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.
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.
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.
In mid May 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman was picking his way down North Georgia. His counterpart, General Joseph E. Johnston had just reluctantly retreated from Cassville, Georgia to the Allatoona Gorge in the hopes of luring Sherman into a tight killing zone. Johnston’s only worry was that the position at Allatoona was too good. Unbeknownst to Johnston, Sherman knew the position was too strong to attack head on. Sherman had spent a lot of time in the area as a young officer and had spent much time around the Etowah Indian burial mounds nearby. Sherman decided to swing west and go directly after the strategic crossroads around Dallas, Georgia.
After a few days rest, the Union forces moved south. General Joseph Hooker was in the van of the middle column and began a pursuit of a small band of Confederate cavalry which was acting as a screen for Johnston’s forces to the south. “Fighting Joe” Hooker lived up to his name and went fast and hard at the Confederates under General John Bell Hood. Hooker had hoped to catch the Rebels off guard and press home and advantage. Hood had other ideas. Taking his cue from his cavalry screen, Hood had begun entrenchments and selecting defensive positions. The first of Hooker’s assaults led by Brigadier General John W. Geary was thrown back when it encountered an undetected enfilade Confederate position which hit them hard. Hooker persisted with two more Divisions and the battle was enjoined.
Hood’s middle was held by Major General Alexander P. Stewart’s Division and they bore the brunt of Hooker’s onslaught for several hours in the afternoon. The battle raged with such ferocity that Johnston became worried that Stewart might relinquish the position. Stewart, a Tennessean, held firm even though some of Hooker’s men got close. With a fierce thunderstorm brewing and setting in, Hooker made one last throw of the dice and pulled Geary out of reserve through dense wood to push through a perceived advantage. Stewart’s artillery which had been so effective now opened up with even more canister rounds and caused the veteran Geary to claim that it was the hottest he had experienced with his command. The Union forces were praised for the courage and coolness, but the day was no to be theirs. With the drenching from the rain and the gloom of the stormy evening setting in, the Union forces settled down in their positions and awaited daylight. The battle has been called New Hope Church, but the soldiers knew it by “Hell’s Hole.”
The next day would bring probing for weakness all along the line, two days later, the fighting would continue near Pickett’s Mill.
Next time you are buzzing down I-75 from Chattanooga to Atlanta, jump off at Cartersville for a great little circular ride that takes in Allatoona Lake, The New Hope and Pickett’s Mill Battlefields and a couple of mountainous switchback roads near Dallas, Georgia.
Combat Veteran’s Motorcycle Association Chapter 27-3 conducted a ride around the Petersburg, Virginia area on 19-20 August 2016. It was organized by a member who works as National Park Service Ranger, Chris Castle, who is a also a combat veteran. Castle conducted historical briefs at several stops. From the article,
The stop locations included, the Battle of the Crater, and Fort Fisher. The ride ended with lunch at a local restaurant. Everyone left with an understanding of the events that occurred during the 292 day campaign, that led to the retreat and eventual surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox.
However, the article erroneously states,
This weekend also marked the 150th anniversary to the end of the civil war.
The USA Civil War concluded in the spring of 1865… 151 years ago from 2016. General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on 9 April 1865. President Andrew Johnson issued a Proclamation of the end of the war on 9 May 1865 and the last major Confederate forces west of the Mississippi River surrendered on 2 June 1865.
I bet this was a great ride. Good people gathering to learn their nation’s history and a good ride to boot. If you attended, please let me know how it went.
Image Credit: Timothy H. O’Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
On the morning of 13 December 1862, the preparations were done and the day of reckoning was at hand. Burnside had decided on taking the nearest hills, but had sent ill-defined orders to his left which resulted in a weak effort to roll up Lee’s right flank.
As the morning progressed, A federal bombardment of the Rebel positions on Prospect Hill preceded the push from Union General Meade. Meade was delayed by the “gallant Pelham,” for a critical half hour. Finally, the main assault was underway and repulsed once, but Meade was determined and found a way to defeat Confederate A.P. Hill through a marshy area. Once Meade was through, he found that the promised left flank movement was far too weak to support his breakthrough. Seeing Meade exposed, Stonewall Jackson threw Jubal Early’s division into counter-attack and drove Meade out. A Union opportunity of great importance had been lost.
Over on Marye’s Heights, it was a turkey shoot as the Confederate’s repelled wave after wave of Union assault. Burnside had been criticized for not being aggressive enough previous to Fredericksburg, so he decided that this would not be the case here. He renewed his attack on Marye’s Heights and on Lee’s right flank. This turned a defeat into a bloodbath. The day was lost to Burnside due to weak orders and dithering in his preparation, not his lack of aggressiveness.
For a motorcycle ride that also takes in the Spotsylvania
battlefield, head west out of Fredericksburg on VA State Route 3, then
head southwest on Virginia State Route 20 at Wilderness and follow VA SR 20 for approximately 50 miles to Charlottesville.
