Chapter 50: Second attack on Fort Fisher.
- Preparations for the attack. -- the fleet withstands the elements. -- General Terry arrives and prepares to co-operate with the Navy. -- General Butler vs. General Terry. -- Landing of troops. -- iron-clads open fire on the batteries. -- sailors land and throw up intrenchments. -- plan of General attack by Army and Navy. -- bombardment of the forts. -- sailors make a gallant assault, but are repulsed with great loss. -- the soldiers surprise the Confederates in rear of fortifications. -- Fort Fisher captured. -- fearless gallantry displayed by troops. -- serious damage to Confederate cause. -- Grappling for torpedoes. -- the Tallahassee and Chickamauga blown up. -- evacuation of Fort Caswell and works on Smith's Island. -- Wilmington, N. C., blockaded. -- list of officers killed and wounded during attack on Fort Fisher. -- General orders of second attack. -- reports of the admiral and other officers. -- cases of individual feats of heroism. -- casualties. -- evacuation of forts along Cape Fear River. -- capture of Smithville. -- list of guns mounted in chain of forts. -- bombardment and capture of forts Anderson, strong and Lee. -- Scrimmage with infernal machines. -- capture of Wilmington, N. C. -- firing national salutes. -- additional reports of officers. -- operations after capture of Fort Fisher. -- Confederate gun-boats and their movements in James River. -- Miscellaneous operations of North Atlantic Squadron, from October, 1864, to April, 1865.
The reader can imagine the disappointment in the North when the failure to take Fort Fisher was announced, and the numerous reports that were flying about must have considerably mystified the public. One said the whole expedition had gone back to Hampton Roads, and the chances were that, in the estimation of the public, the Navy should be consigned to oblivion. What an ignominious fate that would have been! However, the Admiral's equanimity was not in the least disturbed. He knew that this set-back was one of the chances of war, and did not regret it, as it would show the stuff American naval officers were made of. Here was a large fleet of over seventy vessels, most of them too large to enter any harbor. They had expended nearly all their coal and ammunition; the commanders were obliged to anchor their vessels off Beaufort, N. C., on an open coast, with protection only from the northwest winds, and with a southeast gale blowing at least once a week. Yet they were ordered to repair there at once and fill up with coal and ammunition without delay. To the Admiral's great surprise, he found that General Butler had seized a large quantity of coal (which the Navy had in reserve) for his transports to get home with, and that the Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, through some misunderstanding, had ordered that no more be sent to Beaufort. The naval ammunition had not all arrived from Hampton Roads, and the ships bade fair to be found unprepared in case General Grant ordered the troops to return. No time was lost in sending dispatches overland to Norfolk, directing Lieutenant-Commander Nichols to hurry forward every pound of coal and ammunition available. Fortunately, a fair wind brought all this down to Beaufort, and matters looked more  cheerful; the Navy also seized the Army coal in Beaufort, upon the plea that “necessity knows no law.” It is difficult to appreciate the hardships and delays encountered by the fleet in coaling and getting on board the ammunition. Gale after gale swept over the coast, through all of which the ships-of-war, the coal and ammunition vessels had to ride it out. Many anchors and chains were lost, ships were damaged and boats swamped; but no one left his post. There was a dogged determination to take Fort Fisher even if the Navy had to do it alone. When the wind howled at night, and the sound of the breakers was heard booming in the distance, the Admiral would go to sleep feeling as secure as if nothing was going on, knowing that he had good sailors with brave hearts in his ships, and that no one would desert his post any more than he would in time of action. Every morning, at daylight, the officer of the watch would come down and report, “The fleet is all right, sir;” and answering, “I knew it,” the Admiral would turn over and take another sleep. There was all kinds of fighting in the Navy, but this was a new phase of the matter — fighting the elements as men never fought them before. It was a new school of practice to the officers, who had been taught that ours was the worst coast in the world, and that a vessel could not there ride out a gale at her anchors. If they profited by the experience they gained on that occasion, they should feel amply repaid for any anxieties they may have