Battle of Fort Fisher (Part 2 The Assault) 15 January 1865

The Union Navy under Porter continued a relentless bombardment from 13 January to the early afternoon of 15 January. When the bombardment stopped, a force of sailors and marines landed and attacked with pistols and cutlasses. This attacked was repulsed by the Confederates who had re-occupied the earthen works. However, the focus on the amphibious landings caused the Confederates to leave too little on the up river side where General Terry had landed on the 13th of January.
Terry’s force worked its way into the land-side walls and turned the position one pit at a time. The Confederates of Colonel Lamb fought valiantly, but the “Gibraltor of the South” was lost and the last port for large scale re-supply of the southern cause was now in Union hands.

Motorcycle Ride

Start at the Fort Fisher, NC Historic Site on the north side of the Cape Fear. Take the ferry to Southport. Follow North Carolina State Route 211 to US 17 and follow the coast south to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Battle of Fort Fisher (Part 1 The Landings) 13 January 1865

By the end of 1864, the Confederacy had only one major port remaining to run goods in and out to the Bahamas, Bermuda and Nova Scotia for much needed supplies. That port was Wilmington, North Carolina and it was protected by Fort Fisher. Fort Fisher sat at the mouth of the Cape Fear River’s entrance into the Atlantic. Fort Fisher was a formidable obstacle, not just for its position, but for the extended earthen works as well. Such was its strength that it was often referred to as the “Gibralter of the South.” Naturally, it became a prime objective for the North as they tried to choke of the remaining supply lines to the South.

On Christmas Day 1864, General Benjamin Butler and Admiral David Porter led a combined force that was to attempt an amphibious assault on Fort Fisher. Porter played his part with one of the fiercest bombardments that the Union Navy had conducted to date. However, Butler lost his nerve after his initial attack was rebuffed and cancelled the ground attack and departed. Porter and Union commander, U.S. Grant were disgusted with the lack of Butler’s resolve. Grant relieved Butler, replacing him with Alfred H. Terry (who was later to become one of the best known Indian fighters of the West). Porter was to give a reprise of his successful bombardment. Terry had previously been in charge of the Siege of Charleston and knew that he had to co-ordinate heavily with Porter for the complex mission to succeed.

On January 13th, 1865, under covering fire by Porter, Terry landed a force up river from the fort to block a Confederate re-enforcement of the fort once the amphibious assault began. Union forces probed the fort’s defenses and Terry decided that the fort was vulnerable from the river side. In the mean time, Porter continued his bombardment and prepared an amphibious assault of sailors and marines on the ocean side. With the fort now cut off from land side support and no naval protection to speak of, the Confederate forces, under General Whiting and Colonel Lamb, hunkered down under a remorseless bombardment by Porter over the next two days. The damage to the earthen works could not be repaired due to the ceaseless nature of the fire.

The stage was now set for the final assault on the 15th of January.

Motorcycle Ride

Start in Southport, North Carolina on the south side of the Cape Fear. Take the ferry to Fort Fisher. Then follow the coast from Fort Fisher to Camp Lejeune, NC. Check out Fort Fisher, NC Historic Site.

North Carolina and the American Revolution

Besides being a great place to ride with mountains, country roads, and seaside, North Carolina holds some of the coolest battlefield riding in such a compact area. Check out A Student of History’s dissertaion summary on North Carolina and the Revolutionary War.
Battlefield Biker rides; Moore’s Creek Bridge, Guilford Courthouse and nearby in South Carolina, Cowpens.
And for those of you who only think of the Civil War, Fort Fisher landings and assault.

Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina 17 January 1781

On 17 January 1781, the outlook for the British Army in America changed forever. A British Legion (combined infantry and cavalry) led by one of the British star, young officers, Banastre Tarleton, met its match on this day with a mixed force of one-third Continentals and two-thirds militiamen, led by what can only be called a “Good Old Boy,” Daniel Morgan.

American General Nathaniel Greene commanded the southern army and knew he couldn’t withstand a full encounter with the British, so he instructed his forces to split up and conduct operations against isolated British outposts. General Daniel Morgan commanded one of these smaller units. Tarleton was well known to the American forces for “Tarleton’s quarter.” Tarleton had a reputation, at least partly earned, for total war. He did not mind burning provisions and communities who supported the patriot cause. He also was reputed to have refused quarter to Americans at Waxhaws (Buford’s Massacre) by refusing surrender and continuing to assault.

