THE SIEGE OF PORT HUDSON.; Interesting Letter from an Officer in Gen. Banks' Army. The Movement up the Atchafalaya and Down the Red River to Bayou Sara. Particulars of the Assault and Repulse.
Published: June 11, 1863
The following entertaining private letter from an officer in Gen. BANKS' army has been handed to us for publication: It contains a rough-and-ready view of affairs, from the time the command broke camp in Western Louisiana until the close of the late battle at Port Hudson.
THREE MILES FROM PORT HUDSON, Saturday, May 23, 1863.
We Have had a pretty hard time of it, but are now at striking distance from the enemy. Yesterday morning at 5 o'clock we took up our encampment and matched about ten miles to a place just beyond what is called "the village." It consisted of some small plantations owned by half-breeds or mulattoes. They all owned slaves, are said to be strong Pro-Slavery men and Secesh. However, several were very desirous of taking the oath of allegiance, and so the Judge-Advocate of our division and myself concocted an oath and swore them. We made it quite as strong as the usual one could be, but as we did not learn that, used this extempore one. We made them swear good and strong, and then went on our way rejoicing. They will now have to go us stoutly, as the rebs will hang them if they catch them. The niggers tell us they are all a hard set and cannot be trusted. We find the genuine negro hates the yellow man, as he is very hard as a master. We had a pretty easy march. When we reached the river we found three steamers to take us down to Bayou Sara. We had but a few minutes rest when we took the steamers and our brigades were soon steaming down the Mississippi. On our way down we took our dinners, and in about an hour and a half we reached Bayon Sara. Landing here, we were in a place consisting of four houses still standing and the ruins of fifteen or twenty more. Commodore PORTER was here last August, and as the guerrillas fired upon him he gave them fair warning not to fire again, or he would burn down the town. That night the guerrillas fired upon his steamers, wounding a man. The next morning PORTER burned down Bayou Sara. The walls of the brick buildings are still standing, and likewise the foundations of the wooden ones. Bayou Sara is a little bayou running in there, and the village took its name from it. It is at the foot of a bluff. On the top of the bluff is another village, which is called St. Francisville. On our landing, we saw a lady waving her handkerchief to us. The Colonel and myself called on her. She was very friendly, and said she had never been so happy in her life; that she was a Northerner.(?) She was born in Missouri, and had been insulted as a Northerner, an Abolitionist, &c., &c. I had a very fine fall; finally we were obliged to leave, and soon we formed our line of march toward Port Hudson. In the meanwhile a storm broke out, and for two hours raged with all the violence of a Louisiana storm. We started as it commenced, knowing that it was necessary to be in communication with Gen. GROVER, who had gone by boat to Bayou Sara from Semmesport. We were drenched to the skin in a few minutes. I had no overcoat, so I wrapped my india-rubber blanket around me. My long top-boots soon filled up, and I was in a delightful state. On the way, an old negro woman said that some soldiers were in the back part of her house with a quantity of Louisiana rum, So we proceeded to put a guard over it, broke up six barrels of rum, and arrested a lot of soldiers. We then called at a house where a lady desired very much to see an officer. She told us she was a widow; that her daughter (now dead) had married a son of Gov. WICKLIFFE, of Kentucky, a Unionist, who had been arrested; she wished us to procure his discharge. We told her we could do nothing for her; so left her, and on inquiring about WICKLIFFE, found that he was a rebel and strong sympathizer with secession. It was very singular, in my opinion, that Gov. WICKLIFFE's son could be other than either a Copperhead or a Secessionist. We had very little differently in determining to do nothing in the matter. Meanwhile, we would climb up hills almost perpendicular. If Port Hudson is as steep as these, it will be impossible to take it by storm. However, we are informed that on one side the approach is nearly level. There we have a very fine place to attack. For five miles we passed through a long hedge of roses about ten feet in height. We have had a long march, and finally hailed at a sugar-factory, where we [???]aid for the night. We were tired, wet, cold and hungry. The general officer of the day posted his pickets for the night, and finally I had a chance to go to our headquarters in a small hut where was a fire burning which we had had made for us. At 6 o'clock we were off, and alter three miles march. [???]ook up our present position on the north side of Part Hudson. We are in a strong position to prevent the enemy's escape. However we have great fear that they may cut, through Gen. GROVER. Two attempts have already been made by them without success to get out, and as I write this we hear the roar of artillery and musketry about two miles off. We regard it as a feint to distract us while they will cut at us here. We are ready for them. The splendid victory of Gen. GRANT at Raymond, taking six thousand prisoners and seventy-two guns, inspirits our army, and when the enemy hear of it must dispirit them in an equal ratio.
