The Civil War examining Port Hudson, Louisiana

Submitted by: CJ Johnson

 

Early in the War Between the States, Union leaders deemed it critical to control the Mississippi River. Both New Orleans and Memphis fell to Union forces in early 1862. Grant began operations to take Vicksburg later that same year.

Vicksburg proved to be more difficult that Grant had anticipated. However, eventually, after a lengthy siege, Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863. Only Port Hudson, Louisiana, prevented Union forces from controlling the Mississippi, from top to bottom.

The action started at Port Hudson in late May 1863, when Union Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’ army moved into position to take Port Hudson, the last Confederate stronghold on the River. Although the Confederates under the command of Major General Franklin Gardner were outnumbered, the Yankees could not capture Port Hudson by frontal assault.

In addition to the infantry, artillery played a significant role in both the strike and defense of Port Hudson. After initial attack by Federal forces failed, by May 27, Banks decided a siege would be the best way to take the garrison. The siege would last 48 days.

According to the National Park Service, “Banks renewed his assaults on June 14 but the defenders successfully repelled them. On July 9, 1863, after hearing of the fall of Vicksburg, the Confederate garrison of Port Hudson surrendered, opening the Mississippi River to Union navigation from its source to New Orleans.”

A more detailed account of the surrender was found on the Civil War Trust website, attributed to historynet.com. “Port Hudson surrendered on July 9, 1863. At 7 a.m., General Gardner’s ragged army formed in line along the river by his headquarters. As the Federals marched across the shell-blasted soil to the river, they could hear the booming of the guns in Battery Bailey firing a 100-shot salute. Arriving at the river, the Union troop wheeled right and lined up facing their former foes.

Gardner offered his sword in surrender to Brig. Gen. George Andrews. Andrews returned it to Gardner in honor of his brave defense of his post. The Confederate infantrymen then put down their arms. There were no cheers as [the] Stars and Bars were lowered, only proud, defiant silence on one side and respectful silence on the other.

That changed when the Stars and Stripes fluttered from atop the flagpole. The ragged, gray-clad men were still quiet, but the huzzahs from the blue-clad ranks more than made up for their silence. Captain Jacob Rawles’ 5th U.S. Battery fired a salute of 34 shots as the American flag went up the pole. At noon, with flags waving, the eight companies of the Indiana Heavy Artillery paraded in Port Hudson, which their tireless shelling had done so much to reduce.”