by its commander, William Lamb, Colonel, C. S. A.
The capture of Fort Fisher, N. C.
, on the 15th of January, 1865, was followed so quickly by the final dissolution of the Southern Confederacy that the great victory was not fully realized by the American
The position commanded the last gateway between the Confederate States
and the outside world.
[See outline map, p. 629; also map, p. 694.] Its capture, with the resulting loss of all the Cape Fear River
defenses, and of Wilmington
, the great importing depot of the South
, effectually ended all blockade-running.
sent me word that Fort Fisher
must be held, or he could not subsist his army.
The indentation of the Atlantic Ocean
in the Carolina coast
known as Onslow Bay
and the Cape Fear River
running south from Wilmington
form the peninsula known as Federal Point
, which, during the civil war, was called Confederate Point.
Not quite seven miles north of the end of this peninsula stood a high sand-hill called the “Sugar Loaf
Here there was an intrenched camp for the Army of Wilmington, under General Braxton Bragg
, the department commander, that was hid from the sea by forest and sand-hills.
From this intrenched camp the river bank, with a neighboring ridge of sand-dunes, formed a covered way for troops to within a hundred yards of the left salient of Fort Fisher
Between this road and the ocean beach was an arm of Masonboro' Sound, and where it ended, three miles north of the fort, were occasional fresh-water swamps, generally wooded with scrub growth, and in many places quite impassable.
Along the ocean shore was an occasional battery formed from a natural sand-hill, behind which Whitworth guns were carried from the fort to cover belated blockade-runners, or to protect more unfortunate ones that had been chased ashore.
About half a mile north of the fort there was a rise in the plain forming a hill some twenty feet above the tide on the river side, and on this was a redoubt commanding the approach to the fort by the river road.
Thus Nature, assisted by some slight engineering work, had given a defense to Confederate Point which would have enabled an efficient commander at the intrenched camp, cooperating with the garrison of Fort Fisher
, to have rendered the Point
untenable for a largely superior force at night when the covering fire of the Federal
navy could not distinguish between friend and foe. [See General Bragg
's statement, note, p. 654.]
At the land-face of Fort Fisher
, five miles from the intrenched camp, the peninsula was about half a mile wide.
This face commenced about a hundred.
feet from the river with a half bastion, and extended with a heavy curtain to a full bastion on the ocean side, where it joined the sea-face.1
The work was built to withstand the heaviest artillery fire.
There was no moat with scarp and counterscarp, so essential for defense 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 45°, 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 them with.
Between the gun-chambers, containing one or two guns each (there were twenty heavy guns on the land-face), there were heavy traverses, exceeding in size any known to engineers, 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.
Passageways penetrated the traverses in the interior of the work, forming additional bomb-proofs for the reliefs for the guns.
The sea-face for a hundred yards from the northeast bastion was of the same massive character as the land-face.
A crescent battery [see p. 649], intended for four guns, joined this.
It had been originally built of palmetto logs and tarred sand-bags and sand revetted with sod; but the logs had decayed, and it was converted into a hospital bomb-proof.
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 ricochet firing.
On this line was a bomb-proof electric battery connected with a system of submarine torpedoes.
Farther along, where the channel ran close to the beach, inside the bar, a mound battery 60 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 north-east bastion at the angle of the sea and land faces, and upon this line twenty-four heavy guns were mounted.
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, four guns, in the shape of an ellipse, commanding the inlet, its two 11-inch guns covering the approach by land.
It was garrisoned by a detachment from the Confederate States
An advanced redoubt with a 24-pounder was added after the attack by the forces under General Butler
and Admiral Porter
on Christmas, 1864.
A wharf for large steamers was in close proximity to these works.
Battery Buchanan was a citadel to which an overpowered garrison might retreat and with proper transportation be safely carried off at night, and to which ree nforcements could be sent under the cover of darkness.
Thus Fort Fisher
, being designed to withstand the heaviest bombardment, was extremely difficult to defend against assault after its guns were destroyed.
The soldiers in the gun-chambers could not see the approach in front for a hundred feet, and to repel assailants they had to leave all cover and stand upon the open parapet.
As a defense against infantry there was a system of sub-terra 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 sea-shore, 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 center, 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 rear of the land-face.
