No Reward for Finding Gold

By Bill Reaves

(Wilmington Morning Star, June 17, 1927)

Erosion at Ft. Fisher

Click

D. R. Connor, 97 years old, and a native of Robeson County, NC died on June 16, 1927, at the home of his daughter, Mrs, A. M. Roberts, 309 Dawson Street, in Wilmington, NC. He served in the War Between the States with North Carolina troops. He was among the defenders of Fort Fisher when that stronghold fell and was made a prisoner at the time of its capture.

Following the death of Connor, the Wilmington historian, Andrew J. Howell, recalled a story that he had been told by the deceased when they had a visit together earlier. Connor told Howell about finding a satchel of geld coins in the surf at Fort Fisher while he was a soldier there.

It was on the beach below the “Mound Battery” at the southeastern corner of the Fort, which has since been washed away. One morning he went to a secluded spot, where he often went for secret prayer, when he noticed an object in the shallow water close to the shore. He went for it, and found it to be a satchel containing some heavy material. When he opened it, his eyes fell upon a quantity of gold coins!

This was too big a discovery for a mere private to keep so he carried the bag to the headquarters of his company and was given the information that the officers would make the proper disposition of the money. He naturally expected to be rewarded with some of the prize, but he said he never received any of it. He felt pretty sure, however, that he afterwards could trace the whereabouts of at least some of the money.

Rose O'Neil Greenhow

Rose O’Neil Greenhow

The satchel was supposed to have been the property of Mrs. Rose Greenhow, the Confederate secret agent, who lost her life in the breakers while attempting to land from the blockade runner, Condor, on September 30, 1864.

Mr. Connor was an honored citizen of the Fair Bluff area of Columbus County, NC, and was much beloved by his fellow Confederate veterans, at whose reunions he was often seen.

(Wilmington Morning Star, June 17, 1927; June 19, 1927)

[This article was originally published in the January 1998 – FPHPS Newsletter]

Fort Fisher Revetment Project Nears Completion (March 1996)

[Originally published in the March, 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter]

At last month’s [Feb, 1996] meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society, Mr. Bill Dennis, a civil engineer with the US. Army Corps of Engineers – Wilmington District, presented a thorough site history and review of the Fort Fisher revetment project to a well-attended audience. Mr. Dennis, a native of New Jersey, began his slide presentation and discussion with a quick overview of the Federal Point area and how changes in its shape led to a need for a protective seawall to save the fort.

In 1761 a hurricane drastically reshaped Federal Point when it opened a passage known as New Inlet between the ocean and the Cape Fear River.

New Inlet, however, later played an important role during the Civil War as an entrance for sleek, fast blockade runners to slip past the Union fleet and enter the river under the protective guns of Fort Fisher. These ships were able to successfully deliver their valuable cargoes to Wilmington and on to the rest of the Confederacy until early 1865.

The Rocks2

‘The Rocks’ from Battery Buchanan to Zeke’s Island

Following the war, Federal Point again underwent a major transition in appearance when the US. Army Corps of Engineers closed New Inlet to improve river navigation. During the 1870s and 1880s the Corps built a stone structure known as “The Rocks” in two sections across the inlet and swash that still exists today.

The upper section of the dam extended from Battery Buchanan on Federal Point to Zeke‘s Island, a distance of 5,300 feet. The continuation of the lower section known as the Swash Defense Dam from Zeke’s Island to Smith’s Island [Bald Head Island], a distance of 12,800 feet, made the entire closure just over 3 miles in length.

Ft Fisher vs Erosion

Erosion at Ft. Fisher

In addition to the natural deterioration of Federal Point, serious erosion problems occurred near Fort Fisher alter the state intentionally removed coquina rock from the shore just north of the earthworks during the 1920s for use as road construction fill. Since that time approximately 200 yards of sea front has been lost to wave action.

This loss forced the state in the early 1950s to realign the very same highway that had been built with the use of the coquina rock. The North Carolina Highway Department, and later aided by local communities, then began dumping concrete and other large construction debris along the sea front near Battle Acre. As a further means of slowing erosion at Fort Fisher, the state placed a line of rocks along the shoreline in 1970. Storms since that time showed the revetment to be too short. Shoreline erosion continued at a rate of nearly 10 feet per year.

Since the end of the Civil War the ocean has claimed nearly half of the fort.

A more substantial solution to the site erosion problem came in 1995 when matching federal and state funds for a larger revetment project became available. The state and Corps of Engineers approved a plan for a permanent seawall based upon a design of Mr. Dennis.

After two years of planning, an acceptable design called for the construction of a 3,040-foot seawall to extend from south of Battle Acre to north of the Fort Fisher mounds.

Bids went out for the construction of the seawall. Selected for the construction project was Misener Marine Construction, Inc. of Tampa, Florida, at a bid of 4.6 million dollars.

