Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Battle of Sunshine Church (149th Anniversary) - Round Oak, Georgia

Sunshine Church Battlefield in Georgia
149 years ago today on July 31, 1864, the Union army suffered one of its greatest disasters of the Atlanta Campaign at a little country chapel called Sunshine Church.

The Battle of Sunshine Church was one Georgia's most dramatic Confederate victories and also holds note as the event that led to the surrender of the highest ranking Union officer to raise the white flag during the entire War Between the States (or Civil War).

Maj. Gen. George Stoneman
On the previous day, Gen. George Stoneman had tried to take Macon as part of a grandiose plan to lead a cavalry raid all the way to the prisoner of war stockade at Andersonville, Georgia. The general believed he would become a hero by liberating the thousands of Union prisoners held at Camp Oglethorpe (Macon) and Camp Sumter (Andersonville), but instead he found Gen. Howell Cobb waiting for him at Macon with a force of very motivated Georgia Reserves and Militia.

At the Battle of Dunlap Hill, just across the Ocmulgee River from downtown Macon, Cobb and his Confederates convinced Stoneman that it would be worse than foolish to try to continue on to Andersonville. After an unsuccessful attack on the Confederate fortifications around the Dunlap farm, Stoneman decided the best course of action would be for him to withdraw from Macon as quickly as possible and get back to the safety of Sherman's main army.  To learn more about that action, please see yesterday's post:

It was too late for Stoneman, who had earned his coming fate with the terror he had inflicted on helpless women and children on his way to Macon. Confederate cavalry was already moving into position behind him to cut off his route of retreat.

Brig. Gen. Alfred Iverson
About ten miles north of the town of Gray, the Union general and his men found that Confederate Gen. Alfred Iverson has cut them off and was waiting in an area of rough terrain near Sunshine Church.

Iverson had grown up in the area and knew its every ridge and trail. Outriding Stoneman, he had taken his men all the way around the retreating Union column. By the time the Federals reached Sunshine Church, the Confederates were dug in and waiting on a commanding ridge. They had picked the ground and were ready to make the fight.

In one of the greatest cavalry blunders of the War Between the States, Gen. Stoneman now found himself trapped between Iverson's entrenched men and the forces that Cobb was sending north from Macon to attack him from behind. Left with no choice but to try to fight his way through, the Union commander attacked and was driven back.

Iverson's Ridge at Sunshine Church
For hours and late into the night of July 31, 1864, the two forces battled. Iverson had chosen his ground well, however, and by the time the guns finally quieted everyone knew it. Over the pleas of his officers, Stoneman made a desperate decision. He would stay behind and sacrifice himself with part of his command to try to keep the Confederates occupied while Col. Horace Capron and Lt. Col. Silas Adams tried to cut their way out with their brigades.

Stoneman's Raid Marker
Adams and most of his men eventually did reach the safety of Sherman's lines, but Capron's brigade was cornered a few days later at the Battle of King's Tanyard and cut to pieces. Stoneman himself, completely surrounded by Confederate officers and soldiers who were irate over the intentional targeting of civilians by the Union raiders, was left with no choice but to become the highest ranking Union officer to surrender during the entire four years of the war.

Today's Sunshine Church
The Battle of Sunshine Church ended in embarrassing defeat for Federals and the Union general - who barely escaped being hanged from the nearest tree limb by the outraged Confederates - would spend months as a prisoner of war. It would be a long time before Stoneman's cavalry would "tear up the tracks again."

To learn more about the Battle of Sunshine Church, please visit

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Battle of Dunlap Hill 149th Anniversary - Macon, Georgia

Dunlap House at Ocmulgee National Monument
149 years ago today, Union and Confederate forces battled at the Battle of Dunlap Hill (also called Dunlap's Farm) at Macon, Georgia.

It was at this battle that Stoneman's Raid, a Union military expedition designed to free the prisoners of war at Andersonville, Georgia, began to unravel. Gen. George H. Stoneman, whose name has been perpetuated in modern times in the lyrics of the song "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" would be captured two days later in a disaster that would rank as one of the worst cavalry defeats of the entire Civil War.

Gen. George H. Stoneman
Library of Congress
Stoneman's plan to raid the prisoner of war camps at Camp Oglethorpe in Macon and Camp Sumter at Andersonville was part of the Atlanta Campaign, which raged in the summer of 1864. The Union army of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and the Confederate army of Gen. John Bell Hood were engaged in brutal fighting that would determine the fate of Atlanta and in many ways that of the Confederacy itself. One week after Hood had struck out against Sherman at the Battle of Atlanta, Gen. Stoneman approached Sherman with an idea that might shatter Confederate hopes of holding Atlanta.