Morgan had decided to attack Fort 96. Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton had set off to catch Morgan and prevent Morgan from disrupting the British / Loyalist forts and communities, like Fort 96. Tarleton had Morgan on the run and Morgan was attempting a ragged retreat when he decided to turn and face up to Tarleton in an area known a Cowpens (an open area of upland pasture) in northwestern South Carolina, near Gaffney. Tarleton had pushed his Legion hard through the night and they arrived at Cowpens ready to fight but tired.

Morgan had a plan to feign retreat after the intial exchange of rifle fire, knowing that Tarleton liked to take the initiative as fast as possible. When Morgan’s skirmishers fired and pulled back, Tarleton ordered his Legion forward to press the attack in hopes of a rout. Morgan had his skirmishers join his infantry line in fall back positions. What was planned and what just happened next is open to debate, but what is clear is that Morgan managed to envelope Tarleton’s Legion with infantry and cavalry and deliver withering fire into the British ranks whilst they were totally committed to a headlong rush. This may seem unusual, but much of the killing by the British Legions was by bayonet, so when they pressed the attack, they would have been mentally and physically committed to a bayonet charge. Taking heavy fire from an infantry line that was thought to have fled, whilst simultaneously having your flank rolled by cavalry might just make you want to drop your bayonet and run. That’s what Tarleton did with a handful of his command. Most of his force did not do so well with the majority being killed, wounded or captured.

Tarleton, 26 years old at the time, was rebuked and many older British officers felt it had been just a matter of time before the young rake’s risk taking had cost the British Army dear.

Motorcycle Ride

This is truly one of those perfect marriages of a great battlefield and a great ride. Here’s a beauty of a ride along the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway. It starts very near The Cowpens National Battlefield and makes it way through several state parks, lakes and geological sites.

Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina 15 March 1781

The early part of the American Revolutionary War was fought mostly in the North of the colonies, but after a series of defeats, the British decided to focus on the southern colonies in their persistent belief that Loyalist sympathies ran deeper there than the North. The British had built up a string of victories in the south by early 1781 by chasing down southern militias and defeating them one by one. General Washington sent one of his best Generals, Nathaniel Greene south to revive the Patriot effort. Greene had tried to separate his forces and hoped to catch the British off guard by making them attack him piecemeal. This had had some success, namely at Cowpens two months earlier, but it was getting harder and harder to avoid a major showdown with the British main force. After strategically retreating across South and North Carolina and preserving his force, Greene decided to turn and face his pursuer, Redcoat General Lord Cornwallis. Cornwallis was sure that if he could corner Greene’s force and inflict a decisive defeat on the Rebels, he could soon claim the American south for the British cause. The field for this critical battle was in the small hamlet of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina.

On the cold morning of 15 March 1781, Greene deployed his mixed militia and Continental Army force of approximately 4,500 in three lines in depth. The first line was North Carolina militia, the second Virginia militia and the final line was mainly Continentals. Cornwallis took his 1,900 British and German professional soldiers and attacked head on, breaking through the first line quickly, but with serious losses that he could ill afford. The second line held longer and bled the British further. However, the British broke through and finally reached the Continentals where a fierce give and take erupted with attacks and counter-attacks. The resulting mass of fighting men confused the situation to the point that Cornwallis felt that he needed to break up the two armies with grape shot fired into the middle of it. The artillery killed indiscriminately, but had the intended effect of separating the armies. At this point, Greene decided to pull away and save his force. Cornwallis stood victorious on the field, but strategically hamstrung.

From this victory, Cornwallis headed for the coast for re-supply for his depleted force. The condition of his army led him to begin his doomed Virginia campaign which would end later in the year with his surrender at Yorktown.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Check out this ride that leads to the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park through the Colonial Heritage Byway.

Battle of Moores Creek Bridge, North Carolina 27 February 1776

On 27 February 1776, British Loyalists, made up predominantly of Scottish Highlanders, decided to take on a known Patriot force near Currie, North Carolina. The Loyalists were handed their hats at the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge in an action that destined North Carolina to be one of the first colonies to push for a declaration of independence from the Crown.

