The battles fought there in 1864 and 1865.
An interesting address by Colonel William Lamb
, of Norfolk, Virginia
, written at the request of Cape Fear Camp, United Confederate Veterans
, of Wilmington
—The truth of history Graphically told.
Colonel William Lamb
, of Norfolk, Virginia
, commandant of Fort Fisher
during the terrific bombardment there during the civil war, read his address on Fort Fisher
last week at the Young Men's Christian Association auditorium to a large and appreciative audience.
He came here at the invitation of Cape Fear Camp, No. 254, United Confederate Veterans
, and his address is the beginning of a series to be given under the auspices of that Camp.
On the platform with Colonel Lamb
were Major James Reilly
, one of the heroes of Fort Fisher
, Colonel William L. DeRosset
, Mr. James C. Stevenson
, and the Hon. Alfred M. Waddell
The pleasant task of introducing Colonel Lamb
was assigned to Colonel Waddell
, and he did so in a few eloquent words.
thanked the audience for their presence, saying that their attendance was taken as granted that they were in sympathy with the Cape Fear Camp
, in having Colonel Lamb
here, which was to record the truth of history about the battles of Fort Fisher
These battles he pronounced the most terrific bombardment known to the world up to this time.
He said it was universally admitted that the storming of Fort Fisher
was the greatest artillery fight in the world's history, and he had once so stated in a speech he had made before a Grand Army Post up North.
Up to 1861, the storming of Sebastopol
had been the greatest, but he had heard from the lips of an Englishman, who was at Sebastopol
, and who was also at Fort Fisher
during the battles, that the storming of Sebastopol
was absolutely mere child's play in comparison with the storming of Fort Fisher
He had talked with Admiral Porter
, of the Federal
side, and with other Federal general officers
participated in the battles of Fort Fisher
, and particularly with General N. M. Curtis
, the gallant Federal general who led the land attack, and who was shot seven times and lost an eye in the last battle, and they agreed that it is conceded to be the most terrific artillery battle in the world's history.
In presenting Colonel Lamb
, Colonel Waddell
said we have one with us who commanded Fort Fisher
in the great battles, and in defence of which he fell, desperately wounded—a gallant officer who was once a resident of Wilmington
, and whose memory would never be forgotten.
was received with warm applause, and after a few introductory remarks he delivered the admirable address to be found in full in this morning's Messenger
He began his remarks with, ‘Mr. Chairman
and Comrades of Cape Fear Camp, United Confederate Veterans
,’ and remarked that he had come to Wilmington
in the autumn of 1861, and brought with him the little heroine1
who came to share his fortunes of the war. After he had spoken about how hospitably he and his wife were received by the people of Wilmington
, he entered upon the address that the reader can find elsewhere.
He was generously applauded throughout, and there was very hearty applause when he alluded to our esteemed citizen, Major James Reilly
. Colonel Lamb
's exordium was very eloquent, and although the address was lengthy, the audithe audience was disappointed when he concluded.
In his address Colonel Lamb
alluded to his visit to the old fort yesterday.
He and his daughter, Miss Madge
, and his son, Harry Whiting
, accompanied by Major James Reilly
, Colonel Wm. L. DeRosset
, Colonel John D. Taylor
, Mr. James C. Stevenson
, Mr. W. M. Cumming
, Mr. John W. Reilly
and T. W. Clawson
, of the Messenger
, went down to Fort Fisher
The party took the steamer Clarence
at 9:30 A. M, and returned to the city last evening shortly after 6 P. M.
The party took a trip over the old fort, but little of it now remains except the profile.
The land face is completely effaced by the ocean and the elements, but enough of the battery elevations yet remain for them to be correctly pointed out by those familiar with them.
, the first part of the fortifications built, was identified as the second knoll north of what was known as the ‘Mound Battery.’
,’ which was sixty feet in height, still remains, but as it was merely a heap of sand it has been blown down to about twenty-five or thirty feet in height.
‘The Pulpit’ was also recognizable, but no magazine or bomb-proof could be seen.
The party picked up some pieces of shell and bullets, but even these relics, once so plentiful, have nearly all disappeared.
The fact is, the historic old fortress is overgrown with a dense growth of bushes in many places, and blackberries are ripening and daisies are growing where carnage once held sway.
About noon, on the 4th day of July, 1862, while in command of Fort St. Philip
, near Orton
, on the Cape Fear river
, I received a most unexpected order to proceed to Fort Fisher
, and take command.
I went immediately, assumed command, and before sunset of that day, had thoroughly inspected the works.
They then consisted of—first, a recently erected work, with two guns, called Shepherd
It was on the extreme left, and faced the sea, its rear being close to the river shore.
Next, towards the sea, came a quadrilateral field work, known as Fort Fisher
It was a small work, part of it constructed of perishable sand bags, and its longest face was about one hundred yards. Out of its half dozen large guns, only the two eight-inch Columbiads were suitable for seacoast defence.
One of the Federal
frigates could have obliterated it with a few broadsides.
Next to this on its right, facing the sea and opposite the bar, came a very handsome and creditable casemated battery of four eight-inch Columbiads, called after Captain Meade
It was constructed of turfed sand over a heavy timber frame-work, the embrasures of palmetto.
has informed me since the war that he designed this work.
A one-gun battery stood to the right of this, well out on the seashore.
It was called Cumberland
's battery, and contained a long-ranged rifle gun, the only piece of modern ordinance on Confederate Point.
(This gun exploded subsequently when fired at a blockader, without loss of life, and was replaced with a ten-inch Columbiad.) To the right and rear of this and some two hundred yards apart, were two batteries, each having two barbette guns of moderate calibre,
one called Bolles
and the other I called Hedrick Battery, after the former gallant commander of the fort.
There was besides these batteries a large commissary bomb proof.
There were only seventeen guns of respectable calibre, including thirty-two pounders.
There was on Zeke's Island
a small two-gun battery, subsequently washed away by the sea. I thought, on assuming command, and experience afterwards demonstrated, that as a defence of New Inlet
against a Federal fleet, our works amounted to nothing.
I determined at once to build a work of such magnitude that it could withstand the heaviest fire of any guns in the American
I had seen the effect of eleven-inch shell, and had read about the force of the fifteen-inch shell, and believed that their penetrating power was well ascertained, and could be provided against.
I obtained permission of Major-General French
, who had placed me in command of Confederate Point, to commence such a fortification, although he did not altogether concur with me as to the value of elevated batteries, nor the necessity of such unprecedently heavy works.
Shortly after obtaining permission, I commenced the new Fort Fisher
, and from that time, the summer of 1862, until the morning of 24th of December, 1864, I never ceased to work, sometimes working on Sunday when rumors of an attack reached me, having at times over one thousand men, white
, hard at work.
In the construction of the mound on the extreme right of the seaface, which occupied six months, two inclined railways, worked by steam, supplemented the labor of men. Although Fort Fisher
was far from completed when attacked by the Federal fleet, it was the largest seacoast fortification in the Confederate States
The plans were my own, and as the work progressed were approved by French
It was styled by Federal engineers after the capture, the Malakoff the South
It was built solely with the view of resisting the fire of a fleet, and it stood uninjured, except as to armament, two of the fiercest bombardments the world has ever witnessed.
The morning after I took command of the fort, I noticed a blockader lying a little over a mile from the bar, not two miles from the works.
I asked if she was not unusually close in, and was answered no.
I then remarked that she could have thrown a shot into the fort without warning, and was informed that the enemy sometimes fired on our working parties unexpectedly and drove them from their work,
and that the fort never fired on the enemy unless they fired first.
I replied that it should never occur again, and ordering a detachment to man the rifle in the Cumberland
battery, opened fire on the blockader.
The astonished enemy slipped his cable and retreated as fast as possible, and from that day to the final attack no blockader anchored within range of our guns, and no working party was ever molested, not even when hundreds were congregated together in constructing the mound.
When the Federal fleet appeared off the fort in December, 1864, I had built two faces to the works; these were two thousand five hundred and eighty yards long, or about one and a half miles. The land face mounted twenty of the heaviest sea-coast guns, and was 682 yards long; the sea face with twenty-four equally heavy guns (including a 170-pounder Blakeley rifle and 13o-pounder Armstrong rifle, both imported from England
) was 1,898 yards in length.
The land face commenced about 100 feet from the river with a half bastion, originally Shepherd
's Battery, which I had doubled in strength, and extended with a heavy curtain to a full bastion on the ocean side, where it joined the sea face.