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I had a view of the famous nine hundred cavalry, under Col. GRIERSON, who made the raid, to-day. Our men cheered them as they passed. They are a splendid set of men, and I should like to command them in a charge. We had a good dinner to-day, thanks to an old negro woman, who insisted on my taking it, as we were "down here freeing her." She spoke with a hearty feeling against her Massa CHAMBERS. She says she loves us. I paid her, as she was too poor to give away anything. This letter is written on an old stool in a cane-field and in the midst of our brigade. I have not as comfortable a writing desk as I might desire, but it does very well in the absence of a better.
In the fight of day before yesterday the One Hundred and Sixteenth New-York fought with great bravery. It held its own against a very superior force until the rest of Col. CHAPIN's brigade came up, when the enemy were driven back into Port Hudson. The fight was a sharp one for a time. The works in front of us are said not to be very formidable. A negro, who was working on them to Sunday last, says they are not strong on this side. The ditch is not over breast deep, and the embankment breast high. If so we can take it by an assault, after giving them a good artillery raking so as to silence their heavy guns. Our brigade has with it Capt. MACK's battery, six 20-pounder Parrotts, and Capt. DURYEA's battery, six 6-pounders. The Parrotts can rake them at a distance of two miles and the others give them grape at a mile distance.
SUNDAY MORNING, May 24, 1863.
We rose quite early this morning, and had an early breakfast. Last night we were posted in order of battle, rather expecting that the enemy would attempt to escape by cutting through our lines; consequently, we had a line so placed that if they attempted to cut through our division, our brigade could give them grape from the guns, four of them 20-pounders, while four regiments, from behind a dense hedge, would give them musketry. It would have crushed any column that attempted it. The night passed without an attack.
BEFORE PORT HUDSON, Monday, at Sunrise.
We have just got up, and are awaiting orders for an advance to attempt the approaches to the enemy's works. Yesterday we advanced a mile and a half to Sandy Creek, a short distance the other side of which are the enemy's out-works. Our brigade was afterward ordered back to cover a road where it was feared the enemy might escape. Lieut.-Col. FOSTER took ten cavalry men and made a reconnoissance down it to see where it led to, and how dangerous it might be. With his escort close in band he rode two miles and a half, and then found it made so devious a course that it would be almost certain destruction for them to attempt to escape by that route, so he placed four vedettes on the extreme point almost in the enemy's works and returned. Here there was a rebel with his whole family. They were very indignant because yesterday morning, as some of our men were passing that same road they were fired on, and our soldiers gave them the very welcome assurance that if it happened again they would have their buildings burned down. They said that it was outrageous. They were told that if their own men were to find a family here who talked in favor of the Union as freely as they did of the South they would hang them in their door-way. They did not seem to understand the parallelism of the cases. They think the Unionists have no rights, except to guard the rebel property. We gave them a very lucid account of our policy, and then told them all the news, to let them enjoy it. There was a man and wife and three daughters. The sons were in the rebel army. The man said he had not voted for either side. We told him that was whipping the devil around the stump; that the open rebel had more manliness, and commanded some respect, while the sneak was nobody. We left him, telling him that if any more shots were received from the direction of his house, he must expect to see it in ashes, and he and his family would have to look out for other quarters. The man and wife both expressed their hope that the war would soon end. We told them they might expect it before this year was out; that they were nearly or quite played out, and we expected to employ the Summer in polishing them off. We took a position at the junction of Thompson's Creek and Great Sandy Creek. A few boats are up Thompson's Creek, and GRIERSON, with his famous cavalry, have gone after them. We must take or destroy them, as they could use them for bridges to make their escape. Yesterday Gen. GROVER's division advanced, but the enemy opened on our line so sharp a fire, that he fell back. Gen. AUGUR came to his rescue, and soon disabled two of the enemy's guns, compelling them in turn to retire. We had more of the details of Thursday's fight. It seems that the Forty-eighth Massachusetts were hotly pressed, and fell back. Two 20-pound Parrott guns were lost. The One Hundred and Sixteenth New-York charged them, and recaptured the guns. They say the spot our division is to try is the hardest of the whole works to take. That nature has done everything for it. We are to climb up a very steep bank, through which run gullies and streams. They expect us to storm it.