It was after a careful reconnoissance on December 25th, 1864, having drawn our fire by an advance of his skirmish-line to within 75 yards of the fort, that General Godfrey Weitzel
, finding the works substantially uninjured by the explosion of the powder-ship [see p. 655] and the two days terrific bombardment of Porter
's great armada, reported to Butler
that the fort could not be carried by assault.2
In the works on that afternoon were
Map of the naval and Military attacks on Fort Fisher, January 15, 1865, showing direction of fire of Union vessels: note.--the flag-ship Malvern (placed on the map behind the New Ironsides) had no fixed position. |
over 900 veteran troops and 450 junior reserves, reeinforced after dark by 60 sailors and marines.
As soon as the fire of the fleet ceased, the parapets were not only manned, but half the garrison was stationed outside the work behind the palisades.
There was no fear of an assault in front; what most disturbed the defenders was a possible landing from boats between the Mound Battery and Battery Buchanan. Admiral Porter
was as much to blame as General Butler
for the repulse.3
The garrison of Fort Fisher
was composed altogether of North Carolinians.
For two years and a half the force had been under my command, and in that time only two companies, temporarily there, were from outside the State
After the repulse of Butler
, although some important guns were destroyed by the bombardment and by explosion, little or nothing was done to repair damages or strengthen the armament of the work.
Requisitions were made for additional ammunition, especially for hand-grenades, to repel assault, but it was impossible to obtain what was needed.
Application was made for the placing of marine torpedoes where the iron-clads had anchored, and whither they returned, but no notice was taken of it. Although we heard on January 8th that the fleet had returned to Beaufort
, and we knew that Fort Fisher
was still its objective point, General Braxton Bragg
[see note, Vol.
III., p. 711] withdrew the supporting army from Sugar Loaf
and marched it to a camp sixteen miles distant, north
View of the land front from the Second traverse of the North-West salient.
From a photograph taken after the capture: the indentation of the palisades in the middle-ground marks the position of the sally-port.
Beyond is seen the North-east salient, overlooking the sea. |
, and there had a grand review.
The fort was not even advised of the coming of the fleet, which should have been seen off Masonboro' during the day; and its arrival was reported from Fort Fisher
to headquarters il Wilmington
The night of the 12th of January, from the ramparts of Fort Fisher
, I saw the great armada returning.
My mounted pickets had informed me of its coming.
I began at once to put my works in order for action.
I had but 800 men,--the 36th North Carolina,--at least 100 of whom were not fit for duty.
Sunrise the next morning revealed to us the most formidable armada the world had ever known, supplemented by transports carrying about 8500 troops.
Suddenly that long line of floating fortresses rained shot and shell, upon fort and beach and wooded hills, causing the very earth and sea to tremble.
I had telegraphed for reenforcements, and during the day and night following about 700 arrived,--companies of light and heavy artillery, North Carolina
troops, and some 50 sailors and marines of the Confederate States
navy,--giving me 1500, all told, up to the morning of January 15th, including the sick and slightly wounded.
On Friday, the 13th, in the midst of the bombardment, General W. H. C. Whiting
, the district commander, and his staff, arrived in the fort.
They had walked up from Battery Buchanan.
I did not know of their approach until the general came to me on the works and remarked, “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.4
I offered him the command, although he came unarmed and without orders; but he refused, saying he would counsel with me, but would leave me to conduct the defense.
In the former bombardment the fire of the fleet had been diffuse, not calculated to effect any particular damage, and so wild that at least one-third of the missiles fell in the river beyond the fort or in the bordering marshes; but now the fire was concentrated, and the definite object of the fleet was the destruction of the land defenses by enfilade and direct fire, and the ships took position accordingly.
When attacked in December, I had had for my 44 heavy guns and three mortars not over 3600 shot and shell; and for the most effective gun in the work, the 150-pounder Armstrong
, there were but 13 shells, and we had no other ammunition that could be used in it. The frigates Minnesota
each had an armament superior to ours, and these two vessels alone fired more shot and. shell at the works in the last attack than we had, all told or on hand, in both engagements.
During the time between the two expeditions we had begged for more ammunition, but
Interior view of the three traverses of the North-West salient, adjoining the River road.
[see map, P. 645.] from a photograph. |
none came except a few useless bolts designed for the Armstrong
gun. In the former fight we had fired 1272 shot and shell; leaving about 2328, exclusive of grape and shrapnel, to resist a passage of the ships and an assault by land.
I was obliged to husband my ammunition even more than in the previous battle, and therefore gave the same orders that each gun should be fired only once every half-hour until disabled or destroyed, except when special orders were given to concentrate on a particular vessel, or in case an attempt were made to cross the bar and run in, when every available gun should be used with all possible effectiveness.