The work was built to withstand the heaviest artillery fire.
There was no moat with scarp and counter scarp, so essential for defence against storming parties, the shifting sands rendering its construction impossible with the material available.
The outer slope was twenty feet high from the berme to the top of the parapet, at an angle of forty-five degrees, and was sodded with marsh grass, which grew luxuriantly.
The parapet was not less than twenty-five feet thick, with an inclination of only one foot.
The revetment was five feet nine inches high from the floor of the gun chambers, and these were some twelve feet or more from the interior plane.
The guns were all mounted in barbette on Columbiad carriages; there was not a single casemated gun in the fort.
Experience had taught that casemates of timber and sand bags were a delusion and a snare against heavy projectiles; and there was no iron to construct others with.
Between the gun chambers, containing one or two guns each, there were heavy traverses, exceeding in size any heretofore constructed, to protect from an enfilading fire.
They extended out some twelve feet on the parapet, and were twelve feet or more in height above the parapet, running back thirty feet or more.
The gun chambers were reached from the rear by steps.
In each traverse was an alternate magazine or bomb-proof, the latter ventilated
by an air chamber.
Passage ways penetrated the traverses in the interior of the work forming additional bomb-proofs for the reliefs for the guns.
The sea face for 100 yards from the northeast bastion was of the same massive character as the land face.
A crescent battery built for four casemated guns joined this.
It had been originally constructed of palmetto logs and tarred sand bags and sand revetted with sod; but the logs had decayed and it was converted into a hospital bombproof.
In its rear a heavy curtain was thrown up to protect the chambers from fragments of shells.
From this bomb-proof a series of batteries extended for three-quarters of a mile along the sea, connected by an infantry curtain.
These batteries had heavy traverses, but were not more than ten or twelve feet high to the top of the parapets and were built for richochet firing.
On this line was a bombproof electric battery connected with a system of submarine torpedoes.
Further along, where the channel ran close to the beach, inside the bar, a mound battery, sixty feet high was erected, with two heavy guns, which had a plunging fire on the channel; this was connected with the battery north of it by a light curtain.
Following the line of the works it was over one mile from the mound to the redan at the angle of the sea and the land faces.
From the mound for nearly a mile to the end of the point was a level sand plain, scarcely three feet above high tide, and much of it was submerged during gales.
At the point was battery Buchanan with four guns, in the shape of an ellipse, commanding the Inlet
, its two eleven-inch guns covering the approach by land.
It was constructed after a plan furnished me by Reddin Pittman
, an accomplished young engineer officer from Edgecombe county
, and, for its purpose, was perfect in design.
I remember when he gave me the plan he had named it ‘Augusta Battery,’ after his sweetheart, but General Whiting
wishing to compliment the gallant hero of Mobile
, directed me to call it Battery Buchanan.
When completed it was garrisoned by a detachment from the Confederate States
An advanced redoubt with a twenty-four pounder was added after the repulse of Butler
A wharf for large steamers was in close proximity to this work.
Battery Buchanan was a citadel to which an overpowered garrison might retreat and with proper transportation might be carried off at night, and to which reinforcements could be safely sent under the cover of darkness.
Returning to the land face or northern front of Fort Fisher
, as a defense against infantry, there was a system of subterra torpedoes extending across the peninsula five to six hundred feet from the land face, and so disconnected that the explosion of one would not affect the others; inside the torpedoes, about fifty feet from the berme of the work, extending from river bank to seashore, was a heavy palisade of sharpened logs nine feet high, pierced for musketry, and so laid out as to have an enfilading fire on the centre, where there was a redoubt guarding a sally port, from which two Napoleons were run out as occasion required.
At the river end of the palisade was a deep and muddy slough, across which was a bridge, the entrance of the river road into the fort; commanding this bridge was a Napoleon gun. There were three mortars in the rear of the land face.
Having described Fort Fisher
as I found it on the 4th of July, 1862, and as it was on the eve of the great battles, I will now take a cursory glance of events on Confederate Point during these two and a half years. Just previous to my going there the British steamer Modern Greece,
laden with provisions, clothing, liquors, and four pieces of artillery, with ammunition, attempted to run into New Inlet
Her draft being too great to enter, the commander of the fort, fearing capture, sunk her outside the bar and proceeded to save her cargo.
I completed this work, rescuing four twelve-pounder Whitworth rifle guns, which afterwards bore a conspicuous part in the operations of the war, not only in my command but elsewhere.
They were the longest range guns then constructed, throwing a shot five miles when at an angle of twenty-five degrees.
After mounting them, the blockaders were obliged to move their anchorage still further from the fort.
Blockade-running into Wilmington
had just commenced.
It was first carried on by any light draft sea-going steamer that could be procured and even by small sailing craft, but this was of short duration.
The blockade became so effective that to run it successfully was quite a science.
The fastest steamers were built for the purpose, side-wheelers or double screws, long, low and narrow, usually nine times as long as wide, and from four hundred to seven hundred tons burthen.
They were all painted a light gray, making them as nearly invisible as possible; light lower masts without yards, with a small lookout on the foremast.
Funnels could be lowered close to the deck in case of need and when possible smokeless coal was used.
No light was permitted to be visible.
No animal likely to make a
noise was allowed on board, the only exception to the rule being a splendid Arabian steed brought in for President Davis
No precaution was omitted to prevent discovery.
During my stay on Confederate Point at least one hundred different steamers were engaged in running the blockade in the Cape Fear river
, and very few were captured before making one round trip.
The squadron off Wilmington
reported sixty-five steam blockade runners captured or destroyed during the war. The most skillful sailors were secured as commanders, and Confederate and British naval officers were engaged when practicable, the latter being on leave under assumed names.
One thousand pounds sterling was paid to a captain for a successful trip.
The pilots, who were most essential to success, received as high as lb 750 for the round trip.
It was usual to pay half the sum in advance.
The most fortunate of the commanders of my acquaintance was Captain John N. Wilkinson
, of the Confederate States
Navy, who in ten months made twenty-one trips in the British
side-wheel steamer Giraffe,
which was purchased by the Confederate Government and named the R. E. Lee
. Captain Roberts
, whose real name was Hon. Augustus C. Hobart Hampden
, and who afterwards as Hobart Pasha
commanded the Turkish Navy
until his death, was also most successful, running the ‘Don’ between Nassau
, with the regularity of a packet boat.
, who was C. Murray Aynsley
, now a retired admiral in the British Navy
, and who received rapid promotion for distinguished and gallant service from the government, after our war, was not only successful, but forced to show more skill and pluck than the others, having to run the gauntlet of the blockade squadron by daylight on two occasions, receiving shot in his vessel each time.
As blockade-running was of such vital interest to the Southern
cause, I did everything to foster it, and New Inlet
, protected by Fort Fisher
, became the most popular entrance to the South
was the last gateway closed, and during the last year that I commanded the fort, there was scarcely a dark night that I was not called upon the ramparts to admit a friendly vessel.
Had I time I would dwell on some of the many interesting events in blockade running at Fort Fisher
, but it is quite impossible in the limit necessarily put upon this narrative.
The running through the squadron and safely over the bar in daylight of the powder-laden ‘Cornubia,’ in 1862, and the ‘A. D. Vance
,’ with a party of ladies and Dr. Hoge
, with Bibles for the soldiers, in 1864 (the latter steamer rescued by a timely shot from a ten-inch Columbiad in the fort), were incidents never to be forgotten.
The recapture of the ‘Kate of London
’ and the ‘Nighthawk,’ the wreck of the ‘Condor’ under the guns of the fort, and the sad drowning of Mrs. Greenhough
, the famous Confederate spy, the fights over the ‘Venus
’ and the ‘Hebe
’ on the beach of Masonboro Sound
, where one of the garrison was killed and a Whitworth gun captured from a detachment of men guarding the wrecks August 23, 1863, by the United States
,’ carrying forty-four guns, which came close to shore and rendered a retreat with the guns impossible, were thrilling events in our camp life.
We had a visit from President Davis
; he landed at the end of the point and rode on horseback with General Whiting
to the mound.
As soon as he reached the top, giving him a complete view of the works, the sea-face guns being manned for the purpose, gave him the Presidential salute of twenty-one guns.
We doubt whether many of the forts in the South
could claim the distinction of having fired such salute.
