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Siege of Port Hudson
Part of the American Civil War
Siege of Port Hudson.png
Bird's-eye view of the Great River battery, three hundred yards from the Rebel citadel.
Hamilton, J. R., artist.
Date May 21 – July 9, 1863
Location East Baton Rouge Parish and East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana
Result Union victory
Belligerents
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders
Nathaniel P. Banks Franklin Gardner #
Strength
~30–40,000: XIX Corps, Army of the Gulf[1] ~7,500: Confederate forces, 3rd District, Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, Port Hudson[1]
Casualties and losses
~5,000 killed and wounded, ~5,000 dead of disease[1] ~750 killed and wounded, 250 dead of disease, 6,500 surrendered[1]

The Siege of Port Hudson occurred from May 21 to July 9, 1863, when Union Army troops assaulted and then surrounded the Mississippi River town of Port Hudson, Louisiana, during the American Civil War.

In cooperation with Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's offensive against Vicksburg, Mississippi, Union Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks's army moved against the Confederate stronghold at Port Hudson on the Mississippi River. On May 27, 1863, after their frontal assaults were repulsed, the Federals settled into a siege that lasted for 48 days. Banks renewed his assaults on June 14 but the defenders successfully repelled them. On July 9, 1863, after hearing of the fall of Vicksburg, the Confederate garrison of Port Hudson surrendered, opening the Mississippi River to Union navigation from its source to New Orleans.[2]

Contents

Background

From the time the American Civil War started in April 1861, both the North and South made controlling the Mississippi River a major part of their strategy. The Confederacy wanted to keep using the river to transport needed supplies; the Union wanted to stop this supply route and drive a wedge that would divide Confederate states and territories. Particularly important to the South was the stretch of the Mississippi that included the mouth of the Red River. The Red was the Confederacy's primary route for moving vital supplies between east and west: salt, cattle, and horses traveled downstream from the Trans-Mississippi West; in the opposite direction flowed men and munitions from the east.

Confederate batteries fire down onto Union gunboats on the Mississippi.

In the spring of 1862, the Union took control of New Orleans and Memphis. To make sure it could continue to use the middle section of the river, the South fortified positions at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Port Hudson, Louisiana.

In May 1863, Union land and naval forces began a campaign they hoped would give them control of the full length of the Mississippi River. One army under Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant commenced operations against the Confederacy's fortified position at Vicksburg at the northern end of the stretch of the river still in Southern hands. At about the same time, another army under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks moved against Port Hudson, which stood at the southern end. Banks's lead division encountered Confederates on May 21 at the Battle of Plains Store. By May 23, Banks's forces, which increased in strength from 30,000 to 40,000 men as the operation progressed, had surrounded the Port Hudson defenses. Banks hoped to overrun the entrenchments quickly, then take his army northward to assist Grant at Vicksburg.

Within the Confederate fortifications at Port Hudson were approximately 7,500 men. Their commander was Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner, a New Yorker by birth. His goals were to have his men defend their positions as long as possible in order to prevent Banks's troops from joining Grant, and to keep Confederate control of this part of the Mississippi.

The fighting and siege

Map of Port Hudson during the siege showing the Confederate and Union positions.
"Quaker guns" made of pine logs were mounted in a ruse to fool the Union into believing that the Confederates were much better armed at Port Hudson in 1863. Black rings were painted on the end of the logs to make the muzzles look convincing. It worked. After Farragut's two vessels passed by Port Hudson, the Union chose to never attack from the river again.

On the morning of May 27, 1863, under Maj. Gen. Banks, the Union army launched ferocious assaults against the lengthy Confederate fortifications. Among the attackers were two regiments of African-American soldiers, the 1st and 3rd Louisiana Native Guard. The attacks were uncoordinated, and the defenders easily turned them back, causing heavy Northern casualties. Andre Cailloux, a free man of color from New Orleans and the Captain of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, Company E, died heroically in this first assault. His death became a rallying cry for the recruitment of African-American soldiers. Union generals Thomas W. Sherman and Neal Dow were both seriously wounded and Col. Edward P. Chapin was killed in this attack.

Banks's troops made a second, similarly haphazard assault on June 14. Again they were repulsed, suffering even more dead and wounded soldiers, including division commander Brig. Gen. Halbert E. Paine, who fell wounded, losing a leg.

These actions constituted some of the bloodiest fighting of the Civil War. The Confederates began building their defenses in 1862, and by now had an elaborate series of earthworks. One of their officers provided the following description of the line of these barriers, which, as their name suggested, were made mainly from hard-packed dirt:

For about three-quarters of a mile from the river the line crossed a broken series of ridges, plateaus and ravines, taking advantage of high ground in some places and in others extending down a steep declivity; for the next mile and a quarter it traversed Gibbon's and Slaughter's fields where a wide level plain seemed formed on purpose for a battlefield; another quarter of a mile carried it through deep and irregular gullies, and for three-quarters of a mile more it led through fields and over hills to a deep gorge, in the bosom of which lay Sandy creek.
Sailors aboard the USS Richmond shell Confederate forces at Port Hudson.

The elaborate defenses they built and difficult terrain in the area assisted the Confederates in keeping this part of the Mississippi under their control. The Federals had no choice but to besiege Port Hudson to obtain access to the full length of the Mississippi.

The fighting at Port Hudson illustrated how artillery affected the conduct of a siege. The Union Army combined artillery fire with sharpshooting riflemen as it attempted to keep the defenders from getting supplies of food or other necessities; the Union Navy added their big guns to the bombardment. The Confederates responded to the Union forces with rifle and artillery fire. Recognizing how dangerous this type of fighting could be, each side also built elaborate earthworks to protect themselves.

Capt. Edmund C. Bainbridge's Battery A, 1st U.S. Artillery, at the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, 1863.

The siege created hardships and deprivations for both the North and South, but by early July the Confederates were in much worse shape. They had exhausted practically all of their food supplies and ammunition, and fighting and disease had greatly reduced the number of men able to defend the trenches. When Maj. Gen. Gardner learned that Vicksburg had surrendered, he realized that his situation was hopeless and that nothing could be gained by continuing. The terms of surrender were negotiated, and on July 9, 1863, the Confederates laid down their weapons, ending 48 days of continuous fighting. Captain Thornton A. Jenkins accepted the Confederate surrender, as Admiral David Farragut was in New Orleans.

Aftermath

The surrender gave the Union control of the Mississippi River, severing communications between the eastern and western states of the Confederacy. Both sides suffered heavy casualties: about 5,000 Union men were killed or wounded, and an additional 5,000 fell prey to disease or sunstroke; Gardner's forces suffered around 750 casualties, several hundred of whom died of disease. Six thousand five hundred Confederates surrendered and were sent North into custody.[1]

After the war, a small number of former soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions at Port Hudson, including George Mason Lovering of the 4th Massachusetts.

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e Kennedy, pp. 183-84.
  2. ^ NPS.

External links

Coordinates: 30°41′38″N 91°16′35″W / 30.69389°N 91.27639°W / 30.69389; -91.27639

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