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.

Monday, April 4, 2011

New Yorker Writes About Port Hudson After the Siege

I have posted several newspaper clippings from The New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center before and here is yet another one. Their site is top notch in materials relating to New York regiments serving in Louisiana. Below is a letter written from a member of the 133rd New York Infantry to the Daily Times. The letter was written following the unit's participation in the Siege of Port Hudson. The letter provides good insight to to the Confederate works and living conditions as well as other post-siege observations.

The Surrender of Port Hudson.
Interesting Particulars of the 133d Regiment.
July 17th, 1863.
Editor Daily Times:

Port Hudson has fallen and with it the rebel's boasted control of the Mississippi. This glorious event happened on the 8th inst.
We had expected that the 4th of July, the anniversary of our National Independence would have witnessed the final attack, but God in his overruling providence ordered it otherwise. The Fourth passed without any change of position and so did the several succeeding days till the morning of the 7th when rumors came flying through camp of a great and glorious victory at Vicksburg. In a short time we heard cheer after cheer rising from different part of our line as regiment after regiment was brought up near our intrenchments and the official order announcing the surrender of Vicksburg, on the 4th of July, read to them, to which they responded with three hearty cheers. About 9 A. M., we fell in line and the order was read to us. At 10 all the various regimental bands played a short distance in our rear but near enough to the rebel works to salute their ears with their joyous notes of victory. At 12 M. 100 guns were tired in each of the divisions of the army, right, left, centre. The rebels were very quiet within their works all day, but at night picket firing was quite sharp for a time. By some means Gen. Banks had contrived to convey information of the surrender to those within the fort.

About 2 A. M. Gen. Gardiner sent out a flag of truce to obtain a cessation of hostilities and a copy of the original dispatch announcing the surrender of Vicksburg. The first General Banks refused unless for a surrender; but he willingly forwarded the latter. As soon as General Gardiner had received this, he sent out another flag, and soon after hostilities ceased on both sides. All day long the "blue coats" and "gray backs" were in groups outside the works engaged in friendly conversation, and speculating on the probabilities of a surrender. About 4, p. m., all the preliminaries were arranged and "Order reigned in Warsaw." Early on Wednesday morning our regiment was detailed as picket to guard the entrenchments, while our flag, at the head of the storming column was the first to enter the rebel stronghold. The position assigned us was along the breastworks from the sally port in the centre down to the rebel right near the river. As soon as we were posted I started out on a voyage of discovery. All along just inside of the entrenchments, were little holes dug out, some completely underneath the ground, and others roofed over with boards, sticks and other materials. These were the places occupied by the enemy for the bivouac of their soldiers while at the breastworks. A few old wall and a tents were scattered along the works, probably occupied by the officers. In all these places, and in tact everywhere within the works, the utmost disorder reigned. Old clothes, bedding, bags of corn and corn meal, bottles, jugs, pans, and barrels of molasses, sugar, cooking utensils, arms of every description, bayonets, and ammunition, were to be found lying under one's feet at almost every step. As I penetrated further within the works, the appearance of desolation and destruction in no wise was abated. Here were the mud chimneys standing of a deserted camp, there a partially finished earthwork to conceal some battery; further on, a collection of log huts filled with rubbish; in another place a lot of Sibley tents, evidently having been occupied by rebel officers, but now deserted. Splendid trunks, writing boxes, instrument cases, and good clothing had been left behind by their owners, and no doubt fell a prey to the numerous explorers of our army.

The stench from the dead bodies of animals lying unburied around, together with large masses of other decaying vegetable matter was everywhere perceptible, and in some places so strong as to be absolutely unbearable. I went all around the entrenchments and through the fort, and the following is the result of my observations:

