Today in History:

7 Series I Volume XXVI-I Serial 41 - Port Hudson Part I


steamer Westfield was blown up by its commanding officer. The losses in killed and wounded were but slight. The balance of the regiment did not arrive at Galveston Island until January 2, the day after the attack. Upon the discovery of the condition of affairs by the capture of one of the rebel pilots, they returned to New Orleans.

This attack upon our forces had been in contemplation for a long time. It succeeded solely because the bridge connecting the island with the mainland had been left in possession of the enemy. Had the troops sent for its occupation arrived a day or two earlier, or in sufficient time to have destroyed the bridge, the attack would have been defeated.

The possession of this island and its military occupation would have been of great importance to the Government in all operations in that part of the country. It would have held a large force of rebel troops in the vicinity of Houston, enabled us to penetrate the territory of Texas at any time, or to concentration our forces on the Mississippi, and rendered unnecessary the expedition of 1864 for the re-establishment of the flag in Texas.

Colonel Burrell and his men remained in captivity more than a year, and, after much suffering, were exchanged in the spring of 1864.

It is true, as stated by Major-General Halleck in his report of November 15, 1863, as General-in-Chief of the Army, that "this expedition was not contemplated or provided for in General Banks' instructions." But, having undoubted information of an immediate attack by the enemy, and of the purpose entertained by General Butler to re-enforce the navy by a detachment of land troops, as well as the direct approval of this purpose by Admiral Farragut, as commander of the naval forces in the Gulf, it would have been inexcusable, if not criminal, had I declined to maintain the occupation of so important a position, when so slight a force was required, upon the ground that it was not contemplated or provided for in my instructions. I regarded the loss of Galveston in its consequences, though not in the incidents immediately attending its capture, as the most unfortunate affair that occurred in the department during my command. Galveston, as a military position, was second in importance only to New Orleans or Mobile.

The defensive positions of the enemy in the department were Port Hudson, on the Mississippi, which was strongly fortified, and held by a force of not less than 18,000 men; on the Atchafalaya the water communications toward Red River were defended by strong works at Butte-a-la-Rose, and on Bayou Teche by strong land fortifications near Pattersonville, called Fort Bisland, extending from Grand Lake on the right to impassable swamps on the left of the Bayou Teche. Batte-a-la-Rose was defended by the gunboats of the enemy and a garrison of 300 to 500 men, and Fort Bisland, on the Teche, by a force of 12,000 to 15,000 men, distributed from Berwick to Alexandria and Grand Ecore, on Red River. These positions covered every line of communication to the Red River country and the Upper Mississippi.

The first object was to reduce the works at Port Hudson. This could be done by an attack directly upon the fortifications, or by getting possession of the Red River, for the purpose of cutting off supplies received by the garrison from that country.

My command, upon my arrival at New Orleans, with the troops that accompanied me, was less than 30,000. There were fifty-six regiments, of which twenty-two regiments were enlisted for nine months only, the terms of service of a part expiring in May, a part in July, and all in August. None of the regiments or men had seen service, and few had even handled a musket.