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Siege of Port Hudson

March 14 – July 8, 1863

Gen. Franklin Gardner’s 7,000 men in Port Hudson, La., a Confederate fortress on the Mississippi River 110 miles below Vicksburg, were encircled by Union Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’s 30,000 man Union force. The Rebels had been under siege, cut off from all supplies and reinforcements for three weeks, when on June 13, Gardner refused Banks’s demand for surrender. Banks then ordered the massive artillery bombardment of Port Hudson to resume and an assault on the fortress to be made early the next morning.

The main attack would be delivered on the Priest Cap, the name given to a large fort in the middle of the Rebel line. Banks had his cavalry ready to chase after and capture the Rebels should they try to escape once his infantry breached their defenses. Starting at 4:00 A.M. on June 14, 1863, wave after wave of Union troops crashed against the Priest Cap, but the determined defenders stood bravely at their posts, repulsed each charge, and littered the ground before the fort with hundreds of dead and wounded Yanks.

By noon the Union army had given up the contest. Of the 6,000 Yankees, 203 were killed, 1,401 were wounded, and 188 were missing. The 3,750 Rebels defending the Priest Cap suffered only 22 killed and 25 wounded. “One more advance,” said Banks, “and they are ours!” But his men had had enough of such foolhardy tactics; they even threatened mutiny. There would not be “one more advance.”

Instead the Union troops continued the siege, made miserable by Louisiana’s hot summer climate. “The heat, especially in the trenches, became almost insupportable, the stenches quite so, the brooks dried up . . . the springs gave out, and the river fell, exposing to the tropical sun a wide margin of festering ooze,” recorded a Union officer. The union troops continued digging the zigzag trenches that were slowly bringing them closer and closer to the Southern lines, while the Rebels inside those lines were butchering mules for food.

Fascinating Fact: When the Rebels discovered Union forces trying to tunnel under the Confederate line, they exploded a charge of gunpowder in a countermine, causing the Union tunnel to collapse.