Early in September, 1861, being convalescent from a protracted illness, I called by request on Col. S. L. Fremont, at Wilmington, who informed me that on the 20th of August, the commissions of officers not attached to companies had been revoked by the State, and therefore, I “was out of commission”, as they say of old naval hulks; that he, himself, was a mere civilian in command; that Capt. Winder had remained at his work although in a similar plight; that Capt. Childs, who had rendered invaluable service had been ordered South; and that he desired me to go on duty as speedily as possible.
Thus, it happened that soon thereafter, I found myself at the mouth of the Cape Fear. Capt. Winder, for convenience and for other considerations, had located himself at Smithville, where I likewise sought quarters removed from the garrison. At that time, through his energetic action, Fort Caswell had come to wear a very different aspect from its former appearance in the “piping times of peace”.
The fort, it was said, had been rendered bombproof; the magazines were greatly strengthened; heavy traverses, etc., had been erected; the moat put in thorough repair and the extensive basin in front of the Fort was ready to be flooded with from four to six feet of water at the first making of the tide.
Battery Campbell, then intended as a mere outpost, was well underway. Zeke’s Island had been delivered over in prime condition to a garrison and was under command of the indefatigable Hendrick.
At Confederate Point, early in May, Capt. Bolles had thrown up a small fortification known as Battery Bolles; and Capt. DeRosset had assumed command of it. To arm it, the Wilmington Light Infantry rolled their heavy ordnance a considerable distance through the deep sand on the Point and performed other labors that a seemed equally incapable of accomplishment in the absence of ordinary facilities. Their great zeal led them into arduous undertakings, but their perseverance and industry crowned their endeavors with merited success.
Another fortification was now in progress further to the north and near the site of an old work, perhaps of 1812; this I think was under the command of Lt. Col. Meares. It was called after the lamented Fisher and its history and fate well perpetuated the name of that noble spirit.
Capt. Winder’s plan of defenses, if I recollect aright, embraced, besides a fortification on the main land opposite Zeke’s Island, another higher up, afterwards known as Fort Anderson, and on Confederate Point a line of earthworks terminating in a strong redoubt at the head of the Sound. As a groundwork for the future execution of this plan, he erected Battery Gatlin near the head of the Sound, and Battery Anderson nearer Fort Fisher.
These were to be enlarged, strengthened, and perfected as occasion permitted; and then connected with Fisher by a series of breast works, behind which a protected military road was to pass to the rear of redoubt. At Fisher, he was about to construct casemates with palmetto logs brought from Smith’s Island by a Mr. Prioleau.OK
Such was the condition of the defenses on the first day of September. As for the troops, the various commands were orderly and well-drilled.
Lt. Col. Brown had established “regular army” discipline at Fort Caswell; Col. Iverson’s soldiers at Fort Johnston were models of precision in their various exercises; and the others vied with these in regularity of conduct, subordination and obedience to authority.
About this time, a Mr. Eason, of Charleston, brought us a machine for cannon by hand. Rifled ordnance was then a novelty with us; we apprehended that by the operation the old guns might become so weakened as to burst on slight provocation – and were fearful least the experiment would cost us both men and guns.
But the almost incredible reports of the effectiveness of rifled cannon in the Italian campaign decided us to try one gun. In about twelve hours an old smooth bore 32-pounder was converted into a brand new rifled cannon throwing a 64 pound projectile. The garrison turned out to a man to witness the trial, and as the smoke cleared away, after each successive discharge of powder, they “made the welkin ring” with their shouts of applause.
Being satisfied with the result, we went to work with a will, and kept the machine going, night as well as day, until a proper portion of the guns were rifled. By this means we soon increased the weight of our metal, and felt relatively more capable of coping with the enemy’s vessels.
Not confined to any particular point, I led a kind of nomadic life; sleeping habitually at Smithville – but off early to such posts as required attention – the restraints of supervisory authority and not often thrown in contact with either officers or soldiers.
Capt. Winder had as a boatman an old colored worthy, called “Clem”, whose little craft carried us safely across the harbor in storm or sunshine with equal safety. These trips were not always unattended with danger; but when the weather was pleasant, they were extremely delightful. Indeed, the harbor is unsurpassed for sailing, while the historic associations of the locality invested with a peculiar interest, each point on which the eye can rest.
Looking to the northward, there could be discerned the solitary “Sugar Loaf“ where tradition hath it, that “Old King Roger Moore” led his faithful servants to the last battle with the Indians of the Cape Fear, and by his victory won the future peace of the infant settlement.
That he so thoroughly settled that unpleasantness, is not subject of amazement, as we have the sworn testimony of Sir William Cole, that his grandfather, “Roger Moore with Sir Phelim O‘Neale, destroyed 104,700 of their enemies in Ulster, during the quarter ending December 31, 1641.”
But to return: Capt. Winder was, about a month afterwards, relieved by Capt. R. K. Meade, of Virginia, an officer of great merit in his department, as well as of most excellent sentiments. He had found himself at the crisis of affairs, in April, in company with General Anderson at Fort Sumter.
In November, Col. Fremont gave place to General Anderson, of Richmond. The General was amiable, pleasant and patriotic; a man of culture as well as of brains; but Col; Fremont’s energy, practical views, and military knowledge were matters more to the purpose. It seemed that the service felt the change. Having at once represented to Gen. Anderson my anomalous position, he promised to have me relieved; but weeks passed without bringing the Virginia officer, and circumstances occurring which justified my departure, I sought another field of labor.
[Originally published in the magazine Our Living and Our Dead, No. 12; later it appeared in the Wilmington Weekly Star, 9-26-1873].
[This article was later published in the September, 1997– FPHPS Newsletter]