The strength of this place is more from the nature of the ground than from the nature of the works. The ground is high, filled with ravines, and it is along the edge of these that the entrenchments are constructed. In extent the are from river to river, about 7 miles. There is but one or two places along the whole extent where a brigade could be formed in line to storm the works, one being on the left and the other near the right of their line; but at these points their works were so constructed as to bring a heavy enfilading fire on any force that might attempt it. Commencing at the river on the (rebel) left for nearly half a mile, is a continuous bluff from 50 to 100 feet high and almost perpendicular. At the foot of the bluff is a level, grassy plain, about half a mile in extent, opening out on the river and running back in a northerly direction, After following the bluff nearly half a mile, the line of works come down into a ravine opening out on the plain, and immediately run up the hill; in some, places the entrenchments are scarcely knee high, in others entirety absent, and again rise to the height of 4 1-2 feet, well made, and with a ditch in front of the works varying from two to five feet in depth and from four to twelve feet across. In some spots the ravines and abatis of fallen trees render it next to impossible for any advance to be made, and it is generally in these places that the rebel defences are weakest. Wherever the nature of the ground would offer us the chance of charging, the works were bastioned so as to bring the enemy under our cross or enfilading fire. The river front is very high and well protected by heavy guns. In some places the bluff is nearly perpendicular, but in others it juts out part of the way down, and here the "rebs" planted their water batteries, and constructed in the knolls around several magazines.

I do not know the exact number of cannon captured by us, but I think they cannot fall far short of one hundred, some twenty of which are heavy siege guns. When we entered the work I saw two large black guns that the artillerists had dismounted. Both had been hit twice, once right in the muzzle, and then on the side. The largest number of pieces I saw were small brass pieces either six, twelve or twenty-four pounders. But there were several large guns in the water batteries, and a swivel was used by the rebels with harassing effect on our lines the first few days of our siege.

As usual played their part here. There was one mounted on the upper mortar batteries. On my post they had attempted to fix a log up to answer a similar purpose, but their work from some cause was never finished.

of all descriptions lay around within the entrenchments in the utmost profusion, while ammunition lay around just as though "it didn't cost anything." For the cannon there seemed to be a plenty of solid shot in the magazines and caissons, but they were by no means out of shells or grape and canister.

There is a small village on the river near the rebel left, but there is not a house that does not bear marks of the skill of our artillerists. The church is literally shot through and through. There is also scarcely a tree within the entrenchments that does not bear marks of our bullets. There are the remains of several stores and a large depot, but, like Othello, "their occupation is gone." A printing office existed here, from which a small sheet was issued occasionally, but I was unable to procure a copy of one of its issues. Gen. Banks at once turned it to use in the cause of the Union.

The number taken when the fort surrendered was, I believe, about 7,500, of which about 2,500 were sick and wounded. In appearance they are far below the poorest of our soldiers. Some few wore the rebel suit of grey, but by far the largest portion wore a dirty white colored cotton suit, coarse in texture. Part were barefooted, and as for hats, they were of every style and shape. All the officers I saw were well dressed, and looked clean and nice, but the soldiers looked dirty and filthy in the extreme. General Gardiner is a fine looking man, and evidently feels the unpleasantness of his present position, as it is said he is a deserter from the U. S. army, having joined the rebels without resigning his position in our army. General Banks has given all the men their parole, but I understand retains the officers for future disposition.

For several days previous to the surrender the, enemy had been subsisting on corn cakes and mule meat, the last not a most agreeable article of food, you can well suppose. For the sick, a hospital steward informed me rat meat was substituted--a statement I can easily credit, from the immense number of rats I saw running round, as well as from having seen several rat skins. Salt, black beans, sugar and molasses seem to have been rather plenty, and the corn meal was not wholly exhausted. Our boys found several barrels of good corn beer, which was immediately put to good use.

Dirt, rubbish, filth of all description and decaying animal and vegetable matter can be seen everywhere within the fort, and if Gen. Bank's does not adopt stringent health measures the stench will breed disease as the weather is extremely hot.

There, everything is quiet. Occasionally we hear of a few straggling guerrillas but as yet have seen none. Down on the other side of the river owing to the absence of most of our forces here, the rebels have been having a high time, but now their game is nearly up. A large part of our troops have been sent down to look after them, and I hear have got them pretty well surrounded or force their way through our lines.[The author is referring to Richard Taylor's advance into the Lafourche Region in which he captured Brashear City's Garrison.]

[The writer then engages in discussing matters with a large number of men in the 133rd Regiment that I have omitted.]

Now, Mr. Editor, I most bring my letter to a close, or I shall not only tire your patience, but that of our readers. Hoping soon to have an opportunity of following my letter, I am happy to remain,
Yours truly, TYPOGRAPH.

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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