In early 1776, the British were preparing to put down a full scale rebellion in the north of the North American colonies. At the urging of the North Carolina governor, they saw an opportunity to put the fledgling rebellion in the south to rest early and secure a good base for northern operations. A Scottish clan leader, named Donald MacDonald was appointed Brigadier General and raised a Scottish Highlander militia of 1,600 from the interior of North Carolina to fight for the Loyalist cause. They marched to the North Carolina port town of Brunswick, south of present day Wilmington, to meet the British forces of Cornwallis and Clinton in late February 1776. On route, they received word that local Patriot forces were gathering around Moores Creek, but the Highlanders figured they could take them and proceeded to battle.

The Patriots in three separate forces, led by Colonels Alexander Lillington, Richard Caswell and James Moore, arrived from 25 February 1776 and began earthen works on the east and west sides of the bridge. By the morning of the 27th, they had consolidated behind the eastern works with two cannons known as “Old Mother Covington and her Daughter.”

MacDonald led his force from the west and decided to charge headlong across the bridge with a lead element of Highlanders, screaming “King George and broad swords.” Behind the works, the Patriots waited until the lead Scots crossed the deliberately slippery and rickety bridge, then let loose with a volley of musket, followed by the limbering up of the elderly mum and her hot progeny. One could imagine the Patriot reply of “General George and redneck hordes.” The Patriot rifles and gunners put such a world of hurt on the bagpipe serenaded Loyalists that the whole offensive failed immediately. The losses to the lead element were horrendous, but the longer term damage was from the rounding up of 850 prisoners that had been dispersed by the action.

The British plans to subdue the south and then on the north were superceded by one determined force of North Carolina militia. The Brits were not to focus on the south again until 1780.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Here’s a ride to show you part of North Carolina, much like it was in colonial times. Start in Wilmington, North Carolina and head down to the Orton Plantation, which is near the historical site of Brunswick, to which the Loyalists were heading to meet with British Regulars and more Loyalists on that fateful day. Then cut up through the Green Swamp and finally down to the Moores Creek National Battlefield.

Photo Credit: By NPS Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Erie Loop

I had not seen this before, so mind the April 2008 date of this, but Motorcycle Classics has an article about the Lake Erie Loop. I did a Lake Erie loop as part of a bigger ride from Chicago to Vermont and back. The shores of Lake Erie are a treasure trove for the War of 1812 sites from Michigan to Ohio to Pennsylvania to New York and Ontario. Well worth a read and the loop tour is well worth it too, although I wouldn’t want to speed through it. I like stopping and looking at stuff too much.
Here’s a Google map of War of 1812 battle sites around Lakes Erie, Ontario, and Champlain.

A Redleg Ride to Los Alamos

Here is a motorcycling blog I’ve been reading lately, Redleg’s Rides. Charlie6 went to Los Alamos recently. There are a couple of good pictures of the “Fat Man” and the “Little Boy” in the post. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, head on over and find out.

The Northern Paiute of Northern Nevada Prior to 1860

The Northern Paiute people made their life in present day northwest Nevada over thousands of years. They lived off the land and moved regularly following the animals or the ripening season of the plants. Due to the rugged and spare environment, their culture was one of hospitality and limited possessions. Archaeological sites near present day Lovelock, Nevada indicate the Paiute’s ancestors lived there back to 2,500 BC. However, the arrival of the Americans and competition with them for scarce resources would change their way of life.

Through Paiute folklore, we also know that there were other indigenous people in the area as well. Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins in her book, Life Among The Piutes, tells a traditional Paiute story about a tribe of cannibals that lived near the Northern Paiutes and spoke the same language. The Paiutes had tried to bring the tribe to peace, but could not get them to give up their cannibalism, so this tribe of red-haired people were exterminated by the Paiutes in a great cave fire. Winnemucca Hopkins claimed to have a traditional dress that was trimmed with the red hair.1

From the early 1820s, maybe earlier, a few whites had explored the Great Basin area. Fur trappers had made their way down from the Snake River valley in the north. Fremont’s expedition had traveled through and mapped the area in 1844. There were hostilities with some of the white parties, but the volume of contact remained low for decades. However, from the 1840s, the real threat to the Paiute way of life came from the immigrant trails through their homeland. At first, the Paiute and the transient settlers managed to co-exist, but as the gold and silver rushes engulfed the area around Virginia City, whites began to settle and spread out into the Paiute heartland. The core problem was not merely a question of personal space, but a more basic conflict over culture and the use of scarce natural resources in modern or traditional ways. This made the opportunities for conflict much more numerous.

You can find out more about the Northern Paiute in my book on The Paiute War of 1860.