felt. An officer should realize that great risks should be run to insure success. We do not wonder that Admiral Farragut said: “Porter will lose that fleet: he is rash to undertake operations when the elements are so opposed to him.” It was not judicious in him, it is true, and was not an evidence of what he would have done himself; but if he had remembered the perseverance shown in getting his vessels over the bar at New Orleans, when all others had given it up, he would have said otherwise. The moment Butler's troops re-embarked, the Admiral sent a swift steamer to General Grant and told him the situation of affairs, urging him to send “other troops and another General.” Grant had made up his mind to do so the moment he heard of Butler's failure. The Admiral was daily expecting this force and dreaded its arrival before he was ready. It was a joyful sight when he saw the signals flying from each masthead, reporting, “All ready for action.” He had watched all the operations with a critical eye and could see no one lagging. He endeavored, with the means at his disposal, to be impartial in supplying the materials of war. Let any one think of a fleet of seventy vessels-of-war to be coaled and supplied with ammunition at sea, and all to be done in time to co-operate with an army that could be moved in a week! We recollect that some of the old officers with whom we sailed at different times would not go within ten miles of Cape Fear shoals in good weather, and would think any man crazy who was rash enough to anchor off Beaufort one night, much less ride out a gale there. It was rough practice, and we sincerely hope the lesson will not be lost on the young men now coming forward, many of whom participated in the events of that period. Many of them were unknown to fame, but they performed their parts well, and will show hereafter of what material the American Navy is made. On January 8th, 1865, General A. H. Terry arrived at Beaufort, and communicated the intelligence that he was in command of the army that was to co-operate with the Navy in capturing Fort Fisher. The Navy was all ready for its share of the work; but, as a storm was approaching, the Admiral advised Terry of the fact, and suggested that his transports should go inside, where there was plenty of room for them. To his disappointment, Terry declined any advice, and decided that they should ride it out with the Navy. This beginning did not augur well for a good understanding between General Terry and the Admiral. Terry was rather cold and formal in his manner, and did not meet the Admiral at once with the frankness of a true soldier. He had, however, been a longtime under the command of General Butler, who, for a wonder, had treated him very well, because he saw he was a good soldier, and a man of talent besides. Butler also relied on Terry to help him over the rough spots of soldier-life. Of course, Terry had heard his side of the story, and was cautious in his first approaches; but all this wore off like snow before a summer's sun when Terry found that the Admiral had but one object in view — the capture of Fort Fisher, and did not care how it was done or who got the credit of it. On his second visit Terry was quite a different man, and they soon understood each other. Here was a different person from the Admiral's last “confederate” --we wonder what Butler would say at our calling him a confederate — who was fond of display, and whose staff was exceptionally large. Terry had no staff, wore no spurs, and we do not think he owned a sword. He had a well-formed head, full of sense, which served him in lieu of feathers, sword, boots, spurs and staff — of which a General can have too many. General Terry was accompanied by General Comstock, of the Engineers, who had been on Butler's staff  in the former expedition, and this fact made the Admiral careful about expressing his views in his presence. He learned finally to appreciate Comstock as a good officer. The Admiral was made to say a spiteful thing of him by the reporter of the War Committee, an untrue statement; and, if the General or his heirs are living when this is published, they will absolve the Admiral from saying or meaning anything disrespectful concerning him. General Grant thought highly of Comstock, and that was the latter's recommendation with the Navy. If Comstock had not been made by that same reporter of the War Committee to say some untrue things about the Admiral, the latter would have taken to him at first sight and endorsed him as an “A no. 1” engineer, as, no doubt, he was. Admiral Porter offered to do all he could for General Terry. and explained to him how matters stood. The Admiral was not shown Terry's instructions, but afterwards saw them printed in General Grant's report. They were, in effect, “