The Fort Fisher Campaign: Part I

In December 1864, Federal forces prepared to launch a joint army-navy assault on Fort Fisher, North Carolina. The fort guarded Wilmington, the last major Confederate seaport open to blockade-runners. Major General Benjamin F. Butler commanded the 6,500-man army, and Rear Admiral David D. Porter commanded the naval fleet.[1]

Interior of Fort Fisher | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Interior of Fort Fisher | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The massive fleet steamed from Fort Monroe, Virginia and regrouped off Beaufort after being scattered by heavy storms along the way. In the early hours of December 24, Butler sent a scuttled ship filled with over 200 tons of gunpowder toward Fisher, hoping the explosion would destroy the 500-man Confederate garrison. However, the plan failed when the ship caused no damage.[2]

Porter’s 60 ships then opened fire on Fisher, but the Confederate defenders held as Butler prepared to land a reconnoitering force north of the fort. On Christmas Day, the Federals landed two miles north of Fisher and began advancing. However, Confederate forces closed in from the north, and Butler ordered the Federals to return to their transports. After determining the campaign was too costly in men and supplies, the Federal fleet withdrew back to Virginia.[3]

Southerners celebrated this rare victory while also knowing another attack would soon come. President Abraham Lincoln asked General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant about “what you now understand of the Wilmington expedition, present & prospective.” Grant replied, “The Wilmington expedition has proven a gross and culpable failure… Who is to blame I hope will be known.”[4]

This Federal fiasco led to charges and countercharges between Butler and nearly every other commander involved. On December 30, Lincoln announced that Butler would be removed as army commander, thus ending his controversial military career and beginning a long new career as a congressman, governor, and presidential candidate. But Fort Fisher remained a Federal target, and a new army commander would try taking it again next month.[5]

—–

  • [1] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 607, 614; Time-Life Editors, The Blockade: Runners and Raiders (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 88
  • [2] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 614
  • [3] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 614-15; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 439
  • [4] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 615-16
  • [5] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 616; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 158
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One thought on “The Fort Fisher Campaign: Part I

  1. […] failing to capture Fort Fisher in December 1864, Federals prepared to launch another joint army-navy expedition from Bermuda Hundred and Fort […]

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