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In a few days the whole question of who are to be the victors will be decided. Gen. DWIGHT is above us, and we fear they will put us in the reserve, so that we will not get a chance to do much, unless we are repulsed.
TUESDAY, May 26, 1863.
A mile from Port Hudson, in the enemy's intrenchments.
Here we are working slowly into Port Hudson, and for a moment there is a full, awaiting the conjoined attack on the other side. Yesterday we received orders to advance, and went up a mile, and were left as a reserve to the First brigade, and there remained for orders. Meanwhile I learned that the One Hundred and Seventy-fifth regiment had arrived somewhere on our lines, and received permission to hunt them up. Mounting a small creole pony which JOHN had procured, I rode around our lines to the Baton Rouge road, and not finding them, or hearing from them, took the Bayou Sara road and rode down to Bayou Sara, passing Gen. WEITZEL's brigade on the march to our advance, and made all the inquiries about the regiment. I have no doubt that they are across the river, about six miles from the ferry, and will probably arrive to-day. Then I returned to our old camp, pretty well knocked up with a thirty-mile ride. Arriving there, I found our brigade had advanced toward the works of the enemy. I found JOHN, changed my pony for my pony for my large black, and rode on the field, finding that we had a sharp skirmish. Our division had advanced in the woods, keeping up a very severe firing, and steadily driving the enemy before us. They had fought pretty well, and we had not escaped. Dismounting, I advanced to the front, in the line of skirmishers. The firing was pretty sharp. The left of the Thirty-first Massachusetts had carried two small abattis, behind which their sharpshooters were placed. At the second one they came near taking a 12-pounder -- the enemy drove off with it, closely followed by the left company, under Lieut. MORSE. They were within ten rods of it, but the enemy whipped up their horses and escaped. The One Hundred and Thirty-third New-York relieved the Thirty-first Massachusetts, and I accompanied them. They could not find the Thirty-first, and I advanced alone, with my revolver in hand, through the gully, and found that the Thirty-first was there. I then was returning when they hailed me, and were about firing on me when I hailed them or, and told them who I was. Finally they were posted, and the Thirty-first Massachusetts drawn in, when an incident occurred which convinced me that very great prudence is necessary. The One Hundred and Thirty-third's left rested on the Port Hudson road, and in front of us, and about twenty rods in advance was a work covering their road. Suddenly five men appeared, then advancing. Had the pickets understood themselves, they would have let them advanced and taken them prisoners. Instead of that they challenged and fired. One fired back and the five skedaddled. Instantly our pickets fired in every direction and ran. In attempting to stop them I was knocked down, and had my clothes torn generally. After a while they rallied. The One Hundred and Seventy-fourth New-York in reserve, in the rear of the Fifty-third Massachusetts, and just to the left of the One Hundred and Thirty-third, hearing their firing, fired without orders, killing two and wounding three of the Fifty-third. Finally, when all was