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Doc. 201.-operations at Port Hudson.


Report of General Banks.

headquarters Department of the Gulf, Nineteenth army corps, before Port Hudson, May 30, 1863.
Major-General Halleck, General-in-Chief, Washington:
General: Leaving Semmesport, on the Atchafalaya, where my command was at the date of my last despatch, I landed at Bayou Sara at two o'clock on the morning of the twenty-first. A portion of the infantry were transported in steamers, and the residue of the infantry, artillery, cavalry, and wagon-train moved down on the west bank of the river, and from this to Bayou Sara.

On the twenty-third a junction was effected with the advance of Major-General Augur and Brigadier-General Sherman, our line occupying the Bayou Sara road at a distance of five miles from Port Hudson. Major-General Augur had an encounter with a portion of the enemy on the Bayou Sara road, in the direction of Baton Rouge, which resulted in the repulse of the enemy with heavy loss.

On the twenty-fifth the enemy was compelled to abandon his first line of works. General Weitzel's brigade, which had covered our rear in the march from Alexandria, joined us on the twenty-sixth, and on the morning of the twenty-seventh a general assault was made upon the fortifications. The artillery opened fire between five and six o'clock, which was continued with animation during the day.

At ten o'clock Weitzel's brigade, with the division of General Grover, reduced to about two brigades, and the division of General Emory, temporarily reduced by detachments to about a brigade, under command of Colonel Paine, with [631] two regiments of colored troops, made an assault upon the right of the enemy's works, crossing Sandy Creek, and driving them through the woods into his fortifications. The fight lasted on this line until four o'clock, and was very severely contested.

On the left the infantry did not come up until later in the day; but at two o'clock an assault was opened on the works on the centre and left of centre by the divisions under Major-General Augur and Brigadier-General Sherman. The enemy was driven into his works, and our troops moved up to the fortifications, holding the opposite sides of the parapet with the enemy.

On the right our troops still hold this position. On the left, after dark, the main body being exposed to a flank fire, withdrew to a belt of woods, the skirmishers remaining close upon the fortifications.

In the assault of the twenty-seventh, the behaviour of the officers and men was most gallant, and left nothing to be desired. Our limited acquaintance with the ground, and the character of the works, which were almost hidden from our observation until the moment of approach, alone prevented the capture of the post.

On the extreme right of our line I posted the first and third regiments of negro troops. The First regiment of Louisiana engineers, composed exclusively of colored men, excepting the officers, was also engaged in the operations of the day. The position occupied by these troops was one of importance, and called for the utmost steadiness and bravery in those to whom it was confided. 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. They made during the day three charges upon the batteries of the enemy, suffering very heavy losses, and holding their position at nightfall with the other troops on the right of our line. The highest commendation is bestowed upon them by all the officers in command on the right. Whatever doubt may have existed heretofore as to the efficiency of organizations of this character, the history of this day proves conclusively to those who were in condition to observe the conduct of these regiments that the Government will find in this class of troops effective supporters and defenders. The severe test to which they were subjected, and the determined manner in which they encountered the enemy, leaves upon my mind no doubt of their ultimate success. They require only good officers, commands of limited numbers, and careful discipline, to make them excellent soldiers.

Our losses from the twenty-third to this date, in killed, wounded, and missing, are nearly one thousand, including, I deeply regret to say, some of the ablest officers of the corps. I am unable as yet to report them in detail.

I have the honor to be, with much respect, your obedient servant,

N. P. Banks, Major-General Commanding.


New-Orleans Era account.

New-Orleans, May 23.
The long-expected attack upon Port Hudson commenced yesterday, and last night and this morning it was continued, the advantage being with us, although it has been one of, if not the bloodiest battle that has yet been fought on this continent. As I have before stated, the position was closely invested some days since, our right resting on Thompson's Bayou, and the left on Springfield's Landing.

Our line of investment was as follows: The extreme right was commanded by General Weitzel. with his own and the division of General Emory; the right centre by General Grover; the left centre by General Augur, and the extreme left by General T. W. Sherman--our artillery brigade being under command of General Arnold. The defences of Port Hudson, on the land face, consist of several lines of intrenchments and rifle-pits, with an abattis of heavy trees felled in every direction.

