Sometimes an event or an episode in history gets “lost.” It is remembered vaguely as a name but it loses its significance. The siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, was one of those events, overshadowed —indeed, obscured—by more spectacular events elsewhere.
In The Port Hudson Campaign a young Civil War scholar tells for the first time the complete story of the Union operation against this Confederate stronghold on the Lower Mississippi. History has recorded, almost as a footnote, that after the surrender of Vicksburg—the other stronghold—Port Hudson surrendered.
But Port Hudson was much more than that. The determination with which the Confederate garrison held out—for seven weeks, in the face of almost impossible odds—makes it one of the most interesting campaigns of the Civil War. It was, in fact, the longest siege in United States military history.
The siege was only one phase of this unusual operation. The first phase was the costly attempt by the Union fleet to run the Port Hudson batteries—the naval arrangement in which the historic warship Mississippi was lost. The second phase was the even more costly decision by General Nathaniel P. Banks to take the stronghold from landward side. The third and final phase, the siege itself, culminated in surrender.
Port Hudson’s loss was a crucial one. “General,” wrote an elated Banks to Ulysses S. Grant, the captor of Vicksburg, “the Mississippi is opened . . .” Banks had reason to do other than rejoice. “The Confederates failed at Port Hudson,” writes Edward Cunningham, “but they inflicted such losses on the Army of the Gulf that it never again fought as well as it had before the siege—a disastrous Union victory.”
In his research, the author unearthed more sources and discovered more information than most people thought existed. For months he tramped the battlefield itself, to place a gun position here, a line of breastworks there, to match a photograph taken a hundred years ago with some feature of the terrain today. As a result, he was able to write the dramatic story of Port Hudson with greater clarity.
T. Harry Williams (1909–1979) was Boyd Professor of History at Louisiana State University. He won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Huey Long: A Biography. Among his other works are Lincoln and His Generals, With Beauregard in Mexico, Romance and Realism in Southern Politics, and Americans at War: The Development of the American Military System.
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