Friday, July 5, 2013

Gen. Franklin Gardner and the Siege of Port Hudson

Maj. Gen. Franklin Gardner, CSA
In a post yesterday I discussed the role of Florida troops and generals in the Battle of Vicksburg (see Florida Troops at the Fall of Vicksburg). Even after that stronghold fell 150 years ago yesterday, however, another general with a Florida connection continued to hold out on the Mississippi River.

Major General Franklin Gardner was a New York born graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. He was 17th in the Class of 1843, five places ahead of his classmate Ulysses S. Grant.

Commissioned as a lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Infantry, he was ordered to Pensacola where he served until the outbreak of the Mexican-American War.  The Second Seminole War was
Fort Barrancas at Pensacola Bay
"officially" over by the time that Gardner arrived in Pensacola, but an attack by refugee Creek Indians near what is now Panama City, Florida, led to an expedition against them by the 7th Infantry in 1844. Troops from Pensacola were part of the raid, but it is unknown whether Gardner participated.

The 7th Infantry was part of the U.S. Army that battled Santa Anna in Mexico in 1846-1848. Gardner served under both General Zachary Taylor and General Winfield T. Scott and was noted for courage under fire at the Battles of Monterey, Churubusco, Molino del Rey and Vera Cruz.  He remained in the army until the Southern states began to secede from the Union in 1860-1861, serving as a captain in the so-called "Utah War."

Married to a girl from Louisiana, Gardner cast his lot with the South and resigned his commission. He led a brigade of cavalry with such distinction at the Battle of Shiloh that he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general effective April 11, 1862. Identified as an officer of great potential by General Braxton Bragg, he went on to fight at Perryville, Kentucky, in October 1862 and was promoted to major general.

Port Hudson Battlefield
Gardner was ordered to take command of Port Hudson, a developing Confederate stronghold atop high bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River north of Baton Rouge, in December 1862. Over the next four month, he supervised the conversion of the handful of artillery batteries into one of most powerful fortifications in the Confederacy.

As General Grant closed in on Vicksburg in May 1862, the Union Army of the Gulf closed in on Port Hudson under the command of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks. Under orders from higher authorities, General Gardner had already sent many of his men upriver to help fight Grant. When Banks and his more than 30,000 men surrounded Port Hudson, Gardner had only around 4,000 men with which to oppose them.

Museum Display at Port Hudson
Many generals would have surrendered under such circumstances, but Franklin Gardner was cut from a different cloth. He had demonstrated during the Mexican-American War that he was a fighter, but the battle he waged at Port Hudson was so remarkable that it should have shed light on Gardner as one of the hardest fighting generals in the Confederate army.

Over the next two months, Gardner and his tiny garrison held off and badly bloodied a Union army seven times the size of their own command while also keeping some of the most powerful warships of the U.S. Navy at bay. From the muddy trenches of Port Hudson, Louisiana, they fought the longest siege of the Civil War.

Read more about Gardner's remarkable fight at Port Hudson by visiting


9dawgs said...

Mr. Cox, I just wanted to thank you for the amazing job you have done in detailing the state of Florida and it's role in the Civil War. My great-great-great grandfather John Nelson is mentioned in your write up about the Battle of Vernon. Thank you for an outstanding job and dedication to this subject. It's good for my children to see their history.

Jim Nelson

Dale Cox said...

Jim, Thank you for the note and the really nice words. I'm very familiar with John Nelson and have long had sympathy and curiosity about that Vernon group. It is a shame what happened to them. Today we would call it a war crime.

Savez said...

I concur with Jim. Outstanding work!

Dale Cox said...

Thanks! It is a labor of love for me.