This Week in the Civil War

This Week in The Civil War for Sunday, Dec. 28: Fighting at Fort Fisher in North Carolina.

On Dec. 24, 1864, a Union amphibious expedition under the command of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler began shelling Fort Fisher, a Southern fortification defending Wilmington, North Carolina. The Northern objective: to shut down one of the last major seaports of the Confederacy still open in the South. But attempts by an infantry division that disembarked to probe the fort’s stout defenses met with resistance and a Federal attack withered once Confederate reinforcements approached. Amid deteriorating weather conditions, Butler called off the expedition in late December 1864. A dispatch by The Associated Press dated Dec. 28, 1864, quoted reports as saying the fort was “much damaged” by the engagement with “all the barracks and storehouses burned” though Union forces failed to seize it. The dispatch noted that Northern infantry troops actually had gotten close enough to capture a rebel flag from the outer defense works before withdrawing.

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This Week in The Civil War for Sunday, Jan. 4: The Confederacy digs in.

The Richmond Enquirer, in the final months of the Civil War, exulted in early January over news that Confederate troops at Fort Fisher near Wilmington, North Carolina, had successfully rebuffed a Union attack. According to the Southern paper, initial “apprehensions in the community were that Wilmington our last seaport would succumb to the immense force sent against it.” But the paper noted that Union forces were turned back, boosting Southern moral. It said “the enemy having expended their utmost strength on Fort Fisher, an outpost of Wilmington, (has) been badly beaten” in a “most gratifying triumph” for the Confederacy in defending its last major seaport. Nonetheless, that news was tempered in the South by fresh reports about Union troops in Savannah, Georgia, which was captured by Maj. Gen. William Sherman. “Where the next blow will be struck is not developed; but every man in the army talks of a grand and overwhelming march” into South Carolina, reports speculated on Sherman’s next moves. In the North, meanwhile, some were already seeking to profit from past tales of war, including a veteran of the 1st Regiment of New York Mounted Rifles who promoted sales of a story called “Life in The Saddle” with “most graphic, exciting and thrilling portraiture” of past military campaigns in Virginia.

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This Week in The Civil War for Sunday, Jan. 11: Union closes last Atlantic seaport for Confederacy, storming Fort Fisher in North Carolina.

A heavy Union bombardment and second assault within weeks led to the federal capture of Fort Fisher in North Carolina. For Southerners who only recently rejoiced over an early Confederate success in turning back a Union attack on the fort in December 1864, it was demoralizing news. The fall of the fort effectively shut off the last Confederate seaport on the Atlantic coast. In the attack this month 150 years ago in the war, nearly 60 Union vessels rained hundreds of shells down on the stout parapets. Within two days, the Confederate garrison in the fort was overrun and had surrendered. Union troops would then march inland to ensure Wilmington was shut off from the coast, enduring heavy casualties en route.

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This Week in The Civil War for Sunday, Jan. 18: A blow to the Confederacy from winter storms, reports from Fort Fisher.

The Associated Press reported in a dispatch Jan. 16, 1865, that conditions appeared to be deteriorating for Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces in Virginia. The dispatch said heavy winter rains and flooding had destroyed “every culvert and bridge” along the Danville railroad that was a key supply route for Lee’s army in Virginia. “Lee’s army is likely to be out of rations altogether very soon,” The AP dispatch said, adding that reports foodstuffs were running so low that many Confederates were though to “suffer almost starvation.” It said the wipeout of the key rail supply line to Richmond marked a big blow for the Confederate capital. “As this is their main road by which they get their supplies to Richmond, it would not be strange if the state of affairs in this neighborhood should undergo an important change within a few days.” The AP report did not elaborate further on the possible impact. Meanwhile, reports were just reaching Northern newspapers of the Union’s successful on Fort Fisher in North Carolina. One account cited a report from the U.S. Flagship Malvern as saying big eleven-inch guns were used to bombard the fort hours. The dispatch added that “the fort was reduced to a pulp — every (Confederate) gun was silenced by being injured or covered up with earth, so that they would not work.”

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