[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.
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.
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.
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