With 2,104 men and two pieces of artillery, Stoneman proposed that he make a lightning raid south from Atlanta, break the railroad to Macon by which the Confederates were bringing in supplies, and then liberate the thousands of Union prisoners of war being held at Macon and Andersonville.

Confederate Earthworks at Dunlap Farm
Sherman was wary of the idea, but ultimately decided that it was worth a try. He warned Stoneman, however, to focus first on breaking the railroad and not to try to reach the prison camps unless conditions on the ground looked very favorable. Stoneman rode out from Decatur on July 27, 1864, however, which his sights set clearly on Macon and Andersonville.

The Union raiders struck the railroad just as Sherman had ordered, but in the process gave Georgians a preview of the terror they would experience later that year during the March to the Sea. Homes, villages and farms were looted, livestock taken or killed, barns destroyed and civilians terrorized.

Gen. Howell Cobb
Library of Congress
Confederate cavalry fell back ahead of Stoneman's rampaging raiders, skirmishing as they did so. The skirmishing intensified as the head of the Union column approached Macon, with the Confederates showing strong indications that they were preparing to stiffen their spines and give Stoneman a battle as he approached the important city.  The Union general, however, overestimated his own capabilities and severely underestimated those of his waiting opponent, Maj. Gen. Howell Cobb.

Despite signs of stiffening Confederate resistances, Stoneman pushed into the outskirts of Macon on the morning of July 30, 1864, 149 years ago today.

Far from carrying out the lightning raid he had proposed to Sherman, the Union general had given his men too much time to loot and pillage as they came south. In doing so, he gave General Cobb's Confederates too much time to prepare for the coming battle.
Restored Blockhouse at Fort Hawkins

With the 5th Georgia Reserves, units fro the Georgia State Militia, volunteers and every other company he could find, Cobb prepared to defend Macon. Field artillery was placed on the grounds of old Fort Hawkins across the Ocmulgee River from downtown Macon.  Only the blockhouse of the old War of 1812 fort still stood, but Confederate officers used it as a lookout from which they could direct the fire of their guns.

The Confederate infantry took up position in trenches and field fortifications that guarded the approaches to Macon via the old Clinton Road. Much of the battle was fought on land belonging to the Dunlap family and soldiers battled each other on the grounds of the Dunlap House and virtually in the shadow of the massive prehistoric Indian mounds of the Macon Plateau.

The site of much of the fighting is preserved today as part of Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, which focuses primarily on the massive and amazing prehistoric site. A trail and interpretive signage, however, tell visitors about the Battle of Dunlap Hill and provide access to the yards of the historic Dunlap House, which still stands, as well as the Confederate earthworks that can still be seen in its yard.

Nearby Fort Hawkins is now an archaeological park and although the blockhouse located there during the battle no longer stands, a recreation can be seen along with interpretive signage and other exhibits.

Cannonball House in Macon
In Macon itself, the famed "Cannonball House" is now a museum.  It was struck by a cannonball fired by Union troops as they shelled civilian areas of the city during the battle.

The Georgia reserves and militia fought much harder than Stoneman expected and it soon became clear that he would not take Macon and his dream of becoming the liberator of Andersonville would not be realized.  He ordered a withdrawal back from Macon, leaving the battlefield of Dunlap Hill in the hands of the Confederates.

The ordeal of the Union general and his 2,000 cavalrymen, however, was far from over. He had unleashed a hornet's nest on himself that would come down with full fury two days later at the Battle of Sunshine Church.  I'll post more about that on Wednesday.

To learn more about the Battle of Dunlap Hill, please visit

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Battle of Honey Springs (Elk Creek), Oklahoma (July 17, 1863)

War-time Sketch of the Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma
150 years ago today on July 17, 1863, having skirmished with Confederate forces at Chimney Mountain, the Union army of Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt reached the battlefield at Honey Springs, Oklahoma. Please click here to read about the preliminary skirmish at Chimney Mountain.

Halting his men at the northern end of today's Honey Springs Battlefield State Historic Site, Blunt gave them time to rest while he and his escort scouted the position of Brigadier General Douglas H. Cooper's Confederate army.

Scene of Heavy Fighting early in the Battle
Although each general believed he was heavily outnumbered, their two effective forces were fairly close in size (about 3,000 men each). The Confederates had a few more men, but many never were engaged and all were experiencing problems with faulty ammunition. Under the rainy conditions that day quite often their guns would not fire.

