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Siege of Fort Fisher, 13-15 January 1865

Siege of Fort Fisher, 13-15 January 1865

Siege of Fort Fisher, 13-15 January 1865

By the start of 1865 the only port still open to the Confederacy was Wilmington, North Carolina. The port itself was located twenty miles up the Cape Fear River. The mouth of the river was protected by Fort Fisher, a massive fortification almost one mile long as it faced the Atlantic. Built of sand over a log framework it was almost impervious to Union bombardment. The fort mounted 47 big guns, and dominated the approaches to the river (twenty guns on the landward side, the rest facing out to sea).

The first Union attack on Fort Fisher had been something of a fiasco. General Benjamin Butler had decided to sink a ship full of gunpowder in front of the fort in the expectation that it would blow a hole in the defences for the Union soldiers. The explosion took place, but failed to have any impact on the defences. Butler managed to land his infantry in front of the still-intact fort, but abandoned any attempt to make an assault in the face of strong undamaged defences.

After this failure, Butler was removed from command and replaced by General Alfred Terry. Terry had the support of a Federal fleet sixty strong, and an army 8,000 strong, as well as a force of marines. Against him the defenders of the fort could muster 2,000 men.

Terry tried a more traditional attack. On 13 January he landed his infantry north of the fort, at the same time as beginning a massive naval bombardment that slowly knocked out all of the landward guns, or made them too dangerous to fire. The bombardment went on for two days, before Terry launched his infantry attack on 15 January. 4,500 infantry attacked along the peninsula, while another 2,000 marines attacked from the Atlantic shore.

Despite the bombardment, the Confederate position was still a strong one, and the outnumbered defenders managed to inflict 1,000 casualties on the attackers (184 dead, 749 wounded and 22 missing) before finally being forced to surrender. The loss of Fort Fisher shut Willington as a blockading port. It helped Sherman in his march through the Carolinas, and Grant in front of Richmond. Lee’s last source of overseas supplies was shut.


By late 1864, Wilmington, NC became the last major seaport open to Confederate blockade runners. Located on the Cape Fear River, the city's seaward approaches were guarded by Fort Fisher, which was situated at the tip of Federal Point. Modeled on Sevastopol's Malakoff Tower, the fort was largely constructed of earth and sand which provided greater protection than brick or stone fortifications. A formidable bastion, Fort Fisher mounted a total of 47 guns with 22 in the seaward batteries and 25 facing the land approaches.

Initially a collection of small batteries, Fort Fisher was transformed into fortress following the arrival of Colonel William Lamb in July 1862. Aware of Wilmington's importance, Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant dispatched a force to capture Fort Fisher in December 1864. Led by Major General Benjamin Butler, this expedition met with failure later that month. Still eager to close Wilmington to Confederate shipping, Grant sent a second expedition south in early January under the leadership of Major General Alfred Terry.


Siege of Fort Fisher, 13-15 January 1865 - History


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Civil War Timeline - Major Battles

For four years from 1861-1865, battles were waged around the landscape of the United States, pitting brother against brother in a Civil War that would change the history of the USA forever. Over 720,000 of our citizens would perish in the battle for state's rights and slavery. Major battles were fought from Pennsylvania to Florida, from Virginia to New Mexico, and in the end, there would be one nation, under God, and indivisible, that last trait in jeopardy through the first half of the 1860's. The battles listed below are considered Class A/B (Decisive/Major) battles by the American Battle Protection Program of the National Park Service.

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January 13-15, 1865 - Second Battle of Fort Fisher - Class A. Strength: Union 12,000, 58 ships Confederates 8,300. Casualties: Union 1,057 Confederates 1.900. Assault by the Union Army and Navy against the North Carolina fort captures the last remaining stronghold on the coast for the Confederacy.

February 5-7, 1865 - Battle of Hatcher's Run - Class B.
Strength: Union 34,517 Confederates 13,835.
Casualties: Union 1,539 Confederates 1,161.
Union plan for an offensive during the siege of Petersburg of sending cavalry under General David McM. Gregg to destroy supply line between Boydton Plank Road and the Weldon Railroad west of the city. Considered a Union victory, although their advance was halted and the supply road still open to Confederate supplies.

March 2, 1865 - Battle of Waynesboro - Class B.
Strength: Union 2,500 Confederates 1,600.
Casualties: Union 9 Confederates 1,500, including more than 1,000 captured.
Final battle for Confederate General Jubal Early in the Shenandoah Valley against the cavalry of Generals Sheridan and Custer. General Early would escape.

March 19-21, 1865 - Battle of Bentonville - Class A.
Strength: Union 2,500 Confederates 1,600.
Casualties: Union 1,527 Confederates 2,606.
Final battle between General Sherman's Union Army as they pushed north after the March to the Sea against Confederate General Joseph Johnston.