I would mention in this connection, that I never failed on the Fourth of July and the Twenty-second of February to fire at noon the national salutes of thirteen guns, although not required to do so by the Confederate States
I shall never forget a most interesting discussion between the President
and General Whiting
, at my headquarters, in regard to their preference as to the mode of trial they would prefer; the President
preferring the usual trial by jury, whilst General Whiting
preferred the courtmartial.
Among the saddest events which occurred previous to the battles, were the execution of deserters.
On one occasion one soldier was shot, and on another, two were executed at the same time.
It is a solemn sight to see a command drawn up to witness the death of fellow-soldiers, and it is always made as impressive as possible as a warning against desertion.
The condemned ride to the stake upon their coffins, the band playing the dead march, are blindfolded when shot, and are usually tied to the stake unless they request otherwise.
The weapons are loaded by the ordnance sergeant
, one with a blank cartridge, so that no soldier detailed is positive that his gun is loaded with a ball when he fires.
The three shot at Fort Fisher
had been farmers, and were married,
and doubtlesss the condition of their families at home had much to do with their crime.
They had not deserted from my command, but when captured, their companies were stationed at Fort Fisher
, and it was my painful duty to see the sentences of the courts-martial enforced.
They all died fearlessly.
Monday, October 24th, 1864, was a day of excitement on Confederate Point.
Information was received that Fort Fisher
was to be attacked, and Porter
was to command the fleet.
Intelligence was also received through an anonymous letter at headquarters at Wilmington
that our men were expected to spike the guns, cut telegraph wires and pilot the enemy to the city.
This was conveyed to me confidentially, but I repudiated it so far as my garrison was concerned, having implicit faith in their loyalty, and subsequent events sustained my convictions.
The same day General Braxton Bragg
assumed command of the defences of Wilmington
, superseding, but not removing, General Whiting
, who remained second in command.
This was a bitter disappointment to my command, who felt that no one was so capable of defending the Cape Fear
as the brilliant officer who had given so much of his time and ability for its defence.
When a few days after, a Virginia paper announced, ‘Braxton Bragg
has been ordered to Wilmington
, goodbye Wilmington
,’ to many, it seemed as prophetic as the wizard's warning to Lochiel on the eve of the battle of ‘Culloden
I did not so regard it, but was as sanguine of success as that unfortunate Highland
The patriotic Whiting
showed no feeling at being superseded, but went to work with redoubled energy to prepare for the impending attack.
He visited Confederate Point repeatedly, riding over the ground with me and selecting points for batteries and covered ways, so as to keep up communication after the arrival of the enemy, between the fort and the entrenched camp which I commenced constructing at Sugar Loaf
He pointed out to me where the enemy would land on the beach beyond the range of our guns, and on both occasions the enemy landed at that place without opposition, although Whiting
had prepared ample shelter for troops to seriously retard if not prevent a landing.
It seems incomprehensible that General Bragg
should have allowed the Federal
troops on both attacks to have made a frolic of their landing on the soil of North Carolina
. Six thousand soldiers from Lee
's army within call, and not one sent to meet the invader and drive him from the shore.
batteries were planted in front of the Fort
and a strong palisade line erected from river to sea. A number of heavy rifles and columbiads were put on the land and sea faces to strengthen Fort Fisher
and the armament of Battery Buchanan was completed.
In the sixty days before the attack, our threatened works were so materially strengthened that we felt with proper co-operation on the part of the army under Whiting
we would certainly defeat the enemy.
On the morning of December 20th, the expected fleet was seen off Fort Fisher
, hulls down.
A stiff gale was blowing from the northeast.
Only half of my garrison, five companies of the Thirty-sixth North Carolina, were with me, the other half having been sent to Georgia
under the gallant Major James M. Stevenson
to assist in resisting Sherman
's advance to the sea. My effective force was not over 500.
I immediately sent the slaves who were at work on the defences, to town, and put everything in readiness for action, expecting the fleet in at high tide.
paid me a short visit, and promised to send reinforcements.
was with him, and gravely informed me that the heavy frigates would drive my men from the guns on the sea face with a few broadsides of grape and canister.
I respectfully disagreed with him. The gale increased in severity and continued through the night.
The fleet remained at their anchorage during the 21st, the wind shifting to the southwest.
During the day a detachment of three officers and twenty-five sailors of the Confederate States
During the next day the fleet remained at anchor, their hulls still below the horizon.
, my immediate commander, also visited me; he was very blue, having really no men to spare from the reduced garrison of the other forts.
On the 23d there was no demonstration by the enemy, but I was reinforced by Major James Reilly
with two companies of his regiment, the Tenth, 110 men, and a company of the Thirteenth North Carolina Battery, 115 strong, and the Seventh Battalion Junior Reserves, boys between sixteen and eighteen years of age, 140 in number, making a total in the Fort
of 900 men and boys.
The new arrivals were assigned the quarters of the absent companies, and the regulars among them were soon at home.
The old garrison had ceased to speculate on the impending attack, and in the evening hours before taps a visitor among them would never have supposed a battle was imminent.
The violin and accordeon could be heard from different groups, and a quartette was singing ‘Loreno,’ ‘My Maryland,’
and other camp-fire melodies.
The usual games were being played around the tallow dips with as much zest as if a more serious game were not impending; here and there a few were reading their Bibles before retiring, but only such as were accustomed to end the day in such devotions.
The formidable fleet had no terror for these stout hearts.
The regulars who had come from the other forts were naturally discussing the situation, and after their comparative inactivity seemed pleased with the opportunity to see some active service in behalf of the cause.
The brave little boys, torn from their firesides by the cruel necessities of the struggle, were as bright and manly as if anticipating a parade.
They should never have been called out for service; it was robbing the cradle.
What nobler women can be found in all history than the matrons of the Old North State, who, with their prayers and tears, sent forth their darlings in a cause they believed to be right, and in the defence of their homes?
Self-sacrificing courage seems indigenous to North Carolina
No breast is too tender for this heroic virtue.
Since the ten-year-old son of the Regulator begged the tyrant Tryon
, after the battle of the Alamance
, to hang him and let his father live, lest his mother die and the children perish, even the boys of this sturdy Commonwealth have been ever ready to rally in her defence.
The first life-blood that stained the sands of Confederate Point was from one of these youthful patriots.
The sun set in a cloudless sky on December 23d, and with its parting rays the gale subsided.
At midnight the blockade runner Little Hattie
came in, and Captain Lebby
came ashore to report his narrow escape from capture.
He had passed safely through the formidable fleet, and thought he had been followed in by one of the enemy's ships, but she had not molested him. He was about leaving when the officer of the day reported a vessel on fire up the beach about a mile from the fort.
I went on the ramparts and saw what looked like a blockade runner on fire.
thought it must be the ‘Agnes Fry
,’ which steamer had left Nassau
with him for Wilmington
, and I so telegraphed General Whiting
I watched the burning vessel for half an hour, and ordered the mounted pickets to be careful not to fire on any approaching boats.
I had a good opportunity to note the position of the vessel, and considered her a mile from the fort.
, some years after the war, informed me that the wreck was found and her exact position known,
but I think the remains of the ‘Modern Greece’ were mistaken for her, and that nothing was left of this vessel.
Returning to my quarters, I laid down on my lounge to get a rest before the anticipated engagement next day, but I had hardly lain down before I felt a gentle rocking of the small brick house (formerly the light keeper's), which I would have attributed to imagination or to vertigo, but it was instantly followed by an explosion, sounding very little louder than the report of a ten-inch Columbiad.
The corporal of the guard was called for in every direction by the sentinels, and the officer of the day reported the blowing up of the magazine of the vessel which had been on fire.
I telegraphed General Whiting
, at Wilmington
, of the explosion, and retired to rest.
In the morning the explosion was the subject of conversation among the officers, and some had not even been aroused by the commotion it created.
I thought so little of it that the only entry I made in my diary was ‘a blockader got aground near the fort, set fire to herself, and blew up.’
I was surprised to learn from prisoners captured Christmas
night that the explosion was that of a great floating magazine, the steamer Louisiana
, with more than 250 tons of powder, intended to demolish the work and paralyze the garrison.
The vessel was doubtless afloat when the explosion occurred, or the result might have been very serious.
The shock was distinctly felt in Wilmington
Saturday, December 24th, was one of those perfect winter days that are occasionally experienced in the latitude of the Cape Fear
The gale, which had backed around from the northeast to the southwest, had subsided the day before, and was followed by a dead calm.
The air was balmy for winter, and the sun shone with almost Indian summer warmth, and the deep blue sea was as calm as a lake and broke lazily on the bar and beach.
