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Port Hudson.1

By Charles D. Elliot.
Before relating the incidents and general story of the siege of Port Hudson, I will briefly allude to some of the events of the Civil War preceding it.

At the end of the first year of the war, December 31, 1861, all of the seceding states were practically under full control of the Confederate government; and were cut off from, and outside of, the civil or military jurisdiction of the Federal government.

One hundred and eighty-four battles and engagements were fought in 1861, eighty-two of which were in Missouri, and thirty-four in Virginia, twenty-six in West Virginia, eighteen in Kentucky, six in Maryland, and only eighteen in all other parts of the Union and Confederacy. Thus in the first year it had been entirely a warfare in the border states. Of these battles, only sixteen were fought in the first half of 1861, and one hundred and sixty-eight in its last half. Virginia and Missouri were the cyclone centres of the war in 1861.

Virginia, with difficulty, and by only a small majority of their convention (eighty-eight to fifty-five), had been drawn into the Confederacy, and Missouri, only with great effort, been prevented from seceding. In Virginia the great objects of the Confederate government were the defence of Richmond, its capital, the capture of Washington, and the invasion of the North; which object made Virginia a field of carnage for four years.

In Missouri the secessionists hoped to bring the state, nearly equally divided in sentiment, into the Southern fold, and with it Kentucky, thus assuring the control of the Mississippi River and its great tributaries, the Missouri and the Ohio; thereby menacing Illinois and Indiana, and forcing the war onto Union soil. [50]

Almost from the commencement of secession, until the end of the year 1861, and for some time after, the rebels had and kept control of the Mississippi River, from the Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico, some seven hundred miles. From this vast extent of the greatest of rivers all Union ships and commerce were shut out for nearly a year; so that on January 1, 1862, the secession government was practically what it claimed to be, in sole control of a united and entire Confederacy.

To recover the control of the Mississippi, and thereby sever the Confederacy, was one of the earliest strategic purposes of the Federal government, second only to the defence of Washington or the capture of Richmond.

A free waterway for the safe conveyance of troops of the Union Army and their supplies, and for the commerce of the great West to the Gulf, was alone of untold value to the Union cause; but the permanent severance of the Confederacy into two parts entirely cut off from each other was to be the crushing blow which sealed the doom of secession.

The Confederacy west of the Mississippi embraced the great states of Arkansas and Texas, and the larger part of Louisiana, whose great corn, cotton, and sugar plantations, and vast droves of cattle, horses, sheep, and swine furnished an inexhaustible supply of food and other sinews of war to the rest of secessia, east of the river. In 1860 there were in these three states over 1,000,000 cattle, 150,000 horses and mules, and nearly 620,000 sheep and swine; and they raised 50,000,000 bushels of corn and 1,500,000 bales of cotton annually. All this vast resource and wealth contributed to the success of the Confederacy during 1861 and 1862, and until the summer of 1863, when the capture of Vicksburg and of Port Hudson by the Union forces under Grant and under Banks wrenched the majestic river from the Confederate control, and once again, in the words of Lincoln, it ‘flowed unvexed to the sea.’

The first decisive blow in the recovery of the Mississippi was the capture of Island No.10 in the river opposite the line between Tennessee and Kentucky in April, 1862. In the same month fell Forts Jackson and St. Philip, not far from the river's mouth, by which victory New Orleans was restored to the [51] Union. The battles of Pittsburg Landing, north of Vicksburg, in May, and of Baton Rouge, south of Port Hudson, in August, 1862, each a Union success, left only the Fortresses of Vicksburg and of Port Hudson, with the river between them, in the hands of the Confederacy.

This was the military status of the Mississippi on January 1, 1863.

In the foregoing I have noted the events of the war preceding and leading up to the campaigns of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, and the strategic importance of those great strongholds, both to the Confederacy and to the Union.

On November 8, 1862, an order from President Lincoln was issued placing General Nathaniel P. Banks in command of the Department of the Gulf, and relieving General Butler thereof. General Banks, with his staff and attaches, the writer being one of the number, left New York city on the North Star on December 4, 1862, and arrived at New Orleans on December 14.

