• Lamb quickly deploys his Confederates along both ends of the
fort's land front: 250 men at the western salient, and 500 men along the Northeast Bastion. Hagood's 350 South Carolinians
are held in reserve in a commissary bombproof, with orders to support the troops at the salient.
A T T A C K O F T H E N A V A L S H O R
E C O N T I N G E N T
"Such a hell of noise I never expect to hear again. Hundreds of shell[s]
were in the air at once . . . all shrieking in a grand martial course that was a fitting accompaniment to the death dance
of the hundreds about to fall." — Lt. Cmdr. William B. Cushing, USS Monticello, on the moments prior to the naval
• Fleet Capt. K. R. Breese launches the Union ground attack with
his naval shore contingent, without waiting to coordinate the assault with army infantry forces.
• As the Union tars and leathernecks rush headlong to the palisades
below the Northeast Bastion, Lamb's Confederates unleash a devastating fire at close range. Armed only with revolvers and
cutlasses, and under a murderous fire from the fort, the naval contingent tries in vain to breach the rebel defenses.
General Whiting stands defiantly on the ramparts of the fort, barking orders,
cursing, and challenging his men to kill the enemy.
The attackers are mauled severely, and forced back up the beach in a perfect
Confederate defenders along the Northeast Bastion cheer wildly. This celebration
evaporates, however, when Lamb and Whiting are stunned to see several large Union flags waving over the western salient of
A T T A C K O F A R M Y I N F A N T R Y
F O R C E S
"Not far in advance towered the frowning Fortress . . . and, though
none saw, all knew, that above, in imperial majesty, sat the Angel of Death." — J. A. Mowris, surgeon, 117th New York
• 3:25 p.m. — As the Union naval column rushes toward the
Northeast bastion, N. Martin Curtis yells a simple command: "Forward!" The First Brigade of Ames's division rises and
attacks the western salient, running at full speed toward the great sand bastion.
Lamb's Confederates (under Maj. James Reilly) open fire with small arms, as
rebel field artillery punishes the flanks of the attacking Federals.
Armed with heavy axes, and under a murderous fire, about 100 of Curtis's bluecoats
begin chopping holes in the fort's palisades to make way for the infantry. (Damage to the fence from the naval bombardment
is less severe in this area). Cheering wildly, Union soldiers begin pouring through the gaps, as rebel artillery thunders
over the causeway leading to the western sally port.
Many of the Federals become mired in the deep slough along the causeway, directly
below Shepherd's Battery. They are punished unmercifully.
A desperate, hand-to-hand struggle ensues, as Union troops begin to scale
the walls of the western salient.
In the melee, a fiery N. Martin Curtis boards the fort, challenging his men
to slay the enemy. Driven by sheer weight of numbers, the Federals pour over the crest of the battery. Shouting and cursing,
the combatants of both sides club each other with their weapons and fists, and jab and slash with their bayonets.
The 117th New York plants its colors on the crest of Shepherd's Battery. By
day's end, its fabric will be riddled with bullet holes.
• 3:35 p.m. — Pennypacker's Second Brigade joins the assault.
And again, Southern artillery rakes the attackers with shell and canister.
Pennypacker's men rush up behind the rear elements of Curtis's brigade and
begin clambering up the walls of Fort Fisher. The newcomers overlap the crowded base of Shepherd's Battery, and the 203rd
Pennsylvania moves to force a passage at the western sally port.
Though fearfully punished at first, the 203rd Pennsylvania begins knocking
down the sandbag wall at the gate, and pouring onto the parade ground behind the fort. All Confederate efforts to bring in
reinforcements fail, as Union attackers on the battlements fire at close range on the rebel gunners below.
The Confederates are outnumbered, and fail to successfully defend the fort
at it's most vulnerable point—the riverside gate. The Parrott rifle near the river marsh and the 12-pounder Napoleon
at the gate soon fall silent.
In desperation, the Confederates unleash a long-range fire from guns at Battery
Buchanan, at the base of the peninsula. These incoming rounds rain down on the western salient, killing and maiming friend
and foe alike.
Brigade commander Galusha Pennypacker (age 20) plants the colors of the 97th
Pennsylvania on the third traverse of Fort Fisher, and is immediately knocked out of action with a severe wound. All eight
of the 97th's officers are cut down on the parapet, together with many of the leading officers of other Union regiments. Nearby,
Col. John Moore (age 25), commanding the 203rd, is mortally wounded.
