Page images
PDF
EPUB

ten miles in extent, sweeping to the south in a semicircle again to the river, where they rest on the crest of a range of high hills. The country in the rear is rolling, and afforded many natural advantages to the enemy. Between Baton Rouge and Port Hudson is a long stretch of territory difficult of access at all times, being covered by dense woods and undergrowth, and abounding in bayous and marshes. A formidable range of batteries commanded the bluffs on the river, and defended the approaches by land. The whole position was inclosed within successive lines of fortifications of the most formidable character. The enemy were so confident of its strength, that they proudly termed Port Hudson their Gibraltar. The commander was MajorGeneral Frank Gardner, an officer noted for his capacity and resoluteness. While General Banks was landing at Bayou Sara, on the north, General Augur came up from Baton Rouge, on the south, to join in the proposed investment of Port Hudson. Slight attempts were made by the enemy to thwart this purpose, but their forces were easily driven back to their intrenchments. On the 26th of May, the enemy's works were completely invested. “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 J. W. Sher

man.”

General Banks now made a spirited but unsuccessful assault. The de- May sign was to carry the enemy's 37. positions on the right and left, and its execution chiefly devolved upon the divisions of Generals Sherman and Weitzel. The assault was spiritedly made, and an entrance into the enemy's works gained, though our troops were afterward forced to retire. There was also an attack on the centre of the position by the columns of Generals Augur and Grover, but though gallantly

conducted, it proved equally fruitless

with the main assault. “At sunset the firing ceased,” reported the enemy, “after a hotly contested engagement of twelve hours, during the whole of which our men had behaved with unflinching gallantry, and had completely repulsed the enemy at every point.” The fleet, under Admiral Farragut, which had been co-operating with General Banks in all his movements, kept up a continuous bombardment of the water batteries of Port Hudson, while the army was making the assault upon the land fortifications. Little effect, however, was produced, beyond dividing the attention of the enemy. General Banks estimated his loss in killed, wounded, and missing at nearly one thousand. His testimony in regard to the conduct of the negro troops differed entirely from that of the Southern writers. General Banks is reported to have said that the blacks “answered every 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 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 are in a condition to observe the conduct of these regiments, that the Government will find

| expectation. Their conduct was heroic.

in command on the right.

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, leave 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.” After the first unsuccessful assault, General Banks was persuaded of the necessity of laying siege in regular form. His troops, accordingly, were set to digging ditches, erecting batteries, and approaching by parallels. Active skirmishing was, in the mean time, kept up, and the sharp-shooters were busy on both sides. Our works were soon so close to those of the enemy, that conversation could be kept up. A witness within Port Hudson declares that “ the men were behind the breast-works night and day, and one could scarcely show his head an instant without being made the mark of a. sharp-shooter.” A be

sieger also testifies that he and his comrades were no less exposed ; “Our fellows,” he says, “are behind logs, and a hat cannot make its appearance without receiving a dozen shot-holes through it.” On the 13th of June, General Banks communicated, by flag of truce, with General Gardner, the commander, and demanded an unconditional surrender of the place. The latter answered that his duty required him to defend his post, and he must refuse to entertain any such proposition. General Banks now determined to risk another assault, which was accordingly, after a heavy bombardment of several days, made on Sunday, June 14th. This also was unsuccessful. The loss of the Unionists on this as on the previous occasion was estimated at about one thousand. That our men were not discouraged by the ill-success of the assault upon the enemy's stronghold is apparent from the readiness with which they responded to an appeal of their general on the next day after the last repulse. “We are at all points,” said General Banks, “upon the threshold of his fortifications. One more advance and they are ours. For the last duty that victory imposes, the Commanding General summons the bold men of the corps to the organization of a storming column of a thousand men, to vindicate the flag of the Union and the memory of its defenders who have fallen.” Volunteers came forward at once, and

in such numbers as to more than Satisfy however, fortunately not put into re

the demand of their commander. The services of these heroes in intent were,

quisition. General Banks, loth to risk the lives of such brave men, now determined to resort to the slow operations of a continued siege, the issue of which he did not doubt would result in the surrender of Port Hudson. He accordingly prosecuted his labor of investment and approach with increased energy and vigilance. In the mean time, the enemy were striving to make a diversion in favor of the beleaguered garrison at Port Hudson. Reappearing in considerable numbers in the Teche and Attakapas regions, the scene of General Banks' triumphant campaign, they succeeded, though failing in their main purpose, in inflicting considerable damage. An imposing force, principally of Texans, under General Dick Taylor, a son of the former President of the United States, operated with great boldness and no little success in Western Louisiana. The main object of the enemy seemed to be to regain possession of the New Orleans and Opelousas Railroad, and capture Brashear City. The Union forces in that quarter retired before the enemy as they approached, destroying the bridges at Thibodeaux and Lafourche crossing, in order to check their advance. Taylor, however, succeeded in seizing a considerable portion of the railroad and holding it temporarily, but his chief success was the surprise and capture of Brashear City,