A grander sight than the approach of Porter
's formidable Armada towards the fort was never witnessed on our coast.
With the rising sun out of old ocean there came upon the horizion one after another, the vessels of the fleet, the grand frigates leading the van, followed by the iron-clads.
More than fifty men-of-war headed for the Confederate stronghold.
At 9 o'clock the men were beat to quarters, and silently the detachments stood by their guns.
On the vessels came, growing larger and more imposing as the distance lessened between them and the resolute men who had rallied to defend their homes.
,’ and ‘Wabash’ came
grandly on, floating fortresses, each mounting more guns than all the batteries on the land, and the two first combined carrying more shot and shell than all the magazines in the fort contained.
From the left salient to the mound Fort Fisher
had forty-four guns, and not over 3,600 shot and shell, exclusive of grape and shrapnel.
gun had only one dozen rounds of fixed ammunition, and no other projectile could be used in its delicate groves.
The order was given to fire no shot until the Columbiad at headquarters fired, and that each gun that bore on a vessel should be fired every thirty minutes, and not oftener except by special order, unless an attempt was made to cross the bar, when every gun bearing on it should be fired as rapidly as accuracy would permit, the smooth bores at richochette.
Before coming within range, the wooden ships slowed down and the great ironsides and three monitors slowly forged ahead, coming within less than a mile of the northeast salient, the other ships taking position to the right and left, the line extending more than a mile.
As the ironside took her position she ran out her starboard guns, a flash was seen from the forward one, then a puff of white smoke, a deep boom was heard and over our heads came an eleven inch shell, which I saw distinctly in its passage towards our flag staff, past which it exploded harmlessly with a sharp report.
The signal gun had been trailed to bear on an approaching frigate, and as I gave the command the landyard was jerked, and a ten-inch shot went bowling along, richochetted, and bounded through the smoke-stack of the ‘Susquehanna
This was the commencement of the most terrific bombardment from the fleet which war had ever witnessed.
Ship after ship discharged its broadsides, every description of deadly missile, from a three-inch rifle bolt to a fifteen-inch shell, flying wildly into and over the fort, until the garrison flagstaff was shattered.
Most of the firing seemed directed towards it, and as it stood in the centre of the parade, all these bolts fell harmless as to human life, many of the shells, especially the rifle shots, going over the fort and into the river in the rear.
The dead calm, which prevailed in nature, caused thesmoke to hang around the hulls of the vessels, so enveloping them as to prevent the effect of the shots our gunners were allowed to fire from being seen.
It was two hours after the bombardment commenced before the flag was shot away, and in that time, although thousands of shot and shell
were hurled at us, I had heard of no casualty in the works.
For these two hours I had remained on the parapet of the sea face watching intently for any effort to cross the bar, and in all that time, only one shell had exploded near enough to endanger my life.
In the rear of the flag staff the wooden quarters of the garrison were situated, and these were soon set on fire by the bursting shells and more than one-half of them were consumed.
The day being balmy, most of the men had left their overcoats and blankets in their bunks, and these were consumed.
There was quite a quantity of naval stores, tar and pitch near these quarters, and they took fire and made an imposing bonfire in sympathy with the occasion.
As soon as the garrison flag was shot away, finding the shaft so split and shivered that it could not be raised, I sent word to Captain Munn
to raise the flag on the mound.
It seems that the halyards had got unreeved and it was necessary to climb the staff to fasten the flag.
Private Christopher C. Bland
, of Company K, Thirty-six North Carolina regiment, volunteered for the service, and climbed the staff under heavy fire and secured the battle flag to the masthead.
At once a terrific fire was poured on the mound, and the lower end of the flag having been cut loose, again, that heroic soldier repeated the daring act, amid the cheers of the garrison, and securely fastened the flag where it floated in triumph, although torn and rent by fragments of shell, until the victory was won. While this was being done, I went to the left salient and planted a company battle flag on the extreme left.
My two hours experience had taught me that the fleet would concentrate a heavy fire on it, and I wanted to put it where it would do the most good by causing the least harm.
For five hours this tremendous hail of shot and shell was poured upon the devoted works, but with little effect.
At 5:30 P. M. the fleet withdrew.
The fleet, to our surprise, made no effort to cross the bar and run by our guns.
One vessel inside would have ended the fight.
Our guns and work would have been taken in reverse.
The fort was built to prevent the passage of the bar, and remembering Mobile
and New Orleans, we did not regard the battle as seriously begun until the American
navy, with its accustomed dash, attempted the passage of the fort.
It was this that made me reserve my fire, for nothing tempted me to waste my short supply of ammunition, not even the glory of sinking one of the hostile fleet.
I rigidly carried out the
thirty-minute rule, except when some vessel would be unusually impudent and spiteful, and I would personally direct several guns to bear on her and fire until she had apparently received a merited punishment.
During the whole day, in answer to at least 10,000 shots, I only fired 672 projectiles.
It was this deliberation which gave the fleet the false idea that they had silenced our guns, and the fact that on this day I took care to fire the last shot as they were withdrawing, did not disabuse their minds of this erroneous idea.
Not a detachment was driven from a gun chamber.
In the first day's fight I had about one-half of the quarters burned, three gun carriages disabled, a light artillery caisson exploded, large quantities of the earthwork torn and plowed up, with some revetments broken and splintered, but not a single bomb-proof or a magazine injured.
Only twenty-three men wounded-one mortally, three seriously, and nineteen slightly.
Never since the invention of gunpowder was there so much of it harmlessly expended as in the first day's attack on Fort Fisher
All was quiet during the night, but next morning, Christmas Day, about 10 o'clock, the great fleet again moved in towards the fort, being reinforced by another monitor and some additional wooden ships of war. At half-past 10 o'clock the Ironsides
opened and the fleet commenced an incessant bombardment, if possible more noisy and furious than that of the preceding day. About 2 o'clock several of the frigates came up to the bar and lowered boats, apparently to sound the entrance, but a heavy fire was immediately directed against them and they were promptly driven out. At 3:30 a very gallant attempt was made by a number of barges to sound the Carolina
shoals, south of the mound.
A few shots from Battery Buchanan, the naval battery in my command, first cut the flag from a barge and then cut the barge in two, causing the remainder after rescuing their comrades to retreat rapidly.
My two seven-inch Brooke
rifles both exploded in the afternoon of this day. Being manned by a detachment of sailors and situated opposite to the bar, I had given the officer in charge discretion to fire upon the vessels which had approached the bar, and his fire had been more rapid than from any other guns, and with the disastrous result of explosion, which unfortunately wounded a number of men.
Strange as it may appear, no attempt to pass the fort was made by any of the fleet, and none except the armored vessels came within a
mile of our heaviest guns.
Whether the smoke obscured the fort or the gunners were untrained, it is equally hard to account for the wild firing of these two days. If they had tried to miss the guns on the sea face they could not have succeeded better, no gun or carriage on that face being injured by the fire of the fleet; the only guns disabled being the two Brooke
rifles which exploded.
All the disabled guns were on the land face, which was enfiladed by the fleet as well as subjected to the direct fire of the armored ships, which came within a half mile of the fort.
With the exception of the Brooke
battery and some special firing on some vessels, the firing of the fort was slower and more deliberate than on the previous day, only 600 shot and shell being expended.
The temptation to concentrate the whole of the available fire of the fort on a single frigate and drive her out and destroy her was very great, as I found that the garrison were disappointed at having no such trophy for the first day's engagement, but I had a limited supply of ammunition and did not know when it could be replenished.
Already, on the first day, I had expended nearly one-sixth of my supplies in merely keeping the men in heart by an occasional shot.
I could easily have fired every shot and shell away the first day. Admiral Porter
expended nearly all of his ammunition in the two days bombardment.
fired 1,982 shots and the Colorado
1,559 shots, a total for these two frigates of 3,551, about as many as we had in all the batteries of Fort Fisher
On both days I fired the last gun to let our naval visitors know that we had another shot left in the locker.
In the bombardment of the second day the most of the remaining quarters were destroyed, more of the earthworks were displaced, but none seriously damaged, and five guns were disabled by the enemy.
The greatest penetration noticed (from fifteen-inch shell) was five feet perpendicularly.
During the day a large fleet of transports were seen up the beach, and the enemy landed a large force at Battery Anderson, three miles up the beach.
At half-past 4 P. M., sharpshooters were seen on our left flank, and they fired upon our gunners from the old quarters across the causeway and killed a young courier, who had been, without my knowledge, sent out of the fort, and captured his horse.
