Siege of Port Hudson


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, June 27, 1863

Welcome to our online collection of Civil War Harper's Weekly newspapers. We hope you enjoy browsing this incredible collection. The wood cut illustrations provide an incredible view into this important aspect of American History.


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Before Vicksburg

Before Vicksburg

Lee Invades Pennsylvania

Lee Invades Pennsylvania

Lee's Northern Ivasion

Lee's Invasion of the North

Siege of Vicksburg

Siege of Vicksburg



Port Hudson

Siege of Port Hudson

Democratic Cartoon

Democratic Party Cartoon



Approaches to Vicksburg


Pennsylvania Battle Map

Sedgwick Crossing Rappahonnock

General Sedgwick Crossing the Rappahannock

Rebel Dead

Rebel Dead

Rifle Pits

Rifle Pits

Attack on Port Hudson

Attack on Port Hudson







JUNE 27, 1863.]



Being now about a hundred miles South of the Mauritius, in fine weather with a light breeze, Dodd's marine barometer began to fall steadily: and by the afternoon the declension had become so remarkable that he felt uneasy, and, somewhat to the surprise of the crew—for there was now scarce a breath of air—furled his slight sails, treble reefed his top-sails, had his top-gallant, and royal, yards, and gaff top-sail sent on deck, got his flying jib-boom in, etc., and made the ship snug.

Kenealy asked him what was the matter?

"Barometer going down; moon at the full; and Jonah aboard," was the reply, uttered doggedly.

Kenealy assured him it was a beautiful evening, precursor of a fine day. "See how red the sunset is:

Evening red and morning gray Are the sure signs of a fine day."

Dodd looked, and shook his head. The sun was red: but the wrong red: an angry red: and, as he dipped into the wave, discharged a lurid coppery hue that rushed in a moment like an embodied menace over the entire heavens. The wind ceased altogether: and in the middle of an unnatural and suspicious calm the glass went down, down, down.

The moon rose: and instantly all eyes were bent on her with suspicion; for in this latitude the hurricanes generally come at the full moon. She was tolerably clear, however; but a light scud sailing across her disk showed there was wind in the upper regions.

The glass fell lower than Dodd had ever seen it.

He trusted to science; barred the lee-ports, and had the dead lights put into the stern cabin and secured: then turned in for an hour's sleep.

Science proved a prophet. Just at seven bells, in one moment, like a thunder-bolt from the sky, a heavy squall struck the ship, and laid her almost on her beam ends. Under a less careful captain her lee-ports would have been open, and she would have gone to the bottom like a bullet.

"Ease the main sheet!" cried Sharpe, hastily, to a hand he had placed there on purpose: the man, in his hurry, took too many turns off the cleet, the strain overpowered him, he let go, and there was the sail flapping like thunder, and the sheet lashing every thing in the most dangerous way. Dodd was on deck in a moment. "Up mainsel! Get hold of the clue garnets, bunt-lines, and leech-lines; run them up!—Now then, over to wind'ard! Let go the main-bowling!—Keep to the run men!—Belay!"

And so the sail was saved.

"Folkstle, there!"


"Hands up: furl sails!"

"Ay, ay, Sir."

(Pipe.) "All hands furl sail, ahoy!"

Up tumbled the crew, went cheerily to work, and by three bells in the middle watch had furled the few remaining sails, and treble reefed the main top-sail: under this last the ship lay to, with her head as near the wind as they could bring it, and so the voyage was suspended.

A heavy sea got up under a scourging wind that rose and rose, till the Agra under the pressure of that single sail treble reefed, heeled over so as to dip her lee channels. This went on till the waves rolled so high, and the squalls were so bitter, that sheets of water were actually torn off their crests and launched incessantly on deck, not only drenching Dodd and his officers, which they did not mind, but threatening to flood the ship.

Dodd battened down the hatches, and stopped that game.

Then came a danger no skill could avert: the ship lurched so rapidly that the seams of her works opened and shut: she also heeled over so violently now, as not merely to dip, but bury, her lower deck port-pendants: and so a good deal of water found ingress through the windage. Then Dodd net a gang to the pumps: for he said: "We can hardly hope to weather this out without shipping a sea: and I won't have water coming in upon water."