quiet, and everybody promised to do better I left and came back to our headquarters, and had my dinner at 11 o'clock P.M., and in a few minutes was sound asleep. This morning I was up at 4 o'clock, and in the advance again. Our men were all in the same position as last night. I had no trouble in finding them, and from prisoners taken learn that less than half a mile are a line of breastworks not very high, commanded by ten field pieces and a Parrott gun. They have had all their men massed on our front, believing that here is their only vulnerable point. Our forces are distributed as follows: Gen. SHERMAN, with his division, on the Baton Rouge side of Port Hudson, and extending to the Mississippi on that side; Gen. AUGUR, on SHERMAN's right, extending east of Port Hudson to Gen. GROVER, who connects with us. We have the extreme right, and consist of Gen. EMORY's division, and Gen. WEITZEL and Gen. DWIGHT's brigades, all under Gen. WEITZEL. We expect to have SHERMAN, AUGUR, and GROVER attack when we will push on. We have in the army seventy pieces of artillery, and the sound will be immense, especially as it will be echoed in the woods. Meanwhile, we are awaiting the moment for the ball to commence. If successful, we may be in Port Hudson in a day. Our dead are now being buried near me. It is a mournful sight. The rebels probably suffered more than we did. I find that they do not shoot as carefully as we do. They fire ball and buck, which make ugly wounds, but the buck seldom kills, hence our wounded bear a greater proportion to the killed than theirs do. In the Thirty-first, they have lost six killed and perhaps twenty wounded, while we find a dozen dead rebels, who lie where the Thirty-first were fighting, showing at least two killed to our one at this place. One of them they tell me is a Mason. I shall go and see the body. Meanwhile, before I am too busy for that I shall take a final look at the field.
WEDNESDAY, May 27, 1863.
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Same position as yesterday, We lay on our arms all yesterday. We had supposed the charge would be made, but some parts of regiments were delayed in coming up, and so the general attack was postponed until this morning. The order of attack is as follows: The left, under Gen. SHERMAN, to make a fierce attack to compel the enemy to send a portion of his force there to meet it, meanwhile his artillery playing very heavily; Gen. AUGUR and Gen. GROVER on the centre with their heavy artillery, and we to make the real attack. Our right is to be the extreme right, under Gen. DWIGHT, with two black regiments to storm the works. They to be supported by MACK's Parrott battery; Gen. WEITZEL the right centre, with his own brigade to storm at the same moment, we to be in the second line. They expect to take the first line of works, and then fall back on our division, who will take the second line, and Port Hudson will be captured. The plan is a good one. But there are so many chances in war, that we may be totally defeated by evening, and perhaps prisoners. I have much confidence that we will enter in several places, perhaps we will make a general race for the first entry. Give me but a good chance and I will try and get in myself. There is a cessation at present. It is the pause of changing pickets preparatory to the final attack. Good bye. If successful I shall continue this in Port Hudson.
THURSDAY, May 28.