By the President's order of November 9, 1862, General Banks was named the ranking general in the Southwest, and was authorized to assume control of all forces that might come from the upper Mississippi into his command, including Grant's. The order says: ‘The President regards the opening of the Mississippi River as the first and most important of all our military and naval operations, and it is hoped that you will not lose a moment in accomplishing it.’ And ‘the capture of Vicksburg’ is especially mentioned in the order as one of the principal objects for his attention. Meanwhile General McClernand was operating from the north towards Vicksburg, the government apparently intending a junction with Banks, who was to be supreme in command. Misunderstandings and disaster to the northern column prevented this; but besides this, Port Hudson, which in the early fall of 1862 had only a small garrison and few cannon, had during the intervening time been gradually strengthened; so that in January, 1863, it had become a powerful fortification, with complete armament, and a garrison of some 16,000 men. Thus was the problem of opening the Mississippi changed so far as [52] Banks was concerned, and Port Hudson became plainly his objective point, in place of Vicksburg.

Upon arriving in New Orleans, Banks had sent a large force up the river to Baton Rouge. On March 7, 1863, leaving a sufficient force to protect New Orleans, we sailed up the river. By March 12 all the troops had arrived at Baton Rouge. In this force there were in all some twelve regiments, three batteries, and two troops of cavalry. On the evening of March 13, the army was under way towards Port Hudson for the purpose of making a demonstration and distracting the attention of its garrison, while Farragut was attempting with his fleet to steam up the river past the rebel batteries.

This the admiral succeeded in doing with two of his vessels, viz., the flagship Hartford and the gunboat Albatross; the rest of the fleet, being disabled, fell back below Port Hudson again, in doing which the Mississippi got aground, and was set on fire and blown up by her own crew to save her from the rebels. Thus Farragut became, to a certain extent, master of the river from Port Hudson to Vicksburg.

Banks was afterwards blamed by Halleck, Lincoln's Chief of Staff at Washington, for not taking Port Hudson at this time, but as the rebel garrison was from 16,000 to 20,000 strong behind strong fortifications, while Banks had only 15,000 men, 12,000 of them only available for the attack, and all in the open such an attempt would have been almost criminal. Shortly after this Banks withdrew his forces to Baton Rouge, and a little later the most of them to New Orleans.

On April 8, 1863, we crossed the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Algiers, a dirty, dismal city opposite the terminus of the New Orleans, Opelousas, and Great Western Railroad, over which road, through cypress swamp and alligator paradise, we were carried some seventy-five miles to Brashear City on the Atchafalaya River. This place had been taken possession of in 1862 by Butler, as a base of operations in West Louisiana; and again in January, 1863, learning that the rebel, General Dick Taylor, son of ex-President Zachary Taylor, with [53] some 4,500 men, was menacing it, Banks sent General Weitzel with reinforcements, who drove the Confederates back again.

Up to January 14, 1863, on which day the writer under instructions completed a detailed map of the Mississippi River, from New Orleans to about thirty miles above Vicksburg, and possibly up to the middle of March, when the demonstration was first made against Port Hudson, as already related, it had undoubtedly been General Banks' intention to carry out his implied instructions from Washington to form a junction with Grant at Vicksburg and take command of that campaign; but the increased strength of Port Hudson from about 1,500 men in October, 1862, to 16,000 in January, 1863, unknown to the government when those instructions were given, now made it evident that such a plan of campaign might be a questionable one, but as late as May 17, 1863, Banks had not abandoned it. Yet it seemed clear that Port Hudson, with its large army, ought not to be left between our forces and New Orleans, as it would be if Banks marched on Vicksburg, unless we wished to lose New Orleans. The plan of campaign, viz., to unite with Grant at Vicksburg, which Banks had originally been instructed to do, but which he on May 13 came near abandoning, and a little later changed to one against Port Hudson, was known in its earlier stages as the ‘Teche campaign.’ It was to leave sufficient forces at Baton Rouge and at New Orleans to hold those places; and then, aided and protected by the gunboat fleet, to cross Berwick Bay, and thence to march up the shores of the Bayou Teche and the Bayou Boeuf to Alexandria on the Red River, from thence returning down the Red River to the Mississippi, and to land north of Port Hudson, cut it off from communication with Vicksburg and from all succor; and then either to invest it and capture it, or to join General Grant's forces at Vicksburg. The passage of Farragut's boats past Port Hudson in March rendered this feasible; and Banks succeeded admirably in carrying out this plan of campaign.

The Bayous Teche and Boeuf are nearly the western limits Of the ‘Louisiana Lowlands,’ a name endeared in song and [54] story to every Southerner. West of these lowlands and bayous almost abruptly rise the undulating prairies of Western Louisiana. These lowlands teem with the wildest Southern vegetation, and are intercepted everywhere with mazes of black and sluggish bayous, creeks, and lagoons, along some of whose borders lie sugar and corn lands, among the richest of the South; while others form dank, dismal, and almost impenetrable swamps, where alligators sing praises to unknown demons, and wriggling moccasins revel in their muddy and watery gardens of Eden.

