Report of Col. W.B. Shelby, Cmdr., Confederate Extreme Left Defences


This report was written by Col. Shelby after the Confederate surrender at Port Hudson, during the period when he and the other Confederate officers were being held in a New Orleans prison. He and some of the other commanders were ordered to submit accounts of the activities of their units during the Port Hudson siege. This report was addressed to Major T.F. Willson, Assistant Adjutant General of the Confederate Port Hudson forces.

Shelby's command, consisting of the 39th Mississippi Infantry Regiment and Wingfleld's 9th Louisiana Battalion Partisan Rangers, along with several artillery pieces, defended the position on the extreme left of the Confederate lines throughout the siege. It was this force which repelled the assault of the black Union troops, the Louisiana Native Guards, on May 27, 1863.

The following was transcribed from the original handwritten report by Philip Ware Niddrie.


    I herewith submit report of the conduct & operations of the 39th Miss. Vols during the siege of Port Hudson. My Regiment when the enemy commenced advancing from Baton Rouge occupied the ground from the Railroad to the extreme left of the front line of breastworks, the left resting on the ravine immediately in rear of the encampment of the Regiment. When the enemy commenced advancing with a view to a permanent and thorough investment of the works, the Montapuder Road & Jackson Road and the picquett Station near Mrs. Houston's place was occupied by detachments from my regiment, which were commanded respectively by Lieut. A.J. Girard Co. F, Lieut. J.A. Gunn Co.G & Lieut. W.B. Easterling Co H. Lieut Girard gallantly maintained his position and did not fall back inside of the works until the morning of the 27th of May. Lieuts. Gunn & Easterling also maintained their positions until driven back by greatly superior numbers, falling back slowly & fighting every inch of the way. Lieut. Easterling when driven from his position passed the 1st Alabama Regiment which had been sent out to watch the movements of the enemy on Sandy Creek, rendering efficient services to that Command as skirmishers.

    It was on Sunday, the 24th of May that the picquetts under Lieut. Gunn were driven from the old rifle pits at or near the Bridge on Sandy Creek on the Jackson Road. The enemy after driving in the picquett placed in position a light battery on or near the ridge near the bridge and at once opened on our works directing their shots at the siege guns between the Jackson & Celenton road. By permission of Brig. Gen'l Beall I ordered Lieut. Noriss commanding a section of Watson's battery on the extreme left of the works to at once open on the battery. He done so with fine effect, compelling the enemy to abandon or change their positions. By order of Brig. Gen'l Beall, Capt. L H. Tillman of Co E, was sent with sixty men to occupy the house of Mrs. Ernst on the Jackson Road immediately in front of my left & about two hundred yards distant to prevent its occupation by the enemy & when no longer tenable to evacuate the house and burn it. It was held until repeatedly struck by shot & shell issued from our own guns as well as those of the enemy, when I ordered Capt. Tillman to evacuate & burn the house which order was promptly executed & Capt. T(illman) & Command reached the works without the loss or wounding of a single man.

    Monday evening the 25th of May I was ordered by Gen'l Beall to send five companies of my Regiment to reinforce Col. Steedman of the 1st Alabama Vols who had engaged the enemy outside of the works near the Camp of the 15th Arkansas Regiment. I sent under command of Capt. M. A. Collum Companies C Capt. Collum, Co E Capt L. H. Tillman, Co G Capt. J. H. Cofer, Co I Lieut. Watkins, Co K Lieut. Sanders, these companies were actively engaged with enemy immediately upon their reaching the position of the forest under the command of Col. Steedman. I am gratified to be able to say from confirmation received from participants in this engagement from other commands, that officers and men alike bore themselves gallantly and well.

    On the evening of the 26th of May I was ordered by the Maj. Gen'l commanding to proceed with my Regiment to the extreme left of the defences and assume command there relieving Col. Edwards of the 49th Alabama Regiment. The forces for the defence of this part of the line consisted then of my own Regiment - 550 men rank and file & Wingfield's battalion of Cavalry dismounted. ___ men, one section of Herod's battery of Light Artillery, one piece located on the Hill near the Coon House & one at the sally port at the extreme left of the works & one piece on the Bluff near the graveyard, these pieces were in position so as to command the approach along the road through the willow flat between Thompson's Creek and the rifle pits and also as for as practicable the Bridge over Sandy Creek on the Bayou Sand Road leading through Mrs. Houston's plantation one breech loading two pound gun was located on the hill or mound near the sally port and was under the command of Lieutenant Dalliet and a detachment, men all of Wingfleld's battalion. The following disposition was made of the infantry forces. Eight Companies of my Regiment occupied the left and Wingfield's battalion the right. Co. B of my Regiment with 15 men of Wingfield's battalion all under command of Lieut S. D. Rhodes of said company, was ordered to occupy and hold at all hazards, a ridge extending from the residence of Mrs. Miller & running parallel with the road above mentioned to within two hundred yards of the Bridge over Sandy Creek. This ridge was a strong position & easily held. It was about four hundred yards in length & on the side next to the road was abrupt and inaccessible. It was deemed of the first importance to hold this position for the reason indicated and for the further reason that it commanded the line of the rifle pits occupied by my forces and from which the enemy could easily enfilade nearly my entire line, and as it was parallel with the road along which the enemy was complelled to advance to attack the works it enabled a small force deployed as skirmishers along the length of the ridge to give the enemy advancing along the road a front, rear and enfilading fire.