March 25, 1865 - Battle of Fort Stedman - Class A.
Strength: Union 15,000 Confederates 10,000.
Casualties: Union 1,044 Confederates 4,000.
Confederate pre-dawn attack on the federal fortification along the Petersburg Siege line was a final desperate attempt to break the line. General John B. Gordon was repulsed by Union General John B. Parke and members of the 9th Corps.

March 27 - April 8, 1865 - Battle of Spanish Fort - Class B.
Strength: Union 30,000 Confederates 2,500.
Casualties: Union 657 Confederates 744.
Spanish Fort, the eastern defense to Mobile Bay, was laid siege by Union General E.R.S. Canby and overtaken. Most Confederate soldiers escaped, but the fort was no longer a threat.

March 31, 1865 - Battle of White Oak Road - Class A.
Strength: Union 22,000 Confederates 8,000.
Casualties: Union 1,870 Confederates 800.
Final offensive action of General Robert E. Lee during the Petersburg siege to stop Grant from cutting supply lines and extending the Confederate front. Despite initial success for Lee, a Union victory ensued, leading to the Battle of Five Forks the next day.

April 1, 1865 - Battle of Five Forks - Class A.
Strength: Union 22,000 Confederates 10,600.
Casualties: Union 830 Confederates 2,950.
Southwest of the main Petersburg siege line, Union troops under General Sherman fight Confederate General Pickett for control of the Southside Railroad junction at Five Forks. This loss, combined with the loss the next day at Third Petersburg by General Lee prompted Lee's attempt to escape west and south, eventually leading to Appomattox.

April 2, 1865 - Battle of Selma - Class B.
Strength: Union 9,000 Confederates 4,000.
Casualties: Union 359 Confederates 2,700.
Union cavalry under General James Wilson fought against the cavalry of General Nathan Bedford Forrest after his retreat into the city. Union broke through the lines at various points, causing the city to surrender. Forrest would escape.

April 2, 1865 - Third Battle of Petersburg - Class A.
Strength: Union 114,335 Confederates 40-45,000.
Casualties: Union 3,936 Confederates 5,000.
After the victory at Five Forks, General Grant attacked the Confederate entrenchments at Petersburg south and southwest of town, exposing the Confederate right flank and rear. Remaining Confederate forces fled both Petersburg and Richmond during the night of April 2-3.

April 2-9, 1865 - Battle of Fort Blakely - Class A.
Strength: Union 45,000 Confederates 4,000.
Casualties: Union 629 Confederates 2,900.
Fought hours after the surrender of Lee at Appomattox, this final main action of the Civil War saw Union troops storm Fort Blakely in the Mobile Campaign.

April 6, 1865 - Battle of Sailor's Creek - Class B.
Strength: Union 25-26,000 Confederates 18,500.
Casualties: Union 1,148 Confederates 7,700, including captured.
Three almost simultaneous engagements in this battle on the road to Appomattox Hillsman's House, Marshalls Crossroads, and Lockett's Farm, saw the capture of a signficant remainder of the Confederate force as it attempted to march west, then south after leaving Petersburg to meet with General Joseph Johnston's army in North Carolina.

April 7, 1865 - Battle of Appomattox Station - Class A.
Strength: Union 4,000 Confederates 3,000.
Casualties: Union 45-118 Confederates unknown killed/wounded, 1,000 surrendered/paroled.
While Lee attempted to meet his supply trains at Appomattox Station, cavalry under Sheridan and Custer thwarted the meeting at the station by commandeering the trains, then engaged in a swift battle two miles away.


The Fall of Fort Fisher

On January 15, 1865, Fort Fisher, nicknamed “Gibraltar of the South,” fell to Union troops.

Built on a peninsula known as Federal Point at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, 18 miles south of Wilmington, Fort Fisher was the largest earthen fortification in the Confederacy. It guarded the port of Wilmington, and, in that capacity, was the most powerful seacoast fort in the South.

Fort Fisher was the last remaining lifeline in the closing months of the Civil War, allowing blockade runners to take advantage of the Cape Fear River to route supplies to troops inland.

On December 23 and 24, 1864, the Union Navy bombarded the fort. At the same time, the fort’s forces were reinforced with about 600 more men from Wilmington, increasing the number to around 2,000. The Union Navy attacked again on January 13, 1865. After two days, Union forces led by Gen. Alfred Terry overwhelmed the Confederate defenders led by Maj. Gen. W.H.C. Whiting and Col. William Lamb, and captured Fort Fisher.

The fall of Fort Fisher robbed Robert E. Lee’s army of its last connection to the outside and served as the beginning of the Wilmington Campaign, which also resulted in the fall of Fort Anderson and the occupation of Wilmington.

The Union attack on the fort was the largest amphibious attack by American forces until World War II.

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UNITED STATES COLORED TROOPS

Overview: Organized at Camp Delaware, Ohio, January 16, 1864. Ordered to Annapolis, Md. Attached to 1st Brigade, 4th Division, 9th Corps, Army of the Potomac, to September, 1864. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 9th Corps, to December, 1864. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Corps, December, 1864. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 25th Corps, to January, 1865. 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 25th Corps, to March, 1865. 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 10th Corps, Dept. of North Carolina, to July, 1865. Dept. of North Carolina to September, 1865.