It was this slow firing from the fort, at times not over forty-four guns in thirty minutes, compared to the naval fire of from one to two guns a second, that gave the navy the erroneous idea that they had silenced the fort.
But no attempt was made to run by the fort, which was a great surprise to us. Occasionally a wooden vessel, more daring than her consorts, would come close in, when the guns of several batteries would be concentrated upon her and she would be quickly withdrawn more or less injured.
All day and night on the 13th and 14th of January the navy continued its ceaseless torment; it was impossible to repair damages at night on the land-face.
and monitors bowled their eleven and fifteen inch shells along the parapet, scattering shrapnel in the darkness.
We could scarcely gather up and bury our dead without fresh casualties.
At least two hundred had been killed and wounded in the two days since the fight began.
Only three or four of my land guns were of any service.
The Federal army had been approaching on the river side during the day; but they were more or less covered by the formation of the land, and we could only surmise their number.
I had seen them pass Craig's Landing near my cottage and occupy the redoubt about half a mile from the fort.
We had fired some shot and shell at their approaching columns, but it was at a fearful cost of limb and life that a land gun was discharged; for to fire from that face was to draw upon the gunners the fury of the fleet.
Early in the afternoon, to my astonishment, I saw a Confederate flat-bottomed steam-transport, loaded with stores, approaching Craig's Landing, which was now in the enemy's lines.
I had a gun fired toward her to warn her off, but on she came, unconscious of her danger, and she fell an easy captive in the enemy's hands.
Shortly after, the Confederate steamer Chickamauga
, which had been annoying the enemy from the river, fired into and sank the stupid craft.
This incident gave me the first intimation that we were deserted.
From the conformation of the Cape Fear River
, General Bragg
could have passed safely from Sugar Loaf
, and with a glass could have seen every-thing on the beach and in the fort, and in person or through an aide, with the steamers at his command, could have detected every movement of the enemy; but now, thirty-six hours after the fight had commenced, several hours after Craig's Landing had been in the possession of the enemy, he
sent into the enemy's lines a steamer full of sorely needed stores, which at night could have gone to Battery Buchanan in safety.
We had both telegraphic
and signal communication between Fort Fisher
and Sugar Loaf
's headquarters, and I got General Whiting
to telegraph him to attack the enemy under cover of night when the fleet could not cooperate, and we would do the same from the fort, and that thus we could capture a portion or the whole of the force, or at least demoralize it. No reply was received.
Still I thought General Bragg
could not fail to respond so, after the dead were buried, ten companies were put in readiness for a sortie, and I carried Captain Patterson
's company out in front of the work beyond the palisade line and the range of the enemy's fire, and threw them out as skirmishers with orders to discover the position of the enemy.
Interior view of the North-east angle.
From a photograph: on the left is the interior slope of the land-face, adjoining the North-east salient.
The crescent battery is shown on the right, its bomb-proofs being used as a hospital.
In the foreground, toward the right, was the reserve magazine that was exploded. |
found none on the sea-shore within half a mile, but on the river-shore they were occupying the redoubt, where their skirmishers extended toward the left of the fort.
Some of them fired on us, but we remained there awaiting a message from Bragg
, or the sound of his guns from the north, but in vain, and before daylight we retired to the fort.
With the rising sun, on the 15th, the fleet, which had been annoying us all through the night, redoubled its fire on the land-face.
The sea was calm, the naval gunners had become accurate by practice, and before noon but one heavy gun, protected by the angle of the north-east bastion, remained serviceable on that face.
The harvest of wounded and dead was increased, and at noon I had not 1200 men to defend the long line of works.
The enemy were now preparing to assault; we saw their skirmish-line on the left digging rifle-pits close to our torpedo lines and their columns along the river-shore massing for the attack, while their sharp-shooters 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 the order, and with effectiveness, but at a sad sacrifice in killed and wounded.
At the same time on the ocean side a column of sailors and marines were seen approaching, throwing up slight trenches to protect their advance.
On these we brought to bear our single heavy gun, while the two guns on the mound battery turned their attention from the sailors afloat to the sailors on shore, but at too long range to be very effective.
's brigade, sent by Bragg
, was now arriving at Battery Buchanan, but the steamer bearing them was driven off by the fire of the fleet after it had succeeded in landing two South Carolina regiments, which came at a double-quick to the mound under a heavy fire.
The number of these reenforcements was reported to me by the officer in command as 350.
They reached the fort less than thirty minutes before the attacking columns came like avalanches upon our right and left.
