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Chapter 51: effects of the fall of Fort Fisher, and criticisms on General Badeau's military history of General Grant.

There was a great deal of acrimony and recrimination growing out of the first attack on Fort Fisher. The “Committee on the conduct of the war” took the matter up, and it proved a feast for the politicians.

General Butler, with strong political influence, had, of course, a host of supporters, and these flew to his assistance as soon as he returned from Fort Fisher, in the hope of finding some flaw in the armor of General Grant or Admiral Porter through which they could thrust their lances.

Just as the committee were accumulating testimony in support of General Butler, the sound of the one hundred guns fired at the Washington Navy Yard, in honor of the capture of Fort Fisher, thundered through the Capitol, and the baseless fabric of evidence melted into thin air. Fort Fisher was won, and nobody cared to hear about the failure of the first attack.

Having given a detailed account of the naval operations before Fort Fisher, it now becomes in order to show the effect of the capture of that stronghold, and its influence in hastening the close of the civil war.

The capture of the defences of Wilmington closed the last door through which the Southern Confederacy received their supplies of clothing, arms and ammunition; therefore, when Fort Fisher fell, it was only a matter of a short time when the rebellion would collapse. No matter how brave an enemy may be, or how well commanded, he must have provisions and military stores; and at this time General Lee had not enough material of war to last him three months.

General Grant confronted the Confedererates at Petersburg and Richmond with a greatly superior force, and the James River was blockaded by the Navy; yet Lee held his own with his diminished army, and General Grant had to wait until necessity should bring the enemy to terms.

Despite Grant's great numerical superiority, Lee had secured the approaches to Richmond so well that all attacks on his lines were unsuccessful. Sherman, with 50,000 men, was advancing from the South, but his forces were in such position that it would have been somewhat difficult to concentrate them in case of being confronted by a large army. He had occupied Savannah after considerable resistance from Hardee, who, when he evacuated the place, marched northward to make a junction with the 40,000 men under General J. E. Johnston.

Sherman always supposed that Fort Fisher and the other defences of Wilmington would finally have surrendered to him, [749] had it not fallen when it did; but because Savannah and Charleston fell on the approach of the Federal troops, it was no reason that the defences of Cape Fear River should do the same. The forts about Charleston and Savannah were far less calculated to stand a siege than those at Wilmington, and it was shown, by the heavy naval bombardment of the latter, how difficult it was to injure the works sufficiently to enable an assaulting party to capture them. Even after all the guns were rendered useless, a powerful resistance was offered to the assailants, covered as were the latter by the heavy batteries of the fleet, which swept the enemy from the parapets as the troops advanced over the bombproofs. Sherman, with all his soldiers, could never have reduced the forts on Cape Fear River, except after a long siege, if the enemy had shown any military intelligence.

Previous to the capture of Savannah, General Sherman had informed Grant that he had initiated measures towards joining him with 50,000 infantry, and, incidentally, to capture Savannah. No doubt the General reflected that the troops from Savannah and Charleston, combined with those at Wilmington and Johnston's army of 40,000, with 20,000 from the vicinity of Richmond, would have given the enemy at least 80,000 of the best troops to meet him before he could make a junction with Grant. The enemy held the Wilmington and Weldon railroad all the way to Richmond, the points along the Sounds only were held by the Federal Navy. General Johnston was in advance of Sherman all the time; and, having assembled his army at a convenient point, it is hardly to be supposed that so skillful a commander. with a force of 80,000 men, would allow Sherman to join Grant without a struggle, which might have proved disastrous to the Union forces.

The capture of Fort Fisher by the Army and Navy put an end to any doubts on the subject. The Northern public was in such a state of excitement that it would have borne with bad grace a reverse of any kind; and, although it was impossible to prolong the rebellion owing to the exhaustion of the South, yet it would have been a great satisfaction to the latter to have dealt a final blow to their conquerors, not only to injure the prestige of the North, but to enable the South to demand better terms than they could otherwise have hoped for.

When the Federal troops entered Wilmington, all of Cape Fear River and the Wilmington and Weldon railroad were placed in possession of the Federal authorities; and, as the Navy held the principal points on the sounds of North Carolina, the United States Government could throw any number of troops into the enemy's rear by way of the Weldon railroad, Newborn and Plymouth, and furnish them with provisions by the same routes; so that Sherman could advance through Georgia and South Carolina without fear of opposition from General Johnston, who after the fall of Fort Fisher evidently gave up the idea of successful resistance, though he did attempt to prevent Sherman reaching Goldsborough — a forlorn hope.

Mr. Lincoln appreciated the difficulty with which the Federals had to contend as long as General Johnston with a powerful army kept the field. A check to General Sherman in his progress through the Southern swamps might have prolonged the war for six months, but this could not happen after Fort Fisher had fallen and the Wilmington road was in Federal hands.

Many inaccuracies have been stated in regard to the capture of Fort Fisher and the original proposers of the expedition, and no one has done more in this direction than the “military historian.” We will not pretend to criticise “General” Badeau when he treats of purely military movements in his “history” of General Grant, although our connection with the several commands of the latter have made us familiar with them; but we claim a right to express views fully in cases where the Navy was concerned, and to expose the mistakes of a writer when he undertakes to reflect upon officers of the Navy without any valid reason for so doing.