Same position as yesterday. We have had a very hard and bloody battle, and have not yet reached Port Hudson. Yesterday morning the ball was opened by the center of DWIGHT and WEITZEL charging on the first outworks, and after a severe engagement they took them. The enemy retired, taking with him his artillery, and after severe skirmishing retired to his second line, where he made a desperate stand. Our artillery played on him and was answered by his own. The Seventy-fifth New-York, Eighth New-Hampshire and Ninety-first New-York, were engaged in driving them in, being supported by the whole of EMORY's division. After driving them into the intrenchments, they advanced the skirmishers, and finally made a desperate charge, carrying the second line and driving the enemy to his last line. This was all up a hill, nearly perpendicular, and the enemy had cut down trees to lay across the river, making it so much the more dangerous, from the very slow pace at which it was necessary to charge. The artillery was meanwhile pouring in grape. The brigade entered less than half its original strength. EMORY's division, meanwhile, led by Gen. PAINE, were under the same severe fire, being the supports. They suffered very much. Our men now began to move upon the rifle pits before the last line. The fire was so heavy as to stagger them, and for a time no headway was made. A battery on the enemy's left was firing on our flanks, completely enveloping us with the fire. For an hour we stood it, losing immensely, when WEITZEL sent to GROVER for reinforcements. GROVER, in an hour, came with his division and supported us, relieving those regiments who were most cut up. After giving them ammunition another charge was made, carrying the rifle pits and the ditch in front of the last works. The works themselves they could not carry. Time and time again it was attempted, but when the heads appeared over the parapet they were met by a volley which mowed them down. We sent now to AUGUR for reinforcements, and Gen. DUDLEY came in with his brigade. A last charge was made and failed. Meanwhile a, little to the right, a part of our brigade advanced until they too were before the last works, but a bayou here jutted in front and prevented a movement, as sounding with poles showed six feet of water. Here their sharpshooters were very effective. If a man showed his head in sight he was picked off. On their extreme right the two negro regiments advanced over the bayou on a pontoon bridge, and advanced toward the enemy's works. They found them almost perpendicular to a bayou twenty feet across and seven deep in front. A fire of musketry opened from the top of the bluff and from the rifle-pits all the way down. The fire was supported by their batteries; one of them, the heavy one used to shell our gunboats on the river. Their Colonel showed me one eight-inch and one ten-inch shell which had been thrown in on them. They stood up nobly, out it was impossible to cross the bayou, and a retreat was ordered. Slowly they fell back -- the enemy not daring to follow them. Hearing our heavy fire, another charge was made, and another and a fourth with a like result. They could not get across the bayou. DWIGHT meanwhile ordered them to take the battery. They failed. Col. GOODING was now ordered by DWIGHT to go to them and try and take it. He went over and found the two regiments could not muster over 900 men. Col. GOODING was satisfied that they could not take the work, for the reason that the bayou as effectually restrained them from attempting it as if it was the Mississippi itself. He communicated his orders, however, and a fifth charge was made with a like result. They stood like veterans, and were mown down, and finally a retreat was ordered, which was made as if by old soldiers.
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I find that many sneerers are very polite to Col. NELSON, of the Third Louisiana. They have to admit that no regiment behaved better than they did. They never staggered under a fire from a superior force and batteries of the largest guns known to warfare. On the left, Gen. SHERMAN made an attack and was repulsed, being wounded in his leg with a solid shot, He will propably survive it. Gen. ANDREWS, Chief of Gen. Banks' Staff, assumed his command, Gen. AUGUR also made an attack, and was likewise repulsed in the final work, alter taking the outworks and a number of prisoners. On the whole, during the day we lost many men and failed to take the real works of the enemy, capturing but four guns, and they field pieces. I judge we will hardly make another attack like that of yesterday.