It is one of the strongest positions in the world, and to assault it in the face of the terrible fire of artillery and musketry to which an attacking force would be exposed, seemed almost impossible, with any hope of success. It has been commenced, however, and carried on thus far with success, but with terrible slaughter. We are expecting momentarily to hear,that it has fallen, for if it cost ten thousand men, General Banks and the gallant officers and men under his command, will never rest, now that they have commenced, until the Stars and Stripes wave over the stronghold of the rebels. The assault has been made with unparalleled fury; no men in the world ever fought with more bravery or determination than our glorious volunteers; but the defence has been excellent, as the result of the first day's fighting will show.

The number and calibre of the guns in the rebel batteries facing the river is yet to be determined, and also their force inside of the works, but we have good reason for saying to-day that they have at least twelve thousand men. The artillery force of our army is very large, and many of the guns are of very heavy calibre, and, under the able direction of General Arnold, they have done most efficient service.

All the Commanding General's plans having been perfected, it was determined to feel the enemy at once. Accordingly the attack was ordered for yesterday morning. It was arranged with Admiral Farragut that the attack should be general, by land and water at the same time, and signals were established between the army and navy, in order to prevent the shot and shell from our ships being thrown over the enemy and into the lines of our attacking force.

Although our men had endured the fatigues of battle and hard marching, in the recent campaign in the Teche, they forgot it all when they found themselves in front of Port Hudson, and knew it was to be attacked. They were in high spirits as the time drew nigh, and became impatient for the moment to arrive when the order “forward!” [632] should be given. All thought of the uncertainty of battle seemed to have vanished; every one seemed to think he would prove a hero, and felt certain that promotion would follow the battle of to-morrow.

Those who witnessed the enthusiasm of our men said it was wonderful; their bearing was more like that of veterans than men who less than a year ago knew nothing of war and its horrors. They appeared determined to know no such word as fail, and felt satisfied that by their exertions a great point was to be gained in bringing this war to a successful termination.

The line of battle was formed at daybreak yesterday morning, and no better men can be found in any army than they who formed it. I refer to the division commanders — Weitzel, the young man, but old soldier; Grover, the well-known commander of a brigade in Hooker's division on the Peninsula Augur, who commanded a brigade and was wounded at Cedar Mountain; and last, though not least, Sherman, better known in the army as Tim Sherman, one of the best soldiers in the service.

The plan appears to have been to carry the enemy's positions on the right and left first, and this work consequently devolved upon the divisions of Generals Weitzel and Sherman. It was not long after the advance was sounded that our troops met those of the enemy, and it soon became evident that every foot of ground we gained was to be fought for with determination. The fight soon commenced along the entire line. On the right the sharp rattle of musketry and roar of artillery gave notice that Weitzel was at work, and as it increased in intensity it became evident that he was having no boy's play ; and he had not. Every inch was disputed; the enemy fought with the ferocity of demons; but it was to no purpose; our boys drove them slowly but steadily, using clubbed muskets and bayonets when they could not load. It was soon apparent that whatever else would be done by the army, Weitzel was bound to win; his column could not be checked, although suffering greatly; the enemy went down before them as grass before the scythe of the mower; and, although the work was tedious and bloody, no one faltered. General Weitzel, keeping his men well in hand for the last rush, put them at the enemy's works on the river side, and they went on with a will, making the air resound with their shouts. Here the fight became murderous; it was hand to hand and breast to breast, the bayonet doing the main part of the work. The rebels could not stand it, however, and were compelled to fall back.

Our people pressed them close, allowing no space to be created between the attacked and the attacker, and finally drove them into, and then out of the celebrated six-gun battery that did such terrible execution upon the steamer Mississippi the night she was destroyed. Here was a great point gained — a point that we could use to advantage against the other works of the enemy. And it did not take long for the quick eye of Weitzel to see all this and profit by it. As soon as practible, the guns were shifted and put to work, and were busy at last accounts in throwing shot and shell into and against the position of their late owners. This was decidedly the most brilliant and successful part of the day's work — not that the men fought any better, or showed more determination than those on other parts of the field, but it was the greatest point gained, and proved what we could do when resolved to accomplish certain ends. By this operation the enemy's left was turned, and in a manner to prevent the lost ground being recovered. The battery captured was the most annoying of any of the line, for it raked completely the channel-way of the river.