Service: -Campaign from the Rapidan to the James River, Va., May-June, 1864. Guard trains of the Army of the Potomac through the Wilderness. Before Petersburg June 15-19. Siege of Petersburg and Richmond June 16 to December 7, 1864. Mine Explosion, Petersburg, July 30, 1864. Weldon Railroad August 18-21. Poplar Grove Church September 29-30, and October 1. Boydton Plank Road, Hatcher's Run, October 27-28. On the Bermuda front till December 1. 1st Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., December 7-27. 2nd Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., January 7-15, 1865. Bombardment of Fort Fisher January 13-15. Assault and capture of Fort Fisher January 15. Sugar Loaf Hill January 19.
Federal Point February 11. Fort Anderson February 18-20. Capture of Wilmington February 22. Northeast Ferry February 22. Campaign of the Carolinas March 1-April 26. Advance on Kinston and Goldsboro March 6-21. Cox's Bridge March 23-24. Advance on Raleigh April 9-14. Occupation of Raleigh April 14. Bennett's House April 26. Surrender of Johnston and his army. Duty in the Dept. of North Carolina till September. Mustered out September 21, 1865.
Soldiers: View Battle Unit's Soldiers »


Second Battle of Fort FIsher

With the failure of the first Union assault against Fort Fisher, Admiral Porter placed the majority of the blame for the failure on General Butler&rsquos incompetence and complained to Ulysses S. Grant that the operation would have succeeded in capturing Fort Fisher if Butler had not canceled the planned assault. Grant, due to his larger strategic goals of sealing the isolation of the Confederacy and securing a coastal base to support Major General William T. Sherman&rsquos march into North Carolina, recognized the importance of capturing Fort Fisher and replaced General Butler with Major General Alfred H. Terry as the commanding officer of the assault and increased the size of the assault force in the hopes that a larger force and more competent commander would succeed in severing the last lifeline of the Confederacy. (McCaslin 2003, 66) Indeed, prior to the second Union assault on Fort Fisher, General Robert E. Lee informed Colonel Lamb, the commander of Fort Fisher, of the structure&rsquos importance in protecting the port at Wilmington, explaining that he would not be able to continue the war without the vital supplies which passed through Wilmington and that if Wilmington were to fall, he &ldquocould not save Richmond.&rdquo (Robinson 1998, 150) It was in this context, with the Confederacy&rsquos armies running dangerously low on munitions and essential supplies, that the second Union assault on Fort Fisher commenced.

The Union assault force, increased to 8,897 troops from the original 6,500 and newly armed with forty four cannons and mortars with which to engage the fort (McCaslin 2003, 67) arrived with the Union fleet on January 13, 1865 and, much like the first assault, the Union began the engagement with a heavy artillery bombardment directed at damaging the fort&rsquos defensive works and neutralizing its guns. (Item 45) This time, however, the newly appointed General Terry wasted no time in landing his assault force and the first Union soldiers began to land shortly after the beginning of the artillery bombardment. (McCaslin 2003, 67) The Union bombardment was significantly more accurate and of a larger scale than those which occurred during the first battle of Fort Fisher and the Union fleet, aware of the location of the Confederate artillery due to their muzzle flashes, began to destroy Confederate gun emplacements with concentrated fire. (Robinson 1998, 153) The artillery bombardment had a terrible effect on the fort, with Colonel Lamb stating that &ldquoit was impossible to repair damage on the land face at night, no meals could be prepared for the exhausted garrison and not more than three or four of my land guns were serviceable.&rdquo (Robinson 1998, 155) Coupled with the lack of adequate reinforcements, the Union bombardment made the situation extremely untenable for the Confederate garrison. (McCaslin 2003, 71) By January 15, 1865, after two days of heavy bombardment, the Union artillery assault had killed several hundred soldiers and disabled sixteen of the twenty artillery weapons on the fort&rsquos land face, preparing the way for the Union assault force to commence with the land attack on Fort Fisher. (McCaslin 2003, 73)

After three hours of heavy Naval firing, the Union fleet signaled a halt to the bombardment and the land assault commenced at approximately 3:00pm on January 15. (Item 50) While a force consisting of marines and navy sailors bravely tried to secure the east end of the land face, they were pushed back amidst heavy Confederate fire which resulted in a tremendous loss of life amongst the attackers. (Item 50) However, in the face of fierce combat, the Army troops under the command of General Terry were able to secure the west end of the land face with Union soldiers successfully injuring both Colonel William Lamb and Major General William Whiting, the leaders of the Confederate forces at Fort Fisher. (Item 50) Though the Union assault force had succeeded in breaching the walls, the brutal hand to hand fighting had resulted in significant Union losses as well and stalled the progress of the assault, prompting General Terry to consider calling off the assault and entrenching the troops to begin a siege of Fort Fisher. (Gragg 1991, 210) Terry&rsquos advisors, however, believe that victory was within reach and advised the Union General to risk everything in a final assault to overrun the wavering defenders and successfully finish the job. (Gragg 1991, 212)