As he arrived on the field, Blunt discovered that the Confederate army was positioned in thick brush and timber facing open ground across which his men would have to advance. Seeing that Cooper was prepared to fight, he ordered his men into the ranks:

Map showing location of the Battle
Courtesy National Park Service
...After two hours' rest, and at about 10 a.m., I formed them in two columns, one on the right of the road, under Colonel [William R.] Judson, the other on the left, under Colonel [William A.] Phillips. The infantry was in column by companies, the cavalry by platoons and artillery by sections, and all closed in mass so as to deceive the enemy in regard to the strength of my force. In this order I moved up rapidly to within one-fourth of a mile of their line, when both columns were suddenly deployed to the right and left, and in less than five minutes my whole force was in line of battle, covering the enemy's entire front. - Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt, USA.

The Union force then moved forward, with skirmishers out front, and "soon drew their fire."

On the Confederate side of the field, General Cooper waited until the Union troops were within easy range and then opened on them with his artillery:

Elk Creek on the Honey Springs Battlefield
...I rode forward to the position north of Elk Creek where Captain [R.W.] Lee's light howitzer battery had been posted, and found it supported by Colonel Bass' regiment (Twentieth Texas Dismounted Cavalry), by a portion of the Second Cherokee  Regiment, and a body of skirmishers on the right, under command of Captain Hugh Trinn, of the First Cherokee Regiment, the remainder of the Cherokee Regiments being near the Creek. - Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper, CSA.

Things quickly began to go wrong for the Confederates. General Cooper arranged his forces for a defense in detail, which allowed the Federal troops to put more power into position against his front lines. Col. Tandy Walker, meanwhile, mistook his orders and moved far out of position with his Cherokee and Creek troops.

Texas Road on the Honey Springs Battlefield
As Captain R.W. Lee and the men of his battery had watched, the Federals had begun to wheel 12 pieces of artillery into position. Rather than let them get this superior artillery force into position, Lee opened on the guns with his howitzers and a small experimental rifled cannon. A Union cannon was demolished by Confederate fire, but the Federals soon found the range and returned effect fire.

Heavy fighting erupted up and down the line but after two hours, the critical moment of the battle came. Confederate officers mistook a re-positioning of a portion of the Union line and thought a retreat had gun. They ordered an immediate counter-attack. The Confederates surged forward to within just 25 paces of the Union lines when the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers suddenly unleashed a deadly volley on them. The charge was shocked to a stop as dozens of men fell dead and wounded.

Site of the Elk Creek Bridge on the Battlefield
At this point the Confederate line began to fall back for the crossings of Elk Creek and General Cooper ordered his men to withdraw. A force of Texas soldiers held the vital Elk Creek Bridge on the Texas Road under heavy fire, giving Cooper time to withdraw most of his men.

The Southern forces continued to fight, but their faulty ammunition caused so many problems that they began to lose hope. A retreat degenerated into a rout.

As total disaster seemed about to overwhelm the Confederate army, Col. Tandy Walker suddenly arrived on the field with his Cherokee and Choctaw soldiers. Cooper immediately ordered them to charge:

Site of Walker's Charge at Honey Spring
...With their usual intrepidity the Choctaws went at them, giving the war-whoop, and succeeded in checking the advance of the enemy until their force could be concentrated and brought up. The Choctaws, discouraged on account of the worthless ammunition, then gave way, and were ordered to fall back with the others in the rear of the train, which had moved off in an easterly direction, covered by our own troops.... - Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper, CSA.

The "Gettysburg of the West" had been fought - and lost - by the Confederates and the end of the battle found them in full retreat for the Canadian River and the reinforcement column then coming up under General Cabell.  Cooper ordered his supplies that could not be saved set afire and by the time the Federals occupied their camps, there was little left to capture. General Blunt did report taking one piece of artillery, 200 stand of arms, 15 wagons and one stand of colors.

Monuments at Honey Springs Battlefield
The Battle of Honey Springs (sometimes called the Battle of Elk Creek) shifted the war in the far west from the Cherokee and Creek Nations all the way south into the Choctaw Nation. It opened the door for Blunt's capture of Fort Smith in September. Great misery would follow in the Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations as the Union troops pushed south over coming months and thousands of American Indian refugees would flee south for the Texas line, the smoke from their burning homes filling the skies behind them.

The battle will be reenacted in November, when the weather is a little cooler, and a major weekend of activities is planned for the 150th anniversary commemoration at the same time.

To learn more, please visit

Fight at Chimney Mountain, Oklahoma (July 17, 1863)

Monuments at Honey Springs Battlefield
150 years ago today (July 17, 1863), Union forces continued their advance on the Confederate camp at Honey Springs in the Creek Nation of what is now Oklahoma. Read yesterday's post about the beginning of the advance.

