Many a One Will Get to Hell Before he Does to Port Hudson

May 21, 1863 (Thursday)

Banks: Now! Now is much better!
Banks: Now! Now is much better!

Despite his wayward campaign through western Louisiana, Nathaniel Banks was back. He may have undertaken what General-in-Chief Henry Halleck had called “eccentric movements” that were of “secondary importance,” all throughout April and much of May, but now he was back on track and ready to once again try to take Port Hudson.

During his previous attempt, he didn’t really do all that much. His Army of the Gulf arrived late and then sort of just retreated without a fight. But now was different, though perhaps not as different as Banks would have liked.

He had tried to convince General Grant to send him reinforcements to take Port Hudson. When that bastion fell, they would all get together and take Vicksburg. As time passed, Grant realized that he needed all the men he could get and decided not to help Banks. In Washington, Halleck and the War Department seemed to blame Banks for the whole thing. This is fairly understandable since it was Banks and not Grant who was sitting idly by and waiting for something, anything, to happen.

But now things were about to happen. Banks decided that even though things were not the kind of different he wanted, they were still different enough to once again attack Port Hudson. Since his army had been divided for these “eccentric movements,” a portion came from the north, landing at Bayou Sara, just above Port Hudson, while another portion marched from Baton Rouge, to the south. Still another division came by transport from New Orleans. All told, Banks commanded around 30,000 men.

Be ye warned! This map is much more approximate than you can ever imagine!
Be ye warned! This map is much more approximate than you can ever imagine!

Opposing Banks was the Confederate garrison of only 7,200. It was commanded by General Franklin Gardner, who had spent much of late April and early May sending troops to reinforce Vicksburg. Noticing that he was quickly being surrounded, Gardner sent troops to slow down the Yankees to the north, at Bayou Sara. There was some light skirmishing here and there, with both sides adding more bodies to the flotsam.

On this date, an entire Federal Division under General Christopher Auger advanced south, but met enough resistance and Confederate artillery to stop them and force them deploy their own guns. The Rebels retreated, but only because their ammunition was low. Once resupplied, the remainder of the day turned into a running fight with charges, countercharges, flank attacks, and repulses across the board.

By the end of the day, both sides, having made successful charges, as well as tasting some surprising defeats, claimed a victory. In the end, however, Union General Auger cleared the road to Port Hudson, allowing Banks room to land the rest of his troops.

Just before the fighting to the north began in earnest, General Gardner, back in the defenses of Port Hudson, was inspecting the works. “The enemy are coming, but mark you,” he said to his men, “many a one will get to hell before he does to Port Hudson.”

Here is a photo of General Gardner's happy face.
Here is a photo of General Gardner’s happy face.

Gardner also received General Joe Johnston’s command to abandon Port Hudson and join him at Jackson, Mississippi. Written on the 19th, it had taken the better part of two days to reach him. Johnston wanted Gardner to “evacuate Port Hudson forthwith.” This had happened once before. Gardner had pulled out of Port Hudson, and marched a few miles before being ordered by President Jefferson Davis himself to “return to Port Hudson with 2,000 troops and hold it to the last.”

As he mulled it over, and perhaps made some preparations to obey Johnston’s command, the battle to the north picked up, and Gardner discovered that it was now probably too late. “Positive information that the enemy has a large force,” Gardner shot back,”and is moving down to cross at Bayou Sara against this place. His whole force from Baton Rouge is in my front.” And then, in what could be taken as nearly an insult to Johnston’s orders, he concluded by telling his commanding officer: “I am very weak and should be rapidly re-enforced.”

Perhaps if Banks had waited a day, or even a few hours longer, he could have taken Port Hudson without a fight. Now, it was even too late for Banks. Gardner was staying and Banks’ troops were arriving from the north and south of the Confederate stronghold. Soon, like Vicksburg to the north, it would be a siege.1



  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 26, Part 2, p 9; Vol. 52, Part 2, p476; Joseph E. Johnston by Craig L. Symonds; Pretense of Glory by James G. Hollandsworth, Jr.; Port Hudson, Confederate Bastion on the Mississippi by Lawrence Lee Hewitt; The Port Hudson Campaign: 1862-1863 by Edward Cunningham. []
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Many a One Will Get to Hell Before he Does to Port Hudson by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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