Union Forces Commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks
Confederate Forces Commanded by Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner
Conclusion: Union Victory
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. Some 5,000 Union men and 700 Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded during the siege.
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.
Mississippi, and Port Hudson.
Port Hudson was situated high on the bluffs overlooking a substantial bend in the river which required ships passing downstream to reduce speed. Fighting the current upstream was always a slow, painstaking process. As such, the strategic importance of Port Hudson was quickly grasped by Confederate authorities 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 be readily constructed so as to 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 of the civil war, and was one of the most devastating losses of the Confederacy. The guns on these bluffs were well placed and posed a distinct threat to ships of the Union navy, which had to navigate the river. Maintaining this control was crucial to the confederacy The battle to retain this location would be long and hard and the confederate armies would fight against tremendous odds.
In May 1863, Union land and naval forces began a campaign they hoped 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. Banks gathered there all the available forces in his department.
On May 21, Banks' lead division encountered Confederates at the Battle of Plains Store.
On May 23, Port Hudson was attacked by the Union troops, under the command Banks. The Confederates under the command of Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner. Banks hoped to overrun the entrenchments quickly, then take his army northward to assist 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, having completely invested the Confederate works and made due preparation, 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 May 27, in the morning, 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. They were the first black soldiers committed to combat in the Civil War. The 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 dead and wounded soldiers. The Union army settled into a siege which lasted for 48 days. Banks renewed his assaults on June 14 but the defenders successfully repelled them.
The siege created hardships and deprivations for both the North and South, but by early July the Confederates were in much worse shape. They had exhausted practically all of their food supplies and ammunition, and fighting and disease had greatly reduced the number of men able to defend the trenches.
On July 9, when word of the Vicksburg defeat reached Gardner, he realized that the situation was hopeless and nothing could be gained by continuing the defense of Port Hudson. Surrender terms were negotiated, and on July 9, the Confederates lay down their weapons, ending 48 days of continuous fighting. The Union army entered Port Hudson. This was a final blow in a week of catastrophe for the Confederacy and it would never recover.This defeat opened the Mississippi River to Union navigation from its source to New Orleans. The battle and the campaign were over. After over 2 years the Mississippi was opened for the Union, and closed to the Confederacy. There was still plenty of fighting ahead, but the South had been dealt a crippling blow.
At the battle of Port Hudson, the African-American soldiers bravely advanced over open ground in the face of deadly artillery fire. The black solders proved their capability to withstand the heat of battle.
The fighting at Port Hudson illustrated how artillery affected the conduct of a siege. The Union army combined artillery fire with sharpshooting riflemen as it attempted to keep the Confederate defenders from getting supplies of food or other necessities; the Union Navy added their big guns to the bombardment. The Confederates responded by firing their rifles and artillery at the Union forces. Recognizing how dangerous this type of fighting could be, each side also built elaborate earthworks to protect themselves.
The siege of Port Hudson affected the Civil War and the men who fought there in a number of ways. The surrender gave the Union control of the Mississippi River, cutting off important states such as Arkansas and Texas. Both sides suffered heavy casualties: about 5,000 Union men were killed or wounded, and an additional 4,000 fell prey to disease or sunstroke; Gardner's forces suffered around 700 casualties, several hundred of whom died of disease. And on both sides, even many of those who survived found their view of war permanently changed.