Confederate Bastion Challenged Union Control of River
150 Years Ago: Siege of Port Hudson
PORT HUDSON — June 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Siege of Port Hudson during the Civil War. The Union had control of the entire Mississippi River with the exception of Vicksburg and Port Hudson. It hoped to secure complete control by capturing those two citadels.
At Port Hudson, 7,500 Confederate soldiers under Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner set up their defenses over a large area that overlooked the river. Union Gen. Nathaniel Banks had more than 30,000 troops at his command — far more than enough, he believed, to secure an early victory or the surrender of the Confederate soldiers.
Both sides endured privations, especially the Confederates whose supply lines were cut off. The defense of Port Hudson was complex, using well-planned defensive earthworks and skillful reinforcement of threatened areas. The Union laid siege and launched several large attacks, all of them very unsuccessful. The battle marked one of the first large-scale uses of black soldiers by the North. They performed bravely but were decimated. In the final assault, the Union suffered 1,792 casualties to only 47 for the South.
When Vicksburg fell on July 4, the Confederates’ position was unsustainable, especially without food or ammunition. Despite their courage and resolve, starvation and disease took its toll. Gardner negotiated lenient terms of surrender. A total of 5,935 Confederate soldiers were paroled, while 405 officers were taken prisoner, half ending up at Johnson Island prison in Ohio. Because of an error in the parole, most of the paroled soldiers returned to duty.
Books on Port Hudson include Where Bugles Called and Rifles Gleamed by Baton Rouge author William A. Spedale; The Guns of Port Hudson by David Edmonds, and Port Hudson, Confederate Bastion on the Mississippi by Lawrence Hewitt.