Through these lowlands and over these prairies marched the army, followed much of the way by vultures, the so-called ‘turkey buzzards’ of the South, who, perched in platoons on the dead limbs of the cypress, seemed like vanguards of ill omen from the realms of Pluto.

On April 11 we crossed Berwick Bay to Berwick City, and on April 12 began that march of three hundred miles whose destination proved to be Port Hudson. In speaking of Port Hudson, we can hardly leave out the strategic manoeuvres which led up to its investment and capture. I have thus been led to recite the previous movements and marches of the army; all a part of the endeavor by Banks to carry out his instructions relative to the Vicksburg campaign and the opening of the Mississippi River.

When our march from Brashear City began, the army was divided into two divisions; one, under General Grover, with perhaps 7,000 or 8,000 men, was sent in transports, convoyed by gunboats up Grand Lake, with the intention of cutting off a large force of Confederates under General Richard Taylor, who was in command of all rebel armies in Western Louisiana. The rest of our army, under Banks, crossed Berwick Bay, as already noted, landed at Berwick City, a little town of a dozen houses, and an ancient Indian mound, and then marched up the Bayou Teche past Pattersonville to attack Taylor in front. Taylor's force of rebels lay behind fortifications which extended across the bayou, but were flanked [55] on either side by the swamps. It being Banks' intention to crush Taylor between his own and Grover's forces, how this plan worked we shall see a little later.

On landing at Berwick City, I looked for my horse and equipments, which soon became notably conspicuous by their non-appearance; nor did I return to my own or they to me until after I had marched on foot for thirty miles, when lo, my Bucephalus and I met again, a happy reunion for me, however he may have considered it. He had gone up the lake with Grover's forces, and perhaps taken part in the battle of Irish Bend, while I, on foot, was doing my best to down the rebellion in the battle of Bisland. Mine was only one of many such experiences.

The truth of Burns' old lines that

The best laid schemes oa mice and men
Gang aft a-gley;

was constantly and nearly all the time exemplified in the lack of harmony, the non-cooperations and failures of the Civil War. It was here strongly in evidence, especially in the case of the expected capture of Taylor's forces. Grover, owing to delay in the arrival of transports and the small number, was four days late in embarking his troops. This was planned for April 9, but took place on April 13; and after a series of mishaps, running aground, etc., he found the enemy had meantime been fully apprised of his movements and were ready to receive him; and after a desultory fight, he succeeded only in driving the rebels, not in capturing them.

Banks, with the rest of the army, had made a front attack on Taylor's forces behind the fortifications at Bisland, which lasted from the afternoon of April 12 to the afternoon of April 14, when Taylor silently withdrew and escaped capture; not, however, until after our forces had nearly succeeded in flanking him.

The rebels fled in great precipitation, throwing away arms, knapsacks, and ammunition, and were closely pursued by our [56] troops. But our pursuit soon became almost as disorderly and demoralized as the flight of the Confederates; for all along our route were sugar houses, where not only sugar, but the liquid extract of molasses was manufactured, to which latter many of our boys helped themselves in unlimited rations, and were soon in the most undisciplined of merry moods.

Order was, however, soon restored, and the march continued on towards New Iberia, which, after a skirmish, we entered on April 16. From here an expedition was sent to the Southwest to Isle Petit Anse, an underground hillock of purest salt, and the site of the Avery salt works, which was the principal source of supply for the whole Confederacy. This was captured and the works destroyed.

From New Iberia we marched to Vermillionville, and after another skirmish entered it on April 17. There we left the lowlands, and our march was over the lovely prairies of Western Louisiana, where crystal ponds, scattered live oaks, high lands, and streams skirted with groves abound.

Leaving Vermillionville, continuing across prairies, we reached and, after a skirmish, entered Opelousas, one of the cleanest and prettiest towns of Louisiana. Here I rode in with our cavalry, and under orders seized and put a guard over the State Land Office, in which I found not only innumerable plans of that part of Louisiana, but also many arms stored under heaps of old papers and rubbish, among them the sword of the Confederate Colonel Riley, killed in a recent engagement, and also the commission of another officer in the rebel army. Under instruction I turned over all these trophies to our provost marshal. The army halted at Opelousas several days.