Fort Fisher Rocks and BeachWork on the project began in June 1995, and included a multi-layered rubble revetment with circular tie-ins to natural ground on both ends of the site.

Beginning on the south end, the construction company dug a trench to 3.5 feet below mean sea level in which to lay the revetment ends. Within the trench at both ends, and along the shoreline, a fabric liner was first applied topped by a layer of gravel. Slightly larger bedding stone was then applied and finally a layer of armor stone.

The armor stone, weighing approximately two tons apiece, came from a quarry near Raleigh, while the smaller bedding stone was mined near Castle Hayne.

Approximately 68,000 tons of rock form the seawall.  Along Battle Acre the revetment overlaid most of the preexisting rubble. To prevent the new stone from washing into the sea from the sloping shoreline, Misener Marine placed a line of concrete sta-pods at the toe of the protective stone. Nearly four hundred of the pods, weighing 5 tons each and shaped like a tri-pod, were interlocked in a parallel row to the shoreline.

Reventment - Ft FisherSticking slightly above the water, marine algae soon covered the sta-pods.  On December 15 , 1995, Misener Marine placed the last rock in the revetment—nearly three months ahead of schedule.

The revetment rises slightly above the natural ground elevation at about 12-15 feet above sea level. Behind the revetment, sand was placed to form a gentle slope from the crest of the revetment to the existing ground. Currently landscaping with trees and scrubs is occurring near the revetment.

3,200-foot seawall completedat Fort Fisher Museum and Earthworks.

3,200-foot seawall completed (April, 1996)
at Fort Fisher Museum and Earthworks.

A security fence, walkway with stairs leading down to the beach on either end, and two observation gazebos are being constructed. The landscaping and construction projects are expected to be completed by April.

The new revetment should halt the ocean-side erosion of Federal Point for the next fifty years.

Mr. Dennis summarized his work on the design and construction of the seawall project when he jokingly indicated, “It took a Yankee to finally save Fort Fisher.”

 

March 1996 Newsletter (pdf) – Federal Point Historic Preservation Society

Changes to the Federal Point Landscape – webpage – Federal Point Historic Preservation Society

US. Army. Corps of Engineers:
Revetment stability study,  Fort Fisher State Historic Site

Local Shows Feature Federal Point History

‘The Hermit of Fort Fisher’
by David Wright, Directed by Steve Vernon

Big Dawg Productions brings the story of Robert Harrell back for another run. If you missed it the first time, here’s your chance. The play will run at 8 pm for 5 nights, July 29-August 2nd,,2015 at the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. Tickets ($20.00) can be ordered at the web site: http://www.bigdawghermit.com/ or purchased at the door.

Big Dawg will be keeping the same cast as the original Wilmington and Southport productions and the same director so the show is only bound to grow stronger as the cast and director are well versed in this history and truly immersed in the roles of their characters.

 

summers seabreeze #2‘Summers at Seabreeze’
Songs and Remembrances from Freeman Beach

TheatreNOW’s summer dinner theater show features a look at an often overlooked aspect of Federal Point’s history.

Shows run at 7pm on Fridays and Saturdays through July 25, 2015. Tickets are $34.00 ($26.00 for children and seniors) include dinner that includes a menu drawn from Seabreeze’s original cuisine – including the famous “clam fritters.” Or tickets for the show alone are $20.00.

To book tickets, and see the full dinner menu visit their website: http://www.theatrewilmington.com/

Wilmington Star-News Review:  “‘Summers at Seabreeze’ feels particularly timely, even as its focus is on the past. It’s a reminder that, no matter what those filled with hate may think, the history of the African-American community has a value, and a beauty, that can’t be taken away and won’t ever be forgotten.”~ John Staton.

 

Walter’s Place at Fort Fisher

[This article appeared in the Wilmington Dispatch on September 1, 1923, and comes from the William M. Reaves Collection]

Walter's Place

Walter’s Place

There is a little wooden shack, almost at the point of the peninsular in the southern end of New Hanover County and situated between “The Mound” at Fort Fisher and the sea. The shack serves to designate the establishment known as Walter’s Place.

Fort Fisher and its history have come down to us from the Civil War, and its flag-topped mound, its monument and its strategic location and inspirational surroundings are not new, but Walter’s Place is a creation of the year 1923.

Situated on the final loop of the Fort Fisher highway, Walter’s Place offers many attractions to visitors and fishermen alike. The establishment is run as a cool drink stand and bath house. But it is becoming famous for its fish suppers and lunch service for fishing parties. Cold drinks, hot sandwiches and lunches are readily available and will be specially prepared upon-notice.

