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Chapter 12:

  • A chapter of sieges
  • -- assault Repelled at Port Hudson -- the heroic defense -- the capitulation -- Louisianians at Vicksburg.

While Vicksburg was hurling shells upon her besiegers, Port Hudson had offered a long and brave resistance to hers. On May 27th, General Banks, strong in the presence of Farragut's fleet, and resting upon Grant's promises, threw his infantry forward within a mile of the breastworks. Col. W. R. Miles, Louisiana legion, commanded in the center; Gen. W. N. R. Beall watched over the right; Col. I. G. W. Steedman defended the left. The main assault by the enemy's line was hurled against the Confederate left. The repulse of the assault upon the left was decisive for that day. Banks, still confiding in his fleet and still leaning upon Grant, continued to invest the works.

On June 13th he demanded the unconditional surrender of the Port. He lacked the potently convincing tone of U. S. Grant, and could not command that soldier's appositeness of initials. In lieu of sternness he posed as a Chesterfield-Talleyrand. As a Chesterfield in his courtesy he complimented the endurance of the garrison, while as a Talleyrand, in his diplomacy, he craftily suggested that his army outnumbered Gardner's five to one. On his side, Gardner, not finding this special form of surrender nominated in Johnston's bond, declined altogether to consider the demand.

On the next day, an hour before daylight, the curtain was lifted a little over Banks' plans. About daylight the fleet in the river and the land batteries, erected by the enemy within three hundred feet from the Confederate breastworks, gave fire at the same time. The air was so [118] calm that a thick white smoke, belching from the guns, rested for a space motionless above them. After a short delay, the smoke, broadening, settled slowly and heavily upon river and land alike. Under cover of it the enemy, gallantly advancing along the whole line, came within ten yards of our works. The Southern troops were as awake as they, and opening upon them with our heavy guns, drove them back with severe loss. Some fell on the line of attack; others lay in the ditches, never to rise again; others reached the works only to be killed where they stood. The land assault was short, sharp and decisive. After two hours, repulsed everywhere, the troops scattered to their old lines of the night. The fleet, being of tougher material, continued to pound away through the darkness. Gardner was still saying to himself: ‘I shall evacuate only after Vicksburg has fallen. I am here to defend Port Hudson until then.’

Mortar boats with their deadly fire next came to rein. force the gunboats. All the month of June the gun and mortar boats were thundering. The siege lasted from May 27th to July 9th, inclusive. The garrison had by use grown callous to its hardships. In the river mortars by day and night, on the land skirmishing like the sting of mosquitoes, sharp, perplexing, drawing little blood. Gardner, still fiery and sternly defiant, began to be vexed. The ghostly mail from Vicksburg had ceased with Pemberton's fall. His men were as resolute as they had been on the night of Farragut's passage in front of the batteries. Three months had passed since that eventful trial. June had been in her first days when the garrison's rations became scanty; June was in her last days when the supply of meat was exhausted. No more meat! Gardner had not counted starvation among the possibilities of his command before surrender. He had heard with composure that the ammunition was giving out; and that the artillerists could not long load their guns. Given only time, these were mishaps likely to happen in any beleaguered fortress. But starvation! His heart was still strong [119] within him; his men, living upon fast diminishing food, had not yet complained. He still had mules. An excel. lent thought Would the men consent to eat horse-flesh? Jokes passed from mouth to mouth at the new fare; but some agreed to try the gastronomic novelty. Decidedly, Port Hudson was not ready to surrender.

On July 7th, thunderous salutes of artillery came from the gunboats in the river. No shell had as usual, come shrieking over the works. What is that? asked each gunner of his neighbor, all peering riverward. Cheering broke forth from the gunboats. It was a chorus of war with the voices of the fleet and the armies supporting the batteries. Suddenly, the firing ceased as quickly as it had begun. Only mighty cheering had taken the place of shelling. Some report had come in from Vicksburg. What was it? A party of the enemy drew near within talking distance. Asked the news, they freely gave it—gave it with a subtone of triumph. Vicksburg had surrendered! Men fraternize easily under great news. The men of Port Hudson were largely native Americans. Most of them came from the extreme South. Louisianians, Mississippians and Alabamians contended, like the young Athenians, for the prize of courage. They were enthusiastic over the long and memorable defense which their valor and their constancy had maintained between May 27th and July 9th, 1863.