Soon after entering the town, I rode out to its outskirts, and narrowly escaped capture by an ambuscade in the woods near by, being warned by a slave to turn quickly, as the horsemen whom I was riding out to meet in the thick woods were rebels, not Union, as I had supposed. That son of Ethiopia has still a warm niche in my memory.

After some days we again took up our march, soon striking Bayou Boeuf, which we ascended, passing the plantation of the [57] rebel Governor Moore, and arriving at Alexandria on the Red River about May 8, 1863. The admiral (Porter) had preceded us by one or two days, and his fleet lay in the Red River, opposite the town.

On the march to Alexandria, I was taken sick with congestion of the lungs, or pleuro-pneumonia, and given very clearly to understand that this was my last march; but, thanks to pleasant weather and several days' rest, I was soon convalescent. I can say, however, without romancing, that to be sick of pneumonia on the march, and at the best having only the floors of rebel houses for a couch and a bunch of straw for a pillow, is in no sense a delight; however, others fared so much worse that I ought to have been, and perhaps was, thankful.

We remained at Alexandria several days, or until May 15. Here General Banks was confronted with the most serious problem of the campaign. He had relied up to this time upon the promise of the government that he should receive large reinforcements, in which he was sorely disappointed. He was also disappointed in not being furnished with light draft boats to convey his troops. Up to now he fully expected to join with Grant in besieging Vicksburg, but this lack of troops and transportation, and the fact that the aspect of the Vicksburg campaign was constantly changing rendered co-operation between the two generals apparently impossible.

The campaign of Vicksburg was at first under command of McClernand; shortly after it was intended that Sherman should succeed him; but Grant finally, after several serious mistakes, not of his own, became the master. This affected the movements of Banks very seriously. He for a time knew not what to do. On May 13 he sent word to Grant that he should do his best to join him; later he changed his mind and ordered a retreat of the whole army back to Brashear City, but on May 14 (probably) this order was recalled, as reconnaissances by the Engineer Corps showed that there were fairly good roads along the Red River nearly to the Mississippi. So [58] orders were given, and the army commenced its march down the Red River.

I, being on the invalid list, was carried down by boat, losing somewhere on the way my blanket, overcoat, and other valuables. I thought then and think now that they were hoodooed by the handsome and honest-faced young darkey who attended me on the voyage.

We arrived at Simsport, near the confluence of the Red and Mississippi Rivers, about May 17, and here we again camped for several days. I have, I think, already noted this extensive and rum-antic city of Simsport, consisting of a postoffice, a rum shop, and possibly three or four houses. We left there May 21 and sailed down the Mississippi to a landing place called Bayou Sara, several miles north of Port Hudson. From Bayou Sara we marched on the night of May 21 to the battlefield of Plains Store, arriving at two o'clock in the morning of May 22, 1863. I was carried in an ambulance. The battle had been fought on May 21. Headquarters were camped on the battlefield, sleeping on the ground, General Banks as well as the rest.

The battle of Plains Store was practically the commencement of the siege of Port Hudson. It was an endeavor by the rebels to push back the Union army, which perhaps for the first time they discovered was intending a siege. Before this the rebels, off their guard, probably supposed that Banks' destination was Vicksburg, as I have already shown that it was.

The Confederates made a sortie against Augur's forces on May 21, but were driven back into their works with considerable loss; the Union side also suffered considerably. But now at Plains Store, on May 22, Banks' forces from the North joined Augur's from the South, and the investment of Port Hudson was complete. Meanwhile Banks established his headquarters on Young's Plantation, about six miles from the rebel works.

Shortly after, the war situation was about as follows: Grant, with his great army, was besieging Vicksburg, Banks Port Hudson; to the east at Jackson there had collected a strong rebel force threatening both Vicksburg and Port Hudson, [59] other Confederate forces were collecting further down, threatening New Orleans, which was now garrisoned by a much too small force, under command of Emory, while west of the river the scattered forces of Taylor had again collected and were menacing all important points of Western Louisiana.

While we were at these headquarters, which had only a small guard, and just as a large sum of money had been received for the payment of troops, some hundreds of thousands of dollars, we were alarmed one day by the cry of ‘Rebels!’—and there they were, a whole line of cavalry in full gallop across the field towards our camp. Hardly had the alarm been given, when from the opposite direction came the ring of a bugle, and

Grierson, with a part of his cavalry brigade and two howitzers, came dashing up and deployed into line around our quarters; a few rounds of grape and canister soon halted the Confederates, who then turned and fled, pursued by Grierson. Grierson's command, composed largely of cavalry, was principally engaged in keeping communications open between Grant and Banks, and cutting off raiding parties of rebels, always active in our rear and in that of Grant's forces at Vicksburg.

