The Richmond Daily Dispatch
July 23, 1863
|Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner|
(Library of Congress)
An officer who succeeded in passing out from Port Hudson while the surrender was taking place, on the 9th inst., furnishes a highly interesting account of the siege and fall of that post. Its defence was nothing short, in bravery and pertinacity, of that of Vicksburg. The siege may be said to have commenced on the 20th of May, and lasted two months. On the 26th the investment was completed, and on the 27th the first grand assault took place. We extract from the narrative published in the Mobile Advertiser some of the particulars:
On the left, where the main assault was made, the attack was made by a brigade of Negroes, comprising about three regiments, together with the same force of white Yankees, across a bridge which had been built over Sandy creek on the night of the 25th. This force was thrown against the 39th Mississippi regiment, commanded by Col. Shelby. About 500 Negroes in front advanced at double quick within 150 yards of the works, when the artillery on the river bluff and two light pieces on Col. Shelby's left, opened upon them, and at the same time they were received with volleys of musketry from five companies of the 39th. The Negroes fled every way in perfect confusion, without firing a gun, probably carrying with them, in their panic flight, their sable comrades further in the rear, for the enemy themselves report that 600 of them perished. If this be so, they must have been shot down by the Yankees in the rear, for the execution we did upon them did not exceed 250; and, indeed, volleys of musketry were heard in the direction of their flight. Among the slain were found the bodies of two negro Captains, with commissions in their pockets.
The 1st Alabama, Lt. Col. Locke, and the 10th Arkansas, Col. Witt, engaged the enemy outside the works, in the thick woods, and fought most gallantly; but were compelled, by the heavy odds brought against them, to fail back across the creek and within the works. In this action Col. Witt was captured, but was not fated to remain long a prisoner, being one of the daring band who effected their escape from the Maple Leaf while on their way to a Yankee prison.
About 3 o'clock the Yankees, true to their knavish national instinct, raised the white flag, and under it attempted to make a rush with their infantry. This being reported to Gen. Gardner, he sent orders to the different commanders not to recognize any white flag unless sent by the Federal commander himself. At sunset the firing ceased, after a hotly contested engagement of twelve hours during the whole of which our men had behaved with unflinching gallantry, and had completely repulsed the enemy at every point. Every man along the entire line had done his duty nobly. While this assault was going on, all the gun and mortar boats kept up an incessant firing upon the lower batteries, but without inflicting any damage.
On the 28th Gen. Banks sent a flag proposing a cessation of hostilities for the purpose of burying the dead, which was granted. About 3 o'clock P. M. the truce ceased, and the enemy, in heavy force, made a furious attack upon the 1st Alabama, which was gallantly repulsed.
From this time till June 13th, heavy skirmishing was constantly kept up, the men were behind the breast works night and day, and one could scarcely show his head an instant without being made the mark of a sharp shooter. Many were sick from exposure to the sun and other causes. The enemy were, meanwhile, engaged in digging ditches, erecting batteries, and advancing their parallels.--The gun and mortar boats kept up a continual fire by night and day, more, it would seem, for the purpose of exhausting the garrison by wake fullness than from any hope of direct advantage.
Monday, the 13th of June, a communication was received from Gen. Banks, demanding the unconditional surrender of the post. He complimented the garrison and its commander, in high terms. Their courage, he said, amounted almost to heroism, but it was folly for them to attempt to hold the place any longer, as it was at his will, and he demanded the surrender in the name of humanity, to prevent the sacrifice of lives, as it would be impossible for his commanders to save the garrison from being put to the sword when the works should be carried by assault. His artillery, he said, was equal to any in extent and efficiency, and his men outnumbered ours five to one. He knew to what a condition they were reduced, as he had captured Gen. Gardner's courier sent out with dispatches to Gen. Johnston. As these dispatches were in cipher, it is probable that Banks exaggerated the amount of information he had derived from them.
Gen. Gardner replied that his duty required him to defend the post, and be must refuse to entertain any such proposition.