By 8:00pm on January 15, the Union bombardment and land assault had so devastated the fort and its garrison that the wounded Lamb was advised to surrender the fort in order to prevent further bloodshed, but due to Robert E. Lee&rsquos dependence on the crucial supplies coming through Wilmington, Lamb vowed that the fort would hold as long as he was alive, with Whiting echoing his sentiments. (Robinson 1991, 179) With the two commanders of Fort Fisher injured, the defense of the Confederate stronghold fell to Major James Reilly who organized a desperate counterattack in an attempt to force the Union soldiers from the walls. (McCaslin 2003, 84) This counterattack failed, however, and with the failure of his desperate counterattack, Major Reilly realized that the Confederates could no longer hold the fort and offered his sword to Union Captain E. Lewis Moore in a traditional gesture of surrender. (McCaslin 2003, 88) However, it was not until approximately 10:00pm on January 15, 1865 that the Confederate surrender of Fort Fisher was made official when Major General William Whiting relinquished control of the fort to Major General Alfred Terry (Robinson 1998, 180) which represented the equivalent of the closure of the port at Wilmington by the Union fleet, preventing the arrival or departure of future blockade runners and severing the Confederate grasp on one of its most essential supply hubs. (Item 50)


Siege of Fort Fisher, 13-15 January 1865 - History


NH HISTORY
SPECIAL FEATURE

Civil War historian Duane Schaffer offers this stirring tale of New Hampshire men fighting in North Carolina. Read about NH heroes from Dover, Rollinsford, Chester, Wolfeboro and more. This excerpt comes from the author’s new book MEN OF GRANITE and is an exclusive to SeacaostNH.com. (Click to read)

In January 1865, there were several Confederate armies still in the field and a handful of functional seaports in Southern hands. The Union could not be crowned with victory until those armies and ports were vanquished. The possibility of the defeat of the Confederacy did not seem likely at the turn of the year. Ben Butler had failed in his attack on Fort Fisher in December, and now a second attempt was to be made in mid-January under Major General Alfred H. Terry. Unlike Butler’s debacle, Terry’s amphibious landing was a tactical masterpiece with all of the attacking parties fully coordinated.

Excerpted in part from the book
MEN OF GRANITE
Click here to learn more

Located on the southern end of a long peninsula and on the eastern side of the entrance to the Cape Fear River, Fort Fisher was the guardian of the approaches to Wilmington, North Carolina. The fort itself was a long and formidable set of earthworks that resembled a giant letter ‘L’. Fort Buchanan was situated at the tip of the peninsula and Mound Battery was located just south of the landward side of Fort Fisher. Along the entire length of the fort was a series of traverses that protected each individual earthwork making them, in affect, a series of mini-forts linked together.

The length of the fort facing seaward was almost one half mile, and the side facing land was 1000 feet. Strong bomb proofs were constructed inside the fort to protect the garrison against the inevitable bombardment they would be facing. Commanded by Colonel William Lamb, Fort Fisher boasted a garrison of 1,800 men, mostly North Carolinians and forty-seven heavy cannons. Numbered among the cannons were fifteen Columbiads and one English-made 150-pounder Armstrong gun.

Facing Fort Fisher on this second attempt to capture it was another vast armada of ships and men. The naval and marines forces were under the command of Admiral David Porter aboard his flagship, the Malvern. Including Porter’s ship, the Federal armada contained forty-four ships. The total number of Federal troops in this second invasion was 8,000 men, including the Third, Fourth, and Seventh New Hampshire Volunteer regiments.

Brigadier General Adelbert Ames commanded the Second Division of the newly formed 24 th Corps. In his division were three brigades commanded by Brigadier General Curtis, Colonel Pennypacker and Colonel Louis Bell of Chester, New Hampshire, respectively. At the time of the attack on Fort Fisher the FourthNew Hampshire was in Bell’s Brigade and was commanded by Captain John H. Roberts of Dover. In a separate attached brigade commanded by Colonel Joseph C. Abbott was the Seventh New Hampshire, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Augustus Rollins, of Rollinsford and the Third New Hampshire, commanded by Captain William Trickey of Wolfeboro.

The Federal troop transports left the Bermuda Hundred area on January 3 and met the remainder of the fleet off Beaufort, North Carolina. On the morning of the 12 th , the monitors and gunboats led the way south followed by the landing force. The troops were landed the next morning about five miles north of Fort Fisher. They were now between the fort and the 5,000 Confederates of Major General Robert F. Hoke. Abbot’s Brigade was detailed to hold the line in case this force decided to attack Terry’s landing party from behind.

