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