Civil War Louisiana (CWLA)

Civil War Louisiana (CWLA)
CWLA seeks to provide an online resource of any and all material of the Civil War relating to Louisiana with a special interest in the war in Acadiana in southwest Louisiana.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Assault on Port Hudson

I thought I would post another first hand account of the Siege of Port Hudson. This is a letter from a member of the 75th New York that was written to the New York Herald dated June 17th. The below letter describes the attack of the 75th New York and its brigade on the trenches surrounding Port Hudson on June 14th. The 75th New York went into this attack with 550 men and lost 74 (Cayuga in the Field, page 128):

Saturday evening the order of attack was determined upon at headquarters and communicated to the generals who were to command the assaulting columns. Most of the details were arranged by General Grover. The point of attack was the extreme northeasterly angle of the enemy's breastworks. Five or six days previous to the assault several pieces of the enemy's artillery, which had been in position behind their fortifications, immediately in our front, were dismounted by our guns and abandoned. Those still in position were rendered useless to the rebels by our sharpshooters.

The works consist of an abattis of felled trees for at least 100 yards, then a ditch of 50 feet wide, with four to six feet of water in it, then the glacis of about 20 feet high, sloping gradually to the parapet, on which is a protection for sharpshooters, behind this, say 200 yards, is another line of works on which heavy and field artillery is mounted.

The plan of assault was briefly as follows: the 75th N. Y. under command of Capt. Gray, and the
12th Ct. led by Lieut. Col. Peck, were detailed as skirmishers, forming a separate command, under Lieut. Col. Babcock, of the 75th N. Y. The 91st N. Y., Col Van Zandt commanding—each soldier carrying a five-pound grenade, with his musket thrown over his shoulder—followed next in order. The skirmishers were to creep up and lie in the exterior slope of the enemy's breastworks, while the regiment carrying the grenades were to come up to the same position and throw over the grenades into the enemy's lines, with a view to rout them and drive them from behind their works. The 24th Ct. with their arms in like manner to the grenade regiment, followed, carrying sand bags filled with cotton, which were to be used to fill up the ditch in front of the enemy's breastworks, to enable the assaulting party the more easily to scale them and charge upon the rebels. Following these different regiments came, properly speaking, the balance of Gen. Weitzel's whole brigade, under command of Col. Smith, of the 114th N. Y. The two divisions—Gen. Weitzel's and Gen. Paine's were under command of Gen. Grover, who planned the whole assault after Gen. Bank's order to advance was received by him. Hence the mode of attack was entirely his own. Gen. Weitzel's division was expected to make a lodgement inside, of the enemy's works, and in that manner prepare the way for Gen. Paine's division. After the inside of the enemy's fortifications had been reached skirmishers were to push forward and clear the way while both columns were to be deployed in line of battle and move towards the town of Port Hudson, where a grand citadel which forms the last means of rebel defense, is situated.

After the advance of the 75th and 91st regiments, Gen. Weitzel's entire command commenced moving forward. Several days previous our army engineers had been preparing a covered way, which extended from the woods where our troops lay up to within about 150 yards of the enemy's position. Through this our troops marched in single file up to the point where the first line of battle was formed. Our troops as soon as they had left the cover of the woods, which were scarcely 300 yards from the enemy's breastworks, were subject to the constant fire of the rebel infantry. A portion of our artillery, which was planted some distance in the rear of our advancing forces, kept up a continuous fire at the rebel works. After our skirmishers had picked their way up to within about 30 yards of the enemy's works, they sprang into the ditch, expecting to be able to shelter themselves under the cover of the rebel fortifications, and keep the enemy down while the regiment, with the hand grenades, should advance and perform their part of the work in driving the rebels from their position. The portion of the 75th which succeeded in reaching the ditch were immediately repulsed, and nearly all of them were either killed or wounded. In consequence of the repulse of the portion of the 75th that succeeded in reaching the ditch, the hand grenades could accomplish but little. In fact, although they made many desperate and gallant attempts to be of service, they rather damaged than benefitted [sic] our prospects of success; for as they threw their grenades over the rebel breastworks the rebels actually caught them and hurled them back among us. Meanwhile Gen. Weitzel was making a series of desperate but fruitless attacks. Gen. Dwight's loss in killed and wounded will probably exceed 200. Augur's loss will fall considerably short of that number. The most desperate fighting was done by Gen. Weitzel's old brigade. Col. Smith, leading these veterans, the heroes of many fights, fell early in the action, mortally wounded. A ball pierced his spine and passed round to the right side. The rebel glacis was the worst barrier. Brigade after brigade stormed the works, but all were repulsed.

The fighting ceased at
11 o'clock in the morning. We, having been repulsed in every assault, our soldiers under command of their officers, laid themselves down under the shelter of the gullies, trees, covered ... in fact ...... way--in fact, everything that could afford them protection, and waited for the day to pass and darkness come on. Our total loss in this attack upon Port Hudson will probably not fall much short of 1,000. Gen. Gardner was in command, and rebel deserters report him to have been very drunk on the day of the fight. They say so long as there is any whisky in the place he will not surrender Port Hudson.

The fight on the part of Gen. Dwight's command was exceedingly severe, and scarcely less so with Gen. Grover's. The charges made on the rebel works by our brave soldiers showed a determination to carry them at all hazards; but human bravery on this occasion was not adequate to the accomplishment of their object—The most formidable obstacle that presented itself as a barrier to our success was the rebel glacis, which at the point attacked had been constructed in such a manner as to make evey [sic] bullet tell that was fired from the rebel breastworks while our troops were endeavoring to make the ascent.

Immediately upon the fall of Col. Smith, Lieut. Col. Von Petten, of the 160th N. Y., took command of the brigade, and gallantly led the charge until all further hope of driving the rebels from their position was gone. Brigade after brigade followed in rapid succession storming the rebel works, until compelled to fall back under the terrible fire of the enemy. Conspicuous among the brigades that did the most desperate fighting were those under the command of
Col's Kimball, Morgan and Birge. They were all, however, eventually repulsed with great slaughter.

Many of our wounded who were accessible were carried from the field by squads detailed for that purpose. It is a shameful reflection on humanity, that a large number of our soldiers, carrying the wounded and dying from the field on stretchers, were shot down by the enemy, and in several instances the wounded were killed while being borne from the field—at nightfall, however, we commenced the burial of our dead, and succeeded before the morning in carrying most of our wounded from the battle ground


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Coppens' Zouave Battalion

Coppens' Zouave Battalion
Lt. Colonel George Coppens (seated) and brother, Captain Marie Alfred Coppens.Image sold at auction on Cowan Auctions, for $14,375