Some of the military historian's statements assign the origin of the Fort Fisher expedition other than where it belongs, for it originated in the Navy Department. General Grant in his Memoirs ingenuously disposes of these statements, and gives an impartial account of the matter, which is inserted in this history.

Some of the assertions of the military historian are also disposed of by this account from General Grant's Memoirs:

Wilmington, North Carolina, was the most important sea-coast port left to the enemy through which to get supplies from abroad, and send cotton and other products out by blockade-runners, besides being a place of great strategic value. The Navy had been making strenuous exertions to seal the harbor of Wilmington, but with only partial effect. The nature of the outlet of Cape Fear River was such that it required watching for so great a distance that, without possession of the land north of New Inlet, or Fort Fisher, it was impossible for the Navy to entirely close the harbor against the entrance of blockade-runners.

To secure the possession of this land required the co-operation of a land force, which I agreed to furnish. Immediately commenced the assemblage in Hampton Roads, under Admiral D. D. Porter, of one of the most formidable armada ever collected for concentration upon one given point. [750]

This necessarily attracted the attention of the enemy, as well as that of the loyal North; and through the imprudence of the public press, and, very likely, of officers in both branches of the service, the exact object of the expedition became a subject of common discussion in the newspapers both North and South.

The enemy, thus warned, prepared to meet it. This caused a postponement of the expedition until the later part of November, when, being again called upon by Hon. G. V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, I agreed to furnish the men required at once, and went myself, in company with Major-General Butler, to Hampton Roads, where we had a conference with Admiral Porter as to the force required and the time of starting.

A force of 6,500 men was regarded as sufficient. The time of starting was not definitely arranged, but it was thought all would be ready by the 6th of December, if not before. Learning, on the 30th of November, that Bragg had gone to Georgia, taking with him most of the forces about Wilmington, I deemed it of the utmost importance that the expedition should reach its destination before the return of Bragg, and directed General Butler to make all arrangements for the departure of Major-General Weitzel, who had been designated to command the land forces, so that the Navy might not be detained one moment.

On the 6th of December the following instructions were given:

City Point, Virginia, December 6, 1864.
General — The first object of the expedition under General Weitzel is to close to the enemy the port of Wilmington. If successful in this, the second will be to capture Wilmington itself.

There are reasonable grounds to hope for success, if advantage can be taken of the absence of the greater part of the enemy's forces, now looking after Sherman in Georgia. The directions you have given for the numbers and equipment of the expedition are all right, except in the unimportant matter of where they embark and the amount of intrenching tools to be taken.

The object of the expedition will be gained by effecting a landing on the main land, between Cape Fear River and the Atlantic, north of the north entrance of the river. Should such landing be effected while the enemy still holds Fort Fisher and the batteries guarding the entrance to the river, then the troops should intrench themselves, and, by cooperating with the Navy, effect the reduction and capture of those places. These in our hands, the Navy could enter the harbor, and the port of Wilmington would be sealed.

Should Fort Fisher, and the point of land on which it is built, fall into the hands of our troops immediately on landing, then it will be worth the attempt to capture Wilmington by a forced march and surprise. If time is consumed in gaining the first object of the expedition, the second will become a matter of after consideration.

The details for execution are intrusted to you and the officer immediately in command of the troops.

Should the troops under General Weitzel fail to effect a landing at or near Fort Fisher, they will be returned to the armies operating against Richmond without delay.

General Butler commanded the Army from which the troops were taken for this enterprise, and the territory within which they were to operate — military courtesy required that all orders and instructions should go through him. They were so sent; but General Weitzel has since officially informed me that he never received the foregoing instructions, nor was he aware of their existence until he read General Butler's published official report of the Fort Fisher failure, with my indorsement and papers accompanying it. I had no idea of General Butler's accompanying the expedition until the evening before it got off from Bermuda Hundred, and then did not dream but that General Weitzel had received all the instructions and would be in command.

I rather formed the idea that General Butler was actuated by a desire to witness the effect of the explosion of the powder-boat. The expedition was detained several days at Hampton Roads, awaiting the loading of the powder-boat.

The importance of getting the Wilmington expedition off without any delay, with or without the powder-boat, had been urged upon General Butler, and he advised to so notify Admiral Porter. The expedition finally got off on the 13th of December, and arrived at the place of rendezvous, off New Inlet, near Fort Fisher, on the evening of the 15th. Admiral Porter arrived on the evening of the 18th, having put in at Beaufort to get ammunition for the Monitors.

The sea becoming rough, making it difficult to land troops, and the supply of water and coal being about exhausted, the transport fleet put back to Beaufort to replenish; this, with the state of the weather, delayed the return to the place of rendezvous until the 24th. The powder-boat was exploded on the morning of the 24th, before the return of General Butler from Beaufort; but it would seem, from the notice taken of it in the Southern newspapers, that the enemy were never enlightened as to the object of the explosion until they were informed by the Northern press.

On the 25th a landing was effected without opposition, and a reconnoissance under Brevet-Brigadier-General Curtis pushed up towards the fort. But, before receiving a full report of the result of this reconnoissance, General Butler, in direct violation of the instructions given, ordered the re-embarkment of the troops and the return of the expedition. The re-embarkment was accomplished by the morning of the 27th.

