Fort Fisher

Fort Fisher
Fort Fisher, NE Bastion. Frank Vizetelly (National Geographic)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

February 24, 1865: Welles Orders Downsizing of Navy As War Nears End

FEBRUARY 24TH, 1865:  The intention of the Navy Department to reduce the size of the operating force as the end of hostilities neared was indicated  in Secretary Welles' instructions to Rear Admiral Thatcher, commanding the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, to send "North such purchased vessels as appear by surveys to require very extensive repairs ... and all those no longer required.

"These will probably be sold or laid up.  You also will send home any stores that are not required.  Further requisition must be carefully examined before  approval, and the commanders of squadrons are expected to use every possible exertion and care to reduce the expenses of their squadron."

It's a Reduction in Force.  --Old B-R'er

February 22, 1865: The Confederacy's About Over By Now

FEBRUARY 22ND, 1865:  Not only was Rebel War Clerk J.B. Jones getting down in the dumps about his Confederacy's chances, but many across the South as well.

Material suffering  and the unwavering pressure of Union armies ashore and Federal ships afloat destroyed Southern hopes.  In the Union's strength at sea the Confederacy faced a double disadvantage.

Not only did the fleet provide the North with massed artillery, great mobility. easy concentration and surprise in attack, but also provided a safe fortress to which soldiers ashore could retreat -- as had been most recently  shown during General Butler's amphibious failure at Fort Fisher as 1864 ended.

And, the Navy certainly provided support as Union troops advanced up the banks of the Cape Fear River in their quest to capture Wilmington.

I always have to wonder that had I been a Confederate soldier at this time, whether I would have just given up and gone home.

--Old B-Runner

Wilmington's Famous "Dram Tree"-- Part 1: Pour One Out for the Old Dram Tree

From the February 23, 2020, Wilmington (NC) Star-News  "Pour One Out for the old Dram Tree" by Hunter Ingram.

The ancient bald cypress tree called the "Dram Tree" was once a much beloved landmark  of the Cape Fear River.  And, that was for centuries.

The 28-miles from the mouth of the Cape Fear River to Wilmington was always tricky and dangerous until modern dredging and efforts made it better.  But before that, you almost had to hold your breath.  And, of course, that would include those sleek blockade runners during the Civil War as well as the Union warships involved in the capture of the city after the fall of Fort Fisher.

Running aground on treacherous shoals was a definite possibility.

But in days of yore, the sight of the Old Dram Tree gave mariners a sign of relief for those coming up the river.  They had made it.

--Old B-Runner

Wilmington's Famous "Dram Tree"-- Part 2: "Like a Grim Sentinel"

The famed old tree stuck out of the west bank  of the Cape Fear River about two miles south of Wilmington.

The crooked, ancient bald cypress tree. covered with Spanish moss looked as though it had been the victim of nature's wrath over hundreds of years.  The top of it had no leaves.   It looked like something you might see in a horror movie.

But, to those old mariners, it was something you wanted to see.  It meant home and safety.  When they saw it, this meant that Wilmington was real close by.

Famed local historian James Sprunt once described it as:  "Like a grim sentinel, it stands to warn the outgoing mariner that his voyage had begun and to welcome the in-coming storm-tossed sailor into the quiet harbor beyond."

But, why is it called "The Dram Tree?"

Next.  --Old B-Runner

Monday, February 24, 2020

Feb. 23, 1865: Bleak Gets Even Bleaker in Richmond As Confederate Fortunes Wane-- Part 1

FEBRUARY 22, 1865:  In Richmond, Confederate  War Department clerk J.B. Jones wrote in his diary:  "To-day is the anniversary of the birth of Washington, and of the inauguration of Davis; but I hear of no holiday.  Not much is doing, however, in the departments; simply a waiting for calamities, which come with stunning rapidity.

"The next news, I suppose, will be the evacuation of Wilmington!  Then Raleigh may tremble.  Unless there is a speedy turn in the tide of affairs, confusion will reign  supreme and universally."

And this was way before this year's vote on Confederate statue removal in Virginia.  Things are pretty bleak on that front as well.