I had two pieces of artillery run out of the sally port, and a few discharges of canister stopped the annoyance.
At this time, on the 25th, my effective force had been increased to 921 regulars and 450 junior reserves, total 1,371.
At 5:30 P. M. a most furious enfilading fire against the land face and palisade line commenced—certainly never surpassed in warfare— 130 shot and shell per minute—more than two every second.
I ordered my men to protect themselves behind the traverses, and removed all extra men from the chambers, with the order, the moment the firing stopped to rally to the ramparts without further orders.
As soon as this fire commenced I saw a heavy line of skirmishers advancing on our works.
Just as the naval fire ceased the guns were manned, and I opened with grape and canister, and as it was becoming too dark to see the advance from the ramparts, threw 800 men and boys behind the palisades, which had been scarcely injured.
I never shall forget the gallant youths whom I rallied that night to meet the enemy.
I had ordered all to man the parapets as soon as the naval fire ceased, as I supposed it would be followed by an assault.
I thought the junior reserves were coming up too slowly, and I called out rather impatiently, ‘Don't be cowards, boys,’ when one manly little officer rushed over the work, followed by his companions, shouting, ‘We are no cowards, Colonel
,’ and manned the palisades.
I ordered them not to fire until the enemy were within a few feet of the palisades, but the whistle of bullets from Butler
's skirmish line so excited them that in spite of my orders they kept up a fusilade until the enemy retired.
I was determined to meet the enemy at the palisade, feeling confident the few who would reach it would easily be captured or repulsed.
I had the land guns, heavy and light, manned, with orders to fire grape and cannister whenever they saw an advance in force, and the operators stood ready upon my order to explode some of the sub-terra torpedoes.
I stood upon the parapet to the left of the centre sally port, after giving directions in person to the officers on the land front.
The fleet had ceased, except an occasional shell from the ironclads down this face.
The Federal sharpshooters were firing wildly in the darkness at our ramparts, but the bullets which were few and far between, went harmlessly over our heads.
My plan was to open with grape and canister on the assaulting column, and when its front reached the palisade, to open the infantry fire, and explode a line of torpedoes in their rear to stop the reinforcing line.
I am confident that this would have resulted in a repulse of the main body and the capture of the first line.
, with wise discretion, determined not to assault.
There were not enough Federal troops landed to
have stormed our palisade that Christmas
If the assaulting column could have reached the comparatively uninjured palisades through the fire of cannister and grape, the explosion and infantry fire would have resulted in their capture or destruction.
My only uneasiness was from a boat attack in the rear, between the mound and battery Buchanan, where a thousand sailors and marines could have landed with little opposition at that time, and attacked us in the rear.
About 3 o'clock A. M., it was reported that such an advance was being made, and I sent Major Reilly
, with two companies, to repulse them, following shortly after in person with a third company to reinforce him. A heavy rain and windstorm had arisen at midnight, and if such a movement was contemplated, it was abandoned.
Two prisoners from the One Hundred and Forty-second New York were captured in our front at night, and next morning a number of new graves were seen on the beach, and an officer's sword and some small arms were found.
Our casualties for the second day were: killed, 3; wounded, mortally, 2; severely, 7; slightly, 26.
Total for the two days, 3 killed and 61 wounded.
Just before the close of the first day's bombardment, General Whiting
and staff came into the fort and remained until the enemy departed.
His presence was encouraging to the officers and men, who were devoted to him, and his disregard of danger inspired the men with courage to stand by their guns under the terrific fire of the fleet.
It is remarkable what a mistaken idea Admiral Porter
and many of the commanders in his fleet had of the condition of the fort after the first attack.
They claimed to have silenced the guns of the fort and that a few hundred men could have taken it on Christmas night. Captain Alden
, of the ‘Brooklyn
,’ voiced this impression when, in his official report, he said:
‘The rebels I am satisfied considered from the moment that our troops obtained a footing on the shore, the work (battered as it was) was untenable and were merely waiting for some one to come and take it,’ and that if the troops had not been recalled ‘they would have been in it before dark and in quiet possession without firing a shot.’
I know that they could not have captured Fort Fisher
, and I agree with General Whiting
, that but for the supineness of General Bragg
, the 3,500 men who were landed would have been captured on Christmas night, and it is incomprehensible why he should have allowed the 700
demoralized troops who were forced to remain on the beach on the night of the 26th of December to escape unmolested.
was severely criticised and retired from active service, because he failed to capture the works.
For this he had himself to blame to a great extent.
On the evening of December 25th, without waiting for official reports, he listened to camp gossip and wrote as follows to Admiral Porter
: ‘General Weitzel
advanced his skirmish line within fifty yards of the Fort
, while the garrison was kept in their bomb-proofs by the fire of the navy, and so closely that three or four men of the picket line ventured upon the parapet and through the sally port of the work, capturing a horse which they brought off, killing the orderly, who was a bearer of a dispatch from the Chief of Artillery
of General Whiting
, to bring a light battery within the fort, and also brought away from the parapet the flag of the fort.’
This absurd statement was sent North, has been given a lodgment in current history, and is repeated in General Grant
's ‘Memoirs,’ although General Butler
corrected the error in his official report.
No Federal soldier entered Fort Fisher
during this attack except as a prisoner.
The courier was sent out of the fort without my knowledge; was killed and his horse captured within the enemy's lines The flag captured was a company flag which I had placed on the extreme left of the work, and it was carried away and thrown off the parapet by an enfilading shot from the navy.
The garrison of Fort Fisher
was composed altogether of North Carolinians.
After the repulse of the enemy, although some important guns were destroyed by the bombardment and by the explosion, very little was done to repair damages.
Requisitions were made for additional ammunition, especially for hand grenades to repulse assault, but it was impossible to obtain what was needed.
Application was made for the placing of marine torpedoes where the ironclads had anchored and whither they returned, but no such provision was made.
Although it was known that the fleet would return, General Bragg
withdrew the supporting army from Sugar Loaf
and marched it to a camp sixteen miles distant, and there had a grand review.
The fort was not even advised of the approach of the fleet, but its arrival was reported from Fort Fisher
to headquarters in Wilmington
At night, on January 12, 1865, I saw from the ramparts of the fort the lights of the great armada, as one after another appeared above
I commenced at once to prepare for action.
I had in the works but 800 men, the Thirty-sixth North Carolina regiment, at least 100 of whom were unfit for duty.
Daylight disclosed the return of the most formidable fleet that ever floated on the sea, supplemented by transports carrying 8,500 men, and soon there rained upon fort and beach a storm of shot and shell which caused both earth and sea to tremble.
I had telegraphed for reinforcements and during the day and night following, about 700 men arrived, companies of North Carolina
, light and heavy artillery, and a detachment of fifty sailors and marines of the Confederate States
Navy, giving me 1,500 all told up to the morning of January 15th, including sick and slightly wounded.
Friday the 13th, in the midst of the bombardment, General Whiting
and his staff arrived.
They walked from Battery Buchanan, and the General
came to me and said, ‘Lamb
, my boy, I have come to share your fate.
You and your garrison are to be sacrificed.’
I replied, ‘Don't say so, General; we shall certainly whip the enemy again.’
He then told me that when he left Wilmington General Bragg
was hastily removing his stores and ammunition, and was looking for a place to fall back upon.
I offered him the command which he refused, saying he would counsel and advise, but leave me to conduct the defense.
In the former bombardment the fire of the fleet had been diffuse, at least one-third of the missiles fell in the river beyond the fort, but now the fire was concentrated, the object being the destruction of the land face by enfilade and direct fire.
When attacked in December I had for the forty-four guns and three mortars in the works, about 3,600 shot and shell, and in that fight we had fired 1,272 shot and shell, leaving about 2,328, exclusive of grape and shrapnell, to resist the assaults by sea and land.
The same slow and deliberate firing was ordered as in the previous battle, as no attempt was made by the ships to run past the fort and into the river.
Occasionally a vessel would come close in towards the bar, when the guns of the several batteries would be concentrated upon her and she would quickly withdraw before being seriously injured.
All day and night on the 13th and 14th of January the fleet kept up a ceaseless and terrific bombardment.
It was impossible to repair damages on the land face at night, for the ironsides and monitors bowled their eleven and fifteen-inch shells along its parapet, scattering
shrapnel in the darkness.
No meals could be prepared for the exhausted garrison; we could scarcely bury our dead without fresh casualties.