The Confederates are forced back along the battlements, and onto the parade
As Pennypacker's men force their way through the riverside gate, General Ames
enters the fort with his staff. Surveying the ruins in rear of the fort, he observes pockets of enemy defenders collecting
among the shell craters and debris of ruined barracks and other buildings. Ames also notes that the Union advance on the battlements
is losing momentum at the fourth traverse.
Ames determines to call in the Third Brigade, and proposes to deploy an organized
force in rear of Fort Fisher, to push eastward toward the Northeast Bastion.
• 3:50 p.m. — Bell's Third Brigade joins the assault. The
attackers are raked with a hot fire from rebel sharpshooters along the battlements. Colonel Bell, felled by a bullet in the
chest before crossing the causeway, never makes it into the fort.
Bell's men, however, pour across the bridge and mass behind the western salient.
Some of the troops join their comrades on the battlements of Fort Fisher, and Bell's standard-bearers rush to plant their
flags on the ramparts. Soon, the colors of the 115th New York, 13th Indiana, 169th New York, and 4th New Hampshire are floating
above the salient.
• 4:00 p.m. — More than 4,000 Union troops are crowding
the base, slopes, and walls of the western salient, and pouring onto the parade ground behind the fort. Lamb's Confederates
are in serious trouble.
• As Confederate defenders along the Northeast Bastion repulse the naval
storming party, Whiting impulsively orders a counterattack on Union army ground forces at the western salient.
• Whiting is seriously wounded at the third traverse.
• The Federals gain the fourth traverse.
• William Lamb—holding out hope for assistance from Braxton Bragg
and Hoke's Division—assesses his options for a final defense of the fort.
• Whiting wires Bragg: "We still hold the fort, but are sorely pressed.
Can't you assist us from the outside?"
• The fort's parade ground is teeming with a dense mass of Union infantry—a
force lying down for cover against bursting shells from both sides.
• With the Federal advance stalled, Union ironclad warships launch a
barrage of shellfire on Confederate-held portions of the fort's land face. The tide of battle begins to turn, as Confederate
defenders on the mounds are forced backward toward the redan.
• Lamb beseeches all available forces—including the tired, sick,
and wounded—to aide in a last-ditch counterattack on the Federals. He collects a small force in rear of the main sally
port, but the counterattack never materializes. Lamb is seriously wounded just as he gives the order to charge.
• 4:30 p.m. — The remnants of the naval shore contingent
replace Abbott's brigade on the Union northern line, and Abbott moves to reinforce Federal troops at Fort Fisher.
• 4:30 p.m. — Shortly after 4:30, Lamb joins the wounded
Whiting in the hospital bombproof beneath the Pulpit.
• Lamb sends for Maj. James Reilly, who assumes command of the final
defense of Fort Fisher.
• Reilly assembles some 150 men in rear of the main sally port (including
some of Hagood's South Carolinians), but a counterattack is squelched immediately. Two-thirds of Reilly's force is cut down
by a destructive fire from the enemy, and the survivors fall back toward the Northeast Bastion.
• 4:45 p.m. — Union soldiers have captured seven traverses
on the fort's land face.
• As Reilly's men fall back, Union forces on the parade ground reach
a position opposite their comrades on the mounds to their left.
• At the seventh traverse, N. Martin Curtis senses that Union victory
is near at hand.
• At this critical juncture, General Ames wants to entrench for the
night, while Curtis pushes to finish the job.
• 5:30 p.m. — Curtis is borne from the field, having been
seriously wounded while attempting to secure reinforcements in rear of the western salient.
• Sundown — The Federal advance slows, and the ferocity
of the battle subsides along the land front. General Terry orders Gen. Charles Paine to send one of his best regiments to
the front—and the 27th U.S. Colored Troops head toward Fort Fisher
• 6:00 p.m. — Troops of Abbott's Union brigade pour through
the riverside gate of Fort Fisher.
• 6:30 p.m. — Whiting sends a final desperate plea to Braxton
Bragg at Sugar Loaf: "The enemy are assaulting us by land and sea. Their infantry outnumber us. Can't you help us? I am slightly
• 7:00 p.m. — General Terry arrives at Fort Fisher with
chief engineer Cyrus Comstock. Comstock suggests that the Federals not compromise the strength of their northern line by committing
Paine's division to the assault. Terry agrees, and resolves to finish the job with Abbott's brigade.
