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A Modern War: The 16th Arkansas Trench Raid

During the 48 day Siege of Port Hudson, both sides, Confederate and Federal used a number of tactics to subdue their opponents. Whether it be from digging mines, using hand grenades, snipers, or more importantly--trench raids. Now before the reader peruses any further it is important to note that the trench raid performed by the 16th Arkansas that occurred during the Siege of Port Hudson, was nothing like that found on the fields of the First World War. Neither side established small light infantry units like the Stormtroopers in World War I, but the 16th Arkansas trench raid held some of the same ideas.

During the Vicksburg Campaign, Union General Nathanial P. Banks and his 35,000 strong Army of the Gulf, moved towards the much smaller garrison at Port Hudson of just over 7,000. This Southern bastion was under the command of the General Franklin Gardner. It was Gen. Banks' hope that he could swiftly capture the small garrison and move on to Vicksburg where he would then help Grant take the city. This idea proved easier said than done. By May 22nd, Banks’ army was slowly wrapping around the Confederate garrison, and by the 26th his army was in position to attack. What followed on the 27th was nothing short of a slaughter. All of the Federal attacks were uncoordinated and were a testament to the strength of the Confederate fortifications. One attack in particular was that of Auger's Division. Auger’s attack covered the ground near the Plains Store Road, as seen on the ABT map, near the center of the Confederate lines. Facing Augur's Division were the men of Gen. Beall's mixed brigade of Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee troops. Along this part of the line was the 16th Arkansas Infantry, whose positions were close to what was known as the Sally Port. Like the rest of the Federal attacks on the 27th, Augur's division was stopped short in their attack and pinned down until darkness.

After the failed attack of the 27th, Banks licked his wounds and began to slowly besiege the Confederate garrison. During this time, Augur’s Division moved further to the Federal left near the place where Gen. Thomas W. Sherman's division attacked. By June 13th, Banks began his second offensive, and this time he had more men and artillery at his disposal. For most of the 13th, Banks bombarded the Confederate lines until he asked for Gen. Gardener's surrender, to which Gardner declined. Gen. Banks renewed his bombardment yet again, and early on the 14th made another attempt on the Confederate lines.. Much like the 27th, the attacks were poorly planned and failed. Rather than give up, Banks commenced to fully besieging the Confederate garrison.

The 16th Arkansas, by this point, held the same positions south of the Sally Port. To their front were the men of the 21st Maine Infantry, which belonged to Colonel Charles C. Paine’s brigade of Augur's Division. As seen on the map, the Union Regiment held their positions near the Slaughter House. During the continued siege, Col. Paine directed the 21st Maine to build a forward rifle pit. By June 26th, the rifle pit was less than 300 yards from the 16th Arkansas’ lines. The commander of the 16th Arkansas, Col. David Province, wrote the following in his official report:

Yesterday morning works of the enemy were discovered about 200 yards to my front and some 300 in advance of any of the neighboring works of the enemy. I was unable to comprehend the design of these works. Therefore directed Lt. Col. J. M. Pittman(16th Ark), to send a brave and cautious man to examine them.”

Lieutenant Colonel Pittman sent a Private Meries to inspect the forward lines. What Meries found was that the forward works were close to the end of a ravine, near a belt of woods further to the left, and with the forward line holding 15-20 men. Lt. Col. Pittman waited until night fall and again sent another volunteer to confirm the private's report. Upon proving the story true, Col. Province realized the potential danger of this forward line and called for the Pittman to assemble a band of 30 volunteers from the regiment and raid the forward line. As seen in the picture below, the 16th Arkansas' lines were located in the lower left of the Confederate lines.

After collecting the group, Lieutenant A. S. McKennon of company E was named commander. After waiting until sometime between 8-9:00 pm, McKennon's men crept over the top of their own works and moved toward the Federal lines. In order to provide the party with some form of cover from the Federal batteries, the remainder of the regiment began to use colorful language to occupy their foes' attention. The Federal force from the 21st Maine, that held the outer line that night, was now a much smaller guard of only seven men under the command of Lieutenant Ozias E. Bartlett of company K. After making it less than 30 yards from from the outpost, Lt. McKennon ordered his command to charge into the rifle pit. Lt. Bartlett's men, no doubt stunned, were only able to get off one shot at their foes before surrendering. At the cost of one man with a minor wound, and severely wounding a Federal soldier, the rifle pit was theirs. Luckily, two or so Maine men were able to escape and raised the alarm for the rest of the regiment. Lt. McKennon's men at once collected a number of sandbags, equipment, and the five or so prisoners. After only a few minutes, the main body of the 21st Maine were zeroing in on the area. After firing a few shots, Lt. McKennon’s party retreated back to their lines along with their captured equipment and men. For the rest of the siege, Lt. Bartlett and his men were held prisoner.

The 16th Arkansas trench raid, conducted during the Siege of Port Hudson, offered a small glimpse into what was to come in World War I, and interestingly the general concept of the raid was ere to what would happen, The concept was similar with the overall strategy of temporarily capturing an enemy's outpost, capturing men and materials, and retreating before a much larger force could come. Nevertheless, the Siege of Port Hudson sadly continued for several more days, finally ending on July 9th, 1863, five days after Vicksburg fell.



Hewitt, Lawrence l. "Port Hudson, Louisiana" Essential Civil War Curriculum,

Woodward, Joseph T. "Historic Record and Complete Biographical Roster of the 21st

Maine regimental record". Internet archive, pg. 40-41.

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