And now the wind, raging and roaring like discharges of artillery, and not like wind as known in our seas, seemed to have put out all the lights of heaven. The sky was inky black, and quite close to their heads: and the wind still increasing, the vessel came down to her extreme bearings, and it was plain she would soon be on her beam ends. Sharpe and Dodd met, and holding on by the life-lines, applied their speaking-trumpets tight to each other's ears: and even then they had to bawl.

"She can't carry a rag much longer."

"No, Sir; not half an hour."

"Can we furl that main taupsle?"

Sharpe shook his head. "The first moment we start a sheet, the sail will whip the mast out of her."

"You are right. Well then, I'll cut it away."

"Volunteers, Sir?"

"Ay, twelve: no more. Send them to my cabin."

Sharpe's difficulty was to keep the men back, so eager were the fine fellows to risk their lives. However, he brought twelve to the cabin, headed by Mr. Grey, who had a right, as captain of the watch, to go with them; on which right he insisted in spite of Dodd's earnest request that he would forego it. When Dodd saw his resolution, he dropped the friend, and resumed the captain: and spoke to them through a trumpet; the first time he had ever used one in a cabin, or seen one used.

"Mr. Grey, and men, going aloft to save the mainmast, by cutting the sail away."

"Ay, ay, Sir!"

"Service of danger, great danger!"


"But great dangers can be made smaller by working the right way. Attend! Lay out all on the yard, and take your time from one; man

at the lee yard arm: don't know who that will be; but one of the smartest men in the ship. Order to him is; hold his knife hand well up; rest to see; and then in knives altogether: mind and cut from you, and below the reef band; and then I hope to see all come down alive."

Mr. Grey and his twelve men left the cabin; and hey! for the maintop. The men let the officer lead them as far as Jacob's ladder, and then hurrah for the lee yard arm! That was where all wanted to be, and but one could be: Grey was as anxious as the rest: but officers of his rank seldom go aloft, and soon fall out of their cat-like habits. He had done about six ratlines, when instead of going hand over head, he spread his arms to seize a shroud on each side of him: by this he weakened his leverage, and the wind just then came fiercer, caught him, and flattened him against the rigging as tight as if Nature had caught up a mountain for a hammer and nailed him with a cedar; he was spread-eagled. The men accepted him at once as a new patent ratline with a fine resisting power: they went up him, and bounded three ordinary ratlines at a go off all his promontories, especially his shoulders, and his head, receiving his compliments in the shape of hearty curses: they gained the top and lay out on the yard with their hair flying like streamers: and who got the place of honor, but Thompson, the jolly foretopman, who couldn't stand smoked pea soup. So strong and so weak are men.

Thompson raised his knife high; there was a pause: then in went all their knives, and away went the sail into the night of the storm, and soon seemed a sheet of writing paper, and more likely to hit the sky than the sea. The men came down, picked their officer off the rigging, had a dram in the captain's cabin, and saw him enter their names in the log-book for good service, and in the purser's for extra grog on Sundays from there to Gravesend.

The ship was relieved; and all looked well, till the chronometer, their only guide now, announced sunset: when the wind, incredible as it may appear, increased, and one frightful squall dipped the muzzles of the lee carronades in the water.

Then was heard the first cry of distress: an appalling sound; the wail of brave men. And they had borne it all so bravely, so cheerfully, till now. But now they knew something must go, or else the ship; the suspense was awful, but very short. Crack! crash! the fore and main top mast both gone; short off by the caps; and the ship recovered slowly, hesitatingly, tremblingly.

Relieving her from one danger this subjected her to another and a terrible one. The heavy spars that had fallen, unable to break loose from the rigging, pounded the ship so savagely as to threaten to stave in her side.

But neither this stout captain nor his crew shirked any danger men had ever grappled with since men were; Dodd ordered them to cut away the wreck to leeward: it was done: then to windward: this, the more ticklish operation, was also done smartly: the wreck passed under the ship's quarter, and she drifted clear of it. They breathed again.

At eight bells in the first watch it began to thunder and lighten furiously; but the thunder, though close, was quite inaudible in the tremendous uproar of the wind and sea. It blew a hurricane: there were no more squalls now; but one continuous tornado, which in its passage through that great gaunt skeleton, the ship's rigging and bare poles, howled and yelled and roared so terrifically, as would have silenced a salvo of artillery fired alongside. The overwhelming sea ran in dark watery mountains crested with devilish fire. The inky blackness added supernatural horror; the wrath of the Almighty seemed upon them: and his hand to drop the black sky down on them for their funeral pall. Surely Noah from his ark saw nothing more terrible.