--Old B-Runner

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Feb. 21-22, 1865: The Fall of Wilmington, "The Anaconda Has, At Last, Wound His Fatal Folds Around Us"

FEBRUARY 21ST-22ND, 1865:  The gunboat fleet of Rear Admiral Porter closed in on Fort Strong and opened rapid fire "all along the enemy's line" to support the Army attack ashore as it had throughout the soldiers' steady march up both banks of the Cape Fear River.

The next day, 22 February, the defenders evacuated the fort and Porter's ships steamed up to Wilmington, which earlier in the day had been occupied by general terry's men after General Bragg had ordered the evacuation  of the now defenseless city.

That same day, the admiral wrote Secretary Welles:  "I have then honor to inform you that Wilmington has been evacuated and is in possession of our troops ....  I had the pleasure of placing the flag on Fort Strong, and at 12 o'clock noon today shall fire a salute of thirty-five guns this being the anniversary of Washington's birthday."

As Raphael  later wrote:  "...we had lost our last blockade-running port.  Our ports are now all hermetically sealed.  The anaconda has, at last, wound his fatal folds around us."

So Long Wilmington.  --Old B-Runner

Friday, February 21, 2020

Feb. 19-20, 1865: The "Old Bogey" Goes Back Into Action

FEBRUARY 19TH-20TH, 1865:  One of Porter's officers wrote that "Old Bogey", the make-shift monitor fashioned by the admiral to deceive Fort Anderson's defenders (since he only had one monitor, the USS Montauk)  (See Feb. 16-17), had taken part in the action against Fort Strong:  "Johnny Reb let off his torpedoes without effect on it, and the old thing sailed across the river and grounded in the flank and rear of the enemy's lines on the eastern bank, whereupon they fell back in the night.

"She now occupies the most advanced position of the line, and Battery Lee has been banging away at her, and probably wondering why she does not answer.  Last night after a half day's fighting, the rebs sent down about 50 torpedoes; but although 'Old Bogey' took no notice of them, they kept the rest of us pretty lively as long as the ebb tide ran."

That Old Bogey.  --Old B-Runner

Thursday, February 20, 2020

February 19-20, 1865: Fort Strong Engaged and Confederates Release the Torpedoes in the Cape Fear River, NC

FEBRUARY 19TH TO 20TH, 1865:  Following the evacuation of Fort Anderson, Rear Admiral Porter's gunboats steamed seven miles up the Cape Fear River to the Big Island shallows and the piling obstructions and engaged Fort Strong's five guns.  Ship's boats swept the river for torpedoes (mines) ahead of the fleet's advance.

On the night of the 20th, the Confederates released 200 floating torpedoes, which were avoided with great difficulty and kept the boat crews engaged in sweeping throughout the hours of darkness.

Although many of the gunboats safely swept with their nets, the USS Osceola, Commander J.M.B. Clitz, received hull damage and lost a paddle wheel box by an explosion.

Another torpedo destroyed a boat from the USS Shawmut, inflicting four casualties.

--Old B-Runner

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Feb. 18, 1865: Fort Anderson Falls and Sugar Loaf Evacuated in North Carolina

FEBRUARY 18TH, 1865:  The big guns of Rear Admiral Porter's fleet in the Cape Fear River silenced the Confederate batteries at Fort Anderson.  Under a relentless hail, of fire from the ships and with Union troops investing the fort from two sides, the Southerners evacuated their defensive positions and fell back to Town Creek.

Simultaneously, the Confederates dug in at Sugar Loaf Hill, on the east bank of the Cape Fear River, adjacent to Fort Anderson, withdrew to Fort Strong, a complex of fortifications comprising several batteries some three miles south of Wilmington.

The combined Army-Navy movement was now pushing irresistibly toward Wilmington, North Carolina.

--Old B-Runner

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Feb. 18, 1865: Charleston Sailors Find Way to Wilmington a Hard Road to Hoe

FEBRUARY 18TH, 1865:  Upon orders to evacuate Charleston, Commodore John R. Tucker scuttled the ironclads Palmetto State, Charleston and Chicora, took charge of the remaining sailors in the area, and set out by train for Wilmington to join the naval detachment that had previously proceeded there under Lieutenant Rochelle.

Tucker's detachment got as far as  Whiteville, about 50 miles west of Wilmington, where he learned that Union troops had cut the rail line between the two cities and that the evacuation of Wilmington was imminent.

