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Fortification and siege of Port Hudson—Compiled by the Association of defenders of Port Hudson; M. J. Smith, President; James Freret, Secretary.

The village of Port Hudson is situated on a north and south bluff on the east, or left bank of the Mississippi river, about eighty feet above low water, and about thirty miles above Baton Rouge.

About two miles above, the river, from a southward course, turns about due east, directly against the village and against the bluff, by which it is suddenly turned south again for about five miles. It then curves again towards the east, dividing into two branches, which form Prophet's Island.

The village was built just at the angle formed by the sudden turn of the river above noted. The bluff extended a few hundred yards above the angle, and then went down to a ravine, beyond which was a steep, narrow ridge, cut vertically on the west.

A short distance beyond is Sandy creek, crossed by a bridge, from which a road lead under the knoll and bluff to the angle of the river.

Westward from this road, and north of the river, was a marsh, extending to the southward branch of the river first above noted.

Thomson's creek flowed through this marsh to the river.

About a mile and a half below the village, the bluff was cut by a ravine about three hundred yards wide, which came down in a southwesterly direction, with ramifications towards the village in the rear.

Eastwardly from the village, the plateau extended into extensive fields, from which roads ran to Jackson, Clinton, Bayou Sara and Baton Rouge.

To the north, the ground became suddenly very much broken, densely wooded, and almost impassable, for a few hundred yards, to Sandy creek, a branch of Thomson's creek.

A railroad, in very bad working order, ran from Port Hudson to Clinton, thirty-three miles northeast.

The following account is compiled from—

1st. Official report of Colonel Steedman, First Alabama regiment, commanding left wing of defences.

2d. Official report of General Miles, Miles's Legion, commanding right wing.

3d. Two official reports of Colonel Marshall J. Smith, commanding heavy artillery.

4th. Narration of the Siege, published by Lieutenant Wright in the New Orleans Weekly True Delta, September 5, 1863. [306]

5th. Narration of James Francis Fitts in The Galaxy for September, 1866—‘A June Day at Port Hudson.’ (Federal.)

6th. Orville J. Victor's History of the War. (Federal.)

7th. Report (official) of Fred. Y. Dabney, First LieutenantEngi-neer Confederate States Navy, Chief Engineer at Port Hudson.

The position and occupation.

The occupation of Port Hudson had been determined on in July, 1862, and the attack by General Breckenridge on Baton Rouge, early in the succeeding month, was a preliminary step. Brigadier-General Ruggles was left to commence the work of fortifying the ground. The Essex, an iron-clad gun-boat, being in the river above, heavy guns could not be brought down by boats. The plan of detached works was the one decided upon, and the first lunette was thrown up on the Baton Rouge road, four miles below Port Hudson.

This line would have been eight miles in length, and, according to military rule, would have required for its defence a force of 28,000 men, with a reserve of 7,000, making a garrison of 35,000 strong, with at least seventy pieces of artillery. It is not surprising, therefore, that this system was soon abandoned as impracticable.

New system of defence.

A change of commanders placed Brigadier-General H. N. R. Beal in charge of Port Hudson. A different system of defence was decided upon, and the work commenced. This was a continuous indented or angular line of parapet and ditch, on a more contracted scope. A line was surveyed, commencing about two miles and a half below Port Hudson, describing a slight curve to a point on Sandy creek, a mile back of the town. 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 deep 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 on hills to a deep gorge, in the bottom of which lay Sandy creek. Thence to the river was about a mile and a half.

This was a line four miles and a half long, which, according to all [307] military writers, required fifteen thousand men to hold, with a reserve of from three to five thousand.

Work was commenced and lingered on through the summer and fall; the breastworks thrown up were the smallest and weakest allowed in engineering, made in the roughest manner, and reveted with fence rails.

A small force of negroes was kept at work on the line in a desultory manner for several months, and then the soldiers were called to help. When General Banks threatened an attack, about the 10th of March, the work was still unfinished. Some little activity now became manifest, so that when the siege really commenced, in May, the line had reached the broken ground to the north, at the Clinton road.

The Essex.

Soon after the occupation of Port Hudson the gloomy looking Essex floated down opposite to us, and went up the river again.

The water batteries were then in process of excavation.

The Essex next got ready to go down, and taking the Anglo-American on her starboard side, ran past at four o'clock in the morning. Besides a few field pieces, we opened on her with two 42-pounders and a 20-pounder Parrott which had just arrived, though without expectation of injuring the ironclad. She replied to our fire, killing one of our horses, and our guns ceased firing as she passed out of their respective range.

The river batteries.

During the fall and winter, heavy guns for the river defence occasionally arrived, and they were severally placed in position. A three pit battery was constructed at the water's edge, and two other batteries dug at a height of from fifty to sixty feet, being below the top of the bluff.

General Gardner took command on the 27th of December, and immediately ordered changes, particularly as regarded subjects of engineering skill. The whole system of the river defence was altered so as to cluster the heaviest guns together, and bring them all within a more contracted scope, which enabled them to deliver a more concentrated fire, as well as to support each other with more effect. Evidences of awakened energy were seen on every side, and the spirit of the troops never was at a higher pitch.

A week before General Gardner came to Port Hudson, Banks's [308] army had landed at Baton Rouge, re-occupying and fortifying the city.

General Banks's advance.

During the months of January and February troops arrived in considerable number. Three brigades were formed; one given to General Beall, composed principally of troops from his own State (Arkansas), and the other commands were assumed by Brigadier-Generals S. B. Maxey and John Gregg, of Texas. In March another brigade arrived commanded by Brigadier-General Rust. The enemy finally exhibited signs of activity, and about the 10th of March it became known that General Banks would make a demonstration of some kind. He did move out of Baton Rouge on the 12th and approached us with his whole force. It was confidently expected that he would attack us with some vigor, and our dispositions were according made on the 13th.

General Gregg held the right of our line of intrenchments, General Maxey the centre and General Beall the left. General Rust's brigade was in advance.

On the afternoon and during the night of the 14th, Rust's brigade, in the woods before our lines, felt the enemy's advance and tried, but in vain, to draw him on.

General Rust sent in requesting permission to make his way around Banks's right flank and rear, while the balance of the troops sallied forth and attacked in front. This permission was refused; in the hope of drawing the enemy into an assault.

Meanwhile the fleet moved up as follows:

Lieutenant-Colonel Marshall J. Smith's report of the Bat-Tle at Port Hudson on the night of March 14th, 1863.

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