Fully 200 of my men had been killed and wounded in the first two days of the fight.
Not more than three or four of my land guns were serviceable.
The Federal army had been slowly approaching on the river side during the day, but they were so covered by the river bank that we could only surmise their number.
They had passed my cottage at Craig
's landing, and occupied the redoubt about half a mile from our left salient.
We fired occasionally at their approaching columns, but at fearful cost, as it drew upon the gunners the fury of the fleet.
Early in the afternoon of the 14th I saw the ‘Isaac Wells
,’ a steam transport loaded with stores, approach Craig
's landing, which was in the enemy's lines.
We fired at her to warn her off, but on she came, falling an easy captive to the foe. The Confederate steamer Chickamauga
seeing her stupid surrender fired into and sunk her. This incident gave me the first intimation that General Bragg
was shamefully ignorant of and indifferent to the situation of affairs.
From the conformation of the Cape Fear river
, General Bragg
could have passed safely from his headquarters at Sugar Loaf
, and with a field glass have seen everything transpiring on the beach and in the fort, and in person or through an aide, with the steamers at his command, could have watched every movement of the enemy, and yet thirty-six hours after the battle had begun, and long after Craig's Landing had been in the possession of the enemy, he sends into the enemy's lines a steamer filled with needed stores that could have gone at night to Battery Buchanan unseen, and in the day with comparative safety.
There was a telegraphic and signal communication between Fort Fisher
's headquarters, and I got General Whiting
to telegraph him to attack the enemy under cover of night when the fleet could not co-operate, and that we would do the same from the fort, and as our combined force nearly equalled them in numbers, and my garrison was familiar with the beach at night, we could capture a portion if not the whole of the force.
Strange to say, no response of any kind came.
I had ten companies ready for a sortie, and threw out skirmishers who discovered the position of the enemy in our front.
We waited in vain for General Bragg
to avail himself of this opportunity to demoralize if not capture the beseiging forces, and just before daylight our skirmishers returned to the fort.
On the morning of the 15th, the fleet, which had not ceased firing during the night, redoubled its fire on the land face.
The sea was smooth, and the navy having become accurate from practice, by noon had destroyed every gun on that face except one Columbiad, which was somewhat protected by the angle formed by the northeast salient.
The palisade had been practically destroyed as a defensive line and was so torn up that it actually afforded cover for the assailants.
The harvest of wounded and dead was hourly increasing, and at that time I had not 1,200 effective men to defend the long line of works.
The enemy were now preparing to assault, their skirmish lines were digging rifle pits close to our torpedo lines on the left, and their columns on the river shore were massing for the attack, while sharpshooters were firing upon every head that showed itself upon our front.
Despite the imminent danger to the gunners, I ordered the two Napoleons at the central sally port and the Napoleon
on the left to fire grape and canister upon the advancing skirmish line.
They fearlessly obeyed, but at a sad sacrifice in killed and wounded.
At the same time on the ocean side a column of sailors and marines, two thousand strong, were approaching, throwing up slight trenches to protect their advance.
On these, we brought to bear our single heavy gun on the land face and the two guns on the mound.
Shortly after noon, General Bragg
's South Carolina brigade, consisting of four regiments and one battalion, about one thousand strong, under Colonel Graham
, from Sugar Loaf
by the river to reinforce the fort, landing them near Battery Buchanan.
The fleet, seeing the steamer landing troops, directed a portion of their fire towards her, and although she was not struck and we believe no casualties occured, after landing a portion of the men (two of the regiments) ingloriously steamed off with the remainder.
Never was there a more stupid blunder committed by a commanding general.
If this fresh brigade had been sent to this point the night before, they could have reached the fort unobserved, could have been protected until needed, and could have easily repulsed the assault by the army on our left; but landed in view of the fleet they had to double quick over an open beach to the mound under a heavy fire.
When they reached the fort, 350 in number, they were out of breath, disorganized, and more or less demoralized.
They reached our front about thirty minutes before the attacking columns came like avalanches on our right and left.
I sent them into an old commissary bomb-proof to recover breath.
My headquarters during the fight were at the Pulpit battery on the sea face, 100 yards from the northeast salient, which commanded the best view of the works and their approaches by sea and land.
At 2:30, as I was returning from another battery, one of my lookouts called to me. ‘Colonel
, the enemy are about to charge.’
I informed General Whiting
, who was near, and at my request he immediately telegraphed General Bragg
at Sugar Loaf
‘The enemy are about to assault; they outnumber us heavily.
We are just manning our parapets.
Fleet have extended down the sea front side and are firing very heavily.
Enemy on the beach in front of us in very heavy force, not more than 700 yards from us. Nearly all land guns disabled.
Attack! Attack! It is all I can say, and all you can do.’
I passed hurriedly down in rear of the land face and through the galleries, and although the fire of the fleet was still terrific, I knew it would soon cease, and I ordered additional sharpshooters to the gun chambers to pick off the officers in the assaulting columns, and directed the battery commanders to rush with their men upon the parapets as soon as the firing stopped and drive the assailants back.
I determined to allow the assailants to reach the berme of the work before exploding a line of torpedoes, believing it would enable us to kill or capture their first line, while destroying or demoralizing their supports.
I had not reached headquarters when the naval bombardment ceased, and instantly the steam whistles of the vast fleet sounded a charge.
It was a soul-stirring signal both to the beseigers and the beseiged.
I ordered my aide, Captain Charles H. Blocker
, to double-quick the Twenty-first and Twenty-fifth South Carolina to reinforce Major Reilly
, who was in command of the left, while I rallied to the right of the land face some 500 of the garrison, placing the larger portion of them on top of the parapet of and adjoining the northeast salient.
There were at least 250 men defending the left, and with the 350 South Carolinians ordered there and the Napoleon
and torpedoes, I had no fears about the successful defense of that portion of the work.
The assaulting line on the right, consisting of 2,000 sailors and marines, was directed at the northeast salient at the intersection of the land and sea faces, and the greater proportion had flanked the torpedoes by keeping close to the sea. Ordering the two Napoleons
at the sally port to join the Columbiad in pouring grape and canister into their ranks, I held in reserve the infantry fire.
stood upon the parapet inspiring those around him. The sailors and marines reached the berme and some sprang up the slope, but a murderous fire greeted them and swept them down.
Volley after volley was poured into their faltering ranks by cool, determined men, and in half an hour several hundred dead and wounded lay at the foot of the bastion.
The heroic bravery of their officers, twenty-one of whom were killed and wounded, could not restrain the men from panic and retreat, and with small loss to ourselves, we witnessed what had never been seen before, a disorderly rout of American sailors and marines.
But it was a Pyrrhus victory.
That magnificent charge of the American
navy upon the centre of our works, enabled the army to effect a lodgment on our left with comparatively small loss.
As our shouts of triumph went up at the retreat of the naval forces, I turned to look at our left and saw, to my amazement, several Federal battle flags upon our ramparts.
saw them at the same moment, and calling on those around him to pull down those flags and drive the enemy from the works, rushed towards them, followed by the men on the parapet.
It was in this charge that the fearless Lieutenant Williford
In order to make an immediate reconnoissance of the position of the enemy, I rushed through the sally port and outside the work, and witnessed a fierce hand to hand conflict for the possession of the fourth gun chamber from the left bastion.
The men, led by the fearless Whiting
, had driven the standard-bearer from the top of the traverse and the enemy from the parapet in front.
They had recovered one gun chamber with great slaughter, and on the parapet and on the long traverse of the next gun chamber the contestants were savagely firing into each others faces, and in some cases clubbing with their guns, being too close to load and fire.
was quickly wounded by two shots, and had to be carried to the hospital.
I saw that my men were not only exposed to the fire from the front, but to a galling infantry fire from the left salient which had been captured.
I saw the enemy pouring in by the river road apparently without resistance.
I doubt if ever before the commander of a work went outside and looked upon the conflict for its possession, but from the construction of the fort it was absolutely necessary for me to do so in order to quickly comprehend the position of affairs, and I was
concealed from that portion of the army not too hotly engaged to notice me, by remnants of the palisade.
Ordering Captain Adams
, who was at the entrance of the sally port, to turn his Napoleons on the column moving into the fort, I re-entered the work and rallying the men, placed them behind every cover that could be found, and poured at close range a deadlier fire into the flank of the enemy occupying the gun chambers and traverses than they were able to deliver upon my men from the left salient.
