Battle of Port Hudson by Joe Umble
The late Dr. John K. Griffith Jr. of Captain James W. Bryan Camp 1390, SCV, Lake Charles, La. commissioned this painting. Capt. Byan camp has limited edition prints available for sale. For more information contact email@example.com.By Mike Jones
Port Hudson, located 16 miles north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana's capital, was the scene of one of the major campaigns of the War For Southern Independence in 1863 and men from Calcasieu Parish were there participating in this famous campaign.
Port Hudson was the southern anchor of the Confederate defense of the Mississippi River with Vicksburg, Miss. being the northern anchor. As long as the Confederacy could hold that 200 mile stretch of the river, the CSA would have access to the men and material wealth of Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas and the nation was whole. When those last Confederate bastions fell, the nation was split in two.
An examination of a company of Calcasieu Parish militia reveals that many went on to serve in Miles Legion at Port Hudson, or with the 27th and 28th Louisiana infantry regiments at Vicksburg. However, others did serve on every battlefront of the war.
In early 1862, when it became clear the war was going to be a long and bloody conflict, four companies of infantry were formed from Calcasieu Parish for the Confederacy.
The companies were organized as King's Special Battalion, Louisiana Infantry, under the command of Lt. Col. John E. King. Although there is no description of their uniforms, the men of the companies gave their units colorful nicknames. Company A was known as the Calcasieu Volunteers, Company B as the Calcasieu Tigers, Company C the Calcasieu Invincibles and Company D the Calcasieu Guards. Rounding out the battalion were Company E, Taylor Guards, and possibly the Bienville Guards and Fausse River Guards.
The leader of the battalion, John Edward King, was born in St. Landry Parish in 1820. By profession he was a lawyer, and moved to Calcasieu Parish sometime between 1850 and 1860.
One of the company commanders, Capt. Warren W. Johnson of the Calcasieu Invincibles, while enroute to New Orleans, submitted his muster roll to the Opelousas Courrier, which was published April 9, 1862.
The following letter accompanied the muster roll, "It affords me much pleasure to present you with a copy of my roll. Please insert in your valuable weekly; as the most of my men are of families, their children and wives will be pleased to see us advancing towards the post of duty as good fathers and true patriots."
The list itself is valuable because it preserves the record of service of many of the men who do not show up on any other official records. Of the 74 listed on the muster roll, only 42 later show up on Confederate records.
King's Special Battalion was mustered into state service in New Orleans in April, 1862 and seems to have been broken up when the city was evacuated and captured by the Union forces under General Benjamin "Beast" Butler.
Some of the men received honorable discharges and returned home, but most joined other units such as Miles Legion or the 27th and 28 Louisiana Infantry. Those who ended up in Miles Legion found themselves caught up in one of the longest sieges of the war. In fact, Vicksburg — considered by many historians to have been one of the key union victories of the war — fell five days before Port Hudson.
Both Vicksburg and Port Hudson were besieged at the same time in the spring and summer of 1863. The Calcasieu men in Miles Legion, mostly in Company D, defended the right side of the Confederate defenses.
Most of the Lake Charles men, like John Cryer and John B. LeBleu, fought with distinction but surrendered with their commands when the garrison gave up the struggle on July 9, 1863. That was after they learned the larger Vicksburg garrison had surrendered on July 4, thus making their position untenable.
At Vicksburg, the fighting was just as hard and just as difficult. In both places men and inhabitants of the towns were reduced to starvation rations and subjected to months of constant bombardment.
A few of the men of the old King's Special Battalion went on the fight with General Robert E. Lee in Virginia. Two who were in Company F of the 8th Louisiana Infantry were Maurice Hebert and Arsine LeBleu. Hebert was a 19-year-old Lake Charles farmer at the time he enlisted on April 15, 1862 in that unit.
He survived some of the bloodiest battles of the war before he was finally captured at Harrisburg, Val. on Sept. 23, 1864 and served out most of the rest of the conflict as a prisoner of war.
LeBleu was a 27-year-old married Lake Charles farmer at the time of his enlistment. He was detailed to the b rigade hospital as a nurse and served until May 18, 1864 when he was disabled after a snake bit him.
When the veterans returned home, there were no "G.I. Bills" for the returning boys in gray, but they managed to overcome hardship and a bitterly harsh Reconstruction Government to rebuild their lives.