January 15 arrived and much of the morning was taken up with Terry personally positioning the troops in preparation for the attack against the fort. The First Brigade under Curtis was finally moved out of the trees about 3 p.m. to a point about 400 yards from the fort. The men hastily dug trenches with whatever equipment they had with them. They drew the immediate attention of the gunners in the fort, and shells soon began to drop in the ranks of the New York regiments.

The Federal fleet, anchored offshore, responded at once with its own bombardment and sent the Confederate artillerists scurrying to their bombproofs. Curtis’ brigade was moved up again, this time to within 200 yards of the fort and the digging began again. Pennypacker’s brigade moved out and occupied the trenches just vacated by Curtis. Colonel Louis Bell readied his men to step out of the woods and follow Pennypacker. Some of the Confederate shells went over their mark and fell inside the lines of Bell’s brigade and men began to fall.


UNITED STATES COLORED TROOPS

Overview: Organized at Camp William Penn, near Philadelphia, Pa., July 28 to September 12, 1863. Moved from Philadelphia to Fort Monroe, Va., October 14 thence to Yorktown, Va. Attached to United States Forces, Yorktown, Va., Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina, to January, 1864. 2nd Brigade, United States Forces, Yorktown, Va., 18th Corps, Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina, to April, 1864. 2nd Brigade, Hincks' Colored Division, 18th Corps, Army of the James, to June, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 18th Corps, to August, 1864. 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 18th Corps, to December, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Corps, to December, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 25th Corps, to March, 1865. 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 10th Corps, Dept. of North Carolina, to August, 1865. Dept. of North Carolina to September, 1865.

Service: Duty at Yorktown till May, 1864. Wild's Expedition to South Mills and Camden Court House, N. C., December 5-24, 1863. Wi star's Expedition against Richmond February 2-6, 1864. Expedition to New Kent Court House in aid of Kilpatrick's Cavalry March 1-4. New Kent Court House March 2. Williamsburg March 4. Expedition into King and Queen County March 9-12. Expedition into Matthews County March 17-21. Butler's operations south of the James River and against Petersburg and Richmond May 4-June 15. Capture of City Point May 4. Fatigue duty at City Point and building Fort Converse on Appomattox River till June 15. Attack on Fort Converse May 20. Before Petersburg June 15-18. Bailor's Farm June 15. Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond June 15 to December 17. In trenches before Petersburg and fatigue duty at Dutch Gap Canal till August 27. Moved to Deep Bottom August 27. Battle of Chaffin's Farm, New Market Heights, September 29-30. Fort Harrison September 29. Battle of Fair OaksOctober 27-28. In trenches before Richmond till December. 1st Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., December 7-27. 2nd Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., January 7-15. Bombardment of Fort Fisher January 13-15. Assault and capture of Fort Fisher January 15. Sugar Loaf Hill January 19. Sugar Loaf Battery February 11. Fort Anderson February 18-20. Capture of Wilmington February 22. Northeast Ferry February 22. Campaign of the Carolinas March 1-April 26. Advance on Kinston and Goldsboro March 6-21. Occupation of Goldsboro March 21. Cox's Bridge March 23-24. Advance on Raleigh April 9-14. Occupation of Raleigh April 14. Bennett's House April 26. Surrender of Johnston and his army. Duty in the Dept. of North Carolina till September. Mustered out September 20, 1865.

Regiment lost during service 8 Officers and 79 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 5 Officers and 132 Enlisted men by disease. Total 224.
Soldiers: View Battle Unit's Soldiers »


Siege of Fort Fisher, 13-15 January 1865 - History


NH HISTORY
SPECIAL FEATURE

Civil War historian Duane Schaffer offers this stirring tale of New Hampshire men fighting in North Carolina. Read about NH heroes from Dover, Rollinsford, Chester, Wolfeboro and more. This excerpt comes from the author’s new book MEN OF GRANITE and is an exclusive to SeacaostNH.com. (Click to read)

In January 1865, there were several Confederate armies still in the field and a handful of functional seaports in Southern hands. The Union could not be crowned with victory until those armies and ports were vanquished. The possibility of the defeat of the Confederacy did not seem likely at the turn of the year. Ben Butler had failed in his attack on Fort Fisher in December, and now a second attempt was to be made in mid-January under Major General Alfred H. Terry. Unlike Butler’s debacle, Terry’s amphibious landing was a tactical masterpiece with all of the attacking parties fully coordinated.

Excerpted in part from the book
MEN OF GRANITE
Click here to learn more

Located on the southern end of a long peninsula and on the eastern side of the entrance to the Cape Fear River, Fort Fisher was the guardian of the approaches to Wilmington, North Carolina. The fort itself was a long and formidable set of earthworks that resembled a giant letter ‘L’. Fort Buchanan was situated at the tip of the peninsula and Mound Battery was located just south of the landward side of Fort Fisher. Along the entire length of the fort was a series of traverses that protected each individual earthwork making them, in affect, a series of mini-forts linked together.