Thus Vicksburg had, in surrendering, confided her defense to history. Gardner heard it with indignation, not to add perplexity. Something, however, had to be done. Vicksburg was no longer ‘about to fall,’ she had fallen! The conditions had changed for evacuation and looked toward surrender. The victorious fleet which had swept from the upper Mississippi past the batteries of Vicksburg would be coming down to Port Hudson within a day. For once his resolute nature could see no road of escape from his responsibility. That night he summoned a war council. To explain the situation was not needed. It lay like an open book before each soldier in the Port. [120] Without a dissenting voice the council decided that he could not hold out longer.

Vicksburg on the Mississippi surrendered on July 4, 1863. General Lee began his retreat from Gettysburg on the same day. The coincidence was strange. By many south of the Potomac it had been thought tragical. ‘Sometimes it happens,’ says Herodotus, speaking of the defeat of the Persians at the same time at Plataea and Mycale, ‘that two mortal blows strike the unhappy on the same day.’1 The surrender of Port Hudson to General Banks (with the fleet) on July 9th, followed, as has been seen, the surrender of Vicksburg to General Grant on July 4, 1863.2 ‘The surrender of Port Hudson by General Gardner included about 6,000 persons all told, 51 pieces of artillery, and a quantity of ordnance stores. Our loss in killed and wounded in the assaults was small compared with that of the enemy.’ It is not too much to say that when surrendered the garrison of Port Hudson, which had resisted a vastly superior force, attacking by both land and water, for more than six weeks, was as dauntless in spirit as on the first day of the defense.3 [121]

We turn now from Port Hudson to its partner in stress. Mighty was the spell which the peril of Vicksburg had cast on the people of the States bordering upon the great river and, far beyond its delta, upon those which looked toward Richmond, beleaguered by armies farther off than Vicksburg. Virginia, with that admiration which the brave can best show, had felt for the deadly danger into which the Confederacy's devoted guard of the West had fallen. In the latter part of December, 1862, Sherman with 30,000 men had landed north of Vicksburg. Behind Chickasaw bayou, with the fortified bluffs at his back, was Stephen D. Lee with his provisional division, a large part of which was the Seventeenth, Twenty-second, Twenty-sixth, Twenty-eighth and Thirty-first Louisiana regiments. He had to defend a line thirteen miles in length north of the city, the north flank of which, Snyder's mill, was gallantly and successfully held by the Twenty-second Louisiana on the 27th. At the same time Colonel Thomas' Twenty-eighth defeated the attempt of the enemy to bridge the bayou with pontoons. The Seventeenth and Twenty-sixth Louisiana met the enemy beyond the bayou and held their ground during the 26th and 27th against a large force, and on the next day the Twenty-eighth took that position and fought throughout the day against Blair's entire brigade. This command being drawn across the bayou to the bluff Sherman ordered an assault next day, which was repulsed with great slaughter. As the enemy broke in confusion, the Twenty-sixth and part of the Seventeenth were marched on the field, and under their cover 332 prisoners and four stand of colors were taken. The services of Colonel Higgins, Colonel Thomas and Colonel Hall, Twenty-sixth Louisiana, were especially commended. The Thirty-first, Col. C. H. Morrison, was also actively engaged in the works.

It was not in length of days that that of Vicksburg, May to July, 1863, stands pre-eminent among the sieges of this land. In her own story, in 1862, she had already [122] stood defiant against a bombarding fleet for sixty-seven days. But in 1863, while the siege lasted only forty-seven days, there came a sterner presence moved by a mightier power. Pemberton had no cause to complain of his little army, with which were seven regiments of Louisiana troops and several artillery organizations.

Below is a roll of death, which Louisiana, deprived of brave sons by wounds received during the siege, signed in tears with her blood on July 4, 1863.

