A History of Fort Fisher “The Battles for the Fort” (Part 2 of 3)

By Sandy Jackson

[Originally published in the July, 1995 – FPHPS Newsletter]

Federal forces began plans for a joint army-navy attack on Fort Fisher during the fall of 1864.

Shortly after the southern forces learned on October 24, 1864, of the impending attack, Confederate general Braxton Bragg assumed command of the defenses of Wilmington. He superseded Gen. W.H.C. Whiting, who remained his second-in-command.

The Confederates assembled 1,430 men at Fort Fisher in preparation for the assault. An additional force of 6,000 veterans from Lee’s army under the command of Maj. Gen. Robert F. Hoke were located 5 miles up the river at Sugar Loaf.

The expected Federal fleet finally arrived off Fort Fisher on the morning of December 20 under the command of Admiral David Porter.  Aboard the fifty-six warships that gathered New Inlet was an army unit of 6,500 infantrymen under the command of Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler.

Click for details

Click for details

The first attempt the Federals made to take the fort began on the night of December 23, when the powder ship Louisiana, with more than 215 tons of powder, was exploded within 200 yards of the fort. It was hoped that the blast from the vessel would create a gap in the earthen defense. After a lengthy delay, however, the ship finally exploded at 1:52 AM. doing no damage.

For two days, December 24 and 25, Fort Fisher came under a heavy bombardment that did little destruction.

During the afternoon on Christmas day, 2,000 troops under General Butler made an unopposed landing at Battery Anderson, 3 miles up the coast. Unable to advance upon the fort because of artillery fire, General Butler withdrew his troops.

On December 27 the Federal vessels sailed north along the coast to Beaufort, North Carolina, having been unsuccessful in their initial effort to capture Fort Fisher.

The Confederates were jubilant at having withstood the land attack of General Butler and the naval bombardment from Admiral Porter’s ships. General Bragg, not expecting a renewed attack from the Union forces, ordered Hoke’s 6,000 troops into Wilmington in preparation for a move against occupied New Bern.

Disappointed with the failure of General Butler to take Fort Fisher, General U. S. Grant replaced Butler with Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Terry and ordered an additional 1,500 troops to ready themselves for a second attack on the fortification within the following weeks.

The Federal fleet, then numbering warships mounting 627 guns, reassembled at Beaufort, and proceeded back to Fort Fisher. On the night of January, 12, 1865, the Federal fleet reappeared off Confederate Point. The following morning, the second attack on Fort Fisher commenced when the five ironclads began bombarding the land defenses. The rest of the fleet, which joined in the bombardment of the fort that continued day and night from the thirteenth to the fifteenth. More than 50,000 shells and roundshot were directed at Fort Fisher during this period-the heaviest shelling of any fort during the war.

Map - Fort Fisher 1865

Click for detail

On January 14 Federal troops again landed above Fort Fisher, in the vicinity of Battery Anderson. There the infantry entrenched from the sea to the river and were supported by light artillery brought ashore. To prevent Gen. Braxton Bragg from arriving from Wilmington to enforce the fort, 4,700 men were placed along the entrenchment.

The remaining 3,300 men under the command of General Terry moved against Fort Fisher. At the pre-arranged hour of 3:00 PM. on January 15, the assault began under a covering fire from the Federal vessels.

In an effort to draw the fire away from General Terry’s troops, 400 marines and 1,600 sailors, landed near the fort the evening before and, armed with pistols and cutlasses, attacked the northeast bastion on the beach side.

The main attack by General Terry and his men came along the river at the end battery. During the ensuing battle, General Whiting was mortally wounded and Colonel Lamb severely wounded. The Confederate survivors of the battle fled to Battery Buchanan in hopes of finding boats as a means of escape.

The assault finally ended at 10 o’clock on the evening of January 15 when the last of the Confederate defenders, finding boats no longer there, could do nothing but surrender. Federal casualties had been costly, with nearly 1,300 men lost, but the expedition had finally been successful.

The “last major stronghold of the confederacy” had fallen. Blockade-runners could no longer enter the safety of the Cape Fear River to unload at Wilmington, and in the following month even the city would be occupied by Union forces.

 

Bibliography

Fort Fisher State Historic Site
1974 “Fort Fisher State Historic Site Master Development Plan”. North Carolina Department of Natural and Economic Resources and North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Lamb, William Colonel
1896 “Defense of Fort Fisher, North Carolina” In Operation on The Atlantic Coast 1861-1865, Virginia 1862-1864.
Vicksburg: Papers of The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts“, Vol. IX, 1912 Boston: The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts.

Powell, William S.
1968 “The North Carolina Gazetteer“. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Sprunt, James
1992 “Chronicles of The Cape Fear River 1660-1916“. Second edition. Wilmington: Broadfoot Publishing Co. Originally published, Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Co., 1916.


[Additional resources]

The Wilmington Campaign  (Dr. Chris Fonvielle)
Fort Fisher I: Folly
North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial – Maps

July, 1995 (pdf) – FPHPS Newsletter

Mark Wilde-Ramsing talks about Pirate Ship

January Meeting

Monday, January 21, 2019

7:30

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, January 21, 2019 at 7:30 pm at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.