The South Carolinians
were out of breath and more or less disorganized and demoralized by the ordeal through which, by Bragg
's neglect, they had been forced to pass.
I sent them to an old commissary bomb-proof to recover breath.
My headquarters during the fight were the pulpit battery on the sea-face, one hundred yards from the north-east salient and adjoining the hospital bomb-proof, commanding the best view of the approaches to the land-face.
At half-past 2, as I was returning from another battery, Private Arthur Muldoon
, 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 outside and are firing very heavily.
Enemy on the beach in front of us in very heavy force, not more than seven hundred yards from us. Nearly all land guns disabled.
Attack! Attack! It is all I can say and all you can do.”5
The bombardment of Fort Fisher, as seen from the mound Battery.
From a War-time sketch. |
I then passed hurriedly down in rear of the land-face and through the galleries, and although the fire of the fleet was terrific, I knew it must soon cease, and I ordered additional sharp-shooters to the gun-chambers with instructions to pick off the officers in the assaulting columns, and directed the battery commanders to form their detachments and rush to the top of the parapets when the firing stopped and drive the assailants back.
As I returned, I instructed the squads that were forming under cover to rally to the parapets as soon as the order should be given, to which they responded with enthusiasm.
I had 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 the first line, while destroying or demoralizing their supporting lines of assault.
I had not quite reached my headquarters when the roar of artillery suddenly ceased, and instantly the steam-whistles of the vast fleet sounded a charge.
It was a soul-stirring signal both to besiegers and besieged.
I ordered my aide, Lieutenant Charles H. Blocker
, to double-quick the 21st and 25th South Carolina to reenforce Major James Reilly
, whom I had put in command on the left, while I went to the northeast salient, which I believed to be the vital point of the work and the one which needed most protection.
I rallied there the larger portion of the garrison of the main work, putting 300 men on top of the bastion and adjoining parapets and holding some 200 more in the adjoining batteries.
About 250 remained for defense on the left, to which I supposed the 350 South Carolinians would immediately be added, and these with the Napoleon
and the torpedoes I felt sure would successfully defend that portion of the work.
The assaulting line on the right was directed at the angle or point of the L, and consisted of two thousand sailors and marines,6
the greater portion of whom had flanked my torpedo lines by keeping close to the sea. Ordering the mound battery, and any other on the sea-face that could do so, to fire upon them, and the two Napoleons at the sally-port to join our Columbiad in pouring grape and canister into their ranks, I held in reserve the infantry fire.
stood upon the brink of the parapet inspiring those about 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 bravery of the officers could not restrain their 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.
Had the fleet helped their own column as they did afterward that of the army, theirs would have been the glory of victory.
As our shouts of triumph went up I turned to look at the western salient, and saw, to my astonishment, three Federal battle-flags upon our ramparts.
saw them at the same moment, and, calling on the men to pull down those flags and drive the enemy from the work, rushed toward them on the parapet.
Among those who followed Whiting
, and who gave his young life upon those ramparts, I must mention the brave Lieutenant Williford
, who commanded the Blakely
In order to make a careful reconnoissance of the position of the enemy, I passed through the sally-port, and outside of the work witnessed a savage hand-to-hand conflict for the possession of the
fourth gun-chamber from the left bastion.
My men, led by Whiting
, had driven the standard-bearer from the top of the traverse and the enemy from the parapet in front.
They had recovered the 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 other's faces, and in some cases clubbing their guns, being too close to load and fire.
had quickly been wounded by two shots and had been carried to the hospital bomb-proof.
I saw that the Confederates
were exposed not only to the fire in front, but to a galling infantry fire from the captured salient.
I saw also a fresh force pouring into the left of the work, now offering no resistance.
I doubt if ever before the commander of a work went outside of it and looked back upon the conflict for its possession; but from the peculiar construction of the works it was necessary to do so in order to see the exact position of affairs.
I was in front of the sally-port and concealed from the army by a fragment of the palisade.7
the mound Battery from the Fort side.
2. the sea-face of the Sixth to the Eleventh traverses.