An interesting episode occurred during the afternoon fight. Suddenly the firing ceased, and it was announced that a flag of truce had been sent in. We all thought they had surrendered, and very few regretted it. All had had enough fighting. It turned [???] that a Ma[???]ar of a new-Hampshire regiment had put up his handkerchief for a flag of truce to inquire about his killed. The enemy seized the pretext and hung out one, pretending to inquire what was wanted -- really to relieve their exhausted men. It took over an hour to find out what the mistake was. The firing then was resumed and continued until night, when it ceased, almost completely, by mutual consent, both parties holding the position they had held at the commencement of the flag of truce. I lost many friends. Col. CHAPIN. One Hundred and Sixteenth New-York, was killed at the hand of his brigade; Col. RODMAN at the head of his regiment. RODMAN was my most intimate friend. We had bid each other good-bye just before going into battle, jesting on our last words; little did we dream that it was to be our last meeting [???]live. Capt. HUBBARD and Lieut. ROMANOWSKY of Gen. WEITZEL's Staff, were both killed. We had taken a drink together from my canteen but an hour before. They were men of the finest talents, and must have made their marks wherever they had lived. Quite a number of my friends were wounded. Fortunately, I was not touched. My position is much exposed, being mounted, and yet is all the safer for that reason. It is like shooting on the wing. We had our headquarters on the field, and were sound asleep soon after the close of the battle. About 2 in the morning we were awakened by a heavy shower of grape, which flew around us. It seems that the Ninety-first New-York commenced shooting at the enemy's pickets, and they answered by a shower of grape. Unhappily, both Gen. WEITZEL and Col. GOODING's headquarters were in range, and the grape whistled over our heads, but no one of us was hurt. Gen. WEITZEL, however, had a ball strike in the tree, a root of which served him for a pillow, and not more than a couple of feet from his head. In the morning we examined our forces, and gave them the necessary instructions about lying down. &c., and cautions against unnecessary exposure. About 9 o'clock the firing began to slacken, and shortly after ceased. We went to Gen. WEITZEL for the news, and found that Gen. BANKS had sent a flag of truce, proposing a cessation until 2 o'clock, to allow us to bury our dead, and pick up our wounded. We then went to the Negro brigade to cut a road between them and our brigade, and to see whether we could not silence the battery which had so annoyed them. I cut my way through, and ascending the trees in the neighborhood, had a good idea of our position. I met Gen. ANDREWS evidently reconnoitering. He looked thoughtful. I fancy he fears we will have to turn this into a siege, and starve the rebels out. They are much stronger than we supposed the number we expected to meet. I have had many hairbreadth escapes, and do not hesitate to say I do not desire a continuation of the scenes of yesterday. Two Colonels, who were in the seven days' fight at Antietam, say they never saw a more severe fire than the second hour's work at the right centre. We were in the centre of the cross-fire. You may imagine my position. The cracking of limbs around me; the whizzing of balls and shell; seeing the mangled wounded and dead, made such a horrid and sickening sight that, but for the excitement and hope of victory, I should have vowed I would never go into another battle. It we take Port Hudson, it will finish the Campaign here. It is now 5 o'clock, and a solitary roar tells me the time has expired, and I must go to the front. Again good-bye.
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MAY 28. -- Same position as yesterday. Our truce was yesterday extended until 7 o'clock, and then we went at it again. But we had improved our opportunities; had a good line of fortifications run up to protect our guns and sharpshooters. The sharpshooters are protected by rifle pits, our guns by a breastwork composed of cotton bales faced with earth. We saw the enemy improving their time and so did we. When the firing commenced again, we had a very strong line of sharpshooters, and it was plain they could not drive us. They tried it on the First Louisiana (white) and were repulsed. Our brigade has a skirt of hill level with the enemy's works -- between us is a deep gully and a small bayou. We could easily storm it if we could afford the loss of life. I made a reconnoisance along our right, and have found a place where a storming party might carry the works. We are debating whether to try it. The colored brigade will probably try it. We expect to have 10,000 men from GRANT in a few days. Meanwhile the enemy's rations are giving out. They cannot fight and fast. Report says that we have killed Gen. BEALS, second in command. It may be false. We hare suffered very severely. GOVERNEUR CARR was shot at the head of his regiment, as was also Col. SMITH. They do not give us the names of minor officers.
Before closing, I will say that I do not expect any more fighting. I think both sides are tired of it, and the affair will be turned into a siege.
We can starve them one in a short time, if our means of information prove correct.
I had an opportunity of witnessing the bravery of the Third Louisiana (colored) regiment. They fought with great desperation, and carried all before them. They had to be restrained for fear they would get too far in unsupported. They have shown that they can and will fight well. I hope the Copperheads will now stop their abuse.
Our army fought with great bravery and determination; but we were unable to storm their works without too great loss of life. Our brave and gallant commander will soon, I trust, be able to announce the capture of Port Hudson, which will practically end the war in Louisiana.