• 7:00 p.m. — Braxton Bragg dismisses rumors, via Battery
Lamb across the river, that the Federals have captured Fort Fisher.
• 8:00 p.m. — Confederate resistance is on its last legs.
• 8:00 p.m. — Braxton Bragg reports from Sugar Loaf to authorities
in Wilmington that all is under control at Fort Fisher.
• 9:00 p.m. — Having determined to remove General Whiting
from the equation altogether, Bragg dispatches Gen. Alfred Colquitt to take command at Fisher. Colquitt and three staff officers
depart Sugar Loaf in a small rowboat.
• 9:00 p.m. — The Federal mop-up operation is underway,
as Abbott's brigade is ordered to clear the mounds of their remaining defenders.
• Reilly evacuates the injured Lamb and Whiting to Battery Buchanan,
at the base of the peninsula.
• The final union push on the open plain behind the fort forces Reilly's
remaining Confederates to retreat southward toward Buchanan.
• As remnants of the garrison begin arriving in the vicinity, Capt.
Robert Chapman's small force at Buchanan beats a hasty retreat, and vanishes with the small boats docked along the nearby
• 9:30 p.m. — The 27th U.S. Colored Troops are ordered to
advance. Joining regiments of Abbott's brigade, the 27th USCT marches southward down the peninsula, along the sea face, toward
• Maj. James Reilly, now totally out of options, awaits the inevitable.
• General Colquitt comes ashore some 500 yards north of Battery Buchanan,
and immediately dismisses reports from locals and garrison remnants that Fort Fisher has fallen to the enemy.
• Colquitt travels downriver to Battery Buchanan to confer with Lamb
• At Buchanan, the signs of defeat are unmistakable, as hundreds of
disheveled Confederates continue to arrive at the lower peninsula.
• Clueless, Colquitt asks Lamb what can be done to save the fort. Lamb—ever
the optimist—replies that a fresh brigade of Confederate troops might yet turn the tide in their favor.
• Shouts of triumph from the Federals are clearly audible along the
• A dark mass of Union infantry—Abbott's men and the 27th USCT—suddenly
becomes visible in the brilliant moonlight, as the Federals bear down on Battery Buchanan.
• Colquitt and his entourage beat a hasty retreat, and row frantically
away from Buchanan, as the skirmish line of the 27th USCT passes within 30 yards of the wharf.
• Alfred Terry soon arrives to receive the official surrender from General
• Terry, riding a captured horse back northward toward Fisher, accepts
a large garrison flag—filched from atop the Mound Battery—as a prize of war.
• 10:00 p.m. — The air above the Atlantic is alive with
rockets and fireworks of all colors, as Union forces celebrate the capture of Fort Fisher.
JANUARY 16, 1865
• 1:00 a.m. — Braxton Bragg wires Gen. Robert E. Lee in
Virginia: "I am mortified at having to report the unexpected capture of Fort Fisher, with most of its garrison, at about 10
o'clock to-night. Particulars not known."
• The same message goes out to Confederate president Jefferson Davis
and North Carolina governor Zebulon B. Vance.
• Davis is stunned. "The intelligence is sad as it was unexpected,"
replies the president. "Can you retake the fort? If anything is to be done you will appreciate the necessity of its being
attempted without a moment's delay."
• Dawn — First light reveals the awful carnage of the battle,
as mangled men and machinery are visible in every direction.
• Fort Fisher's main magazine explodes, killing about 200 men of both
• Afternoon — Federal Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton,
en route to Washington, arrives unexpectedly at Federal Point. General Terry presents Stanton with Fort Fisher's garrison
"You will be pleased to know," Stanton tells President Abraham Lincoln, "that
perfect harmony and concert of action existed between [our] land and naval forces . . . . Admiral Porter and General Terry
vied in the commendation each of the other."
STEAMER S. R. SPAULDING
Off Fort Fisher, January 16, 1865
The Secretary of War has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the flag
of Fort Fisher, and in the name of the President congratulates you and the gallant officers and soldiers, sailors, and marines
of your commands, and tenders you thanks for the valor and skill displayed in your respective parts of the great achievement
in the operations against Fort Fisher and in its assault and capture. The combined operations of the squadron and land forces
of your commands deserve and will receive the thanks of the nation, and will be held in admiration throughout the world as
proof of the naval and military prowess of the United States."
Edwin M. Stanton
Secretary of War
Major-General TERRY and