No more desperate fighting has ever taken place than that of the division of General Sherman, yesterday, in the attack upon the right of the enemy's position. Our men faced the storm of iron and lead that was hurled against them as if it had always been their business to do so. They moved steadily forward under the most murderous fire of shot, shell, grape, canister, and musketry, with a steadiness that was surprising. When Ciudad Rodrigo was stormed, the flower of the English army was selected for the “forlorn hope;” but they, veterans as they were, never moved with firmer step or more solid column than did the Second division of the Nineteenth army corps in the attack of yesterday upon the right of the enemy's position with an impetuous charge. The Sixth Michigan and the One Hundred and Twenty-eighth New-York carried the enemy's works at the point of the bayonet; but they were compelled to give way, as the enemy had massed its troops here, and it became necessary for our glorious fellows to fall back before overwhelming numbers. Not much ground was lost, however; we only failed to maintain our position within the main works.

The Second regiment, Louisiana Native Guard, Colonel Neilson, were in this charge; they went on in the advance, and when they came out six out of the nine hundred men could not be accounted for. It is said on every side that they fought with the desperation of tigers. After firing one volley they did not deign to load again, but went in with bayonets, and wherever they had a chance it was all up with the rebels. Although we gained much ground, and held it, still the principal object of this attack was not accomplished — namely, getting possession of and holding the batteries on the enemy's right. It was owing to some misunderstanding. The charge cost us heavily in killed and wounded. General Sherman led the attack in person, and fell severely wounded in the leg. General Neal Dow was also wounded. Colonel Clarke, of the Sixth Michigan, was killed. Colonel Cowles, of the One Hundred and Twenty-eighth New-York, also, by a bayonet thrust; Lieutenant-Colonel Smith of the Zouaves, severely wounded. The Sixth Michigan and One Hundred and Twenty-eight New-York have each lost about half their effective men, and the other regiments have suffered severely.

The attack on the centre of the enemy's position by the columns of Generals Augur and Grover, [633] also exhibited the most terrible fighting and the same obstinate resistance. Our troops here, as well as on the right and left, did all that men could do, and held every inch of ground they gained. The enemy were driven, foot by foot, out of their rifle-pits and intrenchments, into their main works, from whence they will never come out, except as prisoners of war. As I before stated, every obstacle that could be placed in the way of our advance, and every art that could render our columns subject to slaughter, was used by the enemy, and with terrible effect. The Allies at Sebastopol bombarded for months and months, from batteries constructed by all the science that military engineering could bring to bear, and with guns of the heaviest calibre, before the assault was attempted; but here we have a case of line after line of intrenchments being carried by troops that have not, in a majority of cases, been one year in the field. The old soldiers in the army of the Potomac cannot do better than we have done here with nine months men.

The lower battery at Port Hudson had been abandoned some days since and the heavy guns spiked, as the position was too much exposed to the fire of our mortars and the broadsides of the heavy ships. Between it and the other works there is a ravine, which also helped to necessitate the abandonment of that work on account of their concentrating all their available force in the main position. When we consider what was accomplished in a few hours, the result may be called a victory of no small proportions. It has never been done before in this war. But the end is not yet; we are to witness fighting at Port Hudson before which that of yesterday will sink into insignificance. It may have occurred to day, and probably did, and I am confident that we are to-night much nearer the accomplishment of our task than we were this time yesterday. The details of this first day's work will be interesting, but no more than I have given has yet reached us. Every day now will bring exciting intelligence until the finale comes and the announcement reaches us that Port Hudson has fallen. What I have related is from an eye-witness who was fortunate enough to get a passage down in the only vessel that left there last evening. He also saw much of the operations of the fleet, which I will give hereafter.

As I predicted would be the case in my letter to you of yesterday, if it was attempted to carry Port Hudson by storm, our loss in killed and wounded is very heavy. The least estimate I have heard is between two and three thousand, which I am led to believe is about correct. When all is taken into consideration, it is not larger, however, than we should expect, and it falls below what I supposed we would sustain. When masses of troops march up to an enemy's works like those of the rebels at Port Hudson, subjected as our men were to a concentrated fire from weapons of all descriptions, the field becomes a slaughter-pen. It is a one-sided affair, until we come to close quarters inside the works, when the chances are equal. Very few names have yet been received of the killed and wounded, although a despatch that I saw says that our loss in officers has been very heavy. It will be many days before any reliable information is received as to the names of those who have suffered. We may have none until the entire affair is over, and perhaps it is better that we should not. The following are those we have heard from:

killed.--General Chapin, no confirmation as yet, General Nickerson, no confirmation as yet; Colonel Clarke, Sixth Michigan; Colonel Cowles, One Hundred and Twenty-eighth New-York, by a bayonet wound; Colonel Payne, Second Louisiana, white regiment; Colonel----, Thirtieth Massachusetts; Captain Hubbard, on General Weitzel's staff.

wounded.--General T. W. Sherman, severely, in the leg — amputation probable; General Neal Dow, slightly, in leg; Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, Second Zouaves, severely, in body.