Four days after Banks' arrival, or on May 26, an assault was ordered on the rebel lines for the next day. It was intended to be a simultaneous assault along the whole of the enemy's front. The next morning at about six o'clock all our batteries opened a furious cannonade on the enemy, replied to somewhat feebly by them. Our lines were soon formed, consisting of Weitzel's command, including two colored regiments on our right, Grover's and Augur's commands in the centre, and General T. W. Sherman's forces on our left. Weitzel commenced his assault against the rebel left with great promptness, but over the roughest conceivable ground, made up of hillocks, ravines, and tangles of undergrowth, and abattis of fallen trees. They could scarcely see the enemy behind his recentlyimpro-vised works, but our men formed an easy mark for the rebel riflemen and cannoniers hidden in almost an ambuscade. This [60] assault was quickly repulsed by the rebels, with great loss to our left wing, especially to the negro troops, who behaved with great courage and covered themselves with glory. Grover's troops also assaulted, but with greater success. Augur's forces were held in reserve to assist Sherman; but from Sherman's troops came no sound of battle, and when, after listening in vain the whole forenoon for his musketry and attack, Banks rode to the left wing, he found Sherman and his staff quietly eating dinner, and the entire left wing resting on their arms, and not yet put into line of battle. Hot words passed, and General Andrews was ordered to replace Sherman; but meanwhile Sherman had advanced upon the enemy's right, six hours late, and met with the same fate as the attack by Weitzel in the early morning. Generals Sherman and Dow were wounded in this day's battle, and ten colonels, lieutenant-colonels, and majors killed, wounded, or captured. Our total day's loss was 1,995 men.

It is to be remembered that in this assault, as well as that later, on June 14, in fact, during the whole siege, we were assisted by the navy. In the bend above Port Hudson lay the Hartford, Albatross, Sachem, Estrella, and Arizona; and below lay the Monongahela, now Farragut's flagship, the Richmond, Genesee, and the iron-clad Essex, together with the mortar boats. All of which fleets did great service, not only in bombarding the fortifications, but in keeping the rebels from crossing the river.

On the forenoon of June 13 another furious cannonade was made against the rebel forts from every Union gun and mortar, completely silencing the rebel batteries, after which Banks sent by flag of truce a call to the rebel General Gardner to surrender, which Gardner declined to do. On June 14 another assault was made on the enemy's fortifications, very similar in plan and result to that of May 27. It proved a terrible disaster, the Union loss being 1,805 men, among them Brigadier-General Charles J. Paine, seriously wounded.

Banks now began to prepare for a regular siege. The [61] lesson of the danger and usual failure of a direct assault against well built and manned fortifications, so often taught to other commanders before, had now been learned by him. New batteries were erected, zigzags or approaches commenced, heavy guns, borrowed from the navy, mounted, mines planned, and everything gave the promise of a long and tedious siege. Our saps and approaches were run towards the rebel works to within a very short distance, and a mine nearly completed and ready for its powder. This was done under supervision of the Nineteenth Army Corps Staff of Engineers, who suffered severely at Port Hudson, three being killed and one wounded, out of less than a dozen of us in all.

To lead the army in the third charge, that was finally to capture Port Hudson, General Banks called upon his army for a volunteer ‘forlorn hope’ of 1,000 men. These came bravely forward and enrolled in the heroic band, but before our mines were exploded, or the rebel works breached, there came to us the news of the surrender of Vicksburg, which capitulated on July 4, 1863. There was great cheering and rejoicing, and salvos of shotted artillery; and the news of Grant's victory was thrown inside the rebel lines. General Gardner, the commander, asked to be assured of the truth of the report, and, being convinced of its accuracy, immediately asked for a cessation of hostilities. Shortly after, after many preliminaries, on July 8, 1863, he unconditionally surrendered. These two victories caused great rejoicing in our lines, and corresponding dejection in the Confederacy.

The garrison captured amounted to 6,340 men, with fiftyone pieces of artillery, and the loss to the Union army during the whole siege was 4,363 men.

We found the inside of the rebel works in a fearful condition. Thus the fall of Port Hudson was the final blow that severed the Confederacy, and which, more than any other up to that time, gave full assurance of the final Union victory and the destruction and fall of the rebellion,

1 a paper read before the Somerville Historical Society.

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