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

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