On the return of the expedition, officers and men — among them Brevet-Major-General (then Brevet-Brigadier-General) N. M. Curtis, First-Lieutenant G. W. Ross, 117th New York Volunteers; First-Lieutenant William H. Walling and Second-Lieutenant George Simpson, 142d New York Volunteers-voluntarily reported to me that when recalled they were nearly into the fort, and, in their opinion, it could have been taken without much loss.

Soon after the return of the expedition, I received a dispatch from the Secretary of the Navy, and a letter from Admiral Porter, informing me that the fleet was still off Fort Fisher, and expressing the conviction that under a proper leader the place could be taken. The natural supposition with me was, that when the troops abandoned the expedition the Navy would do so also. Finding it had not, however, I answered on the 30th of December, advising Admiral Porter to hold on, and that I would send a force and make another attempt to take the place.

This time I selected Brevet-Major-General (now Major-General) A. H. Terry to command the expedition. The troops composing it consisted of the same that composed the former, with the addition of a small brigade numbering about one thousand five hundred, and a small siege-train. The latter it was never found necessary to land.

I communicated direct to the commander of the expedition the following instructions:

City Point, Virginia, January 3, 1865.
General — The expedition intrusted to your command has been fitted out to renew the attempt [751] to capture Fort Fisher, N. C., and Wilmington ultimately, if the fort falls. You will then proceed with as little delay as possible to the naval fleet lying off Cape Fear River. and report the arrival of yourself and command to Admiral D. D. Porter, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

It is exceedingly desirable that the most complete understanding should exist between yourself and the naval commander. I suggest, therefore, that you consult with Admiral Porter freely, and get from him the part to be performed by each branch of the public service, so that there may be unity of action.

It would be well to have the whole programme laid down in writing. I have served with Admiral Porter, and know that you can rely on his judgment and his nerve to undertake what he proposes. I would, therefore, defer to him as much as is consistent with your own responsibilities.

The first object to be attained is to get a firm position on the spit of land on which Fort Fisher is built, from which you can operate against that fort.

You want to look to the practicability of receiving your supplies, and to defending yourself against superior forces sent against you by any of the avenues left open to the enemy. If such a position can be obtained, the siege of Fort Fisher will not be abandoned until the reduction is accomplished, or another plan of campaign is ordered from these headquarters.

My own views are, that, if you effect a landing, the Navy ought to run a portion of their fleet into Cape Fear River, while the balance of it operates on the outside.

Land forces cannot invest Fort Fisher, or cut it off from supplies or reinforcements while the river is in possession of the enemy. A siege train will be loaded on vessels and sent to Fort Monroe, in readiness to be sent to you if required. All others supplies can be drawn from Beaufort as you need them.

Keep the fleet of vessels with you until your position is assured. When you find they can be spared, order them back, or such of them that you can spare, to Fort Monroe, to report for orders.

In case of failure to effect a landing, bring your command back to Beaufort, and report to these headquarters for further instructions. You will not debark at Beaufort until so directed.

General Sheridan has been ordered to send a division of troops to Baltimore, and place them on, sea-going vessels. These troops will be brought to Fort Monroe, and kept there on the vessels until you are heard from. Should you require them, they will be sent to you.

Lieutenant-Colonel C. B. Comstock, aide-de-camp (now Brevet-Brigadier-General), who accompanied the former expedition, was assigned, in orders, as chief-engineer of this. It will be seen that these instructions did not differ materially from those given for the first expedition, and that in neither instance was there an order to assault Fort Fisher. This was a matter left entirely to the discretion of the commanding officer. The expedition sailed from Fort Monroe on the morning of the 6th, arriving at the rendezvous, off Beaufort, on the 8th, where, owing to the difficulties of the weather, it lay until the morning of the 12th, when it got underway and reached its destination that evening. Under cover of the fleet, the disembarkation of the troops commenced on the morning of the 13th, and by 3 o'clock P. M. was completed without loss.

On the 14th a reconnaissance was pushed to within five hundred yards of Fort Fisher, and a small advance work taken possession of, and turned into a defensive line against any attempt that might be made from the fort.

The reconnaissance disclosed the fact that the front of the work had been seriously injured by the Navy fire. In the afternoon of the 15th the fort was assaulted, and after most deperate fighting was captured with its entire garrison and armament. Thus was secured, by the combined efforts of the Navy and Army, one of the most important successes of the war. Our loss was, killed, 110; wounded, 536. On the 16th and 17th, the enemy abandoned and blew up Fort Caswell and the works on Smith's Island, which were immediately occupied by us. This gave us entire control of the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

In vol. 3. page 224, of his work, the military historian states as follows:

While thus zealously watching the varied interests and changing circumstances in Georgia and Tennessee, as well as at Richmond and in the valley, Grant had also planned [!] to take advantage of Sherman's march by a new movement on the At lantic coast. Wilmington, near the mouth of Cape Fear River, in North Carolina, was the only important seaport open to the enemy.

It was originally intended that the expedition should set out in October, but through the imprudence of officers both of the Army and the Navy, and afterwards of the public press, the exact object of the enterprise became known, and the enemy thus warned prepared to resist it.

For this reason, we suppose, the expedition was postponed until the middle of winter, so that the enemy could make his own arrangements; for the military historian says: “This caused a postponement of the expedition, but towards the end of November the project was revived, and 6,500 men were promised [!] from the Army of the James.”