Walter’s Place – on right
Click

From Walter’s Place you can go fishing in the river, bay at the “Rocks” or out to sea. Boats, tackle and bait are kept on hand for deep sea fishing and the old banks and wreck of Modern Greece offer the best place for this sport.

Fort Fisher Fishing Pier 1936-1954.

1936-1954
Confederate Memorial at Battle Acre in background

“The Cribben,” Buzzard’s Bay, “The Rocks” and the river are also within easy distance. A Ford car and a motorcycle are kept on the beach to take fishing parties quickly along the beach sands to the inlet or any of the other places nearby.

The owners of this popular shore establishment are Walter Winner and his pretty sister, Iona Winner. The latter keeps shop while the former is away with fishing parties and in quest of supplies.

[Originally published in the August 1996– FPHPS Newsletter]

Oral History – Ed Neidens – Fort Fisher Radar Station

Ed NiedensInterviewed by Ann Hertzler and Jeannie Gordon – March, 2007

I first came to Fort Fisher in the spring of 1956.  The Air Force took me off of a radar site on a mountain in northern Japan and said ‘we want you to go to Kure Beach.’  And at that time, Kure Beach was not on the map.  … Fort Fisher was on the map. This is actually the Fort Fisher radar site.

I was in the Air Force here at Kure Beach in ‘56 and ‘57.  I was discharged in Oct of 57, and went to work for what is now the federal aviation agency as an air traffic controller: Montgomery Alabama, Charleston, Miami, Pensacola, Wilmington. I was a control intercept technician – a radar operator.

Ed Niedens #2Actually the radar site was part of the old fort – the Fort Fisher Army Airfield WW II hospital area because that was the best part.  The rest of the area was done away with.

They actually opened the Air Force base in ’55 I believe. Hurricane Hazel hit in ’54. And then it must have been doing some construction. I don’t know anything about the Army base prior to ’56.

You have to understand the Cold War was here.

In ‘56 and ‘57 we had some 250 people down at the base. We had 4 crews, 24 hour operations, and maintenance for a base with a mess hall and everything else that goes on, not only radar maintenance but everything like vehicle maintenance.

And we had a high fence around the compound where the gate was guarded 24 hours a day. We had dogs that roamed the fence. At that time it was top secret.

The road from US 421 into the base was nothing but a little 2 lane road with bushes on either side of it. The Air Force Radar Station base was to the right back of the chain link fence. The museum wasn’t in there. That was an old run way – an empty grass runway. They put the museum right in the middle of the runway.

We were keeping track of all the aircraft going up and down within 300 miles of Kure Beach. They had fighter jets at Seymour Fort Fisher Radar StationJohnson AFB, Langley, Virginia, Goldsboro, NC and then down to South Carolina.

We could scramble fighter jets from any of those facilities to intercept air craft to determine what kind of air craft it is and identification. The only time we didn’t was when we knew what the aircraft was.  And if it was out of Carolina they gave us identification on that. So we knew the airliners and other people. But if it was coming in from the ocean, or somewhere, they definitely got scrambled. We were part of the early warning system.

Unless you knew the kind of aircraft from the identification of some means, you wouldn’t know, ’cause it was just a radar blip. Now-a’days [2007] everything on the computer has a tag on it that tells them what the aircraft is, the height and everything else. It’s got a transponder. Back then transponders had 3 modes. Now they have like 88.

In the b&w picture the towers behind me are both height radar. They determine the height of the air craft – how high up in the sky. It went like this and the beam went up and down and it showed up on a screen, a blip on the screen, and of course, it was calibrated as to what height. The one in the middle looks like it was under construction and a new radar. There is no antenna on top of it.

We had a great time. We had tours of duty. We were on 8 hours and then the rest of the day was ours. We wore civilian clothes off base. We’d come up to Kure and Carolina Beach. All the locals knew us. We had just a great rapport with all the people.

 

[Additional resources]
History of Fort Fisher Air Force Station – Wikipedia
Radar Station Location: Google MapsBing Maps

Carolina Beach Today – Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area

My Friend the Enemy

The Battle at Fort Fisher as recalled by Colonel Lamb, CSA and General Curtis, USA

Colonel William Lamb – Confederate Commander of Fort Fisher and General Newton Martin Curtis leader of the Union force meet again at Fort Fisher as great friends after more than thirty years.

The American Civil War marked a new era in military science and technology. More powerful rifled artillery and ammunition along with armored gunships created a need for stronger coastal defenses throughout the Confederate South.

Col. William Lamb

Col. William Lamb

This challenge faced Colonel William Lamb upon his taking command of Fort Fisher, a vital part of North Carolina’s lower Cape Fear River defense system on July 4, 1862. Colonel Lamb’s competence and natural engineering skills enabled him to build Fort Fisher to become the strongest bastion in the South by the end of the war.

After two assaults by the largest fleet yet assembled by the United States military forces, the Fort Fisher garrison of 1,900 men and boys were eventually overpowered by 8,000 Union soldiers and sailors on January 15, 1865, during one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the War Between the States.

Lamb distinguished himself in the January action, leading the Confederate forces in an ill-fated defense of the Fort till he was felled by a gun shot wound that fractured his hip bone. In the ranks of the opposing forces and equally conspicuous in the vanguard of the assault was Brevet Brigadier General Newton Martin Curtis.

General Newton Martin Curtis

General Newton Martin Curtis

Despite receiving several lesser wounds during the contest, Curtis continued to command his brigade of Federal troops until he was struck by a shell fragment that destroyed his left eye. Neither Curtis nor Lamb would fight in that war again; they were each just twenty-nine years of age.

In the wake of the battle both Lamb (as a-prisoner of war) and Curtis were evacuated to the U.S. Army’s Chesapeake Hospital near Fort Monroe in Virginia. Initially, it was feared that their wounds would prove mortal. In fact, at one point, a coffin had been ordered for Curtis.

In spite of their dreadful injuries, according to an article written by the Reverend WHT. Squires D.D. that appeared in the February 5, 1943 edition of the Norfolk-Ledger Dispatch, entitled, “Norfolk in By-Gone Days,” a curious introduction occurred at the hospital that illustrated the mettle of these two warriors.

Among the wounded taken to the Hampton hospital was General N. M. Curtis, the Federal officer who led the assault that had successfully conquered Fort Fisher. General Curtis was so badly wounded that he could not walk or stand alone; however, when he learned that Colonel Lamb was in the same hospital, he had two hospital attendants take him to Colonel Lamb’s room where he congratulated him warmly on his skillful defense and on his unsurpassed courage and fortitude. He said, “I am proud of you as an American.” Colonel Lamb replied, “I’m not an American I’m a Confederate.”

General Curtis then said, “We Will not discuss that subject. Your side or mine will control this country, it Will not be divided. You and I will be in it and I offer you my hand and friendship. Let it begin now, not years later.” They then joined hands.

In the remaining 44 years of Lamb’s life, General Curtis was to become one of his best friends, and they would work together to improve fraternal relations between the North and South.

William Lamb - Later Life

William Lamb
in Later Life

Eventually the Colonel would come to refer to the General as “my friend the enemy. But for the soldiers and the country it would take time for the scars and wounds of the War Between the States to heal. On May 1, 1865, having taken the Oath of Allegiance and with the conflict all but over, Lamb was released from the hospital, though he was far from well.

That September he was operated on to remove the bullet that was still lodged in his hip. He would require the use of crutches for the next seven years and would be frail in health for the rest of his life. For the bravery and leadership exhibited in the second Battle of Fort Fisher, the partially blinded Curtis would be promoted to Brigadier General, United States Volunteers. He mustered out of the army the following year, as a Brevet Major General, having served four years, eight months.

Finally, some thirty years later in 1891, Curtis was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Fort Fisher. He being, “The first man to pass through the Stockade, he personally led each assault on the traverses and was four times wounded.”

About a year and a half after Curtis was issued his medal, Lamb and a host of Confederate Veterans, with reporter T. W. Clawson of the Wilmington Messenger tagging along, revisited Fort Fisher.  It had been eighteen years since Lamb had last toured the site of his old command in 1875 and was only the second time that he had returned since its capitulation in 1865.

That evening at the Y.M.C.A. auditorium in Wilmington, NC, at the behest of the Cape Fear Camp No. 254 United Confederate Veterans, the old colonel delivered an address on “the history of Port Fisher.” That address was published in its entirety in the next day’s June 15, 1893 edition of the Wilmington Messenger.

A few months later in October, at the suggestion of General Curtis, Colonel Lamb joined him and again returned to the Fort.

With reporter Clawson once more in tow, the two old officers, one time nemesis and long time friends, inspected the works. At some point in the tour the party took to the Cape Fear River in a sail boat. While trying to put ashore the boat grounded in the shallows a few yards from the embankment. Intending to wade in, the robust Curtis simply stripped off his shoes, rolled up his pants legs and stepped out of the boat. Lamb on the other hand, ever cautious about his health, was reluctant to follow suit. In response to Lamb‘s dilemma, Curtis offered to carry him to dry land on his back. But before he could do so, Clawson interposed on behalf of the General, and so the Colonel rode the scribe ashore instead.

Afterwards Clawson, “…wanted to kick himself for not allowing Colonel Lamb to ride his ‘friend the enemy,’ for he could have witnessed the remarkable instance of a brave and distinguished Federal officer carrying on his back the distinguished Confederate, who, in the years that are gone, was raising Old Harry with shot and shell to keep the General at a safe distance.”

Before the year was out Curtis was working on his own version of the Battles of Fort Fisher. Referencing Lamb’s address, the General composed the definitive Yankee account of the expeditions to take the Fort. His paper was later presented to the Military Order of The Loyal Legion of the United States and published by the Commandery in 1900.

My Friend the EnemyNow for the first time the complete accounts of these two principle participants in the Battles for Fort Fisher are juxtaposed in publication. That their individual interpretation of events is not dissimilar is not surprising.

For in many respects, whether friend or foe, Lamb’s and Curtis‘ lives often mirrored one another. They were roughly the same age, both having been born in 1835. Both attended college and each studied law. And though neither was a military man per say prior to the out break of hostilities, each exhibited a natural military acumen.

After the war both men pursued a career in politics. Lamb was elected mayor of his home town of Norfolk, Virginia, for three terms; while on the other hand, Curtis became a state legislator for New York and a three-term member of Congress. Naturally, they were active in veterans’ organizations.

Sadly, they were both widowers, Curtis lost his wife in 1888, Lamb in 1892. Neither ever remarried. In March of 1909 William Lamb died. Newton Martin Curtis did not last much longer, the following January he too passed away. But their legacy would live on inextricably bound on the common ground of Fort Fisher. Forever and anon, from their respective provinces north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Colonel Lamb and General Curtis would be regaled as the “Hero of Fort Fisher.”

Ray Flowers, Site Historian – Fort Fisher Historic Site,  May 2007

My Friend the Enemy
Produced by Federal Point Historic Preservation Society

[Additional resources]

My Friend the Enemy – is available at the History Center Bookstore

Col. William Lamb
William Lamb (1835-1909)

Newton Martin Curtis

Revolver Found in Ruins Of Fort Fisher Discharges Its Original Cartridges

[The following article appeared in the Wilmington Star on March 6, 1929, and comes the William M Reaves Collection.]

“A Colt revolver, probably detached from one of the soldiers during the battle of Fort Fisher back in 1864, and found recently by S.P. Deil, 701 South Eighteenth street, this city, with a full charge of five cartridges in its chamber, has fired again and with the same charge with which it was originally loaded.

Recently, while scratching about the sand at the ruins of Fort Fisher, once a Confederate stronghold, Mr. Deil ran across the revolver. He plucked the relic out of the hill and proceeded to clean it and also oil the weapon.

This having been accomplished, he pulled the trigger, and much to his amazement, the revolver discharged. Fact that the weapon fired after it and its cartridges had been buried in the sand at the fort and exposed to the elements for more than three score years is considered remarkable.

Colt Model 1849 Revolver - 5 shooter

Colt Model 1849 Revolver – 5 shooter

The revolver is an old “five shooter” and has eight notches on the barrel, which in the language of the gunman means that its owner killed eight men with the weapon.

The battle of Fort Fisher was fought during the winter of 1864-1865.  A fleet of more than 200 federal warships attacked the stronghold December 22, 1864, and shelling it for days withdrew from the attack. Confederates believing they had abandoned their efforts to capture the fort, withdrew several detachments of the army to another sector.

Colt Army Revolver -1860

Colt Army Revolver -1860

Shortly after the fort’s strength had been reduced the Federals returned, landing an army on the mainland below the stronghold, and at the same time stationing a fleet in front of the mound. They attacked from both sides, and unable to withstand the terrific fire, the Confederates evacuated to Wilmington, and the Federals captured the fort, which had protected the entrance to the port of Wilmington.

Mr. Deil believes his relic was lost by one of the Confederate or northern soldiers during this mighty battle, but frankly admits he will probably never learn who owned the menacing weapon. When found the revolver was red with rust and seemingly in a state beyond repair. But since it has been cleaned and oiled it shoots, and probably with accuracy.”

[Text was originally published in the September, 1996 – FPHPS Newsletter]

September 1996 Newsletter (pdf) – Federal Point Historic Preservation Society

Colt Army Model 1860 – The most widely used revolver of the Civil War – Wikipedia

Colt Model 1862 – 5 shooter – Wikipedia

 

Last Christmas at Fort Fisher – December, 1864

[by Bill Reaves – columnist for the Wilmington Star-News, 12-27-1973]

Fort Fisher Palisades,/i>

Fort Fisher Palisades

It was certainly a cheerless Christmas Eve, 133 years ago inside the high earthen walls of Fort Fisher. The weather was frightful and the Confederacy was on its knees. Each soldier attempted to get some kind of dinner in honor of the holiday, and some were fortunate to receive some meager food boxes from Wilmington and surrounding areas. Some were very fortunate indeed whose homes were great distances away and they had nothing whatever delectable which would impart some memory of Christmas in times past.

Great genius was necessary to create a holiday dinner out of a pound of fat pork, six crackers, and a quarter pound of dried apples. It was not impossible to see a bit of culinary art with apple dumplings, with which some sorghum molasses were not to be despised.

All drills, inspections and even guard mountings were suspended during the cold and icy weather, especially when the wind blew from the direction of the ocean. A man hardly dared poke his nose out of the bunkers or tents, except to go for wood and water and to draw his rations.

Every style of camp architecture was to be found within the fort, including hut, hovel, shack and shed, plus the underground bunkers inside the high earthworks around the fort itself.

Some of the men tried to bring some bit of hilarity and cheerfulness into the camp, and then again some did not. There were mixed emotions all the morning with thoughts of family and home and the downfall of the war effort throughout the South.

On the afternoon of December 24th, 1864, the United States fleet opened fire upon Fort Fisher, the heavy cannonading continuing during the following two days. The booming could be distinctly heard in Wilmington.

Bombardment of Fort Fisher 2Despite the terrific bombardment Colonel Lamb noted that the greatest penetration into his sand defenses was a not more than five feet perpendicularly.

The fleet were all floating in a stately line of battle, three abreast, with iron-clads in the van, and the frigates and gunboats, all trimmed for action, ranging behind.

Very late in the day on the 26th, the firing ceased, and the fleet moved further out to sea.

No serious damage was done to the works, and the men gained high spirits over the retreat of the enemy. In the evening they sang “Lorena” and other Southern songs, and their stringed instruments played lively airs.

There was great anxiety in Wilmington as to the fate of the fort especially on Christmas Day when worshipers in church listened to the rumble of the artillery which accompanied the hymns and words of worship and prayer.

When the word was received that the fort had not fallen to the Union forces, more than one hundred Wilmington ladies, loaded with baskets, visited the fort and offered the choicest foods that they were able to prepare, with the many shortages of stores in Wilmington that the civilian population was suffering.

When the feast was over, Colonel Lamb expressed the appreciation of himself and his men to them for their kindness, and assured them that his men would freely give their lives to defend their homes from the invader. His words were punctuated by three rousing cheers from the garrison.

This was the last Christmas dinner inside the great fortress known as Fort Fisher, on the narrow strip of peninsula, then called Confederate Point.

[Text was originally published in the December 1997 Newsletter of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society.  Images and links added in 2015]

Dec 24, 1864: Bombardment of Fort Fisher begins

The Christmas Battle

Yankee Veteran Tells of Fall of Fort Fisher

[Editor: In last month ‘s issue (Oct., 1996) of the Newsletter we presented a Confederate veteran’s account of the fall of Fort Fisher.

This month, in fairness, we present a Yankee’s account of the Fort Fisher battles and aftermath. The following article by Lewis H. Noe, of Sayville, Long Island, New York, was printed on November 17, 1924, in the Wilmington News-Dispatch, and comes from the William M Reaves Collection.]

“The writer was 14 years old when the Civil war broke out, and was one of the northern Yankee boys, who were anxious to join the Union forces and help to put the ‘Rebels’ out of commission in 30 days. The ‘Rebels’ were described as a ‘bunch of southern outlaws with horns.’

My crying about the New York city recruiting offices, with my plea for accepting my enlistment, for a boy of 14 years, was unavailing, as it was figured out the north had sufficient number of big, grown-up fellows to silence the trouble down south without the aid of boys.

So I went home to my parents at Sayville, L.I., where I was born and reared, and where I hoed corn for another year. At the expiration of that time, Uncle Sam decided he could use 15-year-old boys, thinking this might strike terror among  the ‘Rebels,’ the showing up of numbers, at least.

Soon I was one of 29 boys who joined the crew of 500 – all told – of the wooden steam frigate USS Minnesota, and I became special messenger for Commodore Joseph Lanman. In the winter of 1864 our ship was one of the fleet of 53 vessels assigned to the task of bombarding Fort Fisher, under command of Admiral Porter.

Ships of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron bombarding Fort Fisher- January 15, 1865

Ships of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron bombarding Fort Fisher- January 15, 1865

Our fleet formed a crescent shaped position an half mile out from the fort, an earthworks covering several acres at the mouth of Cape Fear river. Our ship was the most easterly one, the new ironsides and two ‘cheese-box’ monitors lay just inside our ship, over which we shot the most of our shells.

Our ship’s battery consisted of 30 nine-inch Dahlgren (smooth-bore) guns, with [a] 200-pound smooth-bore gun on stem. My position during the three days  bombardment was on the bridge with the commodore, and I was able to see the shells as they left our guns and watch their course and note their hits in and about the fort. During the time of rapid firing it was estimated we threw a thousand shells a minute into the fort.

It was noticeable from shipboard that the fort’s guns were dismantled by our fire, but were often replaced in position by the daring ‘Rebels,’ and the same occurred when the fort’s flagstaff was time and again shot down – it was seen to be replaced with the southern flag still intact.