While thus engaged I was informed by my aide, Captain Blocker
, that the South Carolinians had failed to obey my order, although their officers pleaded with them, and only a few had followed their flag and gone to the front; that the assaulting column had made two charges upon the extreme left, and had been repulsed; that the torpedo wires had been destroyed by the fire of the fleet, and the electrician had tried in vain to execute my orders to explode the mines when the enemy reached the foot of the works; that driven from the extreme left, the enemy had found a weak defence between the left bastion and the sally port in their third charge, and had gained the parapet, and capturing two gun chambers, had attacked the force on the left on their flank simultaneously with a direct charge of another brigade, and that our men, after great slaughter, had been compelled to surrender just as we had repulsed the naval column; that to add to the discomfiture of the Confederates
, as soon as the Federal
battle flags appeared on the ramparts Battery Buchanan had opened with its two heavy guns on the left of the work, killing and wounding friend and foe alike.
This was rather disheartening, but I replied if we could hold the enemy in check until dark, I could drive them out, and I sent a telegram by him to General Bragg
, imploring him to attack, and that I could still save the fort.
While I shall ever believe, that if my order to man the parapet had been obeyed all along the line on the left, the assaulting column would have been repulsed until I could have reinforced my men, and I would have been able to hold the fort on that fatal Sunday afternoon, yet General Bragg
in his official report does gross injustice when he says: ‘The army column preceded by a single regiment approached along the river and entered the work on that flank almost unopposed.’
says in his report that one hundred sharpshooters with Spencer
repeating carbines were sent forward to within seventy-five yards of the work and dug pits for their
shelter, and ‘as soon as this movement commenced, the parapet of the fort was manned and the enemy's fire both musketry and artillery opened.’
The assaulting column consisted not of a regiment, but of Curtis
' brigade, supported closely by two other brigades, a total of not less than 5,000 troops.
The enemy were unable to enter by the river road, and some of the most desperate fighting done in the work was in the space between the left bastion and the river shore.
Judge Z. F. Fulmore
, of Austin, Texas
, who proved himself a young hero in the fight, wrote me in 1883: ‘Company D, First battalion North Carolina Artillery, Captain McCormic
, was the company in the extreme left of the fort, occupyiug the space on both sides of the Napoleon
, and although protected only by a shallow ditch and the remnants of a palisade, successfully repulsed every charge made by Curtis
' brigade in front, and compelled the charging columns to abandon this usually travelled but unprotected entrance to the fort and to go off to the right, to climb the high parapets in order to get into the fort, some fifty yards to the right and back of us. The portion of Company D, which was stationed to the right of the Napoleon
saw the breaking of our lines to the right in time to retreat behind the parapet, but that portion of the company on the left some fifteen or twenty in number, stood their ground until Pennybacker
's charging columns commenced their slaughter from the rear.
Four of this company were killed at the Napoleon
There was another piece, however, a Parrott gun, just on the edge of the river which we used once or twice very effectively in blowing to atoms a bridge on the main road into the fort, some two hundred feet in the front of the gate.
At the first charge the boys at the Napoleon
made a shot which cleared that road and caused many to take refuge under that bridge, and I was told by the officers in charge of us after our capture, that the destruction of that bridge impressed the Federals
that its was one of the many mines exploded and to be exploded under them, and the officers couldn't charge the soldiers any further down that road on account of it. On the afternoon of the day of the last fight my recollection is that there were eleven men killed and seventeen wounded in Company B, during the three charges, and if successfully defending the most defenceless spot in all Fort Fisher
' brigade and only surrendering after being completely surrounded by another brigade, isn't pretty good evidence of true soldiery, I would be glad to see a specimen of it.’
did not mention that before his company took charge of this Napoleon
the original detachment from Adams
' battery had lost three of its gunners killed and two seriously wounded, not leaving men enough to man it. Seven men killed at one field piece by sharpshooters in thirty minutes, and many wounded, and the gun not surrendered until after surrounded by a brigade, should have paralyzed the arm of that North Carolinian who, in the ‘Last ninety days of the war,’ said ‘that no resistance was made, and the conduct of the garrison had been disgraceful.’
A number of those who were captured on the left have told me that when they were marched out of the fort as prisoners, they saw their front thickly strewn with dead and wounded Federals.
General N. M. Curtis
, the fearless hero who lead the assaulting columns of the army, informed me in 1888, that he saw a portion of the parapet joining the left salient unmanned, and it was at this point he succeeded in making a lodgment, and that if he had been stoutly resisted from the top of the parapet he could not have then succeeded.
The guns immediately to the right of Shepherd
's battery were manned by some of my bravest officers and men, but the fatal mistake of the commander was fighting from behind the revetment instead of from the top of the parapet, as ordered.
Only two of the men mounted the parapet, and they were instantly shot down.
One was Bob Harvey
, a recklessly brave boy, the last male member of an old family of Bladen county
I have been unable to learn the name of his heroic companion.
From behind the revetments these gallant men poured a destructive fire on the assailants as they reached the parapet, and the enemy fell thick and fast in their front, but they were too few to load and fire in time to stop the ever increasing column, and soon the assailants were firing down upon them, and they were forced to surrender, although refusing at first to do so. Had they been on top of the parapet they could have used their bayonets or clubbed their guns, and thus delayed a lodgment until reinforcements came.
In justice to Major Reilly
and the officers on the left, it must be remembered that it is usual, in the defense of a fort and breastworks, to cover the men and fire upon the assailants from behind the works, but Fort Fisher
was built to stand a naval bombardment, and the magnitude of the work and great width of parapet gave opportunity for an assaulting column to protect itself under cover of its outer slope, and I knew that my only hope of repelling greatly superior
numbers was to man the palisades, as in the first battle, or in their absence, being destroyed by the fleet, to man the top of the parapet and fire down upon the assaulting columns.
Notwithstanding the capture of a portion of the work and several hundred of the garrison, the Confederates
were still undaunted, and seemed determined to recover the captured salient and gun chambers.
We had retaken one of these in the charge led by Whiting
, and since we had opened on their flank, we had shot down their standard bearers, and the Federal
battle-flags had disappeared from our ramparts; we had become assailants and the enemy were on the defensive, and I felt confident that we would soon drive them out of the fort.
Just as the tide of battle seemed to have turned in our favor, the remorseless fleet came to the rescue of the faltering Federals.
Suddenly the bombardment, which had been confined to the sea face during the assaults, turned again on our land front, and with deadly precision.
The iron-clads and frigates drove in our two Napoleons, killing and wounding nearly all the men at these guns, which had been doing effective service at the entrance to the sally port.
They swept the recaptured gun chamber of its defenders, and their and 15-inch shells rolled down into the interior of the work, carrying death and destruction in their pathways.
They drove from the parapets in front of the enemy all of my men except those so near that to have fired on them would have been slaughter to their own troops.
Nor was this all. We had now to contend with a column advancing around the rear of the left bastion by the river into the interior plane of the fort.
It moved slowly and cautiously, apparently in column of companies and in close order.
I met it with an effective infantry fire, my men using the remains of an old work as a breastwork, and taking advantage of every object that would offer cover, for we were now greatly outnumbered.
The fire was so unexpected and so destructive, combined with the shells from Battery Buchanan, on the massed columns of the Federals
, that they halted, when a quick advance would have overwhelmed us. Giving orders to dispute stubbornly any advance, I went rapidly down the seaface, and turned the two mound guns and two Columbiads on this column in the fort.
Unfortunately these were the only ones available.
I brought back with me to the front every man except a single detachment for each gun. On my return I found the fighting still continuing
over the same traverse for the possession of the gun chamber, despite the fire of the fleet.
As the men would fall, others would take their places.
It was a soldiers fight at that point, for there could be no organization; the officers on both sides were loading and firing with their men. If there ever was a longer or more desperate hand-to-hand fight during the war, I have never heard of it. The Federal column inside had not advanced a foot, and seemed demoralized by the fire of the artillery and the determined resistance of the garrison.
More than a hundred of my men had come with me, and I threw them in front with those already engaged.
Going to the South Carolinians, who were in a position to flank the enemy, I appealed to them to rally and help save the fort.
I went to the sally port and had Adams
' two Napoleons brought out and manned, and opened on the enemy.
I went along the galleries and begged the sick and slightly wounded to come out and make one supreme effort to dislodge the enemy; as I passed through portions of the work, the scene was indescribably horrible.
Great cannon broken in two, their carriages wrecked, and among their ruins the mutilated bodies of my dead and dying comrades.