On the morning of the 14th, just before day, the fleet and all the land batteries, which the enemy had succeeded in erecting at 100 to 300 yards from our breastworks, opened fire at the same time. About daylight, under cover of the smoke, the enemy advanced along the whole line, and in many places approached within ten feet of our works. Our brave fellows were wide awake, and, opening upon them with "buck and ball," drove them back in confusion, a great number of them being left dead in the ditches. One entire division and a brigade were ordered to charge the position of the 1st Mississippi and the 49th Alabama, and, by the mere physical pressure of numbers, some of them got within the works; but all those were immediately killed. Every regiment did its duty nobly; but this was the main attack. After a sharp contest of two hours the enemy were everywhere repulsed, and withdrew to their old line; but heavy skirmishing was kept up most of the day.
After this repulse Gen. Banks sent no flag of truce to bury his dead, which remained exposed between the lines for three days. At the end of that time Gen. Gardner sent a flag to Banks, requesting that he would remove them. Banks replied that he had no dead there.Gen Gardner then desired Gen. Beale to send a flag to Gen. Auger and request him to bury the dead of his division, which lay in front of the 1st and 49th. Auger replied that he did not think he had any dead there, but he would grant a cessation of hostilities to ascertain. Accordingly parties were detailed to pass the dead bodies over to the Yankees, and two hundred and sixty odd were removed from this portion of the works, and with them one wounded man, who had been lying there three days without water, and was fly blown from head to foot. It was surmised that Banks was unwilling that his men should witness the carnage which had been committed, but if that were the case he only made matters worse by this delay, for much exasperation was manifested at the sight of the wounded man, and a great many were heard to say that if that was the way the wounded were to be treated they wanted to he out of the army. A great many of the dead must have perished during the three days interval. In front of Johnson, Steadman, and elsewhere none were buried, and the bodies of the slain could be seen from the breastworks on the day of the surrender, twenty six days after the fight.
During the rest of the month there was heavy skirmishing daily, with constant firing night and day from the gun and mortar boats, and the works were generally drawn close to our line, which, it may here be remarked, was about three miles in extent, and in the centre some three fourths of a mile from the river. Batteries of Parrott guns had been erected across the river, which were well served by the U. S. regulars, and maintained a continuous and very effective fire upon our river batteries, disabling many of the guns. On the land side a formidable battery of seventeen eight, nine and ten inch Columbiads was established 150 paces from our extreme right, one of seven guns in front of Gen. Beale's centre, one of six guns in front of the 1st Mississippi, on the Jackson road, and seven guns and mortars were planted in front of Colonel Steadman. From these a fire was maintained day and night, doing but little damage to our men, but as the siege continued most of our artillery was disabled, only about fifteen pieces remaining uninjured at the time of the surrender.
During the siege of six weeks, from May 27th to July 7th inclusive the enemy must have fired from fifty to seventy five thousand shot and shell, yet not more than twenty-five men were killed by these projectiles. They had worse dangers than these to contend against, but against them all they fought like heroes and did their duty cheerfully. Several buildings were burned by the enemy's shells, among which was the mill, entailing a loss of two or three thousand bushels of corn.
About the 29th or 30th of June the garrison's supply of meat gave out, when General Gardner ordered the mules to be butchered, after ascertaining that the men were willing to eat them. Far from shrinking from this hardship, the men received their unusual rations cheerfully, and declared that they were proud to be able to say that they had been reduced to this extremity. Many of them, as if in mockery of famine, caught rats and eat them declaring that they were better than squirrels.
At the same time the supply of ammunition was becoming exhausted, and at the time of the surrender there were only twenty rounds of cartridges left, with a small supply for artillery.
The hardships, privations, and dangers of the situation were diversified by many exciting incidents. One day our men were rolling ten inch shells over the rampart to explode against the enemy's works, which were not more than fifteen feet off, when a rush was made at our breastworks by about 200 of the enemy. Two companies were hurried to the spot, and they were driven back. Of some sixteen who had gained the interior of our works every one was killed.
