Inside the historic corridor of the Feliciana Parishes, off of Hwy 61, is the Port Hudson National Cemetery. In researching the historic bluffs of Port Hudson, their website offers a generous collection of the area’s rich history. In late April, 1862, the Confederates were losing control of the Mississippi River. Although they had strengthened their position at Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Confederates needed more reinforcements below the mouth of the Red River, a primary route for supplies.
The bluffs near the town of Port Hudson offered high ground just upstream from Baton Rouge and overlooked the bend in the river. This gave the Confederates an eagle eye for Union warships coming down the river.
On May 23, 1863, the siege of Port Hudson began in what became one of the bloodiest and treacherous battles of the Civil War. The Confederates were outnumbered with roughly 30,000 Union troops against 6,800 Confederates. The Union Army led ferocious attacks over a six-week period. When Vicksburg surrendered, so did Port Hudson. It became the longest battle in American military history, 48 days with thousands of causalities and Confederate soldiers nearly exhausting their ammo, and the site notes, were reduced to eating mules, horses and rats.
The Port Hudson Battlefield is now a National Historic Landmark. Visitors will get a rare look into what the website notes is probably the only naturally preserved Civil War extant battleground in that the gun pits and trenches remain today in virtually the same places they were during the battle. These brave soldiers have found their eternal resting place at the Port Hudson National Cemetery, a short distance from the Port Hudson Battlefield.
In addition to the Confederate forces that died during the siege of Port Hudson, nearly 4,000 Union soldiers are buried at the cemetery, but only 600 were identified. The cemetery’s website notes that roughly 500 Confederate soldiers that died during the battle were buried in the trenches where they fell.
Burials began in 1863, and in 1866, the federal government declared the site a national cemetery. Both the casualties of the Port Hudson siege and soldiers who died in nearby military hospitals are interred there.
Not far from the Port Hudson National Cemetery is the new Louisiana National Park/Cemetery with 129 acres. The Port Hudson Cemetery is at capacity and home to 13,000 former members of the US military and their spouses, ranging from the Civil War to the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The new cemetery is already a sacred ground for veterans. White stones are glowing against a blue sky striped with wispy clouds. Even the barren trees take a back seat, letting the markers take the lead.
For more info on traveling through East Feliciana Parish, visit their tourism website.
For more historic sites throughout the Feliciana Parishes visit the state website on the Port Hudson Historic Site. www.crt.state.la.us/louisiana-state- parks/historic-sites/port-hudson-state-historic-site/index