SIEGE OF PORT HUDSON.; Interesting Private Letter from a Captain of the One Hundred and Seventy-fourth NewYork.
July 7, 1863
My Dear Friend:
Our progress before this place is slow but sure, I hope; we are now in our fourth week of the siege, and are advanced to within two hundred yards of the earthworks. We skirmish, however, up quite within speaking distance, and once, while my company was deployed as skirmishers, I seized the occasion of a flag of truce coming in to get up to the last ravine in front of the lines, and get a view of as much as possible of the works. The inacessibility and difficult nature of the approaches to the parapet had been very fully impressed on my mind before, and I then was entirely satisfied that no such place had ever before been so adapted by Nature herself for an impregnable fortress. You already know, I suppose, the vast extent of the works, some five miles in all, and extending from one point on the river to another some miles above. This line of works is fronted on all sides for a mile (and in some places two miles) back, with ravines some fifteen or twenty feet deep and wide, and filled with brush and felled trees completely, and so close to gather that I can give you no better idea of them than to have you place Doth hands on a table, and spreading out the fingers, imagine the spaces between to be the ra[???]ines. Many of them would be almost of themselves, if clear and free of obstacles, sufficient to prevent any passage, but choked as they are, it is impossible to clamber through them, except with as much labor as it would be to go through a forest by way of the tops of the trees. I have been frequently out in them skirmishing, for which they offer good cover, and nave deployed in the middle of the night, and returned at the same time, but ever with this advantage, of not being annoyed by the enemy's fire. I find it a good half-hour's work to advance a few hundred feet, and as for charging in line, or by separate columns, it cannot be done. In fact, the first charge we made, our troops halted at two hundred yards from the works, unable to go further -- a tact greeted by the rebels with an entire cessation of firing, and uproarious cheering. There it was the negro regiments behaved with such desperate courage, losing [???]00 out of 900 men. It is said that under [???] where 25 of them were fighting 200 of the rebels, one of their number was being hung above their heads. This has so maddened them that in the second and last charge made at all points, they furiously threw themselves within the works and out of two rebel companies taken prisoners, they killed all [???] five. Their character for good behavior under fire is undoubtedly established, though I never doubted[???]. We have just organized a third storming party of one thousand men, to be under the direction of Gen. W[???]. He has been inside the lines each charge. I believe, and captured prisoners and occupied the position of a battery, but the guns were first withdrawn by the rebels and not taken as stated. The grand difficulty has been in all these charges being premature, the bombardment not being effective or long enough, and then in the Impracticability of bringing up the supports, except in very narrow columns and by very few approaches, and these the same as those used by the stormers. Thus the rebels command a fire completely through the advancing columns and literally mow us down. Most of the regiments which have charged have lost 20 per cent, of their number. Our regiment has been blessed by God in all the actions we have been in, and we have lost not 25 in all, although before the siege commenced we fought two battles at Port Hudson Plains, and supported a battery on which the fire of the enemy was concentrated, yet, owing to our closeness to the fire, it ranged entirely over us, the shot passing at the height of a man's head. Our colors received a shell through them, so the grocers and my friends Mr. P. and others may consider their hand some gift as having received the baptism of fire and blood. The blood came very near being my own, as the shell passed just over my head before we laid down. I shall send you by the next express a rebel bugle made but of born. I had gathered some queer specimens they obligingly fired at us in the way of home-made bullets, but they have been lost. I shall get plenty more though. The bugle makes quite decent music in the bands of a player. It is the kind used by their batteries and was picked up on the field. I also send some very old documents taken from the State archives when the State-House was burned. I think you will find them of interest if you can decipher the Spanish. I would send a shell or two, but as all our favors thus far have been rather weighty and express charges are high, I forbear. I have a little momento in the shape of a 32-pounder, but design it as a present to FRANK GARDNER, when we catch him, to be worn as a charm with a chain attached. Yours truly, JOHN HENRY [???].