previous next


The Yankee press on. The Wilmington failure.

The war about the Wilmington disaster is being fiercely waged in the Yankee papers, and we may expect soon to see Butler and Porter brought individually into the ring. It will be a rich engagement whenever it comes off. In the meantime, while waiting for the entrance of the principal performers, we may listen to what the lesser actors have to say:


[from the New York Tribune.]

The letter of our special correspondent gives an account of the Wilmington operations considerably more readable and intelligent than yesterday's dispatch from Admiral Porter. It is clear that the prolonged naval bombardment failed to impair, to any extent, the strength of Fort Fisher. General Weitzel's reconnaissance having disclosed that fact, there remained nothing for the land force to attempt; it being in the outset that a land force alone would not be competent to assail the fort.

Admiral Porter intimates his opinion that where Weitzel's skirmish line could go, the main body might have followed, and the fort have been taken. But the situation was not such as he represents it. No doubt a few skirmishers entered the work. At the time when they mounted the parapet, the fire of the navy was pouring in with all its intensity, and by that fire the garrison was kept in the bomb-proof. But Admiral Porter himself tells us that eight or ten of these soldiers — almost every one who entered — were wounded by this fire. If, then, an assaulting column had advanced, it would have been destroyed by the same fire. If the fire had been suspended, the garrison would instantly have swarmed back into the fort from the bomb-proofs, and, with grape and canister, have probably swept that ground over which the column was advancing. Weighing these two necessities, General Weitzel pronounced the storming of such a work, in such circumstances, impossible.

The first assault on Fort Wagner, in which fell the heroic Shaw, affords an illustration. There also the fire of the fort had been silenced by a preliminary bombardment and the garrison driven under cover. But when the bombardment ceased, and the attacking column moved, it was successfully resisted by the guns of the fort and the musketry fire of its garrison. There is no reason to suppose Fort Fisher would have done worse, or Butler's troops have fared better. Fisher is a stronger work than Wagner, and no troops could be braver than the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts.


[from the New York Commercial.]

The Tribune, in its endeavors to screen General Butler from popular indignation, makes the following unfortunate allusion:

‘ The first assault on Fort Wagner, in which fell the heroic Shaw, affords an illustration. There also the fire of the fort had been silenced by a preliminary bombardment and the garrison driven under cover. But when the bombardment ceased, and the attacking column moved, it was successfully resisted by the guns of the fort and the musketry fire of the garrison. There is no reason to suppose Fort Fisher would have done worse or Butler's troops have fared better. Fisher is a stronger work than Wagner, and no troops could be braver than the Fifty- fourth Massachusetts.

’ Admitting that the comparison is true, which it is not, did General Gillmore, in the language of the President, "turn tail" after the failure of the first assault, and, scampering to his transports, hurry off to Port Royal? By no means. On the contrary, he held on to the vantage ground which he had secured, laid siege to the stronghold, and in time captured it, with its valuable supplies of cannon and ammunition, thereby sealing up Charleston harbor. Had this able engineer, or Baldy Smith — both of whom were sent into retirement at General Butler's dictum — been in command of the troops at Fort Fisher, this affair would have had a different termination.


[from the New York World.]

Whether General Butler and the military officers of whom he took counsel are responsible for the check which this colossal expedition has received in the very outset of its career, it is not for your correspondent to say. Certain it is, that, in the fleet, he is universally blamed, in vehement and emphatic terms, for continual delays when the expedition was preparing, and for lack of enterprise when the action was in progress. As an indication of the intensity of feeling against General Butler which at present pervades the fleet, I may mention that but just now a naval officer, whose name is familiar in every household in the land, denounced him as "either a black hearted traitor or an arrant coward." Another, equally well known, said: ‘"He forced himself into the expedition, and I believe he came down with the deliberate purpose of defeating the enterprise. He was determined to have his own way, and seeing that he could not, was bent on thwarting everything."’ Naval officers assert that the fire of the fleet had silenced the fort and driven its defenders to seek any hole for shelter, and that a bold dash would have effected the capture of the place almost without resistance. On the other hand, as Admiral Porter admits, General Weitzel is an accomplished engineer, and his opinion is worthy of consideration. General Weitzel is a young and ambitious officer, who would scarcely throw away a likely chance of distinguishing himself. Yet the fleet did such tremendous work, and seemingly with so much of success, so far as its share of the engagement was concerned, that the public will be apt to cast the odium of failure on General Butler and his advisers.