The length of the fort facing seaward was almost one half mile, and the side facing land was 1000 feet. Strong bomb proofs were constructed inside the fort to protect the garrison against the inevitable bombardment they would be facing. Commanded by Colonel William Lamb, Fort Fisher boasted a garrison of 1,800 men, mostly North Carolinians and forty-seven heavy cannons. Numbered among the cannons were fifteen Columbiads and one English-made 150-pounder Armstrong gun.

Facing Fort Fisher on this second attempt to capture it was another vast armada of ships and men. The naval and marines forces were under the command of Admiral David Porter aboard his flagship, the Malvern. Including Porter’s ship, the Federal armada contained forty-four ships. The total number of Federal troops in this second invasion was 8,000 men, including the Third, Fourth, and Seventh New Hampshire Volunteer regiments.

Brigadier General Adelbert Ames commanded the Second Division of the newly formed 24 th Corps. In his division were three brigades commanded by Brigadier General Curtis, Colonel Pennypacker and Colonel Louis Bell of Chester, New Hampshire, respectively. At the time of the attack on Fort Fisher the FourthNew Hampshire was in Bell’s Brigade and was commanded by Captain John H. Roberts of Dover. In a separate attached brigade commanded by Colonel Joseph C. Abbott was the Seventh New Hampshire, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Augustus Rollins, of Rollinsford and the Third New Hampshire, commanded by Captain William Trickey of Wolfeboro.

The Federal troop transports left the Bermuda Hundred area on January 3 and met the remainder of the fleet off Beaufort, North Carolina. On the morning of the 12 th , the monitors and gunboats led the way south followed by the landing force. The troops were landed the next morning about five miles north of Fort Fisher. They were now between the fort and the 5,000 Confederates of Major General Robert F. Hoke. Abbot’s Brigade was detailed to hold the line in case this force decided to attack Terry’s landing party from behind.

January 15 arrived and much of the morning was taken up with Terry personally positioning the troops in preparation for the attack against the fort. The First Brigade under Curtis was finally moved out of the trees about 3 p.m. to a point about 400 yards from the fort. The men hastily dug trenches with whatever equipment they had with them. They drew the immediate attention of the gunners in the fort, and shells soon began to drop in the ranks of the New York regiments.

The Federal fleet, anchored offshore, responded at once with its own bombardment and sent the Confederate artillerists scurrying to their bombproofs. Curtis’ brigade was moved up again, this time to within 200 yards of the fort and the digging began again. Pennypacker’s brigade moved out and occupied the trenches just vacated by Curtis. Colonel Louis Bell readied his men to step out of the woods and follow Pennypacker. Some of the Confederate shells went over their mark and fell inside the lines of Bell’s brigade and men began to fall.

Excerpt from MEN OF GRANITE (Continued)

The marines and sailors landed near the northeast corner of the fort kept the attention of the Confederates, but they were not properly deployed and were repulsed with heavy casualties. The naval bombardment had been beneficial because it disabled many of the guns in the fort, and destroyed a number of land mines directly in the path of Ames’ three advancing brigades.

The sailors and marines paid heavily, but they kept the Confederates busy long enough for the first two brigades to attack and enter the fort on the western end. Colonel Bell readied his men to follow them. He paced back and fort impatiently, holding a ramrod in his hand.

The two brigades now inside the fort fought valiantly, but the Confederates fought them to a standstill. From inside the fort, Ames sent a dispatch urgently requesting Terry to commit Bell’s brigade to the attack. Captain George F. Towle ran to give Bell the order. Bell marched at the head of his brigade and prepared to cross the small bridge into the fort to help the two preceding brigades.

Just as Bell reached the bridge, a volley of musketry erupted from the walls above them. A bullet slammed into Bell’s chest and exited out his back. Bell tried to dismiss the wound to his men but he soon fell to the ground. The men around him rushed past him and into the fort. Bell asked to be lifted so he could see the colors of the Fourth New Hampshire and his other regiments waving on the parapet. This they did, and then carried him from the field.

Doctor David Dearborn of Weare was the surgeon of the Fourth New Hampshire and was called to examine Bell’s wound.

" Is the wound mortal?" asked Bell.

Dearborn replied, "I am fearful it is Colonel."

Bell thought for a second. "I thought as much myself," he said.

Colonel Louis Bell died the next day from his wounds repeating his wife’s name until he expired. Bell’s body was brought home to Chester and was buried on a cold winter day next to his father Samuel. Bell’s six-week old son Louis was baptized next to his father’s coffin before it was lowered into the ground. Bell’s wife Mollie remained prostrate with grief for months and died just months after her husband’s body was brought home.

One by one, the traverses fell to the increasing pressure of the Federal attack. Abbot’s brigade was brought in to reinforce the attackers, and the remnant of the marine force was held back in case Hoke should attack.

