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1865 January 28: The Second Battle of Fort Fisher—Wilmington Harbor Closed Up

February 1, 2015

The Second Battle of Fort Fisher took place January 13-15, 1865, outside Wilmington, North Carolina.  Sometimes referred to as the “Gibraltar of the South,” Fort Fisher  was the last major Atlantic coastal stronghold of the Confederacy.  It had tremendous strategic value during the War, providing a port for blockade runners supplying General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.  The following article comes from the January 28, 1865, issue of The Prescott Journal.

The Second Wilmington Expedition. 




Harmonious Action of the Forces.
Terrific Naval Bombardment.
Rebel Guns Silenced & Fort Damaged. 


Victory Finally Gained.
2000 Prisoners Secured.
72 Guns are Reported Ours. 


The correspondent of Baltimore American, under date of the 9th inst., communicates the following important information relative to the renewal or rather extenuation of the great movement against the defences of Wilmington, situated at Federal Point, mouth of  New Inlet. this correspondence has been withheld from publication here until it should become known that the attack had actually been commenced.

OFF BEAUFORT, Jan. 9th. }

Having ridden out a heavy south-east storm at our anchorage during the past two days, off Beaufort harbor, we are now enjoying a calm peculiar to this latitude, which can scarcely be expected to last more than 24 hours.  Yesterday morning, the wind having got round to the north-east and the sun shining out brightly, we were blessed once more with a quiet sea, and were delighted also with the approach of the fleet of transports with the troops furnished by Gen. Grant to co-operate with Admiral Porter’s fleet in the capture of Fort Fisher.  [Ulysses S. Grant, David D. Porter]

The first vessel that arrived was the flag ship of the commanding General, which crossed the bar at once and proceeded up Beaufort Harbor to communicate with the flag-ship of Admiral Porter.  Next came the steamers Baltic and Atlantic, each with near 2,000 men on board. The other transports arrived soon after. Their names could not however be ascertained.  All the transport fleet, as I write, are now anchored outside of the bar, along with the naval vessels.

The plan of battle is fully arranged, and the commanders of each vessel have been supplied with a new chart, indicating not only his exact position, but the precise point of the works of the enemy on which his fire is to be directed.

The Santiago being commanded by the senior captain of the gun fleet, Capt. O. S. Gilsson, is stationed at the head of the line of vessels of her class, eleven in number, and whilst the others of the line are to concentrate their fire on the outworks of Fort Fisher, our guns are to throw a flank fire into the Fort.

The positions of the vessels are nearly the same as in the former fight, excepting that the iron-clads will take position about a quarter of a mile nearer to Fort Fisher than at the first attack, and the Dictator will also join them with her two 15-inch guns, making the monitor fleet twelve guns strong, including the four guns of the Monadnock.  Then the Ironsides, with her tremendous 11-inch broadsides, and the Minnesota, Wabash, Brooklyn, Susquehanna, Tuscarora, Seneca, Ticonderoga, Mohican, Colorado, Shenandoah, Pawtucket, Mackinaw, Maumes, Poehatian, Juniata, Yantic and Kansas form the second line.

The New York, Unadilla, Huron and Pequod which act as tenders to the Monitors, are also in the inner line.

The gunboats and fleet are to form a line in front of the shore batteries, extending to the right of Fort Fisher. The reserves of the various divisions, consisting of the smaller class of gunboats, are assigned to a position outside the line of battle.

LATER.—A steamer has just arrived from the inner harbor, and reports that at noon today a signal was hoisted on the flag ship of fleet to prepare for sea. The probability is that we will sail to-morrow morning, if the weather continues favorable. The fleet outside the bar are all ready to sail at a moment’s notice ; the larger transports are also outside, about 15 miles from shore, awaiting the movements of the fleet.

"Ft. Fisher, showing Union Attack, Jany 15th 1865," from the Virginia Historical Society¹

“Ft. Fisher, shewing Union Attack, Jany 15th 1865,” from the Virginia Historical Society¹

The following has been received at the Navy Department from Admiral Porter :

Jan. 14, 1865.