I am informed that General Banks is determined to carry the position by storm, if he loses ten thousand men in doing so. He will have Port Hudson if it can be had, and he will not sit down and wait for it to come to him, but he will go to it. His army are in the highest spirits; the loss sustained has had no other effect upon their condition than to encourage them to new exertions. They will support the flag and the Commander-in-Chief to the extent of their power, and he knows now the men he has to depend upon, and with them he will add new laurels to the already fine reputation of the Nineteenth army corps.

Heavy reinforcements are being sent up the river to-night, which will greatly add to the strength of the army before Port Hudson, and much more than cover the loss sustained yesterday. Among them is the Ninetieth regiment New-York volunteers, Colonel Morgan, of Key West notoriety, commanding. He is, I understand, by reason of seniority, to have command of a brigade.

The fight commenced as early as seven o'clock yesterday morning, or rather became general about that time. It continued during the greater part of the day, excepting about an hour near noon. At seven o'clock last evening it was raging along the entire line with intense fury, and was going on this morning. Despatches received this afternoon at four o'clock, say that our position was still improving, with every prospect of success.

Our artillery, of which we have a very large and effective force, was splendidly served and did most terrible execution. General Arnold is deserving of the highest praise for the admirable condition of this arm of the service in this department. Our shot and shell fell in a continuous stream upon the enemy; they were compelled to take shelter from our deluge of ten, twenty, and thirty-pounder projectiles and the shrapnel and canister.

We have no means of ascertaining the loss of the enemy; it has no doubt, however, been frightful. Massed as they were to resist our advance, they were mowed down in heaps. The ground was literally covered with their dying and [634] dead. I do not think they have lost as many as ourselves, but it has been greater in proportion, considering how they were covered from the severity of our fire.

We have no definite information regarding today's operations. The news has been held back until the field is won or lost. The fighting has, no doubt, been as severe as yesterday, but we are entirely without details. I am inclined to think the enemy are almost driven to the wall, and must surrender or go into the river very soon. We may be in Port Hudson to-night, but if we are, the authorities keep the information wonderfully quiet. They tell nothing, and will permit nothing to go to Northern papers in advance of information sent to the War Department.

I could and would have sent all this information by telegraph to the South-West Pass this morning in time for the Columbia before she crossed the bar, but the obliging superintendent of the military telegraph, Captain Buckley, would not allow the Northern people to receive any information ahead of the War Department.

It must not be supposed that while the army was doing all this desperate fighting on shore, the navy was idle. On the contrary, the gallant Admiral was at work with the entire squadron, both above and below. The bummers moved their position much nearer the enemy's works, and kept up a continuous fire of thirteen-inch shell. The Hartford and Albatross engaged the upper batteries, and when General Weitzel captured the six-gun battery before referred to, they moved further down and supported him by attacking the next below. Admiral Farragut, in the Monnongahela, followed by the Richmond, Genesee, and Essex, engaged the lower works, and in a most effective manner. The Monongahela was worked to the admiration of every one. The fire of the enemy upon the ships was comparatively light — they directed it principally at the Monongahela, but failed to hit her. The Richmond was equally fortunate, and there was not a casualty to record in the fleet up to six o'clock last evening. The fleet was engaged in the morning, and again in the afternoon, and succeeded in dismounting five of the enemy's heaviest guns. The firing was, for accuracy, never excelled, the Genesee especially doing some very tall work with her one hundred-pounder rifle. The squadron manoeuvred in front of the enemy's works, and fired with the greatest deliberation, doing an immense amount of damage, and continuing the work until by signal, they ceased firing on account of our shells going over among our own people. Admiral Farragut, with his squadron, will render General Banks important assistance in the work yet to be done; he will continue to rain shot and shell upon the enemy in such a manner as must distract him in a great measure from the land attack, and compel him to abandon one line or the other. They cannot stand for many hours the assault they are now subjected to; it is more than human nature can endure — this constant wear and tear of both body and mind.


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