It would only require forty-eight hours to equip 8,000 troops and collect the transports, yet no move was made from October until the middle of December. General Grant had appointed General Weitzel to command the troops, but from the very beginning Butler made himself the prominent figure, and Weitzel had little more to say than if he had been the General's orderly. General Grant evidently supposed that Butler was acting only as the commander of a division of an army, and had a right to interfere in getting the troops ready to embark; but Butler, for some unaccountable reason, was delaying the expedition.

General Butler, with a large body of troops, held an almost impregnable position north and east of the James. General Grant held Lee and his army tight in Richmond. while a bridge of boats connected the two armies, and a large force of naval vessels,including the heaviest iron-clad, occupied the river, which was also blocked with sunken vessels filled with stones. The Federal Army had therefore nothing to fear from Lee, and certainly 8,000 men could have been spared from Butler's army.

Referring back to the military historian, who says that the Fort Fisher expedition “had been delayed in November, owing to [752] the indiscretion of Army and Navy officers, by which the enemy were notified of the projected movement, and were fortifying the place strongly in consequence,” and who further says: “On the 30th of November Grant notified Butler that Bragg, who had been in command at Wilmington, had set out for Georgia, taking with him most of the forces” ! Let us ask, then, why, with such information in his possession, did Butler delay the expedition? It can only be accounted for by that indomitable will for which he was celebrated, and feeling himself master of the situation, from his great political prestige, he did as he pleased — for the power of politics at that time overshadowed everything else, and even General Grant was careful not to ignore it.

“It is important,” said Grant to Butler, “that Weitzel should get off during his (Bragg's) absence, and if successful in making a landing, he may, by a bold dash, succeed in capturing Wilmington.” The Navy had been ready from the middle of October, and yet the military historian speaks of the delays of the Navy, and want of co-operation between Butler and the Admiral.

To illustrate how little delay there was on the part of the Navy, we give the following letter from Mr. Secretary Welles to the President :

Navy Department, Oct. 28, 1864.
Sir — You are aware that, owing to shoal water at the mouth of Cape Fear River, a purely naval attack cannot be undertaken against Wilmington. Had there been water enough for our broadside ships of the Hartford class, the naval attacks of New Orleans, Mobile and Port Royal would have been repeated there. I have, as you are aware, often pressed upon the War Department the importance of capturing Wilmington, and urged upon the military authorities the necessity of undertaking a joint operation against the defences of Cape Fear River, but until recently there never seems to have been a period when the department was in a condition to entertain the subject.

Two months ago it was arranged that an attack should be made on the 1st of October, but subsequently postponed to the 15th, and the naval force has been ready since the 15th inst., in accordance with that agreement. One hundred and fifty vessels-of-war now form the North Atlantic squadron.

The command, first offered to Rear-Admiral Farragut, but declined by him, has been given to Rear-Admiral Porter. Every other squadron has been depleted, and vessels detached from other duty to strengthen this expedition. The vessels are concentrated at Hampton Roads and Beaufort, where they remain — an immense force lying idle, awaiting the movements of the army.

The detention of so many vessels from blockade and cruising duty is a most serious injury to the public service, and if the expedition cannot go forward for want of troops I desire to be notified, so that the ships may be relieved and dispersed for other service.

The importance of closing Wilmington is so well understood by you that I refrain from presenting any new arguments. I am aware of the anxiety of yourself and of the disposition of the War Department to render all the aid in its power.

The cause of the delay is not from the want of a proper conception of the importance of the subject, but the season for naval coast operations will soon be gone. General Bragg has been sent from Richmond to Wilmington to prepare for the attack; and the autumn weather, so favorable for such an expedition, is fast passing away. The public expect this attack, and the country will be distressed if it be not made. To procrastinate much longer will be to peril its success. Of the obstacles which delay or prevent military co-operation at once, I cannot judge; but the delay is becoming exceedingly embarrassing to this Department, and the importance of having the military authorities impressed with the necessity of speedy action has prompted this communication to you.

I have the honor to be, etc.,

Gideon Welles. The President.

According to the military historian, General Butler never received any detailed orders regarding the expedition until December 6th, at which date General Grant writes: “The first object of the expedition, under General Weitzel, is to close the port of Wilmington. There are reasonable grounds to hope for success, if advantage can be taken of the absence of the greater part of the enemy's forces now looking after Sherman in Georgia.” This would indicate that General Grant did not intend that Butler should accompany the expedition, but that the military part of it should be managed entirely by Weitzel. Yet, according to the military historian--

Butler, on the night when the troops embarked, proceeded to City Point, and informed General Grant that he was going himself, and this in violation of his commanding-general s orders! who “ did not desire to intrust the command of the expedition to Butler;” for, as repeatedly shown, although Grant was entirely satisfied with that officers zeal and general ability, he was convinced that he lacked some qualities essential in a commander in the field. Grant did not pronounce, but he felt certain, that the peculiar talent of a successful general was not possessed by the Commander of the James. He therefore directed Butler to place Weitzel in command of the expedition, and had, in fact, committed to Butler movements in support of those of Meade, which he intended should detain him in Bermuda Hundred.

Nevertheless, he did not now forbid Butler to accompany Weitzel. It was difficult thus to affront a commander of such high rank unless it was intended to relieve him entirely from command, and this Grant was not prepared to do without consulting the Government, which he knew would dislike and perhaps forbid the step. He fancied, besides, that Butler's object might be to witness the explosion of the powder-boat — in which he took great interest — rather than to direct the expedition itself.

