudson. General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck finally wrote Banks, the ranking commander, asking him to confirm this revelation:

“The newspapers state that your forces are moving on Port Hudson instead of co-operating with General Grant, leaving the latter to fight both (General Joseph E.) Johnston and (Lieutenant General John C.) Pemberton. As this is so contrary to all your instructions, and so opposed to military principles, I can hardly believe it true.”

This was confirmed to be true later that day when Halleck received a bundle of letters from Banks indicating that he was indeed advancing southeast from Alexandria to attack Port Hudson. Banks responded to Halleck’s reprimand the next day:

“If I defend New Orleans and its adjacent territory, the enemy will go against Grant. If I go with a force sufficient to aid him (bypassing Port Hudson), my rear will be seriously threatened. My force is not large enough to do both. Under these circumstances, my only course seems to be to carry this post as soon as possible, and then to join General Grant…”

Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf spent the next week strengthening its siege lines surrounding Major General Franklin Gardner’s Confederates at Port Hudson. Banks had enjoyed strong naval support from the Mississippi River since his campaign began, but Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, commanding the naval fleet, warned him on the 11th that “we have been bombarding this place for five weeks, and we are now upon our last 500 shells, so that it will not be in my power to bombard more than three or four hours each night, at intervals of five minutes…”

During this time, Confederate deserters coming into the Federal lines claimed their former comrades had “about five days’ beef” left to eat, and although there was “plenty of peas, plenty of corn,” there was “no more meal.” Banks decided to use the remaining naval ammunition to launch a massive bombardment and then, if the Confederates refused to surrender, overrun their supposedly weakened defenses.

Federal bombardment of Port Hudson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The gunboats began the bombardment on the 13th, firing a round per second for an hour. The Confederates, also low on ammunition, offered little response. When the firing stopped, Banks sent a message to Gardner under a flag of truce: “Respect for the usages of war, and a desire to avoid unnecessary sacrifice on life, impose on me the necessity of formally demanding the surrender of the garrison at Port Hudson…”

Gardner shared the message with his commanders and said, “What do you think? Why, Banks has notified me that to avoid unnecessary slaughter he demands the immediate surrender of my forces.” Gardner sent his reply: “Your note of this date has just been handed to me, and in reply I have to state that my duty requires me to defend this position, and therefore I decline to surrender.” When Banks read Gardner’s response, he ordered a resumption of the massive bombardment and made plans to launch a general assault the next day.

At 1 a.m. Banks issued orders for what was to be a coordinated attack by all his forces. The Federals advanced at 4 a.m., but the vague instructions and heavy fog quickly undermined the coordination. Brigadier General Cuvier Grover’s men hit the Confederate defenses first, but stiff resistance and harsh terrain drove them back. Brigadier General Halbert E. Paine’s division struck Priest Cap and made a temporary breakthrough before being repulsed with heavy losses, including Paine, who lost a leg.

Major General Christopher C. Augur’s division next assaulted the enemy center, and then another Federal attack took place on the southern trenches. Both piecemeal assaults were easily repulsed, and the Federals commanders decided that any further attacks would be futile.

The Federals fell back to their original positions, having suffered one of the worst defeats of the war. They sustained 1,792 casualties (203 killed, 1,401 wounded, and 188 missing) while the Confederates lost just 47 men (22 killed and 25 wounded). Since the Federals had arrived at Port Hudson, nearly 11,000 men had dropped from the ranks, with 4,000 killed in combat and another 7,000 dead or suffering from various diseases.

The next morning, Banks announced to his troops, “One more advance and they are ours!” But the sharp defeat the previous day had demoralized them, and the commanders refused to try another assault. Thus, the siege continued without Banks’s “one more advance.”

Confederate resistance remained stubborn, but the Federals had cut their supply line, and the defenders grew weaker by the day. Troops fell out of the ranks due to illnesses such as dysentery and sunstroke, and other diseases ran rampant from drinking stagnant water and eating rats.

Major General Richard Taylor, commanding Confederate forces in western Louisiana, tried diverting Banks’s attention by threatening Donaldsonville. However, the U.S.S. Winona scattered the enemy cavalry near Plaquemine and kept Donaldsonville secure. Taylor next targeted the Federal depot at Berwick Bay, where Banks stored supplies for his planned expedition up the Teche and Red rivers after capturing Port Hudson.

Taylor advanced on the Federal garrison with 3,000 dismounted Texas cavalry, artillery, and a makeshift naval flotilla of 53 vessels. The Confederates attacked at dawn on the 23rd, hitting the Federals in both front and rear and forcing their surrender. Taylor took 1,700 prisoners, 12 guns, 5,000 stands of arms, and two locomotives pulling supply cars. His men also destroyed the Lafourche Bridge, preventing trains from going east to supply Banks at Port Hudson. Taylor estimated the value of the seized goods at $2 million, making this the most successful raid since “Stonewall” Jackson’s on Manassas Junction last August.

