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[246] shells, until the whole face of the works began to take on the irregularity of the neighboring sand-dunes. The troops, about fifteen hundred men under command of General Weitzel, advanced their skirmish lines to within about seventy-five yards of the fort, capturing a small outwork and over two hundred men. By a personal reconnaissance, Weitzel ascertained that the two days terrible bombardment by the fleet and the previous explosion of the powder-ship had done no practical injury to the parapets and interior. He therefore reported to Butler and to Admiral Porter that the works could not be taken by assault.

That evening, General Butler notified Admiral Porter that he was convinced that it was impossible to take the Fort by assault as the naval fire had not damaged the works, and that he proposed to withdraw all his men and return to Fortress Monroe, which he did on the 27th. This ended the first combined attempt against Fort Fisher.

Admiral Porter was much disappointed at Butler's leaving him, and began to fear that the Confederates would abandon Fort Fisher and entrench themselves further up the river out of reach of his guns. So he attempted to deceive his foe. “I thought it best,” he says, “under the circumstances, to let the enemy think we had abandoned the expedition entirely, and sent the fleet to a rendezvous off Beaufort, one or two at a time, to look as if they were crippled.”

Evidently the Confederates did not anticipate the early return of the fleet. The supporting army was withdrawn to a point sixteen miles north of Wilmington. No lookout was kept up the coast, and, in consequence, the first tidings of the return were sent from Fort Fisher itself, when, on the evening of the 12th of January, 1865, its few defenders saw from the ramparts the Federal fleet returning.

At that time there were but eight hundred men in the garrison, and about one hundred of them were unfit for duty. The principal, and almost the only, organization represented was the Thirty-sixth North Carolina regiment. Sunrise revealed

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