on the 27th of June, by which he got

possession, according to the Louisville Democrat, of “800 prisoners, including thirty-three officers; also, $3,000,000 worth of commissary, $1,500,000 worth of quartermaster's stores, $250,000 of ordnance, and $100,000 of medical stores; also, twenty-three garrison and regimental flags, 10,000 tents, 2,000 horses and mules, 7,000 negroes, 7,000 stand small-arms, sixteen siege guns, and a position as important as Port Hudson or Vicksburg.” Having obtained command of the western bank of the Mississippi, the enemy were enabled greatly to molest transportation by the river. “They attack,” wrote a correspondent, “to-day at one place, and to-morrow they are at another; consequently we never know where to expect an attack.” A considerable number of transports were thus destroyed, and the navigation of the Mississippi seriously impeded. An attempt of the enemy to retake Donaldsonville, which had been captured and garrisoned by General Banks, proved unsuccessful, chiefly owing to the spirited de- June fence of the gun-boats. 2S, So close did the enemy appear to New Orleans, and such command had they obtained of its land approaches, that it was feared by the timid that that city would be taken, and many of its inhabitants of secession sentiments boldly expressed their expectations of such a result. The enemy's main object, however, was to create a diversion in favor of the beleaguered Port Hudson, as they could hardly hope, without a naval force, to repossess themselves of New Orleans, girded as it was by strong forts, and guarded by a United States fleet. General Banks, conscious that the issue which involved the command of the Mississippi was to be decided at Wicksburg and Port Hudson, persisted resolutely in his siege operations, unawed by the demonstrations the enemy were making. An audacious raid of their cavalry immediately in his rear seemed for a moment to awaken serious apprehensions, but these were soon dispelled when the insignificance of the force became known. It appeared that Logan, a rebel chief who had been hitherto kept in check by Colonel Grierson, the leader of the famous expedition through Mississippi, but who was now emboldened to act by the junction of the latter with General Banks' army of besiegers, made a sudden dash with some six July hundred horsemen into Springfield * Landing, a large dépôt of public property. It was evidently the intention of Logan and his men to destroy everything, but they were fortunately checked in their progress. The raiders were forced to decamp by the appearance of a Union cavalry force, which succeeded in capturing eight and killing ten of them. Brigadier-General Dwight officially imputed the blame to the guard at the landing, declaring that “the panic and alarm which existed were caused by the disgraceful cowardice of the officers and soldiers of the Second Rhode Island Cavalry, who were sent out expressly to prevent this alarm, and to cut off

[blocks in formation]

negro soldiers, and censure of that of their white officers: “I am informed,” he said, “that the conduct of the officers of General Ullman's brigade, during the panic near my old headquarters, was particularly disgraceful, as a rule, while the black soldiers of that command, on being supplied with muskets and ammunition by my ordnance officer (Lieutenant Dickey, Sixth Michigan Volunteers), were easily formed in line, and did not, in the least, yield to the panic about them.” General Banks' siege operations, carried on with continued vigor, were working a slow but sure effect upon the enemy's stronghold, when an event occurred which at once brought the commander of Port Hudson to terms. This was the surrender of Wicksburg on the 4th of July. The endurance of the garrison whose resistance had been so resolute, may be learned from the testimony of those who were within the walls of Port Hudson. The defences were so strong, and the protection they gave to the garrison so sure, that comparatively little injury was inflicted upon life and property; but the enemy, by the activity of the besiegers, were left but little repose by day or night. “During the siege of six weeks, from May 27 to July 7th,” remarks one of the besieged, “the enemy must have fired from fifty to seventy-five thousand shot and shell, yet not more than twenty-five men were killed by these projectiles.” The enemy without was less formidable than the foe within. The garrison had worse dangers than shot and shell to contend with, but “against them all they fought like heroes, and did their duty cheerfully. Several buildings were burned by the enemy's shells, among which was the mill, entailing a loss of two or three thousand bushels of corn. “About the 29th or 30th of June, the garrison's supply of meat gave out, when General Gardner ordered the mules to be butchered, after ascertaining that the men were willing to eat them. Far from shrinking from this hardship, the men received their unusual rations

, cheerfully, and declared that they were

proud to be able to say that they had been reduced to this extremity. Many of them, as if in mockery of famine, caught rats and eat them, declaring that they were better than squirrels.” Such was the condition of the garrison when, on the 7th of July, salutes fired by the Union gun-boats and batteries, loud cheering along the whole line of the besiegers, and other boisterous tokens of joy, reached the ears of the famished defenders of Port Hudson. The besiegers, whose approaches had brought them within conversing distance of the besieged, were quick to announce the cause of their jubilation. Wicksburg had fallen On that night (July 7), about ten o'clock, General Gardner summoned “a

council of war, consisting of General Beale, Colonels Steadman, Miles, Lyle, and Shelby, and Lieutenant-Colonel Marshal J. Smith, who, without exception, decided that it was impossible to hold out longer, considering that the provisions of the garrison were exhausted, the ammunition almost entirely expended, and a large proportion of the men sick, or from exhaustion unfit for duty.”

A correspondence was accordingly opened by the enemy with General Banks, which resulted in the unconditional surrender of Port Hudson. July The capture and its results were 8. thus announced by General Banks to the commander-in-chief, General Halleck:

“SIR-I have the honor to inform you that with this post there fell into our hands over 5,500 prisoners, including one major-general and one brigadier-general ; twenty pieces of heavy artillery, five complete batteries, numbering thirty-one pieces, of field artillery; a good supply of projectiles for light and heavy guns, 44,800 pounds of cannon powder, 5,000 stand of arms, and 150,000 rounds of small-arm ammunition, besides a small amount of stores of various kinds. We captured also two steamers, one of which is very valuable. They will be of great service at this time.”

At the very moment that the surrender was completed, the enemy requested 6,000 rations, as “the garrison had eaten its last mule.”

« PreviousContinue »