SIR :—I have the honor to inform you that operations have been resumed against the forts at the entrance of Cape Fear River.  Since the first attack on that place and the subsequent withdrawal of the troops.  I have been employed in filling the ships with ammunition and coal.  The difficulties we have encountered no one can conceive, all our work had to be done with the larger vessels, anchored on the coast, exposed, you may almost say at sea, to the violent gales that blow here almost incessantly—on those gales the enemy depended to break up our preparations, we will see.  We have gone through the worst of it.  Have hold on through gales heavy enough to drive any thing to sea, and we have sustained no damage whatever.  After the troops arrived the weather set in bad and the gale was very heavy, as soon as it was over I got under way on the 12th instant, and forming the vessels in three lines, with the transports in company, I steamed for Fort Fisher.  On the morning of the 13th the fleet took its station in three lines close to the beach, and the boats were sent at once to take off the troops.  These were landed with about twelve days’ provisions, at about two o’clock P.M.  This time I pursued a different plan in attacking the rebel works.  I sent in the new Ironsides, Commodore RADFORD, leading the monitors Saugus, Canonicus, Monadnock and Mahopee.  At 7:30 A.M. the forts opened on them as they approached, but they quietly took up their old positions within one thousand yards of Fort Fisher, and when ready they opened their batteries in this way ;  I tempted the enemy to engage the monitors, that we might see what guns they had ;  and seeing where they were, be able to dismount them by fire.  Quite a spirited engagement went on between the forts and the Ironsides and monitors ;  it was soon apparent that the iron vessels had the best of it.  Traverses began to disappear, and the southern angle of Fort Fisher, commenced to look very dilapidated.  The guns were silenced one after the other, and only one heavy gun in the southern angle kept up its fire.  The fire of this gun was not at all accurate, as it inflicted no damage on the iron vessels.  They were hit, though, several times.  By way of letting the enemy know we had some shell left on board the wooden ships, and did not intend to take any unfair advantage of him by using the iron vessels alone, I ordered line No. 1, on the plan led by Capt. ALDEN, of the Brooklyn, and line No. 2, led by Commodore THATCHER, of the Colorado, to go and attack the batteries.  This was done in the handsomest manner ;  not a mistake was committed, except firing too rapidly and making too much smoke.

The heavy fire of the large vessels shut up the enemy’s guns at once, and after firing till after dark, the wooden vessels dropped out to their anchorage.  The Ironsides and Monitors maintained their position through the night, firing a shell now and then.  They are now lying within one thousand yards of the fort, and the monitors within seven hundred yards, and the fort does not fire a gun at them, thinking no doubt that it is a waste of powder.

The firing from the fleet will commence as soon as we get breakfast, and will be kept up as long as the Ordnance Department provides us with shells and guns.  There is perfect understanding between Gen. TERRY [Alfred H. Terry] and myself, I believe everything has been done to suit him.  I have heard no complaints, and have felt every disposition to help the army along.

A detailed report of our operations here will be sent in when we get through.  I see no reason to doubt our success, the forts will be used up so.

We have a respectable force landed on a strip of land which our naval guns completely command, and a place of defence which would enable us to hold on against a very large army.

I will report to you every opportunity.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D.C.

1.  A digital image of this map, drawn by Robert Knox Sneden, is on the Library of Congress website (Civil War Maps, Geography and Map Division).  The original drawing is in the Robert Knox Sneden Diary (Mss 5:1, Sn237:1 v. 6, page 348) in the collections of the Virginia Historical Society. A Virginia Historical Society exhibit featuring the Sneden Civil War Collection, which contains Sneden’s diaries and over 400 detailed watercolor sketches and hand-drawn maps, was at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison in 2003.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 7, 2015 11:26 pm

    Reblogged this on Lenora's Culture Center and Foray into History.

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