What is that? close on the lee bow: close: the flash of a gun: another; another; another. A ship in distress firing minute-guns, in their ears; yet no sound: human thunder silenced, as God's thunder was silenced by the uproar of his greater creatures in their mad rage. The Agra fired two minute-guns to let the other poor ship know she had a companion in her helplessness, and her distress, and probably a companion in her fate. Even this companionship added its mite of danger: for both ships were mere playthings of the elements; they might be tossed together; and then what would be their fate? Two eggs clashed together in a great boiling caldron, and all the life spilt out.

Yet did each flash shoot a ray of humanity and sympathy into the thick black supernatural horror.

And now came calamity upon calamity. A tremendous sea broke the tiller at the rudder-head, and not only was the ship in danger of falling off and shipping the sea, but the rudder hammered her awfully, and bade fair to stave in her counter, which is another word for Destruction. Thus death came at them with two hands open at once.

These vessels always carry a spare tiller: they tried to ship it: but the difficulty was prodigious. No light but the miserable deck lantern—one glow-worm in Egypt supernaturally darkened—the Agra never on an even keel, and heeling over like a sea-saw more than a ship; and then every time they did place the tiller, and get the strain on with their luff tackles, the awful sea gave it a blow and knocked it away like a hair.

At last they hit it off, or thought they had, for the ponderous thumps of the rudder ceased entirely. However, the ship did not obey this new tiller like the old one: her head fell off in an unlucky moment when seven waves were rolling in one, and, on coming to the windward

again, she shipped a sea. It came in over her bow transversely; broke as high as the mainstay, and hid and buried the whole ship before the mast: carried away the waist bulwarks on both sides, filled the launch, and drowned the live-stock which were in it: swept four water-butts and three men away into the sea, like corns and straws; and sent tons of water down the forescuttle and main hatchway, which was partly opened not to stifle the crew; and flooded the gun deck ankle-deep.

Dodd, who was in his cabin, sent the whole crew to the pumps, except the man at the wheel; and prepared for the worst.

In men so brave as he was, when Hope dies, Fear dies. His chief care now was to separate the fate of those he loved from his own. He took a bottle, inserted the fatal money in it, with a few words of love to his wife, and of direction to any stranger that should fall in with it; secured the cork with melted sealing-wax, tied oil-skin over it, and melted wax on that; applied a preparation to the glass to close the pores: and to protect it against other accidents, and attract attention, fastened a black painted bladder to it by a stout tarred twine, and painted "Agra, lost at sea," in white on the bladder. He had logged each main incident of the storm with that curt, business-like accuracy, which reads so cold and small a record of these great and terrible tragedies. He now made a final entry a little more in character with the situation: "About eight bells in the morning watch shipped a heavy sea forward. The rudder being now damaged, and the ship hardly manageable, brought the log and case on deck, expecting to founder shortly. Sun and moon hidden this two days, and no observation possible; but by calculation of wind and current, we should be about fifty miles to the southward of the Mauritius. God's will be done."

He got on deck with the bottle in his pocket, and the bladder peeping out: put the log, and its case, down on deck, and by means of the life-lines crawled along on his knees, and with great difficulty, to the wheel. Finding the man could hardly hold on, and dreading another sea, Dodd, with his own hands, lashed him to the helm.

While thus employed he felt the ship give a slight roll, a very slight roll, to windward. His experienced eye lightened with hope; he cast his eager glance to leeward. There it is a sailor looks for the first spark of hope. Ay, thereaway was a little, little gleam of light. He patted the helmsman on the shoulder and pointed to it; for now neither could one man speak for the wind, nor another hear. The sailor nodded joyfully.

Presently the continuous tornado broke into squalls.

Hope grew brighter.