The Third New Hampshire was committed to the attack and relieved the shattered brigades under Ames. The fighting was continuous as each traverse had to be taken by bitter hand-to-hand fighting. Night was approaching and an exhausted Ames urged Terry to break off and hold their ground until dawn. Terry disagreed. The Confederates had to be as tired as they were, and he ordered in Abbott’ Brigade to continue fighting. The men of the Third New Hampshire rushed forward and carried several more traverses. The Confederate resistance finally broke down around 10 p.m., and the remainder of the garrison was surrendered. Colonel Lamb, the garrison commander, was badly wounded in the fighting.

The Federal force sustained 955 casualties in the attack. The Confederates lost 500 men, and the United States Navy and marines suffered over 600 casualties, mostly among the marine landing force.

Casualties for the three New Hampshire regiments involved in the Battle of Fort Fisher were surprisingly light for such a vicious battle. Each of the regiments lost two men dead and fifty wounded.

Today there is a beautiful park run by the state of North Carolina at Fort Fisher. Sadly, since the war, over half of the fort and its traverses have been washed out to sea.

The day after the capture of Fort Fisher, an accident occurred that resulted in the death of several New Hampshire soldiers. Captain George F. Towle recorded the incident in his journal: " While we were loitering after breakfast, we heard a loud explosion toward Fort Fisher. It was about 8 o’clock. A deep and smothered shock and an immense volume of earth thrown into the air. The main magazine had blown up. Bell’s brigade was in bivouac around it. About 100 men were buried, were to be dug out, also thirty Confederates wounded…After a full inquiry we decided it to be an accident. The marines after the fight had returned to plunder…it was supposed that a match lighted had been thrown into some loose powder."

Two men from the Third New Hampshire died in the blast that was caused by drunken sailors in the magazine. The inebriated salts carelessly detonated 13,000 pounds of gunpowder and caused the deaths of twenty-five Federal soldiers and the wounding of sixty-six.

© Duane Schaffer. All rights reserved.

Excerpted in part from the book
MEN OF GRANITE

Duane E. Shaffer was a library director in the state of New Hampshire for twenty years. He was the co-founder of the Civil War Roundtable of New Hampshire in 1991 and was the secretary of the New Hampshire Civil War Monuments and Memorials Commission. He has two degrees in history and has published several articles in various military history magazines. He currently lives in Florida and is head of collection development and adult programs for the Sanibel Public Library on the island of Sanibel, Florida.


Siege of Fort Fisher, 13-15 January 1865 - History

Several forts dotted the North Carolina coast during the Civil War but none was more important than Fort Fisher , which gained the nickname “ Gibraltar of the South.” Geography determined the fortification’s key role in the war. Fort Fisher , named for Capt. Charles Fisher, a casualty of First Manassas, was built on a peninsula named Federal Point at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, eighteen miles south of Wilmington . It served as guard for the port of Wilmington , and was the most powerful seacoast fort in the South.

Construction started in April 1861, and was finished in 1865 under the supervision of Col. William Lamb. When complete the fort was the biggest earthen fort of this time, extending across the peninsula. Protecting the fort and men were 44 guns and an underground bomb shelter. More than 500 African Americans, both slave and free, worked with Confederate soldiers on construction occasionally as many as 1,000 were working, although maintaining adequate labor was difficult.

Fort Fisher was the last remaining lifeline in the closing months of the Civil War. Blockade runners took advantage of the Cape Fear River to route supplies to troops inland. On December 23-24, 1864, the Union Navy bombarded the fort which soon was refreshed with 600 more men from Wilmington , increasing the number to around 2,000 men. The Union Navy attacked again on January 13, 1865. The attack lasted two days and, on January 15, Union forces on land and sea occupied the site. Wounded in the attack was Maj. Gen. W. H. C. Whiting, the engineer responsible for designing the Cape Fear defense system. The fall of Fort Fisher robbed Robert E. Lee’s army of their last connection to the outside.

Col. William Lamb would spend the rest of his life to his death in 1909 attempting to have Fort Fisher preserved but to no avail. In the 1920s a marker was placed on the site, and in the 1930s efforts were made to save the fort from erosion. During World War II, a military post was built over the existing fort and, during the 1950s, as the centennial of the Civil War approached, work would begin to make Fort Fisher a North Carolina Historic Site. Today only a few of the mounds remain, since much of the fort has been eroded by the ocean.

Recommended Reading : Confederate Goliath: The Battle of Fort Fisher . From Publishers Weekly: Late in the Civil War, Wilmington , N.C. , was the sole remaining seaport supplying Lee's army at Petersburg , Va. , with rations and munitions. In this dramatic account, Gragg describes the two-phase campaign by which Union forces captured the fort that guarded Wilmington and the subsequent occupation of the city itself--a victory that virtually doomed the Confederacy. In the initial phase in December 1864, General Ben Butler and Admiral David Porter directed an unsuccessful amphibious assault against Fort Fisher that included the war's heaviest artillery bombardment. Continued below…

The second try in January '65 brought General Alfred Terry's 9000-man army against 1500 ill-equipped defenders, climaxing in a bloody hand-to-hand struggle inside the bastion and an overwhelming Union victory. Although historians tend to downplay the event, it was nevertheless as strategically decisive as the earlier fall of either Vicksburg or Atlanta . Gragg has done a fine job in restoring this important campaign to public attention. Includes numerous photos.


