Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

On the night of the 23d the powder-boat was towed in by a
gunboat as near to the fort as it was safe to run. She was then
propelled by her own machinery to within about five hundred yards
of the shore. There the clockwork, which was to explode her
within a certain length of time, was set and she was
abandoned. Everybody left, and even the vessels put out to sea
to prevent the effect of the explosion upon them. At two
o’clock in the morning the explosion took place–and produced no
more effect on the fort, or anything else on land, than the
bursting of a boiler anywhere on the Atlantic Ocean would have
done. Indeed when the troops in Fort Fisher heard the explosion
they supposed it was the bursting of a boiler in one of the
Yankee gunboats.

Fort Fisher was situated upon a low, flat peninsula north of
Cape Fear River. The soil is sandy. Back a little the
peninsula is very heavily wooded, and covered with fresh-water
swamps. The fort ran across this peninsula, about five hundred
yards in width, and extended along the sea coast about thirteen
hundred yards. The fort had an armament of 21 guns and 3
mortars on the land side, and 24 guns on the sea front. At that
time it was only garrisoned by four companies of infantry, one
light battery and the gunners at the heavy guns less than seven
hundred men with a reserve of less than a thousand men five
miles up the peninsula. General Whiting of the Confederate army
was in command, and General Bragg was in command of the force at
Wilmington. Both commenced calling for reinforcements the
moment they saw our troops landing. The Governor of North
Carolina called for everybody who could stand behind a parapet
and shoot a gun, to join them. In this way they got two or
three hundred additional men into Fort Fisher; and Hoke’s
division, five or six thousand strong, was sent down from
Richmond. A few of these troops arrived the very day that
Butler was ready to advance.

On the 24th the fleet formed for an attack in arcs of concentric
circles, their heavy iron-clads going in very close range, being
nearest the shore, and leaving intervals or spaces so that the
outer vessels could fire between them. Porter was thus enabled
to throw one hundred and fifteen shells per minute. The damage
done to the fort by these shells was very slight, only two or
three cannon being disabled in the fort. But the firing
silenced all the guns by making it too hot for the men to
maintain their positions about them and compelling them to seek
shelter in the bomb-proofs.

On the next day part of Butler’s troops under General Adelbert
Ames effected a landing out of range of the fort without
difficulty. This was accomplished under the protection of
gunboats sent for the purpose, and under cover of a renewed
attack upon the fort by the fleet. They formed a line across
the peninsula and advanced, part going north and part toward the
fort, covering themselves as they did so. Curtis pushed forward
and came near to Fort Fisher, capturing the small garrison at
what was called the Flag Pond Battery. Weitzel accompanied him
to within a half a mile of the works. Here he saw that the fort
had not been injured, and so reported to Butler, advising against
an assault. Ames, who had gone north in his advance, captured
228 of the reserves. These prisoners reported to Butler that
sixteen hundred of Hoke’s division of six thousand from Richmond
had already arrived and the rest would soon be in his rear.

Upon these reports Butler determined to withdraw his troops from
the peninsula and return to the fleet. At that time there had
not been a man on our side injured except by one of the shells
from the fleet. Curtis had got within a few yards of the
works. Some of his men had snatched a flag from the parapet of
the fort, and others had taken a horse from the inside of the
stockade. At night Butler informed Porter of his withdrawal,
giving the reasons above stated, and announced his purpose as
soon as his men could embark to start for Hampton Roads. Porter
represented to him that he had sent to Beaufort for more
ammunition. He could fire much faster than he had been doing,
and would keep the enemy from showing himself until our men were
within twenty yards of the fort, and he begged that Butler would
leave some brave fellows like those who had snatched the flag
from the parapet and taken the horse from the fort.