On the 28th, Taylor detached Brigadier General Thomas Green, who had gained fame for his victory at Valverde in the New Mexico Territory, and 800 dismounted cavalry to attack Fort Butler at Donaldsonville. The Federal garrison numbered just 225 men, but they repelled the attack with help from three gunboats. The Federals inflicted 261 casualties while losing just 24.

This stalled Taylor’s momentum, but it did nothing to calm Brigadier General William Emory, who commanded one of Banks’s divisions guarding New Orleans. Fearing that Taylor might strike him next, Emory reported to Banks:

“The railroad track at Terre Bonne is torn up. Communication with Brashear cut off. I have but 400 men in the city, and I consider the city and the public property very unsafe. The secessionists here profess to have certain information that their forces are to make an attempt on the city.”

Emory followed up five days later by stating that the approaching Confederates were “known and ascertained to be at least 9,000, and may be more… The city is quiet on the surface, but the undercurrent is in a ferment.” By month’s end, Emory’s panic had reached its peak:

“Something must be done for this city, and that quickly. It is a choice between Port Hudson and New Orleans… My information is as nearly positive as human testimony can make it that the enemy are 13,000 strong, and they are fortifying the whole country as they march from Brashear to this place, and are steadily advancing. I respectfully suggest that, unless Port Hudson is already taken, you can only save this city by sending me reinforcements immediately and at any cost.”

Banks did not heed Emory’s warnings and remained focused on his relentless siege of Port Hudson instead. Federal sappers dug a tunnel under the Confederate trenches, from which they planned to detonate explosives that would blow a hole in the enemy lines. Banks assigned 1,000 volunteers to form an elite attack force designed to exploit that breech. Near month’s end, he addressed the force:

“A little more than a month ago, you found the enemy in the open country far away from these scenes. Now he is hemmed in and surrounded. What remains is to close upon him and secure him with our grasp. We want the close hug! When you get an enemy’s head under your arm, you can pound him at your will. The hug he will never recover from until the Devil, the arch Rebel, gives him his own!”

Meanwhile, the bombardment continued throughout the month, as the Federals slowly demoralized the Confederates by starving them into submission. By the end of June, it was clear that Gardner could not hold out much longer.

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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 18674-83; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 294; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 400-04, 598-99; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 309-10, 313-14, 316; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 166; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 366, 370, 372-73; 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

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

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

Farragut Runs the Port Hudson Batteries

March 14, 1863 – Acting Rear Admiral David G. Farragut tried running his naval squadron past the Confederate batteries at Port Hudson in an effort to move up the Mississippi River to Vicksburg.

As Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals continued trying to get at Vicksburg, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf worked to capture Port Hudson, Louisiana. The effort against these two strongholds had initially been envisioned as a joint operation between Grant and Banks of the army, and Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter and Farragut of the navy. But by this month, they had become two separate and distinct operations.

In early March, Banks assembled his army at New Orleans and advanced north to Baton Rouge. This would be the launching point for his drive on Port Hudson, a fort atop a bluff facing the Mississippi, with the land side shielded by woods, undergrowth, swamps, and ravines. The Confederates at Port Hudson protected the Red River, which flowed into the Mississippi and was used to transport Confederate supplies from the west.

Banks’s army consisted of 15,000 men in three divisions. The Port Hudson garrison contained four Confederate brigades. Banks did not have the strength to attack Port Hudson directly, so he agreed to stage a demonstration in front of the fort while Farragut’s warships steamed past on their way north to Vicksburg. Getting Federal naval vessels between Port Hudson and Vicksburg could at least prevent the Confederates from using the Red River.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Farragut arrived at Baton Rouge aboard his flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, on the 12th. There he finalized plans to run past Port Hudson and join forces with Porter at Vicksburg. The Hartford would lead the effort, followed by the U.S.S. Monongahela and Richmond, with a gunboat lashed to the port (Port Hudson) side of each ship. The U.S.S. Mississippi, flagship of Commodore Matthew Perry during his historic visit to Tokyo Bay, would follow along with two gunboats and six mortar schooners.

By the 14th, Farragut was ready to send his fleet past the batteries overlooking the river. Banks’s troops had advanced within six miles of Port Hudson, but Banks had agreed to be in position to create the diversion by dawn. When Farragut opted to advance that night, Banks informed him that he could expect no army support. Farragut, believing Banks should have been there already, fumed, “He had well be in New Orleans or at Baton Rouge for the good he is doing us!” Consequently, nothing would divert the Confederates’ attention from the passing vessels.

