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NH at the Battle of Fort Fisher in January 1865


Civil War historian Duane Schaffer offers this stirring tale of New Hampshire men fighting in North Carolina. Read about NH heroes from Dover, Rollinsford, Chester, Wolfeboro and more. This excerpt comes from the author’s new book MEN OF GRANITE and is an exclusive to (Click to read)


In January 1865, there were several Confederate armies still in the field and a handful of functional seaports in Southern hands. The Union could not be crowned with victory until those armies and ports were vanquished. The possibility of the defeat of the Confederacy did not seem likely at the turn of the year. Ben Butler had failed in his attack on Fort Fisher in December, and now a second attempt was to be made in mid-January under Major General Alfred H. Terry. Unlike Butler’s debacle, Terry’s amphibious landing was a tactical masterpiece with all of the attacking parties fully coordinated.

Excerpted in part from the book
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Located on the southern end of a long peninsula and on the eastern side of the entrance to the Cape Fear River, Fort Fisher was the guardian of the approaches to Wilmington, North Carolina. The fort itself was a long and formidable set of earthworks that resembled a giant letter ‘L’. Fort Buchanan was situated at the tip of the peninsula and Mound Battery was located just south of the landward side of Fort Fisher. Along the entire length of the fort was a series of traverses that protected each individual earthwork making them, in affect, a series of mini-forts linked together.

Men_of_GraniteThe length of the fort facing seaward was almost one half mile, and the side facing land was 1000 feet. Strong bomb proofs were constructed inside the fort to protect the garrison against the inevitable bombardment they would be facing. Commanded by Colonel William Lamb, Fort Fisher boasted a garrison of 1,800 men, mostly North Carolinians and forty-seven heavy cannons. Numbered among the cannons were fifteen Columbiads and one English-made 150-pounder Armstrong gun.

Facing Fort Fisher on this second attempt to capture it was another vast armada of ships and men. The naval and marines forces were under the command of Admiral David Porter aboard his flagship, the Malvern. Including Porter’s ship, the Federal armada contained forty-four ships. The total number of Federal troops in this second invasion was 8,000 men, including the Third, Fourth, and Seventh New Hampshire Volunteer regiments.

Brigadier General Adelbert Ames commanded the Second Division of the newly formed 24th Corps. In his division were three brigades commanded by Brigadier General Curtis, Colonel Pennypacker and Colonel Louis Bell of Chester, New Hampshire, respectively. At the time of the attack on Fort Fisher the FourthNew Hampshire was in Bell’s Brigade and was commanded by Captain John H. Roberts of Dover. In a separate attached brigade commanded by Colonel Joseph C. Abbott was the Seventh New Hampshire, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Augustus Rollins, of Rollinsford and the Third New Hampshire, commanded by Captain William Trickey of Wolfeboro.

The Federal troop transports left the Bermuda Hundred area on January 3 and met the remainder of the fleet off Beaufort, North Carolina. On the morning of the 12th, the monitors and gunboats led the way south followed by the landing force. The troops were landed the next morning about five miles north of Fort Fisher. They were now between the fort and the 5,000 Confederates of Major General Robert F. Hoke. Abbot’s Brigade was detailed to hold the line in case this force decided to attack Terry’s landing party from behind.

January 15 arrived and much of the morning was taken up with Terry personally positioning the troops in preparation for the attack against the fort. The First Brigade under Curtis was finally moved out of the trees about 3 p.m. to a point about 400 yards from the fort. The men hastily dug trenches with whatever equipment they had with them. They drew the immediate attention of the gunners in the fort, and shells soon began to drop in the ranks of the New York regiments.

The Federal fleet, anchored offshore, responded at once with its own bombardment and sent the Confederate artillerists scurrying to their bombproofs. Curtis’ brigade was moved up again, this time to within 200 yards of the fort and the digging began again. Pennypacker’s brigade moved out and occupied the trenches just vacated by Curtis. Colonel Louis Bell readied his men to step out of the woods and follow Pennypacker. Some of the Confederate shells went over their mark and fell inside the lines of Bell’s brigade and men began to fall.


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