Butler was unchangeable. He got all his troops aboard, except
Curtis’s brigade, and started back. In doing this, Butler made
a fearful mistake. My instructions to him, or to the officer
who went in command of the expedition, were explicit in the
statement that to effect a landing would be of itself a great
victory, and if one should be effected, the foothold must not be
relinquished; on the contrary, a regular siege of the fort must
be commenced and, to guard against interference by reason of
storms, supplies of provisions must be laid in as soon as they
could be got on shore. But General Butler seems to have lost
sight of this part of his instructions, and was back at Fort
Monroe on the 28th.

I telegraphed to the President as follows:

Dec. 28, 1864.–8.30 P.M.

The Wilmington expedition has proven a gross and culpable
failure. Many of the troops are back here. Delays and free
talk of the object of the expedition enabled the enemy to move
troops to Wilmington to defeat it. After the expedition sailed
from Fort Monroe, three days of fine weather were squandered,
during which the enemy was without a force to protect himself.
Who is to blame will, I hope, be known.


Porter sent dispatches to the Navy Department in which he
complained bitterly of having been abandoned by the army just
when the fort was nearly in our possession, and begged that our
troops might be sent back again to cooperate, but with a
different commander. As soon as I heard this I sent a messenger
to Porter with a letter asking him to hold on. I assured him
that I fully sympathized with him in his disappointment, and
that I would send the same troops back with a different
commander, with some reinforcements to offset those which the
enemy had received. I told him it would take some little time
to get transportation for the additional troops; but as soon as
it could be had the men should be on their way to him, and there
would be no delay on my part. I selected A. H. Terry to command.

It was the 6th of January before the transports could be got
ready and the troops aboard. They sailed from Fortress Monroe
on that day. The object and destination of the second
expedition were at the time kept a secret to all except a few in
the Navy Department and in the army to whom it was necessary to
impart the information. General Terry had not the slightest
idea of where he was going or what he was to do. He simply knew
that he was going to sea and that he had his orders with him,
which were to be opened when out at sea.

He was instructed to communicate freely with Porter and have
entire harmony between army and navy, because the work before
them would require the best efforts of both arms of service.
They arrived off Beaufort on the 8th. A heavy storm, however,
prevented a landing at Forth Fisher until the 13th. The navy
prepared itself for attack about as before, and the same time
assisted the army in landing, this time five miles away. Only
iron-clads fired at first; the object being to draw the fire of
the enemy? guns so as to ascertain their positions. This object
being accomplished, they then let in their shots thick and
fast. Very soon the guns were all silenced, and the fort showed
evident signs of being much injured.

Terry deployed his men across the peninsula as had been done
before, and at two o?lock on the following morning was up
within two miles of the fort with a respectable abatis in front
of his line. His artillery was all landed on that day, the
14th. Again Curtis? brigade of Ame’s division had the lead. By
noon they had carried an unfinished work less than a half mile
from the fort, and turned it so as to face the other way.

Terry now saw Porter and arranged for an assault on the
following day. The two commanders arranged their signals so
that they could communicate with each other from time to time as
they might have occasion. At day light the fleet commenced its
firing. The time agreed upon for the assault was the middle of
the afternoon, and Ames who commanded the assaulting column
moved at 3.30. Porter landed a force of sailors and marines to
move against the sea-front in co-operation with Ames’s
assault. They were under Commander Breese of the nay. These
sailors and marines had worked their way up to within a couple
of hundred yards of the fort before the assault. The signal was
given and the assault was made; but the poor sailors and marines
were repulsed and very badly handled by the enemy, losing 280
killed and wounded out of their number.

Curtis’s brigade charged successfully though met by a heavy
fire, some of the men having to wade through the swamp up to
their waists to reach the fort. Many were wounded, of course,
and some killed; but they soon reached the palisades. These
they cut away, and pushed on through. The other troops then
came up, Pennypacker’s following Curtis, and Bell, who commanded
the 3d brigade of Ames’s division, following Pennypacker. But
the fort was not yet captured though the parapet was gained.