Confederate commander Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper had ordered Col. Tandy Walker's 1st Cherokee and Choctaw Regiment up to Chimney Mountain the previous afternoon, along with Capt. L.E. Gillett's squadron of Texas cavalry. They were there to watch for the approach of the Union column and resist its approach to the main Southern camps along Elk Creek at Honey Springs in the Creek Nation.

Chimney Mountain, Oklahoma (upper left)
Located just southwest of today's city of Muskogee, Chimney Mountain is an isolated but impressive height that offers a commanding view of the surrounding area. The roads from the Creek Agency and Fort Gibson (then called Fort Blunt) intersected here, creating an ideal choke point where Confederate troops could observe and delay a Union advance in force:

     About daylight on the morning of the 17th, the advance of the enemy came in sight of the position occupied by the Choctaws and Texans; commenced a brisk fire upon them, which was returned and followed by a charge, which drove the enemy back upon the main column. Lieutenant Heiston reported the morning cloudy and damp, many of the guns failing to fire in consequence of the very inferior quality of the powder, the cartridges becoming worthless even upon exposure to the damp atmosphere. - Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper, CSA (August 12, 1863).

The primary force engaged by the Confederates at Chimney Mountain was the Sixth Kansas Cavalry. Lt. Col. William T. Campbell reported that the fighting began just as the sun was rising:

Brig. Gen. D.H. Cooper, CSA
...I, with my command, was ordered to take the advance, Company F, Captain Gordon, being advance guard. About daybreak the advance came up with the enemy in considerable force, posted on a rise of ground, and near the timber. The captain immediately formed his men and opened a brisk fire on the enemy, but was compelled by superior numbers to fall back. - Lt. Col. William T. Campbell, USA (July 19, 1863).

Campbell brought up the full force of his regiment and the Confederates began to fall back. According to General Cooper, a heavy rain began to fall as the Union resistance stiffened, causing even more problems with the inferior ammunition with which his men had been equipped. Unable to fire their weapons, they began to fall back "slowly and in good order to camp, for the purpose of obtaining a fresh supply of ammunition and preparing for the impending fight."

The Sixth Kansas Cavalry lost 1 killed and 5 wounded (2 minor) in the skirmish at Chimney Mountain. Confederate losses were not reported.

Place where Union forces halted prior to the battle.
With Walker withdrawing his command back to the main camp at Elk Creek, the Union advance resumed. A few Confederates were left as skirmishers at Prairie Mountain, 3 miles north of Cooper's main position.

When the Federals came within sight of these men, the halted to rest briefly and deploy for battle. Lt. T.B. Heiston, Cooper's aide-de-camp, commanded the skirmishers and soon reported back to the Confederate commander that the Union force was deploying and appearing to number 4,000 men. The actual number was around 3,000.

Where the Confederate line formed in the brush
The Union commander, Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt, rode forward with his escort to to examine the Confederate position:

While the column was closing up, I went forward with a small party to examine the enemy's position, and discovered that they were concealed under the cover of brush awaiting my attack. I could not discover the location of their artillery, as it was masked in the brush. While engaged in this reconnaissance, one of my escort was shot. - Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt, USA (July 26, 1863).

The two main forces were now within sight of each other and began to deploy for the coming engagement. I will have more on the Battle of Honey Springs later today in a second post.  Until then, you can read more at

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The March to Honey Springs, Oklahoma (July 16, 1863)

Civil War ruins and earthworks at Fort Gibson
One of the most dramatic encounters of the Civil War west of the Mississippi River began to take shape 150 years ago today in the Cherokee Nation of what is now Oklahoma.

Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt, commander of the U.S. Army's District of the Frontier, had arrived at Fort Blunt (better known as Fort Gibson) in the Cherokee Nation of what is now Oklahoma on July 11, 1863. The Arkansas River was flooded and blocked his command from the Confederate forces of Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper camped 25 or so miles to the south in the Creek Nation at the Honey Springs of Elk Creek.

Water flows from Honey Springs, Oklahoma
Informed that Cooper commanded 6,000 Confederates and that Brigadier General "Old Tige" Cabell was on the way to join him with another 3,000 men, Blunt decided to strike before the Confederates could join forces. Accordingly he ordered his men to begin building boats for a crossing and started scouting for a way to get across the river without provoking a fight with the Confederate sentries that picketed the opposite shore.

Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt, USA
Cooper's command included nowhere near 6,000 men - it was actually about half that - but Blunt had no way of knowing the accuracy of the intelligence he had received. The size of the column reinforcements under Cabell, advancing from Fort Smith, also was wildly overestimated.