Officers reported killed: Third Louisiana, Capt. J. E. Johnson, John Kinney, Lieut. A. S. Randolph; Twenty-first Louisiana, Capt. J. Ryan, Lieut. G. H. Mann; Twentysecond Louisiana, Capt. F. Gomez, Lieut. R. E. Lehman; Twenty-sixth Louisiana, Maj. W. W. Martin, Capt. Felix G. Winder, Lieuts. M. Arnaux, Peter Feriner; Twentysev-enth Louisiana, Lieut-Col. L. L. McLaurin, Lieut. Geo. Harris, Col. L. D. Marks, mortally wounded; Twentyeighth (Twenty-ninth) Louisiana, Capt. F. Newman, Lieuts. B. F. Millett, I. G. Sims; Thirty-first Louisiana, Col. S. H. Griffin; Seventeenth Louisiana, Lieut.-Col Madison Rogers.

For heavy and light artillery alike, it was of truth a martial education to have stood within the defenses of Vicksburg during her historic siege. Not a man from the State but had proved brave to fight, and strong to endure. Indeed, in all the epoch of Vicksburg's glory, no quality was so apparent in them as that of heroism which knew how to face peril—no transient guest this—with a smile as brave as the heart was steady. The Louisianians at Vicksburg did not laugh as their comrades at Port Hudson had done. Life for them was terribly unreal. Death alone was real because its dart alone was visible. Weary was the time, yet always calmly resolute were the heroes of Vicksburg. The sun burned them by day, and the night, instead of bringing rest, brought no relief from mines exploding and breaches opened. ‘The first assault upon Vicksburg, May 18th, was met,’ said [123] Gen. M. L. Smith, ‘by the Twenty-seventh Louisiana, subsequently by the Seventeenth and Thirty-first Louisiana,’ and held at bay until night. The regiments were then withdrawn to the intrenched line, which was assailed on the 19th. The brunt of this attack on Smith's line was borne by the Twenty-sixth and Twenty-seventh Louisiana, who repulsed the attack with two volleys. The redan held by Colonel Marks was the main object of attack, and of him and his regiment it was recorded: ‘To the brave Colonel Marks and his gallant regiment, Twenty-seventh Louisiana, belongs the distinction of taking the first colors, prisoners and arms lost by the enemy during the siege.’

‘The heaviest and most dangerous attack,’ said General Smith, ‘was on the extreme right, and nobly did the Twenty-sixth, Twenty-seventh, Twenty-eighth and Thirty-first Louisiana repel and endure it. The casualties among the officers of these regiments indicate the nature of the defense required. In the Twenty-sixth, Maj. W. W. Martin, one captain and two lieutenants were killed; Col. W. Hall, severely wounded. In the Twenty-seventh, Lieut.-Col. L. L. McLaurin, one captain and one lieutenant killed, Col. L. D. Marks dangerously, Maj. A. S. Norwood, one captain and one lieutenant wounded. In the Twenty-eighth, one lieutenant killed and three wounded. In the Thirty-first Col. S. H. Griffin killed.’ Lieut.-Col. Madison Rogers, Seventeenth, was killed early in the siege. No field-officer of the Twenty-eighth was left at the surrender. The loss in killed and wounded in Shoup's brigade alone was 23 officers and 283 men. The Third Louisiana suffered a loss of 45 killed and 126 wounded, the heaviest casualties of Hebert's command.

On June 25th the enemy sprang his first mine. It happened to be under the redan of the Third Louisiana. A breach yawned above the hole. The Third, with a yell, swept upon the breach, trampling its wreck under their [124] feet and repulsing the broachers. So it went from day to day; the men looking for new mines and eager to meet the workers. Not long after another mine exploded. This time the enemy feared to enter the breach. The Louisianians at the point of danger had emphasized the prime boast of impregnable Vicksburg. Its works could not be taken by assault.

