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Port Hudson, capture of

Port Hudson, or Hickey's Landing, was on a high bluff on the left bank of the Mississippi, in Louisiana, at a very sharp bend in the stream. At the foot of the bluff was Hickey's Landing. The Confederates had erected a series of batteries, extending along the river from Port Hudson to Thompson's Creek above, a distance of about 3 miles. They were armed with very heavy guns. They were field batteries that might be moved to any part of the line. Immediately after Banks took command of the Department of the Gulf (Dec. 18, 1862), he determined to attempt to remove this obstruction to the navigation of the Mississippi. He sent General Grover with 10,000 men to occupy Baton Rouge, but the advance on Port Hudson was delayed, because it would require a larger force than Banks could then spare. So he operated for a while among the rich sugar and cotton regions of Louisiana, west of the river.

In March, 1863, he concentrated his forces—nearly 25,000 strong—at Baton Rouge. At the same time Commodore Farragut had gathered a small fleet at a point below Port Hudson, with a determination to run by the batteries there and recover the control of the river between that place and Vicksburg. To make this movement, Banks sent towards Port Hudson (March 13) 12,000 men, who drove in the pickets, while two gunboats and some mortar-boats bombarded the works. That night Farragut attempted to pass, but failed, and Banks returned to Baton Rouge. After more operations in Louisiana, Banks returned to the Mississippi and began the investment of Port Hudson, May 24, 1863. His troops were commanded by Generals Weitzel, Auger, Grover, Dwight, and T. W. Sherman, and the beleaguered garrison [261] was under the command of Gen. Frank K. Gardner. Farragut, with his flag-ship (Hartford) and one or two other vessels, was now above Port Hudson, holding the river, while four other gunboats and some mortar-boats, under Commander C. H. B. Caldwell, held it below.

On May 27 Banks opened his cannon on the works in connection with those on the

Farragut passing the batteries at Port Hudson.

water, preparatory to a general assault. The attack was made at 10 A. M. by a portion of the troops, but others did not come up in time to make the assault general. A very severe battle was fought, the Nationals making desperate charges, from time to time, and gaining ground continually. In this contest was the first fair trial of the mettle of negro troops. The Confederates were driven to their fortifications, and, at sunset, they were all behind their works. Close up to them the Nationals pressed, and they and their antagonists held opposite sides of the parapet. This position the Nationals on the right continued to hold, but those on the left, exposed to a flank fire, withdrew to a belt of woods not far off. So ended the first general assault on Port Hudson, in which the Nationals lost 1,842 men, of whom 293 were killed. The Confederate loss did not exceed 300 in killed and wounded.

Banks, undismayed by this disastrous failure, continued the siege. His great guns and those of Farragut hurled destructive missiles upon the works daily, wearing out the garrison by excessive watching and fatigue. Their provisions and medical stores were failing, and famine threatened the brave defenders of the post. It was closely hemmed in, and so, also, was the besieging force of about 12,000 men by a hostile population and concentrating Confederate cavalry in its rear, while Gen. Richard Taylor was gathering a new army in Louisiana, west of the river. A speedy reduction of the fort had become a necessity for Banks, and on June 11 another attempt was made, and failed. This was followed by an attempt to take the fort by storm on the 14th. At that time the Nationals lay mostly in two lines, forming a right angle, with a right and left but no centre. When a final disposition for assault was made, General Gardner was entreated to surrender and [262] stop the effusion of blood, but he refused, hoping, as did Pemberton, at Vicksburg, that Johnston would come to his relief.

The grand assault began at dawn (June 14) by Generals Grover, Weitzel, Auger, and Dwight. A desperate battle ensued, and the Nationals were repulsed at all points, losing about 700 men. Again the siege went on as usual. The fortitude of the half-starved garrison, daily enduring the affliction of missiles from the land and water, was wonderful. Gun after gun on the Confederate works was disabled, until only fifteen remained on the land side; and only twenty rounds of ammunition for small-arms were left. Famine was about to do what the National arms could not effect—compel a surrender—when the garrison was startled (July 7) by the thunder of cannon along the whole line of their assailants, and shouts from the pickets, “Vicksburg is taken!” That night Gardner sent a note to Banks, asking if the report were true, and if so, requesting a cessation of hostilities. The surrender of the post and all its men and property was completed on July 9, when 6,408 men, including 455 officers, were made prisoners of war. The little hamlet of Port Hudson was in ruins. The loss of Banks during the siege of forty-five days was about 3,000 men, and that of Gardner, exclusive of prisoners, about 800. The spoils of victory were the important post, two steamers, fifty-one pieces of artillery, 5,000 small-arms, and a large amount of fixed ammunition. Banks reported that his winnings in Louisiana up to that time were the partial repossession of large areas of territory, 10,584 prisoners, seventy-three great guns, 6,000 smallarms, three gunboats, eight transports, and a large amount of cotton and cattle. This conquest gave the final blow to the obstruction of the navigation of the Mississippi River. On July 16, 1863, the steamer Imperial, from St. Louis, arrived at New Orleans, the first communication of the kind between the two cities in two years. Then the waters of the Mississippi, as President Lincoln said, “went unvexed to the sea.”

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