On July 15th, as Blunt's 3,000 men neared completion of their boats, General Cooper received word that the Arkansas River was beginning to drop and had become fordable above the mouth of the Verdigris River and that Union officers could be seen examining the fords. At midnight, Blunt began to move:

At midnight of the 15th, I took 250 cavalry and four pieces of light artillery, and marched up the Arkansas river about 13 miles, drove their pickets from the opposite bank, and forded the river, taking the ammunition chests over in a flat-boat. I then passed down on the south side, expecting to get in the rear of their pickets at the mouth of Grand River, opposite this post, and capture them, but they had learned of my approach and had fled. I immediately commenced crossing my forces at the mouth of Grand River in boats.... - Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt, USA (July 26, 1863).
Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper, CSA

Gen. Cooper told a similar story of the crossing. According to his version, news reached him early on the 16th that Federals were crossing in force at the Creek Agency west of Fort Gibson. His scouts told him the Union force numbered between 200 and 300 and were moving from the Creek Agency down the south bank of the Arkansas toward the fords near Fort Gibson to drive off his pickets. He believed, however, that his pickets were still in position watching for any large movement of the Federals.

Accordingly, he ordered Col. Tandy Walker forward with the First Cherokee and Choctaw Regiment, along with Captain L.E. Gillett and his squadron of Texas cavalry, to take up a position between Elk Creek and the Arkansas River, where the roads from the Creek Agency and Fort Gibson intersected at Chimney Mountain.Walker was to call in the pickets from the south bank of the Arkansas and send out detachments to watch both of the roads leading to Chimney Mountain.
Col. Tandy Walker, CSA

As Walker and Gillett moved forward with the Cherokee, Choctaw and Texas troops, Blunt's command continued its crossing of the Arkansas River at the mouth of the Grand. The crossing continued all day on the 16th - 150 years ago today - but by 10 p.m. the long column of 3,000 Federals had started south on the road to Chimney Mountain and Elk Creek.

The Battle of Honey Springs, also called the Battle of Elk Creek, would take place the next day. Oklahoma's largest battles of the War Between the States, it has been called the "Gettysburg of the West" by some writers.

I will post more about the battle tomorrow in commemoration of its 150th anniversary.  Until then, you can read more at

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Fall of Port Hudson, Louisiana - July 9, 1863

Peace Monument at Port Hudson, Louisiana
The longest siege of the War Between the States (or Civil War) came to an end 150 years ago today at Port Hudson, Louisiana.

For more than six weeks, Major General Franklin Gardner and a Confederate garrison of fewer than 4,000 men had kept at bay a Union army of more than 30,000 soldiers. In the process, they killed or wounded more of their enemies than were included their own command. Had Vicksburg not fallen five days earlier, they might well have continued to fight even longer.

To learn more about the fighting at Port Hudson, please read these previous articles first:

Earthworks defended by Alabama and Arkansas units
On July 7, 1863, however, Union soldiers in the trenches surrounding the Mississippi River bastion north of Baton Rouge began to yell across the lines to their Confederate counterparts that Vicksburg had fallen. The news was passed up to General Gardner who penned a letter that night to the opposing commander, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, seeking official confirmation.

Banks replied early on the morning of July 8th by declining a truce to discuss the surrender of Port Hudson, but also enclosing a dispatch he had received from General Ulysses S. Grant the previous day notifying him of the surrender of Vicksburg.

Union dead at Port Hudson National Cemetery
Because the primary purpose of the Confederate bastion at Port Hudson was to defend the stretch of of the Mississippi River that began at the nearby mouth of the Red River so that supplies could continue to flow from west of the Mississippi to the railroad at Vicksburg, the strategic value of the position ended when Vicksburg fell. Gardner accordingly wrote back to General Banks:

Having defended this position as long as I deem my duty requires, I am willing to surrender to you, and will appoint a commission of three officers to meet a similar commission appointed by yourself at 9 o'clock this morning, for the purpose of agreeing upon and drawing up the terms of surrender; and for that purpose I ask for a cessation of hostilities. Will you please designate a point outside of my breastworks where the meeting shall be held for this purpose? - Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner, CSA (July 8, 1863).

Confederate garrison flag that flew over Port Hudson
Banks replied immediately by informing Gardner that he would direct that active hostilities end until further notice. He designated Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone, Col. Henry W. Birge and Lt. Col. Richard B. Irwin to meet with three officers of Gardner's choice.  