3. Battery Buchanan. From Photographs. |
Ordering Captain Z. T. Adams
to turn his Napoleons on the column moving into the fort (the gallant Mayo
had already turned his Columbiad upon them), I returned into the work, and, placing men behind every cover that could be found, 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 met my aide, who informed me that the South Carolinians had failed to respond to my order, although their officers had pleaded with them, and with a few of them had gone into the fight; that the assaulting column had made two distinct charges upon the extreme left and had been repulsed by the fire of the Napoleon
and by the infantry; that the torpedo wires had been cut by the fire of the fleet and the electrician had tried in vain to execute my orders; that, driven from the extreme left, the enemy had found a weak defense between the left salient and the sally-port in their third charge, and had gained the parapet and, capturing two gun-chambers, had attacked the force in the left bastion on the flank, simultaneously with a direct charge of a fresh column, and that our men after great slaughter, especially those at the Napoleon
, had been forced 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.
had failed to lead the men to the top of the parapet on the right of the western salient, firing instead from the two gun-chambers on the assailants, who were not within range until they reached the parapet.
Had the parapet been manned by fifty determined men at this point, I do not believe the enemy could have got into the fort before reenforcements had arrived.
was a veteran soldier, and showed his indomitable courage later in the day, but his mistake was fatal.
This was disheartening, but I told Captain Blocker
if we could hold the enemy in check until dark I would then drive them out, and I sent a telegram by him to Bragg
, imploring him to attack, and saying that I could still save the fort.
Notwithstanding the loss of a portion of the work and a part of the garrison, the men were in good spirits and seemed determined to recover the fort.
We had retaken one gun-chamber in the charge on the parapet, and since we had opened on their flank we had shot down all their standard-bearers, and the Federal
battle-flags had disappeared from our ramparts.
I was encouraged to believe that before sundown we could recover
all the gun-chambers to the east of the western salient.
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, turned again on our land-front, and with deadly precision; the iron-clads and heavy frigates drove in our Napoleons and exploded shells in the interior of the sally-port, which had heretofore escaped.
They also swept the gun-chamber occupied by Confederates in front of those occupied by the enemy, and their shells rolled down within the works and exploded in most unexpected quarters,
preventing even company formation.
They drove from the front of the enemy all assailants except those so near that to have fired on them would have been to slaughter the Federals
We had now to contend with a column advancing around the rear of the left bastion 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 afford cover, for we were now greatly outnumbered.
The fire was so unexpected and destructive on the massed columns of the Federals
, that they halted when an advance would have been fatal to us. With orders to the officers to dispute stubbornly any advance until my return, I went rapidly to the extreme southern limit of my work and turned the two mound guns on the column in the fort.
As I passed the different batteries I ordered the guns turned on the assailants, but on returning found that only two besides those on the mound would bear upon them, and these had to be fired over my men. I ordered them, notwithstanding, to be fired carefully with properly cut fuses, which was done, but it made some of my men very nervous.
I brought back with me to the front every man except a single detachment for each gun. I was gone from the front at least thirty minutes, and on my return found the fighting still continuing over the same traverse for the possession of the gun-chamber, despite the fire of the fleet.
As my men would fall others would take their places.
It was a soldier's fight at that point, for there could be no organization; the officers of both forces were loading and firing with their men. If there has ever been a longer or more stubborn hand-to-hand encounter, I have failed to meet with it in. history.
The Federal column inside had advanced no farther, and seemed demoralized by the fire of the artillery and the determined resistance of the garrison.
I had brought back with me more than a hundred of my old garrison, and I threw them in front with those already engaged.
Those who had been driven from the parapet had taken position behind the old work.
I went to the bomb-proof where the South Carolinians were and appealed to them to help save the fort; they were in a position to flank a part of the column, and they promised to do so. I proceeded to the sally-port and ordered the gallant Adams
to bring his guns out and open fire on the head of the column, and if he had not men left to serve the guns to get volunteers from other companies.
I went along the galleries and begged the sick and wounded who had retreated from the captured bomb-proofs to come and make one supreme effort to dislodge the enemy.
As I passed through my work the last time, the scene was indescribably horrible.
Great cannon were broken in two, and over their ruins were lying the dead; others were partly buried in graves dug by the shells which had slain them.
Still no tidings from Bragg
The enemy's advance had ceased entirely; protected by the fleet, they held the parapet and gun-chambers, but their massed columns refused to move and appeared to be intrenching in the work.
I believed a determined assault with the bayonet upon their front would drive them out. I had cautioned the gunners not to fire on our men, and had sent Lieutenant Jones
, of the navy, to Battery Buchanan, asking for all the force they could spare, and to be careful not to fire on us if we became closely engaged with the enemy.
The head of the column was not over one hundred feet from the portion of our breastwork which I occupied; I passed quickly in rear of the line and asked the officers and men if they would follow me; they all responded fearlessly that they would.