The works were very extensive. The large parapet around the
work would have been but very little protection to those inside
except when they were close up under it. Traverses had,
therefore, been run until really the work was a succession of
small forts enclosed by a large one. The rebels made a
desperate effort to hold the fort, and had to be driven from
these traverses one by one. The fight continued till long after
night. Our troops gained first one traverse and then another,
and by 10 o’clock at night the place was carried. During this
engagement the sailors, who had been repulsed in their assault
on the bastion, rendered the best service they could by
reinforcing Terry’s northern line–thus enabling him to send a
detachment to the assistance of Ames. The fleet kept up a
continuous fire upon that part of the fort which was still
occupied by the enemy. By means of signals they could be
informed where to direct their shots.

During the succeeding nights the enemy blew up Fort Caswell on
the opposite side of Cape Fear River, and abandoned two
extensive works on Smith’s Island in the river.

Our captures in all amounted to 169 guns, besides small-arms,
with full supplies of ammunition, and 2,083 prisoners. In
addition to these, there were about 700 dead and wounded left
there. We had lost 110 killed and 536 wounded.

In this assault on Fort Fisher, Bell, one of the brigade
commanders, was killed, and two, Curtis and Pennypacker, were
badly wounded.

Secretary Stanton, who was on his way back from Savannah,
arrived off Fort Fisher soon after it fell. When he heard the
good news he promoted all the officers of any considerable rank
for their conspicuous gallantry. Terry had been nominated for
major-general, but had not been confirmed. This confirmed him;
and soon after I recommended him for a brigadier-generalcy in
the regular army, and it was given to him for this victory.



When news of Sherman being in possession of Savannah reached the
North, distinguished statesmen and visitors began to pour in to
see him. Among others who went was the Secretary of War, who
seemed much pleased at the result of his campaign. Mr. Draper,
the collector of customs of New York, who was with Mr. Stanton’s
party, was put in charge of the public property that had been
abandoned and captured. Savannah was then turned over to
General Foster’s command to hold, so that Sherman might have his
own entire army free to operate as might be decided upon in the
future. I sent the chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac
(General Barnard) with letters to General Sherman. He remained
some time with the general, and when he returned brought back
letters, one of which contained suggestions from Sherman as to
what ought to be done in co-operation with him, when he should
have started upon his march northward.

I must not neglect to state here the fact that I had no idea
originally of having Sherman march from Savannah to Richmond, or
even to North Carolina. The season was bad, the roads impassable
for anything except such an army as he had, and I should not have
thought of ordering such a move. I had, therefore, made
preparations to collect transports to carry Sherman and his army
around to the James River by water, and so informed him. On
receiving this letter he went to work immediately to prepare for
the move, but seeing that it would require a long time to collect
the transports, he suggested the idea then of marching up north
through the Carolinas. I was only too happy to approve this;
for if successful, it promised every advantage. His march
through Georgia had thoroughly destroyed all lines of
transportation in that State, and had completely cut the enemy
off from all sources of supply to the west of it. If North and
South Carolina were rendered helpless so far as capacity for
feeding Lee’s army was concerned, the Confederate garrison at
Richmond would be reduced in territory, from which to draw
supplies, to very narrow limits in the State of Virginia; and,
although that section of the country was fertile, it was already
well exhausted of both forage and food. I approved Sherman’s
suggestion therefore at once.

The work of preparation was tedious, because supplies, to load
the wagons for the march, had to be brought from a long
distance. Sherman would now have to march through a country
furnishing fewer provisions than that he had previously been
operating in during his march to the sea. Besides, he was
confronting, or marching toward, a force of the enemy vastly
superior to any his troops had encountered on their previous
march; and the territory through which he had to pass had now
become of such vast importance to the very existence of the
Confederate army, that the most desperate efforts were to be
expected in order to save it.

Sherman, therefore, while collecting the necessary supplies to
start with, made arrangements with Admiral Dahlgren, who
commanded that part of the navy on the South Carolina and
Georgia coast, and General Foster, commanding the troops, to
take positions, and hold a few points on the sea coast, which he
(Sherman) designated, in the neighborhood of Charleston.

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