The Confederate commander appointed Col. I.G.W. Steedman, Col. Henry W. Birge and Lt. Col. Marshall J. Smith to represent him in the surrender negotiations. The two groups of officers agreed to relatively simple terms and both commanding generals approved the agreement. The hour set for the official surrender of Port Hudson was 7 a.m. on July 9, 1863, 150 years ago today.

Confederate flag dug up at Port Hudson after the battle.
The surrender took place as expected. The Confederates stacked their weapons and furled their flags, with one exception. A Southern flag would later be dug up at Port Hudson where it had been buried prior to the surrender. It is now on display in the museum at Port Hudson State Historic Site, along with the official garrison flag of the post.

Although the Confederate officers agreed to surrender themselves and their men to become prisoners of war, General Banks ordered that the enlisted men and non-commissioned officers be paroled and released. The officers were sent away to northern prisoner of war camps.

Union losses in the siege of Port Hudson totaled roughly 10,000. These included 5,000 men who were killed and wounded in the disastrous assaults on the Confederate lines, as well as another 5,000 men who died of disease during the siege. Confederate losses were less than 1,000, including around 250 men who died of disease.

To learn more about Port Hudson State Historic Site, which preserves a large area of the battlefield, please visit

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Port Hudson, Louisiana - July 7, 1863

Confederate gun at Port Hudson State Historic Site
150 years ago today, Major General Franklin Gardner (CS) at Port Hudson learned that Vicksburg had fallen three days earlier.

The news came not from the Union commander, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, but from his soldiers themselves, who called across the lines to let the Confederate defenders of the Louisiana bastion know that they alone remained to defend the Mississippi River for the South. The intelligence was passed up through command to General Gardner, who penned a brief inquiry to General Banks and had it delivered through the lines under a flag of truce:

Museum Display of Heavy Artillery Shells at Port Hudson

GENERAL: Having received information from your troops that Vicksburg has been surrendered, I make this communication to ask you to give me the official assurance whether this is true or not; and, if true, I ask for a cessation of hostilities with a view to consider terms for surrendering this position. - Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner, CSA (July 7, 1863).

It was a remarkable fact of the 19th century that commanding officers believed they could trust their enemies to be honorable and provide them with accurate information under such situations.

The siege at Port Hudson had continued longer than any other siege of the War Between the States (or Civil War). The first attempt by the Union army to storm the defenses of the Confederate bastion had ended in disaster (please see Fighting goes on at Port Hudson, Louisiana). Not only did it leave nearly 2,000 Union officers and soldiers dead, wounded or missing, the assault gave a significant boost to the morale of the surrounded Confederates. They had plenty of gunpowder and believed they could beat the Union army any time it chose to advance.

Field gun on display at Port Hudson
General Gardner and his men proved this again on June 13-14, 1863, when Banks attempted a three-pronged infantry assault on the fortifications of Port Hudson. The Confederates now had just over 3,500 men capable of fighting, while the Union army numbered more than 30,000.

The attack began at 11:15 in the morning of June 13 when more than 100 Union cannon opened fire on the earthworks and trenches of Port Hudson. After one hour of bombardment that could be heard in Baton Rouge and other towns throughout the region, General Banks demanded that Gardner surrender. The Confederate general replied that duty required him to defend his post and told Banks simply, "I decline to surrender."

Indiana Artillery firing on Port Hudson
Courtesy Library of Congress
The bombardment was resumed and continued through the night and into the pre-dawn hours of July 14, 1863. Then, at 3:30 a.m., the Union infantry began its assault. The attack was confused and poorly organized. Fog and the smoke of the bombardment created even more confusion in the dark. The result was a Confederate victory so lopsided that it was matched by few other engagements of the war. The Union army lost 1,792 men killed, wounded and missing. The Confederates lost only 47.

Even as their food and bullets ran out, the Confederates kept fighting. Reduced to eating rats and their own mules, they made up for their lack of bullets and artillery shells by salvaging the ones fired into the front of their earthworks by the Union army. They carried out quick raids against the Union infantry that was slowly digging its approach trenches toward them. When they learned that the Federals were trying to dig mines under their works to plant gunpowder in order to blow them up, the Confederates dug mines of their own and blew up the Union mines.

Looking out from Confederate lines at Port Hudson
Courtesy Library of Congress
One can not help but wonder what might have happened at Vicksburg had Gardner been in command there.

Gardner and his tiny command, in fact, held out longer than any other force under siege during the war. It was not until he learned that Vicksburg had fallen that he finally accepted the fact that there was no further need for sacrifice on the part of his men. Port Hudson was the southern defense for the stretch of the Mississippi River used to move supplies and men from west of the river to the railroad at Vicksburg. With Vicksburg in Union hands, Port Hudson no longer served a purpose for the Confederacy.

