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.
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.
According to the historian John D. Winters in his The Civil War in Louisiana (1963), "Port Hudson, unlike Baton Rouge, was one of the strongest points on the river, and batteries placed upon the bluffs could command the entire river front." [Similar to Quebec City in the French and Indian War].
In the spring of 1862, the Union took control of New Orleans and Memphis, Tennessee. To make sure it could continue to use the middle section of the river, the South fortified positions at both Vicksburg, and Port Hudson. Af few days after the fall of Baton Rouge to the Union, Confederate General John C. Breckinridge carried out the wishes of General Earl Van Dorn by occupying Port Hudson, situated between Baton Rouge and Bayou Sara, with troops under the command of General Daniel Ruggles.
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 siegeEdit
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.||”|
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.
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.
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.
- This text is based upon The Siege of Port Hudson: "Forty Days and Nights in the Wilderness of Death", a lesson plan written by Gregg Potts and Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr., for the National Parks Service. This is a work of the U.S. Government and is in the public domain.
- Kennedy, Frances H., ed., The Civil War Battlefield Guide, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998, ISBN 0-395-74012-6.
- Faller, Phillip E. (November 2002). "Siege of Port Hudson". America's Civil War. http://www.historynet.com/magazines/american_civil_war/3037456.html. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
- Abbreviations used in these notes
- Official atlas: Atlas to accompany the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.
- ORA (Official records, armies): War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate Armies.
- ORN (Official records, navies): Official records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.
|40x40px||Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Siege of Port Hudson|
- National Park Service battle description
- Louisiana State Historic Site
- James K. Hosmer's first-hand account of a Union regiment at Port Hudson
- The Siege of Port Hudson: "Forty Days and Nights in the Wilderness of Death", a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan
- Photographs of Louisiana during the Civil War. Compiled by Sgt. Marshall Dunham of the 159th New York Regiment. Select Search items in this Collection and enter Port Hudson in the exact phrase option: photograph collection