* * * * * * *

It is certain, however, that it would have been better if Grant had frankly ordered Butler back to the Army of the James, to superintend the movements there.

His dislike to wound the feelings of another should, doubtless, at this crisis have been sacrificed.

Those who have never been placed in situations of great delicacy and responsibility, or who cannot [753] realize the various considerations-military, political and personal — which affect the decisions of men in power, will, doubtless, here find cause to censure Grant.

General Grant might well have exclaimed on reading this, “Save me from my friends!” The military historian does not give his authority for the foregoing statements, but it is certain that, when General Butler reported his return from Wilmington to General Grant, the latter relieved him from command.

On the 9th of December, 1864, General Grant telegraphed to Butler at Fortress Monroe. “Let General Weitzel get off as soon as possible; we don't want the Navy to wait an hour.” Yet the Navy had waited patiently from the 15th of October until the 6th of December, fifty-one days!

It will be seen throughout this narrative that we have given General Grant on all occasions credit for the highest military ability, and in this instance we do not desire to take from him one iota of it. We only refer to the revelations made by the military historian, in relation to which General Grant is not responsible.

In volume 3, page 390, of his book, the author states that:

About the 18th of December, 1864, there was doubtless a lack of concert, and even of cordial co-operation, between the naval and military chiefs. Butler was not popular with the other branch of the service, and, after the expedition started from Hampton Roads, neither commander visited the other!

Now, here is a paragraph that ought to make our “historian” happy. Imagine a General and an Admiral calling upon each other on the salt-sea waves, amid tumbling billows, in the dead of winter, and leaving cards!

The Admiral's reason for not communicating with Butler personally was, that he did not see the General from the time he left Fortress Monroe until the time when the General stated he was going to leave the Navy in the lurch at Fort Fisher, and Butler did not communicate with the Admiral, as he might easily have done, because he had been informed of all that was going to be done, what he had to do, and what means would be placed at his disposal. There was no communication necessary until just before landing, when General Weitzel went on board the flag-ship to see Admiral Porter, who agreed to all Butler's propositions, although some of them were needless.

To refer to that portion of the military “history” which seems to have been written without consideration, in regard to a matter of which the author really knew nothing, or perhaps to let up General Butler, of whom he had spoken harshly, he says:

Their written communications were few, and it was the chief-of-staff of the Admiral, and the ranking officer under Butler (Weitzel) [who was supposed to be in command of the Army forces], through whom the views or wishes of either were made known to each other. Porter thought that his advice was not taken at times when it should have been controlling, and Butler thought that Porter acted without duly considering or consulting him. [!]

That is, Porter managed his fleet to suit himself, and left Butler to manage his own forces until the time came for action:

Each was besides annoyed at delays which, though inopportune, were unavoidable, and neither made sufficient allowance for the difficulties of that branch with which he was less familiar. They seemed, indeed, to be playing at cross purposes. When Butler was supplied with coal. Porter wanted ammunition, and when Porter had all the ammunition he wanted, Butler was out of coal! Even the elements conspired against them, and when one could ride on the open sea, the other was obliged to stay inside. [!!]

This is the most crooked narrative ever written by one claiming to be a historian. The author affirms that there was no concert of action between General Butler and the Admiral, and yet he says (vol. 3, page 315):

On the morning of the 25th, Butler sent Weitzel to Porter to arrange the programme for the day. It was decided that the fleet should attack the fort again, while the troops were to land, and, if possible, assault under cover of the naval fire as soon as the Half Moon and Flag-Pond Batteries were silenced. At 7 o'clock the fleet again took up a position within a mile of the fort [three-fourths of a mile], not a shot being fired by the enemy except at the last four naval vessels as they were moving into line. [This for the reason that nearly all the guns had been disabled by the ships' fire and by the sand that had been driven by shells into their bores.]

At 12 o'clock the batteries above the forts were reported silenced, and a detachment of about 2,300 men of General Ames' command was landed two and a half miles north of the fort [without a gun being fired on them]. The debarkation was effected under the cover of seventeen gun-boats, which raked the woods and could drive away any force that might have opposed the landing.

Five hundred men under General Curtis were the first to land. He pushed his skirmish-line within a few yards of Fort Fisher, causing on the way the surrender of the garrison of Flag-Pond Battery, already silenced by the naval fire. Weitzel accompanied Curtis and approached within 800 yards of the works. He counted seventeen guns in position bearing up the beach, observed the traverses and stockades, the glacis, ditch, and counterscarp, and decided that the work had not been materially injured by the naval fire. [!] Weitzel, too, had been in many unsuccessful assaults, and never in a victorious one; he had a distinct and vivid recollection of this experience, and returned to Butler and reported that it would be butchery to assault.