So, late in the day on July 7, 1863 - 150 years ago today, Gardner sent his inquiry through the lines asking for official confirmation from Banks that Vicksburg had surrendered. The Union commander would not reply until early the next morning, and for one more night the fighting continued to rage.

Please click here to learn about the surrender of Port Hudson.

Read more about Port Hudson battlefield at

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fighting goes on at Port Hudson, Louisiana - July 5, 1863

Confederate Fortifications at Port Hudson
150 years ago today, as Union troops consolidated their hold on the newly captured city of Vicksburg, the fighting and misery continued down the Mississippi River at Port Hudson, Louisiana.

With the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, Port Hudson became the last remaining Confederate
stronghold on the Mississippi. The siege there is remembered today as the longest in American history.

Inside the fortifications that ringed the little river community, Confederate general Franklin Gardner and his force of fewer than 5,000 men defied a Union army more than three times the size of their own along with the firepower of some of the most powerful warships of the U.S. Navy. It was a battle against overwhelming odds unlike any other ever fought on the North American continent and it went on for 48 days.

Confederate flag that flew over Port Hudson
After the fall of Memphis to the north and New Orleans and then Baton Rouge to the South, the Confederacy was in serious danger of being split in two. The loss of a way to move men and supplies from the states west of the Mississippi River to the armies battling east of the river would be a disaster from which the Southern nation likely would not recover. To attempt to preserve this tenuous lifeline, Confederate engineers fortified the high bluffs of Vicksburg to the north and Port Hudson to the South.

Located on the east side of the river just south of its confluence with the Red River, Port Hudson was an ideal position for defenses that would protect the southern approach to the stretch of the Mississippi that ran from the mouth of the Red up to Vicksburg. This would enable supplies coming by steamboat down the Red to continue to flow up the Mississippi to Vicksburg from which they could be shipped out by rail to all points east.

Port Hudson Peace Monument
The position was occupied by Confederate troops after they failed to retake Baton Rouge in 1862. Located at a sharp bend of the river, its high bluffs offered the ideal position for the emplacement of heavy guns. Work on the batteries continued through the winter of 1862-1863. Major General Franklin Gardner arrived late in December of 1862 to assume command of the position. His selection would prove to be an inspired choice.

Major General Nathaniel Banks, commanding the Union''s Department of the Gulf, was under pressure from Washington, D.C. to push north up the Mississippi, reduce Port Hudson and join forces with Major General Ulysses S. Grant for a final move on Vicksburg. Banks tried to accomplish this by swinging west into the bayous and driving north up the Atchafalaya River to its junction with the Red. He hoped this would enable him to bypass Port Hudson and force its evacuation. When he reached the Red River, however, expected troops and transports were not there. Grant had changed his plans and gone ashore near Port Gibson with his full army.

Gun taken from USS Merrimac and used at Port Hudson
Since he had no way to get his army north to join forces with Grant, Banks decided to move against Port Hudson with his own 17,000 man force. Orders were issued on May 18, 1862, and troops began to march north from Baton Rouge, rapidly covering the dozen or so miles between that city and the Confederate position at Port Hudson. Other parts of Banks' army came down the Red into the Mississippi and were landed at Bayou Sara near St. Francisville just north of Port Hudson.

Fighting broke out on May 21, 1862, as a miniscule force of Confederates opposed the oncoming Federals at the Battle of Plains Store west of Port Hudson. Resisting fiercely, they inflicted worse casualties than they received and then fell back into the trenches at Port Hudson.  By the night of May 22nd, the Confederate position was surrounded by Banks and his converging army.

Confederate earthworks at Port Hudson
General Gardner and his men dug in at a furious rate, extending and strengthening their defenses. They watched as the Union navy formed in the Mississippi and the Union army moved into position around them from all directions. They knew they were outnumbered and outgunned, but they determined to put up the fight of their lives.

The Southern soldiers got their first chance on May 27, 1863, when daylight broke over the woods and fields to the east and Union cannon opened fire on them from all directions. They responded furiously at first with their own cannon, but then slowed their rate of fire to conserve ammunition. They knew a massive infantry attack was coming and they got into position and ready to welcome it.
Union troops were trapped in this ravine during the first assault.

When the huge attack came, it was carried out by more soldiers than there were Confederates in the entire Port Hudson lines. Gardner was ready, however, and his skirmishers alone held back the attacking columns for more than an hour. Fighting from a tangled mess of felled trees and the ravines and ridges outside the main works, the Confederate skirmishers fought fiercely against overwhelming numbers.