You can also use my Battlefield Biker Ride Guide to the Paiute War of 1860 to visit the sites associated with the war.


Buy the Battlefield Biker™ Ride Guide to the Paiute War of 1860

1 pp. 73-75 Hopkins, Sarah Winnemucca. Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims. Reno, Nev: University of Nevada Press, 1994.

Image credit: Public Domain. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

U.S. Army Rangers Destroy German Artillery at Pointe du Hoc on D-Day 6 June 1944


In between Omaha and Utah beaches in Normandy lies a promontory called Pointe du Hoc. Prior to D-Day on 6 June 1944, the Germans had six 155mm artillery pieces that could effectively fire on either Omaha or Utah beaches. Pointe du Hoc (typo’ed as Pointe du Hoe on many D-Day documents and maps) was target number one for the Americans to neutralize.

Feeling the pointe was unassailable from the sea, the Germans focussed most of the defenses facing rearward. The Americans, knowing this, sent their elite infantrymen, Companies D, E & F of the 2nd Ranger Batallion, to scale the seaside 100 foot vertical walls of the pointe in an attempt to surprise the Germans.

The pointe was subjected to an unprecedented aerial and naval bombardment prior to the invasion. You can see the effects of this in the giant craters that still exist here today. The firing lifted just before the Rangers were to land at 06:30. This is where things begian to go wrong.

At approximately 06:20, the Rangers’ landing craft were heading for the wrong pointe (Pointe de la Percee, a similar pointe) 2 miles closer to Omaha beach. The Ranger leader, Lieutenant-Colonel James Rudder, noticed the error and corrected the flotilla. However, to correct, the Rangers had to run parallel to the coast and against a strong tide. Swells engulfed several boats, including a supply boat. This meant they were 40 minutes late, short of men, food and ammunition. The delay meant the Germans had begun to re-occupy the pointe after the aerial and naval bombardment had lifted.

The Rangers landed at the base of the cliffs at approximately 07:10. Using grappling hooks and ladders, the first elements were up in 10 minutes. The Germans killed and wounded 15 by firing down on the Rangers and dropping grenades on them, but supporting naval fire suppressed them enough to allow the Rangers to get on top of the pointe.

The next problem came when the Rangers realized that the guns they had come for were not there. However, being trained to never dally around, the Rangers began to move toward their next objective which was to get to the main road (today’s D514) and set up a blocking position. Some Rangers had to fight from trench to trench to move forward, but others had a clear run to the road. Once at the road, elements from the 3 companies that had landed on the pointe set up blocking positions on the road and began immediate patrolling of the area. A CP element and an element trapped by snipers and an anti-aircraft position on the western side remained on the pointe.

Back at the road, the patrols were out. During 2 of these patrols, the missing German guns were found hidden in an orchard. One of the patrols with two Ranger sergeants moved to the south of their positions along a farm track and hedge row. At the end of the track, they found the heavily camouflaged guns in the orchard. They could hear their German crews being briefed and formed up in the distance. The Rangers destroyed the guns with thermite grenades. They quickly made their way back to the highway and sent a messenger to report to the CP back at the pointe.

After landing late in the face of determined opposition and not initially finding the guns, the Rangers had accomplished their mission in approximately 2 hours. Colonel Rudder sent the message that still inspires soldiers today; “mission accomplished – need ammunition and reinforcements – many casualties.”
Rudder thought that his scheduled relief would arrive at any minute, but only a single platoon had made it through. The near disaster at Omaha Beach was preventing the mass of the Rangers’ organic reinforcements from reaching Pointe du Hoc. Rudder and his decimated force were alone. Over the next 2 days, there were 5 German counter-attacks. The Rangers, initially strung out over a mile from pointe to the road, were forced back inside a 200 meter perimeter. They fought for their lives on low ammunition and little food to avoid being pushed off the cliffs and into the sea. In the end, the 190 man strong Ranger force was down to 90 that could defend the position. On D+2, the relief force arrived. The Rangers had taken 70% casualties, but a near mythical founding chapter of an elite force had been written.

In my current life it is hard to imagine the amount of personal sacrifice required for such an undertaking as Pointe du Hoc. This is one of the reasons I ride to these historic battlefields. I may never have to do what these Rangers did, but I have a responsibility for keeping the institutional memory alive. An excellent description of the action can be found at the US Army’s Center for Military History.

Not far from Pointe du Hoc is the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. It is well worth the visit and the new interpretive center there is superb.

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