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.
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