Still no tidings from Bragg
The enemy's advance had ceased entirely, protected by the fleet they still held the parapet and gun chambers on the left, but their massed columns refused to move, while those in the rear, near the river, commenced entrenching against any assault from us. I believed a determined assault with the bayonet would drive them out. I had sent word to our gunners not to fire on our men if we become closely engaged with the enemy.
The head of the column was not over a hundred feet from the portion of our breastwork where I stood, and I could see their faces distinctly, while my men were falling on either side of me.
I passed quickly down the rear of the line, and asked officers and men if they would follow me. They all responded fearlessly that they would.
I returned to my position, and giving the order ‘charge bayonets,’ sprang upon the breastwork, waved my sword, and, as I gave the command, ‘forward, double quick, march!’
fell on my knees, a rifle ball having entered my hip. The brave Lieutenant Daniel R. Perry
fell mortally wounded by my side.
We were met by a heavy volley aimed too high to be very effective, but our column wavered and fell back behind the breastworks.
A soldier raised me up, and I turned the command over to Captain Munn
, who was
near me, and told him to keep the enemy in check, and that as soon as my wound was bandaged I would return.
Before reaching the hospital I was so weak from the loss of blood that I realized I could never lead my men again.
In the hospital I met General Whiting
, suffering uncomplainingly from his wounds.
He told me that General Bragg
had ignored his presence in the fort, and had not noticed his messages.
Perceiving the fire of the garrison had slackened, I sent my adjutant, John N. Kelly
, for Major James Reilly
, next in command (Major Stevenson
, who died shortly after in prison, being too ill for duty). Reilly
came and promised me that he would continue the fight as long as it was possible, and nobly did he keep his promise.
I again sent a message to Bragg
begging him to come to the rescue.
Shortly after my fall the Federals
made an advance and capturing several more of the gun chambers, reached the sally-port.
The column in the work advanced and was rapidly gaining ground when Major Reilly
, rallying the men, including the South Carolinians, drove them back with heavy loss.
About 8 o'clock my aide came to me and said the supply of ammunition was exhausted, and that Chaplain McKinnon
and others had gathered all from the dead and wounded and distributed it; that the enemy had possession of nearly all the land face, and it was impossible to hold out much longer, and suggested that it would be wise to surrender, as a further struggle would be a useless sacrifice of life.
I replied that while I lived I would not surrender, as Bragg
would surely come to our rescue in time to save us. General Whiting
declared if I died he would assume command and would not surrender.
I have been blamed for unnecessarily prolonging the fight, but when it is remembered that I had promised the noble women of Wilmington
who had visited the fort after our Christmas
victory that their homes should be protected by my garrison, and that General Lee
had sent word that if the fort fell he could not maintain his army (and that meant the loss of our cause), is it to be wondered that I felt it my sacred duty, even after I was shot down, to appeal to officers and men to fight in defence of the last gateway to the South
, as long as there was a ray of hope?
I had a right to believe that the troops which General Lee
sent to our assistance would rescue us, and if Bragg
had ordered Hoke
to assault with his division late that afternoon we would have recovered
I have positive information that so determined was our resistance that General Terry
sent word to General Ames
, commanding the three brigades assaulting us, to make one more effort and if unsuccessful to retire.
, who commanded a brigade, and who lived in North Carolina
after the war, told Captain Braddy
that at one time during our fight only one colored brigade held Bragg
's army in check, and they were so demoralized that five hundred veteran troops could have captured them.
But an all-wise Providence decreed that our gallant garrison should be overwhelmed.
In less than an hour after I refused to surrender, a fourth brigade (three were already in the fort) entered the sally-port and swept the defenders from the remainder of the land face.
had General Whiting
and myself hurriedly removed on stretchers to Battery Buchanan, where he proposed to cover his retreat.
When we left the hospital the men were fighting over the adjoining traverse, and the spent balls fell like hail-stones around us. The remnant of the garrison then fell back in an orderly retreat along the sea face, the rear guard keeping the enemy engaged as they advanced slowly and cautiously in the darkness as far as the Mound Battery, where they halted.
Some of the men, cut off from the main body, had to retreat as best they could over the river marsh, while some few unarmed artillerists barely eluded the enemy by following the seashore.
When we reached Battery Buchanan there was a mile of level beach between us and our pursuers, swept by two eleven-inch guns and a twenty-four pounder, and in close proximity to the battery, a commodious wharf where transports could have come at night in safety to carry us off.
We expected with this battery to cover the retreat of our troops, but we found the guns spiked and every means of transportion taken by Captain R. F. Chapman
, of our navy, who, following the example of General Bragg
, had abandoned us to our fate.
The enemy threw out a heavy skirmish line and sent their Fourth Brigade to Battery Buchanan, where it arrived about 10 P. M., and received the surrender of the garrison from Major James H. Hill
and Lieutenant George D. Parker
Some fifteen minutes before the surrender, while lying on a stretcher near General Whiting
, outside of the battery, witnessing the grand pyrotechnic display of the fleet over the capture of Fort Fisher
, I was accosted by General A. H. Colquitt
, who had been ordered to the fort to take command.
I had a few minutes hurried
conversation with him, informed him of the assault, of the early loss of a portion of the work and garrison, and that when I fell it had for a time demoralized the men, but that the enemy were demoralized by our unexpected resistance, and I assured him that if Bragg
would even then attack, a fresh brigade landed at Battery Buchanan could retake the work.
It was suggested that the General
should take me with him, as I was probably fatally wounded, but I refused to leave, wishing to share the fate of my garrison, and desiring that my precious wife, anxiously awaiting tidings across the river, where she had watched the battle, should not be alarmed, spoke lightly of my wound.
I asked him to carry General Whiting
to a place of safety, as he came a volunteer to the fort.
Just then the near approach of the enemy was reported and Colquitt
made a precipitate retreat, leaving our beloved Whiting
a captive, to die in a Northern prison.
One more distressing scene remains to be chronicled.
The next morning after sunrise a frightful explosion occurred.
My large reserve magazine, which my ordnance officer, Captain J. C. Little
, informed me contained some 13,000 pounds of powder, blew up, killing and wounding more than a hundred of the enemy and some of my own wounded officers and men. It was an artificial mound, covered with luxuriant turf, a most inviting bivouac for wearied soldiers.
Upon it were resting Colonel Alden
's Hundred and Sixty-ninth New York regiment, and in its galleries were some of my suffering soldiers.
Two sailors from the fleet, stupified with liquor, looking for plunder, were seen to enter the structure with lights, and a few minutes after the explosion occurred.
The telegraph wires, between a bomb-proof near this magazine across the river to Battery Lamb, gave rise to the impression that the Confederates
had caused the explosion, but an official investigation traced it to these drunken sailors.
So stoutly did our works resist the 50,000 shot and shell thrown against them in the two bombardments, that not a magazine or bombproof was injured, and after the land armament with palisades and torpedoes had been destroyed, no assault could have succeeded in the presence of Bragg
's force, had it been under a competent officer.
Had there been no fleet to assist the army at Fort Fisher
, the Federal infantry could not have assaulted it until its land defences had been destroyed by gradual approaches.
For the first time in the history of sieges, the land defences of the work were destroyed, not by any act of the besieging party, which
looked on in safety, but by the concentrated fire, direct and enfilading, of an immense fleet, poured upon them for three days and two nights without intermission until the guns were dismounted, torpedo wires cut, palisades breached, so that they afforded cover for assailants, and the slopes of the work rendered practicable for assault.
I had half of a mile of land face and one mile of sea face to defend with 1,900 men, for that is all I had from first to last, in the last battle.
I have in my possession papers to prove this statement.
I know every company present and its strength.
This number included the killed, wounded and sick.
If the Federal
reports claim that our killed, wounded and prisoners showed more, it is because they credited my force with those captured outside the works, who were never under my command.
To capture Fort Fisher
the enemy lost, by their own statement, 1,445 killed, wounded and missing. Nineteen hundred Confederates with forty-four guns, contended against 10,000 men on shore and 600 heavy guns afloat, killing and wounding almost as many of the enemy as there were soldiers in the fort, and not surrendering until the last shot was expended.
When I recall this magnificent struggle, unsurpassed in ancient and modern warfare, and remember the devoted patriotism and heroic courage of my garrison, I feel proud to know that I have North Carolina
blood coursing through my veins, and I confidently believe that the time will come in the Old North State, when her people will regard the defence of Fort Fisher
as the grandest event in her historic past.