Our fire set in blazes all of the wooden barracks of the fort, and it appeared to be a warm place for the fort’s garrison, any place outside of their bomb-proof retreats. A 32-pound rifle shell from the fort dropped in one of our ships’ launches on the spar deck, and broke through the boat’s bottom and fell in a coil of rope.

Naval Bombardment of Fort Fisher

Naval Bombardment of Fort Fisher – Click

The spar-deck gunners nearest that spot sprang to one side, expecting the shell to explode, when, in my ignorance of danger, I ran and secured the shell and brought it to the commodore on the bridge. The commodore motioned me to throw the shell from the bridge. Having noticed that the shell had its fuse blown out, or probably had been fired as solid shot, I was confident there was no danger explosion. The commodore took courage (possibly from my own coolness), and then made love to the ‘Rebel’ shell, which he kept as a relic of the fight, and the shell has since been engraved on its side, the date of the Fort Fisher battle and fall and that it came from the ‘Rebel’ works as a ‘Christmas Gift.’

On the second day of the battle General Butler landed 6,000 troops under fire of the fleet, but after reconnoitering the ‘Rebel’ works, the federal troops re-embarked. General Butler reported to Admiral Porter that ‘Fort Fisher is impregnable.’

On the third day General Terry, with about 10,000 troops, made the landing and assault on Fort Fisher and this engagement included a hand-to-hand fight from early in the evening until 9 o’clock that night, when the land signals to the fleet announced the surrender of the garrison.

Next morning at sunrise the magazine of the fort blew up, burying alive many of the garrison and Yankee troops, alike, who were at that time enjoying their morning together in the ‘spirit of brotherly reunion.’ At the moment General Terry’s troops made a dash upon the fort, which was faced by a heavy stockade of pine logs, with an inner trench, which had to be passed by means of portable bridges; the crews of the northern fleet manned the rigging and watched the land assault.

Admiral George Dewey, ‘the hero of Manila bay,’ was a lieutenant on board one of the ships in the Yankee fleet. Henry M. Stanley was at the time ship’s clerk on our own ship, the Minnesota. Stanley afterwards became the African explorer, and the writer was a traveling companion of his in foreign lands in 1868 and 1869.

The fall of Wilmington was deeply felt throughout the Confederacy, and by no portion more than by Lee‘s army, which for some weeks had to rely upon the pork brought in through Wilmington to ration his rapidly diminishing troops.

The writer would be pleased to hear direct or otherwise from any of the Confederate garrison of Fort Fisher.”

(signed) Lewis H. Noe.    Aged 76 years in February, 1924.

Union Navy Assault on Fort Fisher

Union Navy Assault on Fort Fisher

 

Mr. Noe later telegraphed the following to The News-Dispatch:

“Add to my report of the ‘Battle of Fort Fisher:’ One-half of the crews of the Yankee fleet was assigned to making a pretense at storming the face of Fort Fisher, to draw the ‘Rebel’ fire, while General Terry’s troops made the assault from the rear of the fort.

The attacking sailors could do no more than lie flat on their stomachs in front of the palisade.”

 

[Text was originally published in the November 1996 FPHPS Newsletter (pdf)]

Goliath Falls: Attacks Waged Against Fort Fisher – by Philip Gerard – Our State Magazine

 

Confederate Veteran’s Account of The Fall of Fort Fisher

[Editor: The following account by Confederate veteran Henry Clay McQueen, then 81 years of age, appeared in the ‘Wilmington Star’, on May 22, 1927.

The article text was compiled by Mrs. Mary B; Heyer, historian of the Cape Fear Chapter of the U.D.C.]

Fort Fisher Mound Battery

Fort Fisher Mound Battery

“My grandfather, James McQueen, came from the Isle of Skye to North Carolina. He married Anna MacRae, my grandmother. Their son, Dr. Edmund McQueen, married Susan Moore, who were my parents. I was born in Lumberton, Robeson county, July 16, 1846.

I enlisted in the service of the Confederacy in 1863 – Company D, First North Carolina battalion heavy artillery, Capt. McCormick.  Major Alex MacRae, father of Capt. Walter G. MacRae, at that time commanding the battalion. I first saw active service at Fort Caswell. I had not been in service long when I was detailed as clerk of the ordinance and next appointed corporal of Company D.

Many of the older men were disgruntled at this but did not show any grudge against me. We were sent to Fort Fisher for the first bombardment. The enemy’s fleet began to assemble December 20, 1864. On Christmas eve a rain of shot and shell was poured on us for five hours. I afterwards learned over 10,000 were fired by the fleet while we were obliged to use ours sparingly and only returned about 670 shots.

Nearly all the soldiers’ quarters were destroyed, many of our guns disabled or dismounted but our loss was insignificant considering the rain of fire we were under. The fleet retired at sun down.

Next day the fleet returned in larger force and a terrific charge of 130 shot and shell a minute was poured on the fort. I have been told that this old town, 20 miles distant, was badly jarred and shaken up. Just before night the firing from the fleet slackened and a body of soldiers having landed under their guns, under General Ben Butler assaulted the fort but was easily repulsed.

Fort Fisher Battle 2Next morning the enemy disappeared. My command returned to Fort Caswell, but we were ordered back. When the fleet returned January 12th in larger force of warships and transports full of veteran soldiers. The ocean seemed covered with gunboats and transports. For three days and nights a furious bombardment continued without cessation from the enfilading ships which formed a semi-circle around our two fronts, tearing the fort to pieces.

Our guns were practically all disabled. About 3 pm. the transports having landed the soldiers up the beach during the bombardment and under our very eyes came at us 10,000 strong. We had about 1,400 or 1,500 men to meet them and they ran over us though the fighting continued within the fort until 9 pm.

I am not guessing at the number of the enemy, I got it from General Curtis who led the assault on our front. Twelve or fourteen of my company were killed outright in the first onslaught, and 25 or 30 wounded.

A few of us were forced back and we fought across the traverses of the fort gradually being forced back by the enemy who had gotten on our flank. One man on my was struck in his head by a fragment of shell and his brains splashed in my face, my hat was shot off and I was shot in the leg.

I got back into a bombproof which had been made a temporary hospital. Here at last after the fighting ceased, came a number of the enemy soldiers and praised us for putting up a good fight, and knowing we had had no grub or rest for three days, emptied their haversacks for us.

I think we lay in this bombproof on the ground for 15 days. Surgeons from the fleet came ashore and dressed our wounds till finally we were put aboard a hospital ship and laid on low cots almost touching one another. During one night the wounded soldiers lying on each side of me died. In the morning the ship’s steward brought the breakfasts around as usual. I ate mine and that of one of the dead men lying along side of my bed.

We were taken to Point Lookout. I was put to bed in a ward of the large hospital. The ward master, a Pennsylvania Dutchman, was kind to me and was amused at the cavalry boots I had on. My clothes and boots were carried off and stored. I never expected to see the boots again. I had bought them in Wilmington a short time before the battles and paid $150. for them.

When my wound healed, I was given crutches and my clothes and boots came back. These boots had high patent leather legs and made me rather conspicuous.  A Yank soldier offered me his shoes and two dollars in greenbacks for them and we traded.

Two real dollars looked mighty big to me at the time. During the last fighting around Petersburg, so many Federal wounded came to the hospital we prisoners had to get out and go in the prison hospital, a mile up the Point. I first got into a ward with several smallpox patients, but as I had been vaccinated when a child, I did not have any concern about that. As I was able to go about, I got along famously being a young fellow, everybody was pleasant to me and I made the best of the situation. Had enough to eat to keep hungry all the time and enjoyed good health.

The “Bullpen” adjoined the hospital enclosure and there were 20,000 men in the “Bullpen.” On the high wooden wall around the prison was a platform. On the platform the guard walked. They were mostly negro soldiers. The men in the pen and those in the hospital were allowed to go swimming in the bay.

One morning I was going through the gate to the water. I was accosted by a negro guard above me who said, “Ain’t you Henry McQueen?” I said “Yes, who are you?” He said he was Glasgow – I recognized him then. He was one of my sister’s servants who had run away and joined the Yankee army. This incident did not interfere with my pleasure, and I was soon plunging in the rolling waves of the Chesapeake Bay.

I had some time before throwing away my crutches, but I still walked with a cane that I had made of a crutch. As I did not want to be ordered out of the hospital into the “Bullpen,” I had made with the hospital people and wanted to stay. I should have mentioned before leaving the general hospital on the Point, news came that President Lincoln had been assassinated in Washington. I was standing reading the bulletin board and a Yankee official came up and said to me, “You had better get inside,” Which I did in a hurry.

I and others were released June 7, 1865 and given transportation by boat to City Point and rail to Petersburg, Danville, Greensboro and on to Raleigh and Wilmington.

Doubtless my experience in the war in comparison with thousands of others in the Confederate army was tame and hardly worth the telling. I have told it this first time at the urgent request of the Daughters of the Confederacy—not that I have any apology for having fought for the right of secession and “pro aris et focis.” Many years ago a French merchant in Paris with whom I was talking about the war said to me, “Your side lost, but not without glory.””

[Text originally published in the October 1996 Newsletter]

Fort Fisher to Elmira – by Richard H. Triebe  – Available at the History Center Bookstore
The South’s Gibraltar  – by Philip Gerard – Our State Magazine