UNION CONNECTICUT VOLUNTEERS

Overview: Organized at Washington, D. C., from 4th Conn. Infantry, January 2, 1862. Attached to Military District of Washington to April, 1862. Siege artillery, Army Potomac, to May, 1862. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 5th Army Corps, Army Potomac, to July, 1862. Siege artillery, Army Potomac, to August, 1862. Artillery defences Alexandria Military District of Washington, to February, 1863. Artillery defences of Alexandria, 22nd Army Corps, to April, 1863. 2nd Brigade, DeRussy's Division, defences south of the Potomac, 22nd Army Corps, to May, 1863. 3rd Brigade, DeRussy's Dlvision, 22nd Corps, to December, 1863. 2nd Brigade, DeRussy's Division, 22nd Army Corps, to March, 1864. 4th Brigade, DeRussy's Division, 22nd Army Corps, to May, 1864. (Cos. "B" and "M" attached to Artillery Reserve, Army Potomac, October, 1862, to January, 1864.) Point of Rocks, Va., Dept., of Virginia and North Carolina to June, 1864. Siege artillery, Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina in the field, and siege artillery, Army Potomac, to May, 1865. Siege artillery, Dept. of Virginia, to July, 1865. 4th Brigade, DeRussy's Division, 22nd Army Corps, Dept. of Washington, to August, 1865. 3rd Brigade, Dept. of Washington, to September, 1865.

Service: Duty at Fort Richardson, defences of Washington, D. C., till April, 1862. Ordered to the Peninsula, Va., in charge of siege train Army Potomac, April 2. Siege of Yorktown April 12-May 4. Battle of Hanover C. H. May 27. Operations about Hanover May 27-29. Seven days before Richmond June 25-July 1. Gaines' Mill June 27. Malvern Hill July 1. At Harrison's Landing till August 15. Moved to Alexandria, Va., August 16-27. Duty in the defences of Washington, D. C., till May, 1864, as garrison at Fort Richardson. Cos. "B" and "M" detached with Army Potomac, participating in battle of Fredericksburg, Va., Dec. 12-15. Chancellorsville Campaign April 27-May 6. Battle of Chancellorsville May 1-5. Stafford Heights June 12. Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., July 1-3. Bristoe Campaign October 9-22. Advance to line of the Rappahannock November 7-8. Brandy Station November 8. Mine Run Campaign November 26-December 2. Rejoined regiment in defences of Washington January, 1864. Regiment ordered to Bermuda Hundred, Va., May 13, 1864. Engaged in fatigue duty and as garrison for batteries and forts on the Bermuda front and lines before Petersburg during siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond, May, 1864, to April, 1865. Occupy Fort Converse, Redoubt Dutton, Batteries Spofford, Anderson, Pruyn and Perry on the Bermuda front, and Forts Rice, Morton, Sedgewick and McGilvrey, and Batteries 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, Burpee, Drake and Sawyer, on the Petersburg front, and at Dutch Gap, north of the James River. Assaults on Fort Dutton June 2 and 21, 1864 (Co. "L"). Attacks on the lines May 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 27, 30, 31, June 1, 2, 5, 9, 18, 20 and 23. Mine explosion July 30, August 25, November 17, 18 and 28, 1864. Repulse of rebel fleet at Fort Brady on James River January 23-24, 1865. Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., January 3-15, 1865 (Cos. "B," "G," "L"). Capture of Fort Fisher January 15 (Cos. "B," "G," "L"). Assaults on and fall of Petersburg, Va., April 2, 1865. Duty in the Dept. of Va. till July 11. Moved to Washington, D.C. and duty in the defences of that city till September. Mustered out September 25, 1865.

Regiment lost during service 2 Officers and 49 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 4 Officers and 172 Enlisted men by disease. Total 227.

4th REGIMENT INFANTRY.
Organized at Hartford May 21, 1861. Left State for Washington, D.C., June 10. Attached to Abercrombie's 6th Brigade, 2nd Division, Dept. of Pennsylvania. to August, 1861. 2nd Brigade, Banks' Division, Army Potomac, to December, 1861. Dcfences of Washington to January, 1862.

Service: Duty at Chambersburg, Pa., and at Hagerstown. Md., till July 4, l861, and at Williamsport till August 16. At Frederick, Md., till September 5. Moved to Darnestown September 5, thence to Fort Richardson. Defences of Washington, D. C., and duty there till January, 1862. Designation of regiment changed to 1st Conn. Heavy Artillery January 2, 1862. (See 1st Heavy Artillery.) Soldiers: View Battle Unit's Soldiers »


Watch the video: The Siege of Charleston 1865 (November 2021).