At 9:30 p.m., the Hartford flashed two red lights below her stern, signaling the rest of the fleet to begin the run. The Federal gunboats and schooners opened fire, and the Confederates waited until they came within range to respond. Gun smoke made visibility impossible, and the Federals quickly found themselves on the wrong side of a one-sided fight. The Richmond and the gunboat lashed to her, the U.S.S. Genesee, were both knocked out, with the Richmond taking a shot in her steam plant and requiring the Genesee to pull her downriver to safety.

The Monongahela took eight shots directly through her, destroying the bridge and wounding Captain James P. McKinstry. After taking direct fire for nearly half an hour, her partner, the U.S.S. Kineo, helped pull her downriver out of the fight.

The Mississippi ran aground in a sandbar under direct fire, forcing Captain Melancthon Smith to order the crew to set her on fire and abandon ship. She exploded at 3 a.m. Survivors included Lieutenant George Dewey, conqueror of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War 35 years later. Only the Hartford and her consort, the U.S.S. Albatross, made it past the guns. The Federals suffered 112 total casualties (35 killed and 77 wounded or missing), including 64 from the Mississippi alone.

The passage of two ships made the mission partially successful, but Farragut was now separated from the rest of his fleet, which remained below Port Hudson. Unaware that all the ships except the Mississippi could be repaired and returned to action, Farragut reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles the next day, “It becomes my duty again to report disaster to my fleet.”

However, Welles applauded Farragut’s effort to get vessels between Port Hudson and Vicksburg; Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox responded that “the President thinks the importance of keeping a force of strength in this part of the river is so great that he fully approves of your proceeding.”

The Hartford and Albatross continued upriver to Natchez, Mississippi, where Federals cut the telegraph lines to Port Hudson. The ships reached Grand Gulf, Mississippi, on the night of the 18th. By that time, Banks’s Federals had returned to Baton Rouge, 20 miles below Port Hudson, looting the countryside along the way. Banks dispatched expeditions to try finding Farragut, thinking he was waiting for the army just above Port Hudson. But Farragut was now 150 miles north.

Farragut ran the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, sustaining many hits and losing eight men (two killed and six wounded). This enabled his two vessels to advance to the mouth of the Red River. They reached Warrenton, Mississippi, by the morning of the 20th. From there, he contacted Grant and Porter offering to support their operations and requesting coal for refuel. They sent a coal barge downriver past the Vicksburg batteries.

The Federals now had warships between Port Hudson and Vicksburg to stop Confederate river traffic. However, the engagement at Port Hudson proved that capturing the stronghold would need a much stronger effort from both the army and navy.

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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 18340; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 266-68; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 213-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 269-73; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 161-62; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 326, 328, 330; 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. 160-61; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 596-97

Confederates Try Salvaging the Indianola

February 25, 1863 – Confederates began trying to salvage the partially sunken U.S.S. Indianola, while the Federals tried stopping them by sending a “gunboat” down the Mississippi River to confront them.

The U.S.S. Queen of the West, now in Confederate hands, went to Vicksburg to get pumps to drain the water from the Indianola. She quickly returned to the other three ships in the Confederate fleet to report that a Federal gunboat was approaching them.

The Federals had converted an old barge into something resembling a gunboat using canvas, tar, and scrap wood that cost a total of $8.63. They installed fake paddle-wheel boxes, as well as fake casemates and barrels to resemble smokestacks. The “smokestacks” contained burning tar, which simulated the smoke. The Federals coated the ship with tar, named her the Black Terror, and put a sign on her: “Deluded People, Cave In!”

The “Black Terror” | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Confederate batteries opened fire on the Black Terror as she drifted down the Mississippi that night. Porter reported, “Never did the batteries of Vicksburg open with such a din.” The Queen, damaged from the fight with the Indianola, turned and fled downriver upon seeing the vessel, which was nearly twice as long as her. She was quickly followed by the other three Confederate ships. The unmanned fake warship grounded on a sandbar for the night.

The next day, Confederates feared that this huge new gunboat could come to save the Indianola, so they detonated explosives that destroyed the Indianola and hurried downstream. The Confederates reported, “With the exception of the wine and liquor stores of Indianola, nothing was saved. The valuable armament, the large supplies of powder, shot, and shell, are all lost.”

Braver Confederates eventually approached the Black Terror, where they discovered that it was just an empty coal barge sent down the river as a joke. An article in the Vicksburg Whig declared that raising the Indianola “would have been a small army to us. Who is to blame for this piece of folly?”

Although the Confederates missed an opportunity to add another ship to their naval fleet, by month’s end they still controlled the stretch of the Mississippi between Vicksburg and Port Hudson that included the mouth of the Red River.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 263; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 199-201; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 266; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 79; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 323-24; 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. 159-60