But, unfortunately, in one furious squall the ship broke round off so as to present her quarter to the sea at an unlucky moment: for it came seven deep again, a roaring mountain, and hurled itself over her stern and quarter. The mighty mass struck her stern frame with the weight of a hundred thousand tons of water, and drove her forward as a boy launches his toy-boat on a pond; and, though she made so little resistance, stove in the dead-lights and the port frames, burst through the cabin bulk-heads, and washed out all the furniture, and Colonel Kenealy in his night-gown with a table in his arms borne on water three feet deep; and carried him under the poop awning away to the lee quarter-deck scuppers; and flooded the lower deck. Above, it swept the quarter-deck clean of every thing except the shrieking helmsman; washed Dodd away like a cork, and would have carried him overboard if he had not brought up against the mainmast and grasped it like grim death, half drowned, half stunned, sorely bruised, and gasping like a porpoise ashore.

He held on by the mast in water and foam, panting. He rolled his despairing eyes around: the bulwarks fore and aft were all in ruins, with wide chasms, as between the battlements of some decayed castle: and through the gaps he saw the sea yawning wide for him. He dare not move: no man was safe a moment, unless lashed to mast or helm. He held on, expecting death. But presently it struck him he could see much farther than before. He looked up: it was clearing overhead; and the uproar abating visibly. And now the wind did not decline as after a gale; extraordinary to the last, it blew itself out.

Sharpe came on deck, and crawled on all fours to his captain, and helped him to a life-line. He held on by it, and gave his orders. The wind was blown out; but the sea was as dangerous as ever. The ship began to roll to windward. If that was not stopped, her fate was sealed. Dodd had the main trysail set, and then the fore trysail, before he would yield to go below, though drenched, and sore, and hungry, and worn out. Those sails steadied the ship; the sea began to go down by degrees; the celestial part of nature was more generous: away flew every cloud, out came the heavenly sky bluer and lovelier than ever they had seen it: the sun flamed in its centre. Nature, after three days' eclipse, was so lovely: it seemed a new heavens and a new earth. If there was an infidel on board who did not believe in God, now his soul felt Him, in spite of the poor little head: as for Dodd, who was naturally pious, he raised his eyes toward that lovely sky in heart-felt, though silent, gratitude to its Maker for saving the ship and cargo and her peoples' lives, not forgetting the private treasure he was carrying home to his dear wife and children at home.

With this thought, he naturally looked down: but missed the bladder that had lately protruded from his pocket; he clapped his hand to his pocket all in a flutter. The bottle was gone.

In a fever of alarm and anxiety, but with good hopes of finding it, he searched the deck: he looked in every cranny, behind every coil of rope the sea had not carried away.

In vain.

The sea, acting on the buoyant bladder attached, had clearly torn the bottle out of his pocket, when it washed him against the mast. His treasure then must have been driven much farther: and how far? Who could tell?

It flashed on the poor man with fearful distinctness that it must either have been picked up by somebody in the ship ere now, or else carried out to sea.

Strict inquiry was made among the men.

No one had seen it.

The fruit of his toil and prudence, the treasure Love, not Avarice, had twined with his heart-strings; was gone. In its defense he had defeated two pirates, each his superior in force; and now conquered the elements at their maddest. And in the very moment of that great victory—It was gone.


ON page 412 we reproduce a sketch by our special artist, Mr. Hamilton, illustrating the COMMENCEMENT OF THE ATTACK ON PORT HUDSON, Louisiana, by the capture by General Grover's division of the first rebel rifle-pit. The correspondent of the Times thus describes the affair:

General Grover started from Newport, six miles from Port Hudson, at 8 A.M. on Sunday the 24th, taking the Clinton direct road, the second brigade in advance, under Colonel Kimball of the Twelfth Maine, and the Twenty-fourth Connecticut thrown out as skirmishers along the whole road through dense woods. They met no opposition until they encountered the outer rifle-pits, about half past eleven o'clock. The reserve of the Twenty-fourth Connecticut was sent in the woods which flank the pits, and after a brisk and hard engagement of only half an hour drove out the enemy and took possession of the pits.

General Grover then took a position right on the edge of the woods, 800 yards front the main portion of the enemy's works, but, owing to the position of the land, could only bring two pieces into play, and an artillery fight commenced, lasting from one to six o'clock, and leaving our men in their position. During the height of the artillery engagement General Grover went to the front, and a Parrott shot struck off the fore-leg of his horse, but the General himself escaped unhurt.