Image Credit – By Kurz & Allison, Art Publishers, Chicago, U.S. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Made famous by the 1989 movie Glory. There are no roads to the historical site of Fort Wagner, but you can enjoy two scenic rides nearby to get a feel for the area; Riverland Drive & Fort Johnson Road.
Fort Wagner is here. Looks like the closest road point would be here.
Confederate General Stand Watie was born near Rome, Georgia on 12 December 1806. Watie, a Cherokee Indian, survived the tribe’s Trail of Tears in the 1830s and became the only Native American to achieve the rank of general during the Civil War.*
On the night of 1st and 2nd July 1863, General Watie led his forces against a Federal supply wagon train at the ford where the Texas Trail intersected Cabin Creek in the Indian Territory (to become Oklahoma in 1907). This skirmish was to be called the First Battle of Cabin Creek. The wagon train was led by Union Colonel James Williams and and originated at Ft. Scott, Kansas. It consisted of the 3rd Indian Home guard and the 1st Kansas colored Volunteer Infantry among various other units, crucially some artillery. The Confederates tried to hold the ford and take the supplies, but were driven off by the Union artillery and several charges by Williams’ forces. The wagon train continued to its destination of Fort Gibson in the Indian Territory. There were other skirmishes on the 5th and the 20th of July 1863, but the Union fended off the Confederates each time. It was not until 19 September 1864 that General Watie and his forces were able to win and secure and union wagon train at the same site in the Second Battle of Cabin Creek.
The battlefield is near Pensacola, OK. It might make a good ride out from Tulsa, OK (~60 miles), Bentonville, AR (~70 miles), University of Arkansas (~85 miles) or maybe a longer ride from Branson, MO (~150 miles), if you happen to be in any of those places. The battle site directions on this site are confusing, but I think the actual battle site and commemorative marker is near here.
General Stand Watie is a very interesting character to me. His Indian name was “Red Fox” which was my call sign in the 2nd Cavalry. See below for a history of his and other Indians’ service in the US Civil War.
Image credit: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
In one of his rare failures in the Atlanta Campaign, General William Tecumseh Sherman lost approximately 2,000 to 3,000 men to Confederate General Joseph Johnston’s forces who were in prepared defenses at Kennesaw Mountain (actually Big Kennesaw and Little Kennesaw) just north of Marietta, Georgia. Although it was a costly defeat for the Union forces, it was not long until they were on the march again and at the gates of Atlanta.
Check out the Kennesaw National Military Park. There are some good maps there by Larry Knight (RIP). There is even a trail map of the battlefield, if you are inclined to take a hike. Don’t be put off by the “Calorie Counter” title on the hiking map. Take a cheeseburger with you to give the nannies the vapors.
On 12 December 1862 Union General Burnside’s troops had crossed the Rappahannock and secured Fredericksburg and another major crossing down river. Burnside and Lee spent the day riding their lines, but with different tasks. Lee, knowing that he had superior ground, was riding to check his lines and trying to second guess Burnside’s intentions. Would Burnside attack elsewhere due to the South’s superior positioning or was Burnside so confident of his numbers that he would attack Lee’s formidable position?
Burnside also spent the day with his troops. He mainly found them trashing Fredericksburg. However, Burnside was futilely looking for weak points in Lee’s position, but could find none. He finally settled on two hills, Prospect and Marye’s Heights, that had the sole advantage of being close, reducing the ground that would needed to be covered.
The stage was now set and the the 13th would bring battle. Log on tomorrow for part 3.
Check out the ride along Virginia State roads 218 and 205 from Fredricksburg to Colonial Beach.
On 11 December 1862, the long build up to the Battle of Fredricksburg was over and the fighting began in earnest. The week of 11-15 December 1862 was to be a bloody one, especially for the Union forces of Ambrose Burnside. Given the almost limitless time to fortify and prepare positions, the Rebels, under Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson and James Longstreet, were in a superior position and they took full advantage of it.
In the early hours of 11 December, Burnside sent his engineers to erect pontoon bridges over the Rappahannock and Rebel General William Barksdale’s Mississippi brigade began a hellacious sniper attack from the town. Union forces tried to protect the engineers with heavy artillery fire that left Fredricksburg a smoking pile. By mid afternoon of the 11th, Union forces, in an action of remarkable bravery, were able to cross the Rappahannock on pontoons, but then faced house to house fighting with Barksdale’s, slowly and methodically, retreating brigade. Slowly,
the Yankees cleared the the town. By evening, Barksdale was pulling back to the Rebel lines above the town. Burnside had his crossing, but at a terrible price. Worse was to follow. Tune in tomorrow for more.
The map above of the situation before the December battles shows just how close this fighting was to Washington, D.C. and how tenuous the Union’s hold on the country was at the time.
To get a feel for the great river Rappahannock, take US 17 from Fredericksburg southeast to Gloucester. At Tappahannock, you can get another good view of the river as it widens on its way into Chesapeake Bay. From Gloucester, you can go another 15 miles to cross the York river and into Yorktown.
Image courtesy of the United States Military Academy’s History Department’s Atlas Collection.