Buffalo Soldier Regiment: History of the Twenty-Fifth United States Infantry, 1869-1926

By John H. Nankivell | Go to book overview

APPENDIX C
THE BATTLE OF PORT HUDSON
May 23, 1863

“A few weeks after the fight of the 2nd Regiment at Pascagoula, General Banks laid siege to Port Hudson, and gathered there all the available forces in his department. Among these were the 1st and 3rd Infantry Regiments of the Phalanx. On the 23rd of May the federal forces, having completely invested the enemy’s works and made due preparation, were ordered to make a general assault along the whole line. The attack was intended to be simultaneous, but in this it failed. The Union batteries opened early in the morning, and after vigorous bombardment Generals Weitzel, Grover, and Paine on the right, assaulted with vigor at 10 a. m., while General Augur in the center, and General W. T. Sherman on the left, did not attack till 2 p. m.

“Never was fighting more heroic than that of the federal army and especially that of the Phalanx regiments. If valor could have triumphed over such odds, the assaulting forces would have carried the works, but only abject cowardice or pitiable imbecility could have lost such a position under existing circumstances. The negro regiments on the north side of the works vied with the bravest, making three desperate charges on the Confederate batteries, losing heavily, but maintaining their position in the advance all the while.

“The column in moving to the attack went through the woods in their immediate front, and then upon a plain, on the farther side of which, half a mile distant, were the enemy’s batteries. The field was covered with recently felled trees, through the inter’ laced branches of which the column moved, and for two or more hours struggled through the obstacles, and stepping over their comrades who fell among the entangled brushwood pierced by bullets or torn by flying missiles, and braved the hurricane of shot and shell.

“What did it avail to hurl a few thousand troops against those impregnable works? The men were not iron, and were they it would have been impossible for them to have kept erect, where trees three feet in diameter were crashed down upon them by the enemy’s shot; they would have been but as so many ten-pins set up before skillful players to be knocked down.

“The troops entered an enfilading fire from a masked battery which opened upon them as they neared the fort, causing the column first to halt, then to waver and stagger; but it recovered and again pressed forward, closing up the ranks as fast as the enemy’s shells thinned them. On the left the Confederates had planted a six-gun battery upon an eminence, which enabled them to sweep the field over which the advancing column moved. In front was the large fort, while the right of the line was raked by a redoubt of six pieces of artillery. One after another of the works had been charged, but in vain. The Micnigan, New York and Massachusetts troops—braver than whom none ever fought a battle— had been hurled back from the place, leaving the field strewn with their dead and wounded. The works must be taken. General Nelson was ordered by General Dwight to take the battery on the left. The 1st and 3rd Regiments went forward at double quick time, and they were soon within the line of the enemy’s fire.

“Louder than the thunder of Heaven was the artillery rending the air shaking the earth itself; cannons, mortars, and musketry alike opened a fiery storm upon the advancing regiments; an iron shower of grape and round shot, shells and rockets, with a perfect tempest of rifle bullets fell upon them. On they went and down, scores falling on right and left. “The flag, the flag!” shouted the black soldiers as the standard-bearer’s body was scattered by a shell. Two file-closers struggled for its possession; a ball decided the struggle. They fell faster and faster; shrieks, prayers and curses came up from the fallen and ascended to Heaven. The ranks closed up while the column turned obliquely toward the point of fire, seeming to forget they were but men. Then the cross-fire, of grape shot swept through their ranks causing the glittering bayonets to go down rapidly. Steady

-183-

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