Curtis was now within fifty yards of the fort [not a shot fired at him] and sent word to Ames that he could take the work, whereupon Ames sent orders for an assault. Curtis at once moved forward, but by the time he reached his position night had come on, and the fleet had nearly ceased to fire; [and yet, Ames and Curtis, under Terry, assaulted, and continued to assault, Fort Fisher until it was taken at night]. [754]

Some of the rebel troops who had been driven to their bomb-proofs returned to their guns [which they could not fire as the guns were disdisabled]. At this juncture the order to embark arrived and no assault was made. Curtis and the officers with him declared that the fort could have been easily carried. That at the moment when they were recalled they virtually had possession, having actually approached so close that the rebel flag (which the Navy fire had knocked down) had been snatched from the parapet, and a horse brought away from inside the stockade. Three hundred prisoners had been captured outside, etc. That night, Butler informed the Admiral that he and Weitzel were of the opinion that the place could not be carried by assault, having been left substantially uninjured by the naval fire!

Seventeen guns, he said, two of which only were iujured [and yet none of them fired on the troops], were bearing up the beach, covering a strip of land, the only practicable route, not more than wide enough for 1,000 men in line of battle--[the place where Curtis finally assaulted without losing a man].

Hoke's reinforcements were approaching, and, as only the operations of a siege would reduce the fort, he had caused the troops to re-embark. “I shall, therefore,” said he, “sail for Hampton Roads as soon as the transport fleet can be got in order.”

Now this is what Badeau calls “a want of concert of action” between General Butler and Admiral Porter. Of course, Porter could not join Butler in his retreat, as will be seen by Badeau's next paragraph:

The Admiral, however, was of a different mind, and replied, “I have ordered the largest vessels to proceed off Beaufort and fill up with ammunition, to be ready for another attack in case it is decided to proceed with this matter by making other arrangements [meaning sending another General]. We have not commenced firing rapidly yet, and could keep any rebels inside from showing their heads until an assaulting column was within twenty yards of the works. I wish some more of your gallant fellows had followed the officer who took the flag from the parapet, and the brave fellow who brought the horse from the fort. I think they would have found it an easier conquest than is supposed.”

Butler, nevertheless, remained unshaken in his determination, and on the night of the 25th December he embarked all his troops except Curtis' command, when the surf became high and he sailed away, leaving these ashore.

They were under cover of the guns of the fleet and they were all safely taken off. On the 27th Butler arrived at Fortress Monroe, and on the 28th had an interview with General Grant, after which the Generalin-chief telegraphed to the President:

The Wilmington expedition has proved a gross and culpable failure. Many of the troops are back here. Delays and free talk of the expedition enabled the enemy to move troops to Wilmington to defeat it. After the expedition started from Fortress Monroe three days of fine weather were squandered, during which the enemy was without a force to protect himself. Who is to blame, will, I hope, be known!

As if the blame could rest on any but the one who went to Fort Fisher in command of the troops, and disobeyed orders by not intrenching himself under the protection of the guns of the fleet.

Grant had seen enough of the Navy on the Mississippi to know that it would not back out of such an adventure as the taking of Fort Fisher. The Navy had given him sufficient evidence in much more desperate undertakings to have satisfied him that it would stay before Fisher as long as a shot or pound of coal was left.

The historian says: “This dispatch was written before Grant had heard from Porter, or from Butler's own subordinates; subsequently he was inclined (!) to attribute the failure to other causes.” Other causes than the Navy, we suppose; and here Badeau relates the difficulties with which the fleet and transports had to contend in getting to the scene of action, and makes the following sensible remark:

But whatever the delay, and whatever the cause, these made no difference in the result. The troops and the fleet were at the rendezvous, the work was silenced, and the landing effected before any reinforcements reached the fort.

On the morning of the 25th only 1,600 men had arrived at Wilmington. This day General Lee telegraphed Sedden: “Bragg reports the enemy made a landing three miles north of Fort Fisher about 2 P. M. to day, and were still landing at 5:30 P. M. General Kirkland's, the only troops arrived, except 400 of Haygoods, etc.”

Whatever number arrived before the 27th, they made no attempt to molest Curtis' little band of 500 men, who remained on shore two days after Butler left, with no support except the guns of the fleet. On the 25th of December, therefore, there were only 2,500 men opposed to Butler's 6,500. The garrison was only about 1,600 men. It is true the latter occupied a strong work, but Butler had the most formidable fleet that was ever assembled to cover and protect his movements.

We will make one more quotation from this part of the military historian's book. It was, no doubt, reviewed by General Grant. The latter, after inquiring into all the circumstances, had sent Butler directly home to Lowell:

Butler, indeed, maintained that he had not effected a landing, that only a third of his troops were on shore, when the sea became so rough that he could land no more. But his subordinates did not confirm this statement, and, as he was able to get all his troops except Curtis' command back to the transports, he could certainly have put them on shore if he had been at all anxious to do so.

The latter part of Badeau's remarks about Butler are not complimentary, but he tries to ease him up on the ground that

He simply displayed on this occasion once more the unmilitary features of his character. . . But, above all, he had not appreciated the force of Grant's order in regard to remaining and intrenching on the peninsula, or else he forgot them altogether at the crisis! Weitzel had never seen the orders, and knew nothing of them, or he would doubtless have reminded Butler of their character.(!)

Let any one read this and consider the total lack of military arrangement and the absence of obedience to the orders of the General-in-chief of the Federal armies, [755] a disobedience that would have rendered General Butler liable to be shot if tried by court-martial.