[from the New York times's Correspondent.]

Too much dependence was placed on the probable disastrous results to the enemy of the gunpowder explosion. It was believed by those who planned the matter that every gun in the vicinity of Cape Fear would be dismounted by the concussion. I believe the navy had nothing to do with originating the scheme. At any rate, it was a foolish and expensive experiment, which produced no good and brought much evil.

After the transports had taken their sudden departure from the scene of action, Admiral Porter declared that he would take Fort Fisher with the navy alone. He is sanguine that the work can be taken if he only goes to work in the right manner. The problem is yet to be solved.


[from the New York Herald.]

The clear and circumstantial report of Admiral Porter of his late operations against Fort Fisher and its supporting rebel batteries leads us to these conclusions: That "some one has blundered"; that the fort, on Christmas day, could have been easily captured by the land forces under General Butler, and that in failing to make the experiment he lost a fine opportunity for a great success. * * * *

We think that the Admiral's opinion, from the testimony presented, will be pronounced the correct one by the army, navy and people at large, with but a very few dissenting voices. It seems to us that never was there a fairer opportunity for an easy conquest; and that, although ordered to make baste and return with his troops to Fortress Monroe, General Butler committed the greatest mistake of his whole military career in deciding, on Christmas day; against an attempt to carry Fort Fisher at the point of the bayonet, as it might have been carried in a rapid dash of a thousand, or even five hundred, men.

One of our war correspondents, accompanying this Wilmington expedition, says that when General Weitzel, after his reconnaissance of the fort, went to consult with General Butler, leaving General Ames in command of the troops on shore to await orders, the opinion was expressed by General Curtis that he could carry the fort. General Amen then told him to take his brigade and try it; but the night fell before his preparations for the assault could be perfected, and with the night came orders for the re-embarkation of the troops. Besides, a storm was brewing, so that the army could no longer delay in getting on board ship through the surf. And so Admiral Porter was left "pegging away" at Fort Fisher. If not recalled, we have no doubt he will prove within a few days the soundness of his late opinion by accomplishing, with a detachment of marines, the job which was regarded too hazardous for three thousand veteran soldiers,

We await the opinion of General Grant upon this subject. If he, who began his glorious career in this war by "moving on the enemy's works," and who believes in that style of warfare, shall support the opposite course adopted by General Butler and General Weitzel in regard to Fort Fisher, we shall consider the opinion of Admiral Porter fairly neutralized. Meantime, however, we feel satisfied that, had Grant been on the ground, the opinion of the General and the Admiral would have been the same, and that the result would have been the capture of Fort Fisher on Christmas day.


[from the New York Tribune Correspondence.]

General Weitzel is known to have advanced his skirmish line within fifty yards of the fort, while the fire from the fleet was so heavy and continuous that the enemy were kept closely housed in their bomb-proofs.

Surely here was a chance to take the work by assault, if ever there was one. Our troops were not only willing, but eager, and to judge by the straggling squads of the foe who appeared at intervals only to give themselves up, quite equal to the task. But it was not to be. It had been decided that the fort was "left substantially uninjured as a defensive work by the navy fire," and it was settled that the work should be abandoned. Soon after 5 o'clock the order to re-embark was given, and before dark the boats were busily engaged in carrying the order into effect.

The re-embarkation of the troops, as already stated, commenced shortly before sundown of the 25th, and was continued through the night. Owing to the heavy rain and almost Egyptian darkness which prevailed, the consequent difficulty of landing the boats on the beach, and the unmistakable reluctance of the men to leave the shore, it took much longer to re-embark them than it did to land them.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
James T. Butler (12)
Horace Porter (9)
Weitzel (8)
Wagner (2)
Grant (2)
Baldy Smith (1)
Gillmore (1)
Curtis (1)
Ames (1)
Amen (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
December 25th (3)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: