SEIGE OF PORT HUDSON

Longest Civil War Battle Was Fought At Port Hudson, Louisiana
May 23, 1863 to July 9, 1863


The following text comes from the brochure given at the Port Hudson State Commemorative Area. For those who are unable to visit the park or have yet to know the history of this siege, additional pages containing photos from the area will be posted in the upcoming weeks.

Walk along the six miles of trails at Port Hudson State Commemorative Area, and you'll be back in the turbulent days of the War Between the States.

This area's geographic location as a potential military post had first been noted by the British a century before the American Civil War. 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.

From the standpoint of military strategy, the Confederate fortifications at Port Hudson formed the southern end of the Confederate defenses along the Mississippi River. Vicksburg, 150 miles to the north by river, was the northern anchor of this connection between the heartland of the Confederacy and the Trans-Mississippi. The guns overlooking the river at both strongholds were formidable, well-placed and posed a distinct threat to the ships of the United States Navy. Once that navy gained control of the entire Mississippi River, the Confederacy would be cut in two. Not only would her military forces be divided, but the transportation of vital supplies such as salt, cattle and horses moving eastward, and arms and munitions moving westward, would be halted. Thus the importance of maintaining control of at least this much of the Mississippi River can be clearly seen.

Confederates Greatly Outnumbered

The siege of Port Hudson began on May 23, 1863, and pitted roughly 30,000 Union troops against 6,800 Confederates under the command of Major General Franklin Gardner. On the morning of May 27 and again on June 14, the Union Army under the command of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks launched ferocious assaults against the four-and-one-half-mile long string of fortifications protecting the river batteries near Port Hudson. These actions constituted some of the most severe and bloodiest fighting of the entire Civil War, and places such as Fort Desperate, the Priest Cap, Slaughter's Field and the Citadel became names forever etched in the pages of American Civil War history.

As the siege continued into July, the Confederates had nearly exhausted their ammunition and were reduced to eating mules, horses and rats. When word reached Gardner that Vicksburg had surrendered, he realized that his situation was hopeless and nothing could be gained by continuing the defense of Port Hudson. Surrender terms were negotiated, and on July 9, 1863, after forty-eight-days and thousands of casualties, the Union army entered Port Hudson.

The surrender of the garrison was the final blow in a week of catastrophe for the Confederacy. On July 3 General Robert E. Lee's second invasion of the North was turned back at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The following day Vicksburg surrendered, and the Confederate drive through Arkansas was halted at Helena. Five days later came the surrender of Port Hudson. It was a week of crushing defeat, one from which the Confederacy would never recover.

48-Day Siege

The importance of the siege of Port Hudson must not be overlooked. In Civil War history its significance lies in the fact that it was the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, the control of which was one of the primary goals on both sides. Port Hudson was the longest siege in American military history. The garrison withstood the hardships for 48 consecutive days without relief from the outside. Port Hudson is significant for another reason too, for it was here that black soldiers in the regular United States Army first participated in an assault.

In 1974 the Port Hudson battlefield was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior and, as such, joined a select group of properties which have been recognized for their importance in American history.


Updated ph.htm March 4, 1997 by Steven L. Driskell