Fort Desperate (1863-1863) - A Confederate U.S. Civil War Fort established in 1863 near Port Hudson, East Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. Named Fort Desperate because of the desperate struggle to defend it during the 48-day Union siege of Port Hudson. Abandoned in 1863 after the Confederate surrender of Port Hudson.
Established on 21 May 1863 by Confederate Colonel Benjamin W. Johnson on the orders of Colonel Isaiah G. W. Steedman who was charged with the left wing of the defenses of Port Hudson. Port Hudson was under attack from Union forces as a part of a larger Union strategy to regain control of the Mississippi River and cut the Confederacy in half.
Colonel Johnson was ordered to defend a road leading to the important Confederate commissary complex and armory from a point of natural advantage but with no existing defenses. His command numbered 318 officers and enlisted men, most from the 15th Arkansas Infantry Regiment supplemented by two gun detachments from Company B, 1st Mississippi Artillery. The only artillery at Colonel Johnson's disposal were the two 12-pounder guns and 25 men from the 1st Mississippi.
Colonel Johnson set about constructing a defense with a large earthworks parapet surrounding his camp on three sides with an outer trench. This fortification would become known as Fort Desperate, more accurately described as a lunette.
The steepness of the parapet exterior and the steep natural drop-off outside the ditch gave the defense a natural advantage. Cut trees and brush made the uphill approach very slow and dangerous. During daylight hours the fort was subjected to constant artillery fire from far superior Union gun batteries lining the river bank and by Union snipers and sharpshooters protected by fallen timber and stumps below. Repairs were made at night. To counter the Union sharpshooters a tower was built that overlooked the approaches and fire from this tower was used to suppress the Union sharpshooters' fire.
Two major attacks were mounted against the fortification, the first on 27 May 1863 saw the enemy place a battery of six guns directly in front of the fort and one of those guns destroyed one of the two Confederate guns and killed the artillery officer, Lieutenant J. B. Edrington. The Union forces charged three times, the first two charges were broken by heavy fire from the defenders. On the third charge, some eleven companies of Union soldiers reached the outer ditch and became trapped there, unable to mount the steep wall and unable to retreat to their own lines, they were forced to surrender. The attacking force suffered 420 casualties, 90 killed. Another attack on the night of the 28th saw the attackers repulsed again with heavy losses.
Following the failure of the first significant attack, the Union forces laid siege to the fort with a terrible and steady fire upon every part of the defense. The Confederate defenders were forced underground during the day and worked at night to repair the damage.
The second major attack began on 14 Jun 1863 and was preceded by the most terrible cannonade yet experienced, it continued until dawn. When the artillery ceased the Union infantry advanced just as they had on the 27th of May. Again the first two charges were broken and the third reached the parapet but was thrown back by the defenders after a desperate defense. The Confederate commander said "so terrible had been the fighting at this point, that the position was called "Fort Desperate".
Colonel Johnson continued to improve the defense and by the 5th of July 1863, the Union work parties disappeared from his front.
In total, Colonel Johnson lost two commissioned officers and thirty-three NCOs & privates killed in his defense of Fort Desperate.
After the Fall of Vicksburg on 4 Jul 1863 the Confederate defenders of Port Hudson agreed to surrender on 8 Jul 1863 and the next day, 9 Jul 1863 the surrender was done.
Part of the Port Hudson State Historic Site.
Visited: 9 Apr 2016