Civil War – New Union States

June 20, 1863 is the official “birthday” of West Virginia. The western part of the State of Virginia was distinctly different from the eastern section. The west was composed of smaller farms with few slaves, while the eastern part was dominated by the wealth of planter families, with high numbers of slaves. The eastern side controlled the Virginia legislature.

When Virginia seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, most of the Virginians in the west opposed it. They formed the “Restored Government of Virginia” and worked for statehood, which was approved in a referendum. In April 1863, President Lincoln “proclaimed the admission of West Virginia into the Union effective June 20, 1863”, according to history.com.

Down on the Mississippi River, Union forces continued their effort to gain control of the River. If Union forces could take both Vicksburg and Port Hudson, Louisiana, the River would be completely open. Capturing both strongholds would accomplish a major goal of the Union leadership.

At Vicksburg, the siege continued. Further south, at Port Hudson, Louisiana, Union General Nathaniel P. Banks was determined to take control of the Confederate occupied garrison. Like Vicksburg, Port Hudson was located on the eastern bank of the River and was a natural fortress, located on an 80 foot bluff along a turn in the River. Like Vicksburg, swamps, ravines, and bluffs provided natural defenses outside the city.

Port Hudson had been strengthened with earthworks, trenches, and battery emplacements, similar to Vicksburg, becoming a “masterpiece of military engineering.” According to one source, “Among the most significant of these was an improvised fortification known as Fort Desperate. The position, nearly a mile east of the town, would be the focal point of two different Union assaults.”

On May 27, the Union attempt to take the stronghold by frontal assault failed, and the Yanks began a siege that would last for 48 days. The southern soldiers worked to make the defenses even stronger.

On June 14, General Banks attempted a second assault on Port Hudson, but the Rebels turned them back once again. The National Park Service stated “the Confederates inflicted 1,805 casualties on the Union troops while losing fewer than 200.” The Rebels would continue to hold out as long as they could.