First Wednesdays – “…keep my luck for I have lost everything…

The hurrahs over the initial defense of Fort Fisher soon came to an end with the arrival of a new Union task force to take the fort and close off the Cape Fear River to the Confederacy. This new expedition was sent south from Virginia under the dual command of Major General Alfred Terry from the Union Army of the James and Rear Admiral David D. Porter of the Federal North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. This combined force of 9,000 infantry and roughly sixty naval vessels arrived in mid-January 1865, and soon started landing troops between the fortification and Wilmington, North Carolina. On 15 January 1865, Admiral Porter began a heavy naval bombardment on the Confederate redoubts, while General Terry maneuvered his Union forces into position to commence the ground assault. Toward the end of the bombardment, Porter set a mixed force of U.S. marines and sailors to from the beach to quickly strike at the Northeast Bastion of Fort Fisher. This assault was quickly repulsed with heavy losses among the blue jackets; however their attack drew the Confederate attention away from General Terry’s men, who soon started their assault on the land face of the fort. After many hours of heavy fighting, the main portion of the fort was taken and the Confederate survivors were pushed back to Battery Buchanan, which was situated to cover New Inlet going into the Cape Fear River. Confederate Major John Reilly found the position vacant, and faced with the prospect of overwhelming Union assaults, chose to surrender the remaining Confederate forces to General Terry.

The correspondent “R. P. G.” wrote on 24 January 1865 describing the naval bombardment of the fort by the Union Navy as a “fearfully grand picture.” He described the advance of the Union marines and sailors as a “…dark line advancing, at a run, on the fort…” He witnessed the severe hand to hand combat in the fort and wounding of both Confederate Major General William Whiting and Colonel William Lamb and the planting of the Union regimental flags on the Confederate redoubts on the land side of the fort. He was convinced that the reason of the loss of the fort was “…the cowardice of some 300 or 400 soldiers who were defending the Land Face of the fort…” Interesting enough, “R. P. G.” did not participate in the fighting, but chose to leave the fort. He noted that “…Myself and 3 of the Signal Corps – got into a small boat and by crowding managed to out of the enemy’s reach – We did not get off too soon – for just as we had gotten off the beach the enemy’s land forces took procession of the Battery [Battery Buchanan].”

Confederate First Lieutenant Henry E. Benton of the Company C, Thirty-sixth North Carolina Troops was not that lucky as “R. P. G.” He and the rest of the fort’s garrison were captured, and were soon shipped north to Union prisoner of war camps. Lt. Benton arrived on Governors Island, New York for incarceration at the old U.S. Army barracks. In his letter to his wife dated 28 January 1865, Benton wrote about the conditions in the barracks and telling his wife not to worry about him. He noted that “…I am enjoying very good health and am as pleasantly situated as [ ] us will admit…” However, he did note on the top of his letter “…Send me all the US money you have, keep the gold & silver…” He would remain in prison only a short time and was paroled and exchanged at City Point, Virginia on 5 March 1865.

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