Sieges were similar in ‘63

Published 12:46 am Sunday, June 22, 2014

While the Siege of Vicksburg was underway, an almost identical siege was brewing 240 miles downriver.

By the spring of 1863, Vicksburg and Port Hudson, La., were the last Confederate strongholds along the Mississippi River. Both cities are situated along high bluffs along the east side of the river and Confederate forces had heavily fortified them.

“The defenses of Port Hudson almost mimic the defenses of Vicksburg,” Vicksburg National Military Park ranger Will Wilson said Friday during the second installment of a three-part lecture series on 1863.

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Vicksburg served a vital railroad hub, while Port Hudson is near the confluence of the Mississippi and Red rivers.

A variety of supplies including cattle from Texas and crops grown in Arkansas and Indian Territory were flowing out of the fertile Red River Valley to Port Hudson.

“All of this is going to be supplying the Confederate states,” Wilson said.

On May 22, 1863 — the day of the second Union assault of Vicksburg — Union Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’ men surrounded Port Hudson, which was defended by troops under Confederate Gen. Franklin Gardner.

Gardner, like his Vicksburg counterpart John C. Pemberton, was a northerner by birth. He was born in New York, while Pemberton was a native of Pennsylvania.

Because Gardner increased supply efficiency, he was much more popular with his men than Pemberton, whose soldiers at Vicksburg had accused him of being a northern spy.

After two failed assaults, Banks’ men besieged Port Hudson for 48 days — one day longer than the Siege of Vicksburg.

“The bloody repulse of May 27 convinced Banks that he must resort to siege tactics,” Wilson said.

However, historians often view Banks, who was a politically appointed general, as incompetent.

“Banks was a political general and felt more comfortable with political organizing and social affairs than leading armies in to the field against a reportedly formidable fortification,” Wilson said.

On June 7, a gunboat arrived in Port Hudson bringing news of the fall of Vicksburg.

Gardner and his men surrendered.

“He has no other options,” Wilson said.

The lecture series wraps up Friday, as VNMP ranger Jake Koch will discuss campaigns in Middle Tennessee and northern Georgia during 1863. Perhaps the most famous battle to take place on that front was the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863.