In leaving forever the glorious trenches of Vicksburg we shall, while pressing the hand of Col. Edward Higgins, commander of the river batteries, meet with an old acquaintance. To locate him, the comrade's memory need only go back to Forts Jackson and St. Philip in April, 1861. The water batteries at Vicksburg were divided into three commands. Louisianians manned the center batteries, immediately in front of the city, under Maj. F. N. Ogden, Eighth Louisiana artillery battalion. Here was danger's picked station. In war, the point of danger is the point of glory—so said Murat, who never shirked it. Louisianians stood also behind the lower batteries, which were in charge of the First Louisiana artillery under Lieut.-Col. Beltzhoover. With Colonel Beltzhoover was a portion of the Twenty-third (Twenty-second) Louisiana volunteers. While still with Beltzhoover's Louisianians, it may be well to remember that, early in the siege, his men helped to sink the Cincinnati, mounting fourteen guns. It was May 27th when the Cincinnati, showing all her teeth, approached the upper batteries. Four sister gunboats, equally well guarded, threatened the lower batteries. It was a hot engagement while it lasted. Colonel Higgins summed up the result with this Lacedaemonian brevity: ‘An engagement took place which resulted in the . . .sinking of the Cincinnati in front of our guns, after an action of thirty minutes.’ After this, gunboats were disposed to be shy in their dalliance with our batteries.

The following roll of honor was given by Colonel Higgins, commanding the water batteries, of those distinguished [125] for their ‘gallantry and unceasing vigilance:’ Maj. F. N. Ogden, Capts. T. N. McCrory and P. Grandpre, Eighth Louisiana battalion; Lieutenant-Colonel Beltzhoover, First Louisiana artillery; Capts. W. C. Capers, R. C. Bond and R. J. Bruce, Lieuts. R. Agar, E. D. Woodlief and C. A. Conrad, First artillery; Adjt. W. T. Mumford, Eighth battalion, Capt. Samuel Jones, Twenty-second regiment and Sergt. Thomas Lynch, of the First artillery, who, by his ‘ceaseless energy in command of the picket-boats and his close attention as chief of the river police, made himself almost invaluable.’

In truth, Vicksburg demanded from her defenders ‘nothing less than ceaseless energy,’ and ‘unceasing vigilance.’ For the rest, such are the mots d'ordre of all sieges which arrest the pen of history. At 5 p. m., July 3d, the last gun was fired by the river batteries in defense of Vicksburg. So says Colonel Higgins, under whose order the gun was fired.

One word more of detail, this time claimed by the Mississippi. About July 16, 1863, the steamer Imperial reached New Orleans from St. Louis. The Imperial had made the ‘long passage’ without a ‘stand and deliver.’ It had passed Vicksburg and Port Hudson unchallenged. The problem of the great river was practically solved in the free wave by which nature had joined the Mississippi to the Passes. [126]

1 ‘Did Stonewall Jackson inspire victory?’—John Dimitry, Belford's magazine, September, 1863.

2 History of Confederate States, Jefferson Davis.

3 The parole rolls showed the following Louisiana commands at Port Hudson: Fourth Louisiana (detachment), Capt. James T. Whitman; Ninth infantry battalion, Capt. T. B. R. Chinn; Ninth battalion, partisan rangers, Lieut. Col. J. H. Wingfield, Maj. J. DeBaun: Twelfth heavy artillery battalion, Lieut-Col. P. F. DeGournay; Thirteenth regiment (detachment), Capt. T. K. Porter; Louisiana legion, Col. W. R. Miles; Boone's battery, Capt. S. M. Thomas; Watson's battery, Lieut. E. A. Toledano. Colonel DeGournay commanded the heavy batteries of the left wing. Lieut. L. A. Schirmer, of his command, on June 25th, seized the flag of Miles' legion, which had been shot down, ‘fixed it to a light pole, and jumping on the parapet, planted the flagstaff amid a shower of bullets. Again and again the flag was shot down, and each time the gallant lieutenant raised it, waved it defiantly, and planted it firmly regardless of the volleys of the enemy's sharpshooters. He escaped unhurt after repeating thrice this gallant feat, which called forth the enthusiastic cheers of the brave men who lined our works.’ Colonel Wingfield's rangers won the praise in general orders of the general commanding by a repulse of the enemy's cavalry on the Plain's Store road, May 23d.

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