Mining was resorted to by the enemy, and, after the surrender, they said that they had a charge of 3,000 pounds of powder already laid under the lower river battery. This, in fact, consisting of a single pivot gun, was the key to the whole position, as it commanded both the river and the land approaches, and against this the heaviest guns of the enemy and their most vigorous efforts by land and water were directed. Their story, however, is somewhat doubled.
But if the enemy mined, the garrison counter-mine, and succeeded in blowing up the works in front of the 1st Mississippi.
Some time between the 20th and 30th of June a singular circumstance occurred one night about 11 o'clock, after a heavy The water commenced running up stream, and in half an hour rose six feet. In one place about twenty feet of the bluff disappeared, carrying away one of our river batteries. The roar of the water could be heard like distant thunder. If this were an earthquake — and it is difficult to give any other explanation — it must have "rolled unheededly away" so far as the enemy was concerned, for no notice of it has appeared in any of the Yankee papers.
On Tuesday, July 7th, salutes were fired from the enemy's batteries and gunboats, and loud cheering was heard along the entire line, and Yankees who were within conversing distance of our men told them that Vicksburg had fallen. That night about 10 o'clock Gen. Gardner summoned a council of war, consisting of Gen. Beale, Cols. Steadman, Miles, Lyle, and Shelby, and Lieut. Col. Marshal J. Smith, who, without exception, decided that it was impossible to hold out longer, considering that the provisions of the garrison were exhausted, the ammunition almost entirely expended, and a large proportion of the men sick, or from exhaustion unfit for duty. A communication was sent to Gen. Banks stating what had been heard from the men, asking for official information as to the truth of the news, and stating if it were true, that Gen. Gardner was ready to negotiate terms of surrender.--Gen. Banks's reply was received just before day, enclosing a letter from Gen. Grant announcing the fall of Vicksburg. Gen. Banks asked Gen'l Gardner to appoint commissioners to arrange with these on his part for terms of surrender, and Cols. Miles and Steadman and Lieut. Col. Smith were appointed.
Gen. Banks demanded an unconditional surrender, as in first instance, but finally agreed that officers and soldiers should retain their private property, (in which Negroes were not included,) demand for a parole of the garrison was released Gen. Banks said he would grant terms with the greatest pleasure, but the orders of the Secretary of War forbid it.
The surrender was fixed to take place at 7 o'clock on the morning of the 9th. At 6 o'clock the garrison were drawn up in line and two officers of Gen. Gardner's staff were sent to conduct the Federal officers deputed to receive the surrender. This was Gen. Andrews, who entered the lines shortly after 7 o'clock on the Clinton road. Gen. Gardner met him at the right of our line and delivered up his sword, observing that he surrendered his sword and his garrison since his provisions were exhausted. Gen. Andrews replied that he received Gen. Gardner's sword, but returned it to him for having maintained his defence so gallantly.
Meanwhile the enemy's infantry moved down in front of our line, both wings resting on the river, and completely encircling the little garrison, as if to cut off any attempt to escape. About that time our informant succeeded in passing through the lines and evading the enemy's outposts. A great many of the garrison — probably several hundred--had made an attempt to escape the previous night, but the guard of the enemy was so strict that they could not pass out.
The number of the garrison which surrendered was between 5,000 and 6,000, of whom there were not more than 2,000 effective men for duty. During the siege about 200 had been killed and 300 wounded, besides several deaths from sickness.--Among the officers killed were Col. Pixley, of Arkansas, Captain Boone, of Louisiana, and Lieutenant Simonton, of the 1st Mississippi, besides a few others with whose names our informant was not familiar.
The universal feeling in the garrison is that Gen. Gardner did everything in his power to foil the enemy and protract the siege, and only succumbed to the direst necessity. The garrison, too, have made a noble record. Even the enemy's accounts, upon which we have been entirely dependent for nearly two months, bear testimony to heroism unsurpassed during this war; but much yet remains to be told, and not a word of it but will reflect the greatest honor upon these devoted men.