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