Our speaker this month will be Mark Wilde-Ramsing, now retired, Director of the Underwater Archaeology Unit at Fort Fisher.  Mark was intimately involved in the recovery of artifacts from the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of Blackbeard the pirate. Mark will be talking about his new book, Blackbeard’s Sunken Prize:  The 300-Year Voyage of Queen Anne’s Revenge, recently published by UNC Press, and available now in both print and ebook editions.  Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.

Mark says: “As a historical archaeologist who specializes in material culture, I am most interested in those artifacts (or artifact categories) that relate directly to people, like their dishes and cookware, and personal gear like clothing items and adornment. In the lab, as I carefully handled each item, I had a constant thought that I was holding something 300 years old and previously touched or used by pirates, slaves or French captives.

Additionally, I continue to be fascinated by the artifacts that reflect the state of science of that period, like the medical equipment and the items used for metrology (all types of measurements). Studying these items has increased my knowledge of 18th century material culture in so many ways. This was a period of great transition for European cultures—this early period was before The Great Enlightenment of the mid-1700.”

In 1717, the notorious pirate Blackbeard captured a French slaving vessel off the coast of Martinique and made it his flagship, renaming it Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Over the next six months, the heavily armed ship and its crew captured all manner of riches from merchant ships sailing the Caribbean to the Carolinas. But in June 1718, with British authorities closing in, Blackbeard reportedly ran Queen Anne’s Revenge aground just off the coast of what is now North Carolina’s Fort Macon State Park.

What went down with the ship remained hidden for centuries, as the legend of Blackbeard continued to swell in the public’s imagination. When divers finally discovered the wreck in 1996, it was immediately heralded as a major find in both maritime archaeology and the history of piracy in the Atlantic. Now the story of Queen Anne’s Revenge and its fearsome captain is revealed in full detail.

 

President’s Letter – January, 2019

By Elaine Henson

Many locals will remember the Municipal Building, also called Town Hall or City Hall on the corner of Canal Drive and Carl Winner Drive.

The actual lot had formerly been marshland and part of Myrtle Grove Sound.  The sound was dredged and widened in 1939 to make the canal and yacht basin.  The dredge spoil added enough land to the north end to make new building lots and a street called Canal Drive.

You can see the large white Town Hall Building at the head of the yacht basin in this picture along with Canal Drive and Carolina Beach Avenue North on the east side of the canal.

Town/City Hall had been on the boardwalk since Carolina Beach was incorporated in 1925, but with WPA (Works Progress Administration) funds available during FDR’s administration, a new one was planned.  President Roosevelt approved the town hall project in December of 1939. The WPA paid $20,000 and $24,000 was raised through a bond issue for a total construction cost of $44,000.  A building start was delayed several times but finally got underway in September of 1941, giving work to 30 laborers.

The building was 114 feet wide and 132 feet long.  It was designed in the Art Moderne style which was very popular in the 1940s and 50s.  The outside was covered in white stucco with white plaster walls inside and green woodwork trim. In addition to offices for the town, there was also a large auditorium seating 800 people that was used for conventions, stage shows and community gatherings.  Also, included, was office space for the fire- department, police department, a jail for whites, jail for blacks, kitchen, recreation rooms bathrooms.  The Municipal Building was used for all kinds of community activities from bridge parties to church league basketball and also housed a county library branch beginning in 1950.

The building opened with a celebration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birthday on January 30, 1942.  It was held in the auditorium since the rest of the structure was not finished.  It was billed as a Birthday Ball and  also, as a fund raiser for polio research.  Town officials and employees moved in later that year and it remained a town center into the late 1990s despite flooding during hurricanes and storms.

In April of 1989 the Town of Carolina Beach purchased the Blockade Runner Museum and adjoining property in the 1100 block of North Lake Park Boulevard for $398,000 (the museum and other additions are now the present-day town complex).  Carolina Beach Town Council had much debate over the purchase even though they were anxious to buy before a possible price increase.  Interstate 40 was due to open from Wilmington to Raleigh in June, 1990 and many thought property prices along major highways would go sky high. At first only town officials and employees moved into the new space leaving the harbor master, police, fire, and recreation departments to spread out in the 1942 building.

After record flooding from back to back hurricanes, Bertha and Fran in 1996 and Hurricane Bonnie in 1998, plans were made to move the remaining departments and employees to Lake Park Boulevard.  The exception was the fire department which moved to Bridge Barrier Road. Later CBFD took over the former Federal Point Fire Department on Dow Road when FPFD moved to the other side of the Snow’s Cut Bridge.

The old City Hall was torn down in 1999 leaving that space empty.  Part of the lot was used to widen and redirect Carl Winner Avenue making more open space in front of the Marina.  The remainder was used to create a parking lot on Canal Drive.

 

 

Wilmington Star News, March 23, 2000

Cap’n John Recalls The Past

Picture from Winner Collection, NHCPL.
Carolina Beach Jacyees lobbied hard for the Fort Fisher/Southport Ferry

By:  Jack Loftus
From: Wilmington Star-News

 

When the new Fort Fisher-Southport ferry made its debut recently, one of the passengers was John H. Bowen, 93, one of the last of the old Cape Fear River boat captains.