I returned to my post, and, giving the order “Charge bayonets,” sprang upon the breastwork, waved my sword, and, as I gave the command “Forward!
fell on my knees, a rifle-ball having entered my left hip. We were met by a heavy volley, aimed too high to be effective; but our column wavered and fell back behind the breastworks.
A soldier raised me up; I turned the command over to Captain Daniel Munn
and told him to keep the enemy in check, and that I would bandage my wound and soon return.
Before I could reach the hospital I was made to
realize that I was incapacitated from joining my men again.
In the hospital I found General Whiting
suffering uncomplainingly from his two wounds.
He told me that Bragg
had ignored his presence in the fort and had not noticed his messages.
I perceived that the fire of my men had slackened, and sent my acting adjutant, John N. Kelly
, for Major Reilly
, next in command (Major James M. Stevenson
being too ill for service). Reilly
came and promised me that he would continue the fight as long as a man or a shot was left, 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, but Major Reilly
, rallying the men, among them.
the South Carolinians, who had all become engaged, drove them back.
About 8 o'clock at night my aide came to me and said the ammunition was giving out; that he and Chaplain McKinnon
had gathered all on the dead and wounded in a blanket and had distributed it; that the enemy had possession of nearly all of the land-face; that it was impossible to hold out much longer, and suggested that it would be wise to surrender, as a further struggle might be a useless sacrifice of life.
I replied that so long as I lived I would not surrender the fort; that Bragg
must soon come to the rescue, and it would save us. General Whiting
, when you die I will assume command, and I will not surrender the fort.”
In less than an hour a fourth brigade (three were already in the fort under General Ames
) 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,
chanan, where he purposed to make a stand.
When we left the hospital the men were fighting over the adjoining traverse and the spent balls fell like hail-stones around us. 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 11-inch guns and a 24-pounder, and in close proximity to the battery, a commodious wharf where transports could have come to carry the men off. We expected to cover with this battery the retreat of the remnant of the garrison, but we found the guns spiked, and every means of transportation, even the barge and crew of the colonel commanding, taken by Captain R. F. Chapman
, of our navy, who, following the example of General Bragg
, had abandoned us to our fate.
None of the guns of Fort Fisher
were spiked, the men fighting them until they were destroyed or their defenders were killed, wounded, or driven out of the batteries by overwhelming numbers., 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 or more before the surrender, while lying on a stretcher near General Whiting
in front of the battery, and 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 moments' 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 was equally 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.
Some officer 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 family, anxiously awaiting tidings across the river, where they had
watched the battle, should not be alarmed, I spoke lightly of my wound.
I asked him to carry General Whiting
to a place of safety, as he had come to the fort a volunteer.
Just then the approach of the enemy was reported, and Colquitt
made a precipitate retreat, leaving Whiting
One more distressing scene remains to be chronicled.
The next morning after sunrise a frightful explosion occurred in my reserve magazine, killing and wounding several hundred of the enemy and some of my own wounded officers and men. The magazine was a frame structure 20 x 60 feet and 6 feet high, covered with 18 feet or more of sand, luxuriantly turfed, and contained probably 13,000 pounds of powder.
It made an artificial mound most inviting to a wearied soldier, and after the fight was occupied for the night by Colonel Alden
's 169th New York and by some of my suffering soldiers.
Two sailors from the fleet, stupefied by liquor which they had found in the hospital, and looking for booty, were seen to enter the structure with lights, and a moment after the green mound blew up. The telegraph wires, running from a bomb-proof near this magazine across the river to Battery Lamb, gave rise to the impression that it had been purposely exploded from the opposite shore, but an official investigation traced it to the drunken sailors.
So stoutly did those works resist the 50,000 shot and shell thrown against them in the two bombardments that not a magazine or bomb-proof was injured, and after the land armament, with palisades and torpedoes, had been destroyed, no assault would have been practicable in the presence of Bragg
's force, had it been under a competent officer.9
One thousand tons of iron were gathered by the United States
from the works.
Had there been no fleet to assist the army at Fort Fisher
the Federal infantry could not have dared assault it until its land defenses had been destroyed by gradual approaches.
For the first time in the history of sieges the land defenses of the works were destroyed, not by any act of the besieging army, but by the concentrated fire, direct and enfilading, of an immense fleet poured upon them without intermission, until torpedo wires were cut, palisades breached so that they actually afforded cover for assailants, and the slopes of the work were rendered practicable for assault.
Interior view of the first six traverses on the sea-face of Fort Fisher.
From a photograph. |