    Early on the morning of the 27th of May, I was advised by Lieut. Rhodes commanding on the ridge above mentioned that the enemy was crossing Sandy Creek over the bridge in large force Cavalry, Infantry and Artillery. Believing from all the indications that it was the purpose of the enemy to concentrate his forces and attack only the extreme left of my position, I immediately repaired to that point and assumed command in person. Immediately after reaching there I discovered the artillery of the enemy crossing the bridge. I ordered Lieut. Sowell commanding the gun at the sally port to load with solid shot and open at once upon the enemy's artillery, he commenced firing just as they were unlimbering and so rapid and effective was his fire, that the enemies artillery after firing one gun limbered up and retreated across the creek. I immediately sent my Sergeant Maj. F. Watkins to the batteries of Capts. Whitfield & Sowell commanding 30 pound parrot 8 and 10 inch Columbiads under orders to open on the enemy which was promptly obeyed. The infantry after crossing the Bridge filed to the right and under cover of the willows formed in line of battle and commenced advancing . Lieut. Rhodes commanding on the ridge already spoken of having deployed his men at intervals so as to occupy the whole ridge commmenced firing on the enemy both front and rear doing terrible execution and throwing them into confusion and disorder. They still continued to advance until they reached to within about two hundred yards of the extreme left, when the artillery opened on them with Cannister and at the same time the Infantry (in their great anxiety to fire firing without orders) opened on them driving them back in confusion and disorder with horrible slaughter. Several efforts were made to rally them but all were unsuccessful and no effort was afterwards made to charge the works during the entire day, before falling back in confusion and disorder. As stated the enemy fired only one volley and not one single man was killed or even wounded of my command. After the engagement was over I ascertained that enemies forces consisted of the 1st and 2nd "Louisiana Native Guards" (negroes) and two regiments of white troops. These troops were repulsed by six companies of my regiment and the artillery already mentioned without the loss or wounding of a single man. Officers and men alike acted with great gallantry and steadiness and too much praise cannot be awarded them for their conduct on this occasion.

    On the 29th of May Col. Steedman in consequence serious illness was compelled to relinquish the command of the left wing, which then devolved upon the undersigned. Nothing worthy of special notice occurred during this time that is from the time above mentioned until the 11th of June when Col. Steedman again assumed command. The ridge the importance of which I have already adverted to, was fought for daily during the entire siege the enemy making strong and desperate efforts to capture it. but it was held by Lieut. Rhodes with fifty men and afterwards by Capts. Cullum and Tillman with about the same number who at different time relieved Lieut. Rhodes against all their efforts with greatly superior numbers to take it. The officers and men occupying this isolated and exposed position for their unflinching bravery and determination are entitled to special mention. I therefore respectfully call the attention of the Commanding General to their conduct.

    During my command of the left wing the men were constantly occupied in digging new rifle pits and strengthening their respective positions and when it is remembered that from the mill to the works on the extreme left where the siege began that there were no fortifications at all and that during this time works were erected which the enemy would not attempt to assault some idea may be formed of the immense amount of work performed. With some few exceptions the troops during all this time manifested a cheerfulness and unflinching determination under circumstances calculated to render gloomy and appall the stoutest hearts which entitles their conduct and bravery to the admiration of the world. I trust I may be pardoned for saying a few words with deference to my own regiment. The conduct of officers and men alike merits my unqualified appreciation. They evinced that spirit which ever activates men fighting for the Holiest of Causes. F .. don .. and their Homes, their altars and their fires ... and the graces of their sins. Every order was obeyed with cheerfulness and alacrity and not a single man deserted his colors or his post. I trust that their conduct and that of the undersigned may merit the approbation of the Commanding General and that their names may occupy in history even the humblest position amongst those of the "Defenders of Port Hudson" and this with the proud consciousness of having done their duty will be their sufficient reward.

    I desire in concluding this report to call the attention of the Maj. Gen. commanding to the conduct and services of the following officers of my staff..Adjt. I.S. Melvin and Sergeant Maj F. Watkins who with great gallantry carried my orders to every part of the line when the missiles of death were flying thick and fast around. The services of Lieut. A.J. Girard of Co F 39th Miss. who made several recognizances( sic) of the enemies lines and gave me valuable and reliable information as to the strength of the opposition are entitled to special mention.

    I send herewith report of killed and wounded of 39th Miss. Vols during the siege and also report of Comdg. officers of Wingfield's Battalion.

New Orleans, August 5th, 1863

W. B. Shelby Col 39th Miss Vols
Comdg. Extreme Left Defences Port Hudson

Maj T F Wilson

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