When they finally withdrew into the main lines and the Federal troops tried to push forward, they found themselves wading into the fire of dozens of cannon and thousands of rifles. The fighting went on all day and all night. When the Confederates opened fire again the next morning, Banks decided his men had suffered enough and raised a flag of truce. Gardner granted the Union general's request for a ceasefire so his dead and wounded could be removed from the field.

The first attempt to storm Port Hudson left 1,995 Union soldiers dead, wounded or missing. The Confederates lost 235 men. The attack had been a bloody disaster for the Union army. There may have been only 4,000 Confederates at Port Hudson, but they were prepared to fight.

I will post more about the Siege of Port Hudson tomorrow.  You can read more about the battlefield at

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Fall of Vicksburg, 150 years ago today (July 4, 1863)

Vicksburg, Mississippi
150 years ago today, the Confederacy's "Gibraltar of the Mississippi" fell to the army of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. It was a devastating blow from which the South would not recover.

The final acts in the moments leading to the surrender of Vicksburg were enacted before dawn on the morning of July 4, 1863. Having considered a final proposal from Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton (CS), Gen. Grant (US) sent a letter through the lines to his Confederate counterpart:

Union battery before Vicksburg
     ...I can make no stipulations with regard to the treatment of citizens and their private property. While I do not propose to cause them any undue annoyance or loss, I cannot consent to leave myself under any restraint by stipulations. The property which officers will be allowed to take with them will be as stated in my proposition of last evening; that is, officers will be allowed their private baggage and side-arms, and mounted officers one horse each.
     If you mean by your proposition for each brigade to march to the front of the lines now occupied by it, and stack arms at 10 a.m., and then return tot he inside, and there remain as prisoners until properly paroled, I will make no objection to it. - Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, USA (July 4, 1863).

Confederate cannon at Vicksburg
In closing his final offer, Grant informed Pemberton that if he received no reply by 9 a.m., hostilities would resume. To avoid this, the Confederates should display white lines along their lines.

Pemberton reviewed the note and early on the morning of July 4, 1863, agreed to surrender Vicksburg, Mississippi, to the United States:

GENERAL:  I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of this day, and in reply to say that the terms proposed by you are accepted. - Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, CSA (July 4, 1863).

Later in the morning, as the Union forces crowded to the tops of their breastworks and fortifications to watch, the Confederate army came out of its trenches for the first time in more than 45 days:

Former channel of the Mississippi at Vicksburg
...[T]he garrison was surrendered at 10 a.m., and the Federal forces immediately took possession of our works and placed guards in the city. If it should be asked why July 4 was selected as the day for the surrender, the answer is obvious. I believed that upon that day I should obtain better terms. Well aware of the vanity of our foes, I knew they would attach vast importance to the entrance on July 4 into the stronghold of the great river, and that to gratify their national vanity they would yield then what could not be extorted from them at any other time. - Maj. Gen. John C. Pemberton, CSA (August 2, 1863).

Union cannon at Vucksburg
Pemberton was right in his assessment of how the Union would regard the surrender of Vicksburg on the 4th of July. It was hailed across the North with celebrations and bonfires. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, Grant's friend and trusted subordinate, predicted the reaction of the Northern states and gently warned his commander about the fleeting nature of fame. He also commended him for his generosity to the Confederates who had fought from the trenches of Vicksburg for 47 days:

...I can hardly contain myself. Surely will I not punish any soldier for being "uncohappy" this most glorious anniversary of the birth of a nation, whose sire and father was a Washington. Did I not know the honesty, modesty, and purity of your nature, I would be tempted to follow the examples of my standard enemies of the press in indulging in wanton flattery; but as a man and soldier, and ardent friend of yours, I warn you against the incense of flattery that will fill our land from one extreme to the other. Be natural and yourself, and this glittering flattery will be as the passing breeze of the sea on a warm summer day. To me the delicacy with which you have treated a brave but deluded enemy is more eloquent than the most gorgeous oratory of an Everett. - Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, USA (July 4, 1863).

Old Courthouse in Vicksburg
While the main army remained outside the city, a small force of Union troops entered Vicksburg on July 4, 1863 - 150 years ago today - and raised the U.S. flag from the top of the Warren County Courthouse. The historic building still stands in Vicksburg today, where it is now a museum and is generally known as the "Old Courthouse."

With the fall of Vicksburg, only one Confederate bastion - Port Hudson, Louisiana - remained along the full length of the Mississippi River. I will focus on events at that battlefield over coming days.

To learn more about the Battle of Vicksburg and the historic city itself, please visit