The military historian comments on the lack of co-operation between Butler and the naval commander, not saying decidedly where the blame rested, but rather implying that it rested with the Navy. A truth only half told often does more harm than a falsehood, although we are not aware that it did the Navy any harm in this instance. The author says:

The lack of co-operation between Porter and Butler was at this juncture again apparent, and again most unfortunate. The Admiral was a man not only of brilliant talent but of extra-ordinary nerve and force of character, and though extravagant and inconsiderate in language, written as well as spoken, he understood his profession thoroughly. He was aggressive in his nature, and always favored an attack. He doubtless, in this instance, overrated the results accomplished by the fleet, but that very circumstance would have made his counsels more audacious, and audacity is sometimes a very desirable quality in. a commander. If, instead of writing or sending to Porter and announcing his withdrawal, Butler, who was the senior in rank, had waived his prerogative and sought and obtained a personal interview, it is possible that he might have been convinced by the arguments or incited by the spirit of the sailor into remaining on shore. As it was, he sailed off, leaving Porter to pick up the troops he (Butler) had left; and, in his dread of incurring disaster, he incurred what to a soldier is infinitely worse, the imputation of unnecessary failure.

We don't see where the “lack of co-operation” on the Admiral's part comes in. If the author had confined the lack to Butler, he would have stated the actual fact.

The historian comments freely on the commander of the naval forces, in regard to a letter he wrote to the Navy Department, and which finally came out in investigations on the conduct of the war. In reference to the letter, the military historian says the Admiral could not be accused of concealing his sentiments. The following is the communication alluded to as part of the history of the war. There does not seem to be anything peculiar in it beyond its decided tone:

My dispatch of yesterday will give you an account of the operations, but will scarcely give an idea of my disappointment at the conduct of the Army authorities in not attempting to take possession of the fort. Had the Army made a show of surrounding it, it would have been ours; but nothing of the kind was done. The men landed, reconnoitred, and hearing that the enemy were massing troops somewhere, the orders were given to embark. . . . . There never was a post that invited soldiers to walk in and take possession more plainly than Fort Fisher. . . . It can be taken at any moment in one hour's time if the right man is sent with the troops. They should be sent to stay. I trust, sir, you will not think of stopping at this, nor relax your endeavors to obtain the right number of men and the means of taking the place.

Now, where the peculiarity of which the military historian has spoken exists in this letter, we leave to others to determine. The Admiral wrote very decidedly, and it had the desired effect. Mr. Secretary Welles wrote to General Grant:

The ships can approach nearer to the enemy's works than was anticipated; their fire can keep the enemy away from their guns.

A landing can easily be effected upon the beach north of Fort Fisher, not only of troops. but all their supplies and artillery. This force can have its supplies protected by gun-boats.

Admiral Porter will remain off Fort Fisher, continuing a moderate fire to prevent new works being erected.

Under all these circumstances, I invite you to a military co-operation, as will insure the fall of Fort Fisher.

After receipt of this letter General Grant wrote to the Admiral:

Please hold on wherever you are for a few days, and I will endeavor to send the troops back again with an increased force and without the former commander.

Your dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy was only received to-day. I took immediate steps to have transports collected and am assured they will be ready with coal and water by noon of the 2d of January. There will be no delay in embarking and sending off the troops. If they effect a lodgment, they can at least fortify and maintain themselves until reinforcements can be sent. Please answer by bearer, and designate where you will have the fleet of transports congregate.

The letter of which Badeau speaks had the effect of drawing forth the above communication and bringing about the capture of Fort Fisher. Yet the Navy never received any particular credit for this operation, which was the final stab that brought the enemy to his last throes.

To those who take an interest in the naval operations of the war, some of the remarks of the military historian on Fort Fisher are interesting. In spite of many inaccuracies, he shows the pertinacity with which the Navy held on to what they had begun, and the difficulties they had encountered against the fierce gales that swept the coast during those months of December and January. Not a vessel left her post, and the Navy could have protected the landing of any number of troops.

It was manifestly the object of the military historian to give the Army more credit than was due them, and make the Navy play a secondary part in the reduction of the defences in Wilmington. The Navy covered the attack of the troops and the sailors attacked the sea-face of Fort Fisher; the garrison, supposing this to be the main attack, rushed to the sea-face, and, as Badeau says, swept the officers and sailors “away like chaff.” The repulse of the naval storming party might not have happened had the troops, who were to have attacked with the sailors and marines, come to time. It was only when the whole force of the enemy was concentrated at the [756] sea-face that the order was given for the troops to advance, and

Curtis' brigade at once sprung from the trenches and dashed forward in line, and in a few moments the Army occupied three or four traverses which protected them from the fire of the enemy, and there Curtis held on until Ames and Pennypacker could obtain a secure footing in the fort with him. Bell's brigade was brought up and the fort was occupied by the troops.

It must be remembered that while this assault was going on behind traverses, the New Ironsides, with her 11-inch guns, and three Monitors, were firing through the traverses in front of the Federal soldiers, as the enemy would assemble to meet their approaches, and the Confederates were swept away by the Navy shells.

At this time General Terry requested the Admiral to reinforce the troops on the outer line by the seamen and marines who had been repulsed from the sea-face, which was done at once. This stopped the advance of General Hoke, who had commenced skirmishing with Terry's northern outposts, apparently with a design of attacking in that quarter to make a diversion. Hoke's withdrawal enabled Abbott's brigade and a regiment of colored troops to be brought into action on the southern front.

