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.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fort Desperate: June 14, 1863

Assault on Fort Desperate: June 14, 1863

June 14, 1863 was Banks' second major assault to take Port Hudson. Below are two accounts from part of this attack. One is from Colonel Benjamin Johnson of the 15th Arkansas. Johnson's 15th Arkansas defended Fort Desperate throughout the entire siege. I have copy and pasted Johnson's report, regarding to the June 14th attack, from a GREAT website on the 15th Arkansas' defense of Fort Desperate: The Battle of Port Hudson at

I could not dislodge the enemy's sharpshooters from behind the logs, stumps, ravines etc., in front and around my position, for they were well sheltered. In addition, they threw up some deep rifle pits all around my works, distant about two hundred and fifty yards, and from all of these, aided by artilery, He kept up a terrible and steady fire upon every part of my position, until the morning of the 14th June. During this time, I worked almost in-cessantly, principaly at night - owing to the fire through the day which prevented me from work - and by the 14th June, my works were far advanced toward com-pletion at every point. Some nights I caused my men to work all night, and by nine o'clock A.M. of the next day I would find all of my work destroyed by the heavy artilery, fired from the enemy's guns. By the 14th June I had lost in addition to the losses on the 27 May, about thirty more men in killed and wounded and my sick list, not withstanding every effort of mine to prevent it, was quite large. And even many of my men that I compelled to remain and report for duty, were so worn down with ague and fever, and desentary as scarcely to be called soldiers or be of any service to me. But they could fight, and so I kept them. When all was summed up, I could muster only about one hundred and twenty five men. With about forty additional, from the 49 Ala. regt. who were at the back of my camp as a reserve. Anticipating a furious assault on the morning of the 14th, I ordered, the night before, every man into the ditches, from about my camp, who were able to load and fire a gun. For nearly an hour before daylight on that morning, my position was subjected to the most terrible cannonade that I had yet experienced, which continued until day began to dawn, when the artilery ceased, and the infantry of the enemy began to advance to the assault with about the same numbers and in the same [formation]- the crescent - as on the 27th May, encircling my entire position except my extreme left flank, or northern front. I acted as I did on the 27th and likewise, broke his center twice, but instead of moving his right wing as before toward his center, he moved it by the "flank" under cover of his artilery and sharpshooters up to my ditch again and by digging a small place, or bank ¹ [front?], that intervened between the head of the ravine and said ditch, which was not more than one foot in thickness, filed into the same, with however a much smaller force than before, most of whom however were either killed, or wounded in attempting to storm my works, and afterwards in attempting to effect his retreat. A portion of the 173 New York while in this ditch made a most determined effort to drive me from my position, and [so] close was the contact that the guns of the combatants were [mingled?] together at one point, and it was only by the most desperate fighting that they were driven off. About half of this party were killed upon the top of my parapet. And amongst the killed was the Major of the regt. I had a small flanking pit, constructed on the outside or rather under my works, and on the left through and from which I kept continued a deadly fire, until he left the ditch. This pit was subterranean, and could not be seen from the outside, and could not betaken by the enemy, unless he should first take my entire ditches or rifle pits. This was the last ground assault made upon me, and so terrible had been the fighting at this point, that the position was called "Fort Desperate".

Opposite from Johnson was the 173rd New York Regiment. A letter to an unknown newspaper regarding the 173rd New York is listed below. The article was found at the New York State Military Museum.

Near Port Hudson,17th June 1863
Last Sunday we had the second attack on the strongholds of our enemies, more severe than the first one. The 173d Regiment being in front, I received the order to advance with my men. As soon as we commenced our advance, a rain of balls came on us and caused a good many casualties, killing and wounding a large number of us. Many of our officers were sick, and only 3 captains remained to command, and we three were fortunately not hurt. Lieut. Schah was killed by my side, when advancing in double quick to the entrenchments. About the same time Serg. Nalte received a shot in the arm, and between them I was fortunate enough to escape.
Lieut. Heinrich Wills was detailed to command 60 men to fill entrenchments with cotton bags, for the purpose of marching over; while he performed this duty a ball entered his leg, which had to be amputated above the knee shortly afterwards. He was taken to the hospital in
New Orleans.
Of my company there were 7 wounded. Wenzlik is in good health. Gass, Koch and Kehm of the 133d regiment have visited me to-day and are also well.
A third attack is expected in a few days, by which General Banks surely thinks to get the place. Capt. Cottshoe, one of the three captains above mentioned, was also killed alongside of me, and only we two captains remained from the whole regiment.

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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