On page 413 we give another picture, also from a sketch by Mr. Hamilton, illustrating GENERAL AUGUR'S RECENT ASSAULT UPON THE FORTIFICATIONS OF PORT HUDSON—one of the most dashing acts of bravery in this war, so replete with heroic incidents. Mr. Hamilton writes:

It having been understood that a grand and simultaneous attack from every part of our lines encircling Port Hudson was to be made on Wednesday, the 27th, General Augur, as early as 6 A.M. of that day, commenced a heavy cannonading upon the works, and continued incessantly until 2 o'clock P.M., by which time Brigadier-General Sherman, who was intended to commence his assault at the same time on the left, had his troops in readiness.

General Augur's assaulting forces consisted only of Colonel E. P. Chapin's brigade, viz., the 48th Massachusetts, led by Lieutenant-Colonel O'Brien; the 49th Massachusetts, by Colonel F. W. Bartlett; the 116th New York, led by Major Love; and the 21st Maine, by Colonel Johnson; also two regiments of Colonel Dudley's brigade, called up from the right, viz., the 2d Louisiana, under Colonel Paine; and parts of the 50th Massachusetts, under Colonel Messer.

Before commencing the assault Captain Holcomb's Vermont battery played upon the works to draw their fire, which he did very effectively; and then the order for the assault was given. A number of brave fellows from each regiment had volunteered to go in advance with the fascines, for the purpose of making a roadway through the moat; these were immediately followed by others who had volunteered to form the assaulting party; and after them the various regiments with their colonels, all under the immediate direction of Major-General Augur in person.

The scene that presented itself to the view of our devoted men as they emerged from the wood was really appalling. Between them and the fortifications to be assaulted lay an immense open space, at least a mile in length, from right to left, and at least half a mile in depth from the edge of the wood. This space was originally a dense forest, but the rebels had ingeniously felled the trees, leaving the huge branches to interlace each other, and forming, with the thick brushwood underneath, a barrier all but impassable to any thing in human shape.

It was enough to daunt the stoutest hearts; but our men are not of the stuff to be scared by any difficulties. The order had been given that Port Hudson must be taken that day, and at it they went.

In so horrible a place, where men could scarcely keep their footing, and were sinking at every step up to their arm-pits, and tumbling along as best they could with their muskets and fasciues through the impenetrable rubbish—the enemy all the while blazing away at them with grape, shell, and canister—the result may easily be imagined. It was wholesale slaughter.

But it was glorious to see the heroism and endurance of our men. Onward they went—the old flag streaming proudly above them (the fascine-bearers falling in every direction)—until they actually, many of them, fought their way clean through the half mile of tangled rubbish to the narrow open space between it and the breast-works, where, as a matter of course, the gallant fellows perished. The unequal contest had lasted from 3 P.M. to 5 P.M., when General Augur, finding it utterly impossible to carry out the instructions he had received, withdrew his men in perfect order—returning shot for shot as they got back to the wood.

During these two mortal hours many a brave soul went to rest. The gallant and much-beloved Colonel Chapin, wounded in the leg, still went on, until he received a Minie ball in the head, which killed him, after he had got within it very few yards of the breast-works. Lieutenant-Colonel O'Brien also fell, eagerly cheering his troops in the thickest of the fray. Our loss in that brief space of time amounted to 64 killed and 316 wounded—among them 27 officers killed and wounded.

One of the most extraordinary instances of courage exhibited on this eventful day was that of Colonel F. W. Bartlett. This desperately brave young officer—who had already lost a leg in the Peninsula—finding it impossible to go through the impediments on foot, actually had the audacity to go on horseback—forming, of course, a conspicuous target for the whole rebel batteries and sharp-shooters.

Even the rebels were awed into respect by such an instance of heroism. Who, in God's name, was that man on horseback?" said a rebel officer to Captain Cutting, of General Augur's staff, when he went under a flag of truce for our dead. On being told the name, the rebel officer exclaimed, "He is a brave man, and we actually gave orders not to shoot him." The good intention was, however, not fulfilled, as Colonel Bartlett was twice wounded, in the wrist and ankle, but fortunately only slightly.

Another daring act recorded in our picture is that of Captain Holcomb, who, at the request of Major G. B. Halsted, the Assistant Adjutant-General to General Augur, brought up one little field-piece of the Vermont battery, and dashed about the road, from place to place, drawing the fire of the enemy, and thus saving many lives. In this daring feat Captain Holcomb was accompanied only by Major Halsted and six other men.




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