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Battle and Siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, May 22 – July 9, 1863.

Description of the battle and siege at Port Hudson, Louisiana, which was the final engagement in the Union campaign to recapture the Mississippi in the Civil War.

The Siege of Port Hudson occurred when 30,000 Union troops surrounded the Mississippi River town of Port Hudson. This attack, in cooperation with the attack on Vicksburg, was intended to take the Mississippi River away from the Confederates. The 6,500 Confederate soldiers defending the town were able to hold off the Union offensive for 48 days. The Confederate troops surrendered once Vicksburg had fallen. 

From the beginning of the Civil War, both the North and South made control of the Mississippi River a major part of their strategy. The Confederacy wanted to keep using the river to transport needed supplies; the Union wanted to stop this supply route and drive a wedge that would divide Confederate states and territories. Particularly important to the South was the stretch of the Mississippi that included the mouth of the Red River. The Red River was the Confederacy's primary route for moving vital supplies between east and west.

Port Hudson was situated high on the bluffs of the Mississippi River overlooking a substantial bend in the river which required ships passing downstream to reduce speed. Fighting the current upstream was a slow, painstaking process. As such, Port Hudson was of strategic importance following the fall of New Orleans. The terrain along the east bank of the Mississippi River abounded with natural ravines which could be easily adapted as a defensive perimeter, and earthworks joining these could easily be constructed and make the place virtually impregnable. It is this environment and setting which led to the siege of Port Hudson.

Port Hudson was one of the most critical battles and devastating Confederacy losses of the civil war. The guns on the bluffs were well placed and posed a distinct threat to the Union navy, which had to navigate the river. Retaining this control was crucial to the Confederacy. And it became a long, hard fight against tremendous odds. 

In May 1863, Union naval and land forces began a campaign that would give them control of the full length of the Mississippi River. In cooperation with Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's offensive against Vicksburg, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks's army moved against the Confederate stronghold at Port Hudson. 

On May 21, Gen. Banks's lead division encountered Confederates at the Battle of Plains Store. On May 23, they attacked Port Hudson. The Confederates were under the command of Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner. Banks hoped to overrun the entrenchments quickly, then take his army northward to assist Gen. Grant at Vicksburg. What followed was the longest battle and some of the bloodiest fighting of the Civil War. The vastly outnumbered confederates would hold their ground into July.

The Union forces were ordered to make a general assault along the whole line. The attack was intended to be simultaneous, but in this it failed. The Union batteries opened early in the morning, and after vigorous bombardment Gens. Weitzel, Grover, and Paine on the right, assaulted with vigor at 10:00 A.M., while Gen. Augur in the center, and Maj. Gen. T.W. Sherman on the left, did not attack till 2:00 P.M.

On the morning of May 27, the Union army launched ferocious assaults against the lengthy Confederate fortifications. Among the attackers were 2 regiments of African-American soldiers, the 1st and 3rd Louisiana Native Guards who were the first black soldiers committed to combat in the Civil War. Their attacks were uncoordinated, and the defenders easily turned them back causing heavy Union casualties. Banks' troops made a second, similarly haphazard assault on June 14. Again they were repulsed, suffering even more casualties. Then, the Union army settled into a siege which created hardships and deprivations for both the North and South. 

By early July, the Confederates were in bad shape. They had exhausted most of their food supplies and ammunition. The fighting and disease had greatly reduced the number of men able to defend the trenches. When word of the Union victory at Vicksburg reached Confederate Gen. Gardner on July 9th, he realized that the situation was hopeless and nothing could be gained by continuing the defense of Port Hudson. Surrender terms were negotiated. The Confederate troops lay down their weapons, ending 48 days of continuous fighting. This defeat opened the Mississippi River to Union navigation from its source to New Orleans.

At the battle of Port Hudson, the African-American soldiers, bravely advancing over open ground in the face of deadly artillery fire proved their capability to withstand the heat of battle. The fighting at Port Hudson also illustrated how artillery affected the conduct of a siege. The Union army combined artillery fire with sharpshooting riflemen and the Union Navy added their big guns to the bombardment, keeping the Confederate defenders from getting supplies of food or other necessities to the front lines.  Elaborate earthworks were built by both sides to protect themselves during the siege from the deadly artillery and rifle fire.

The surrender of Port Hudson gave the Union army control of the Mississippi River and cut off Arkansas and Texas from the rest of the Confederacy. Both sides suffered heavy casualties, 5,000 Union men were killed or wounded, and an additional 4,000 fell prey to disease or sunstroke; the Confederate forces suffered around 700 casualties, several hundred of whom died of disease. 

Owner of originalRita Foster Wallace
Linked toSimeon Castleberry Foster (Military)

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