While making the 45 minute journey from Fort Fisher to Southport, John Bowen vividly recalled his own experiences as a ferry boat captain on the Cape Fear.

Like most good river captains, Bowen was born and raised along the river, and soon it became a way of life.  Bowen was born July 15, 1872, son of a Cape Fear River pilot.  Long before the Wilmington – Brunswick ferry service began, Bowen was a river captain, navigating tugs up and down the Cape Fear and from Wilmington to Baltimore.

When in 1910 New Hanover and Brunswick counties decided to jointly finance and operate a ferry service to connect the two counties across the Cape Fear, John Bowen was named as the first captain of the new ferry called the John Knox.

Bowen vividly remembers ferrying the first passengers across the river aboard the John Knox, as well as some of the men who worked with him on the ferry.  Bill Register and John Brinkley were the engineers, while George Dickie was the other captain.

Talking with Captain Ira Spencer of the new Fort Fisher-Southport ferry, Bowen said that the speed of the new ferry was much faster than that of the old John Knox, but that the John Knox was just as sturdy.  He also mentioned the difficulty he had navigating the John Knox in the strong current of the Cape Fear.  “The current was bad enough,” he recalled, “but the short distance between Wilmington and Brunswick made it even tougher.”

After several years the two counties bought a new ferry, the Menantic – a side wheeler, and steam powered.  Bowen was also the first to navigate this ferry, because he was the only captain in New Hanover County with a steamboat license.

Both ferries docked at the foot of Market Street and soon 20 minute round trip service was established.  “This made things a little hectic,” said Bowen.  “On slack water the ferry could head right for the opposite slip, but on flood tide the ferry had to travel in an arc.  There was not enough water pressure on the rudder of the Menantic to make her come around fast enough, and this was always a problem getting the ferry into the slip on each side.”

Bowen served as captain of the ferry service until the construction of the Cape Fear River bridge and the subsequent ending of the ferry service.

It has been years since the ferries shuttled between Wilmington and Brunswick, but many people from this area still recall them vividly from their childhood.  And if, in comparison to the new Fort Fisher-Southport ferry, the John Knox and the Menantic seem to be things of the past.  Bowen recalled that in their day “these ferries were just as new and convenient as the new one of today.”  Indeed the only ferry service connecting Wilmington and Brunswick before the John Knox and the Menantic was the old hand operated ferries which had been in use off-and-on since 1764.

After the ferry service was discontinued Bowen remained a river captain navigating tugs along the Cape Fear and between Wilmington and Baltimore until after World War I.

“One of the most interesting experiences I can recall after the ferries, was in 1916 when I was bringing a barge down the Chesapeake to Wilmington when I almost ran into a German U boat.  I saw him coming and I just couldn’t believe it,” Bowen mused.

Recalling his days as a river captain, Bowen said that the only drawback was the time he had to spend away from home.  Yet he feels that in a way he would like to be piloting a boat again.  “If my eyes were better, I could be a captain of the new ferry,” Bowen laughed.

John Bowen now lies with his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Summerlin at 6037 Wrightsville Avenue.

 

Society Notes – January, 2019

By Darlene Bright, History Center Director

  • The Society membership extends their heartfelt sympathy to the family of long-time member Paul Slebodnik who passed away on January 4, 2019. He was a valued member, a volunteer for all events and a special friend to those who knew him.
  • CB Gazebo - Future FP History Center

    CB Town Hall Gazebo – Future FP History Center

    The History Center recorded 53 visitors in November. There were 49 people in attendance at the Christmas Potluck. The History Center was used by the Got-Em-On Live Bait Fishing Club, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC).

  • Welcome to new members, Lynn Williams of Wilmington, Steve and Kim Baumann of Wilmington, Matt Pugliese and Beth Ann Burns of Kure Beach, and Joseph and Terry Benson of Carolina Beach. John Gregory converted his membership to LIFETIME.
  • Thanks to our volunteers this month: Steve Arthur for his tour of the Boardwalk, decorating for Christmas & taking it down, helping with the Potluck. Jim Kohler who helped with the Newsletter. Cheri McNeill Steve Arthur and Darlene Bright for all the work they did getting ready and cleaning up for the Christmas Potluck. Eddie Capel and Darlene Bright for doing our bookkeeping. Leslie Bright for getting ready for the Christmas Potluck, and upkeep of the building. Also, Elaine Henson, Rebecca Taylor, Eddie Capel and Cheri McNeill met with Mayor Joe Benson to fill him in on the history of our Society.
  • And don’t forget!! If you take a trip with Wilmington Water Tours, please tell them you are a member of the FPHPS!  If you do, we get a portion of your ticket price.  Call us at 910-458-0502 or them at 910-338-3134.  wilmingtonwatertours.net

 

We had standing room only for the entertainment at the Christmas Potluck. Thanks to John Golden, and Jay and Deborah Hockenbury