There never was harder fighting anywhere by soldiers than on this memorable occasion; and while the Federal troops behaved like heroes, it is but justice to say of the enemy that they fought equally well, and it was only after seven hours of stout resistance that they surrendered.

The military historian relates all this part of his story in a graphic manner; but, to show how essential was the fire of the Navy to the success of the assault, we mention the following incident:

Terry, finding the advance so slow, directed Curtis to stop fighting and intrench, which so excited that officer that he exclaimed, “Then we shall lose what we have gained!” Fortunately, the firing from the Ironsides and the Monitors was so effective, that at ten o'clock P. M. every traverse was emptied and the enemy in full retreat towards the end of the sand-spit on which Fort Fisher was situated.

It would be scarcely worth while for Army or Navy to claim on this occasion more than their share of honor. Each did in its own sphere what was required, and neither could have succeeded without the aid of the other. That the naval fire was perfect was evidenced by the fact that every gun in Fort Fisher was either destroyed or so injured that they were practically useless; so that, from the moment the army advanced to the assault, they had nothing to apprehend from the enemy's heavy batteries.

In all the last seven hours fighting the Federal army lost but 110 killed, 536 wounded, and 45 missing, while the enemy lost over 700.

The high praise bestowed on the officers of the Army by the military historian is well deserved; the assault on Fort Fisher was the most remarkable affair of the war:

The difficulties of the weather and the season on one of the stormiest coasts, in the world were overcome, the disadvantages incident to all combined operations entirely disappeared, and the dispositions of the Admiral and the military chief at the time of the landing, and during the subsequent operations up to and including the assault, were a marvel of harmonious effect.

To all this we subscribe, only asserting that up to the time when Butler left Fort Fisher the naval co-operation with him was just as effective as with Terry.

Butler had no obstacles to overcome, Terry had many. Badeau says:

The importance of this victory was instantly recognized by the rebels and loyal people alike. The effect was felt at home and abroad. Lee knew its significance as well as Grant, and the rejoicing at the North was not more general or heartfelt than the despondency it occasioned inside the Confederacy. The gates through which the rebels obtained their largest and most indispensable supplies was forever sealed.

In little more than a year before the capture, the ventures of British capitalists and speculators with Wilmington alone had amounted to $66,000,000, and $65,000,000 worth of cotton had been exported in return. In the same period 397 vessels had run the blockade; all this was at an end. Europe per-ceived the inevitable consequences, and the British Government, which till now had held out hopes to the Confederate emissaries, after the fall of Fort Fisher sent a communication to Jefferson Davis, through Washington, rebuking the rebels for their stubbornness. There could be no surer evidence that the case was desperate.

We will further add that a telegraphic dispatch was captured from General Lee to the commanding officer at Fort Fisher, which read as follows: “If Fort Fisher falls, I shall have to evacuate Richmond.”

The military historian remarks: “At this crisis the possession of Cape Fear River opened another base for operations into the interior. It enabled the general-in-chief to look forward to supporting Sherman's future movements and presented an opportunity to complete the isolation of Lee.”

In fact, Lee, with Cape Fear River in his possession, might have prolonged the war greatly, in the hope of obtaining terms for the Confederacy, which might have been a triumph for them.

After making the proper disposition of the vessels of the fleet, the Admiral hastened to City Point in a fast steamer to witness the end. It came two months later, when Lee, having eaten up all his provisions, and threatened by large armies whom he had no longer power to resist, surrendered, and thus ended the most extraordinary war of modern times. [757]

While our armies in many instances immortalized themselves by acts of heroism, and submitted to hardships and privations for which the country can hardly ever repay them, the Navy performed its fair share of hard service, and without its aid the rebellion could not have been suppressed.

As long as the Confederates could be fed, and supplied with munitions of war, it would have been extremely difficult to conquer them, for they would have prolonged the war and inflicted such injuries on the North as to finally have obtained whatever terms they might demand.

In the enthusiasm of the Northern people to welcome home the soldiers, and in the honors paid to them on all sides, the Navy seemed to have been forgotten, and but for the published dispatches of the commanding officers of the Federal naval forces, the general public would hardly have known that such an organization as the Navy existed.

From the battle of Shiloh, where the gunboats covered the retreating troops. which rallied under their protecting fire and finally gained the day, to the fall of Fort Fisher, the Navy played a more active part than was perhaps ever before taken by naval forces, and though illy supplied with the proper kind of vessels, they seldom experienced reverses.

There were the fights of Hatteras, Port Royal, New Orleans, Mobile, Vicksburg, and all along the Mississippi and its tributaries, Red River, Arkansas. White, Tennessee, Cumberland and Ohio Rivers, Grand Gulf, Port Hudson, Charleston, Galveston, and the whole coast of Texas brought under control. This was a large field of naval operations, seldom equalled in the history of war, and never exceeded, as far as naval successes are concerned.

In this account of the Fort Fisher affair we have endeavored to do justice to all parties, but as General Butler was not partial to the Navy, and might perhaps think that a naval writer would not do him full justice, we have quoted liberally from the work of General Badeau, who had a favorable leaning toward General Butler, and who gave him credit for military qualities wherever he could possibly do so.

We have reviewed the circumstances connected with Fort Fisher at some length, because we consider such review necessary for a proper understanding of this important victory, and also with a view to correct misrepresentations which have long since been made apparent.

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