After unsuccessfully trying to obtain rail transportation for his detachment, which he pointed out was "unused to marching,"  Tucker set out across country on a 125 mile march to Fayetteville, North Carolina.

--Old B-R'er

Feb. 16-17-- Part 2: "Old Bogey" Scares Confederates at Fort Anderson

Unable to acquire other monitors for the reduction of Fort Anderson, Porter resorted to subterfuge as he had on the Mississippi River in February 1863.  He improvised a bogus monitor from a scow, timber and canvas.

The "Old Bogey", as she was quickly nicknamed by the sailors, had been towed to the head of the Fort Anderson bombardment line, where she succeeded in drawing heavy fire from the defending Southerners.

--Old B-Runner

Monday, February 17, 2020

Wilmington in the Secession Crisis-- Part 2: "Great Popular Excitement and Enthusiasm"

After the war, the widowed wife of Confederate Colonel William Parsley, Eliza Hall Nutt Parsley, recalled:  "In 1861, when amid great popular excitement and enthusiasm, South Carolina seceded from the Union, the people of Wilmington were deeply stirred by conflicting emotions.

"Meetings were held and speakers for and against secession swayed the multitudes which attended them.  A prominent secessionist was attorney Oliver P. Meares.

Her husband, William M. Parsley, had been among the men who seized Fort Caswell during the Star of the West crisis in January 1861.  Then in April, was elected captain of the Cape Fear Riflemen.

Cape Fear historian James Sprunt wrote that Meares "was an ardent secessionist and a fiery speaker, and the younger element were carried away by his eloquence."  When North Carolina seceded, he was among those who occupied Fort Caswell.

Both men later served as officers in the Confederate Army.

--Old B-R'er

Wilmington (NC) in the Secession Crisis, 1861 Tonight at the History Center in Carolina Beach, NC-- Part 1

From the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society.

The society will be holding its monthly meeting tonight at the Federal Point History Center at 1121-A North Lake Park Boulevard, adjacent to the Carolina Beach Town Hall.  (That is right off US Highway 421.)

The meeting starts at 7:30 pm and this month the guest speaker is Bernhard Thuersam and the topic will be "The Secession Crisis in Wilmington, 1860-1861."

It will focus on local people, viewpoints and events leading up to North Carolina's reluctant removal from the United States. A fundamental point to be examined is prominent North Carolina Whig and Unionist Jonathan Worth's assertion that his state was "forced out of the Union."

Early news of the Star of the West relief expedition in early January 1861 of Fort Sumter by President James Buchanan startled Wilmingtonians who feared Forts Caswell and Johnston would be seized by federal forces.  This would be a repeat of the British occupying Smithville (Southport today)  and thus sealing the Cape Fear River off from commerce.

Prominent Wilmington citizens of Wilmington acted immediately and seized the forts, only to have to relinquish then as the state had not yet seceded.  Of interest, Fort Johnston was surrendered to the Wilmington citizens by U.S. Ordnance Sgt. James Reilly who later in the war, as a Confederate major, surrendered Fort Fisher after the woundings of Col. Lamb and General Whiting.

I'd Sure Like to be There.  --Old B-Runner

Sunday, February 16, 2020

February 16-17, 1865-- Part 1: The Attack on Fort Anderson Begins

FEBRUARY 16TH-17TH, 1865:  As the combined operation to capture Wilmington got underway, ships of Rear Admiral Porter helped to ferry troops of General Schofield's two divisions from Fort Fisher to Smithville (now Southport), on the west bank of the Cape Fear River.

Fort Anderson, the initial objective for the two commanders,lay on the west bank mid-way between the mouth of the river and Wilmington.

On the morning of the 17th,  Major general Jacob D. Cox led 8,000 troops north from Smithville.

In support of the advance, the monitor USS Montauk, Lieutenant Commander Edward E. Stone, and four gunboats heavily bombarded Fort Anderson and successfully silenced its twelve guns.

--Old B-Runner

Friday, February 14, 2020

155th Anniversary of the Battle of Fort Anderson This Weekend

From the February 13, 2020, Burlington (NC) Times News  ""Cape Fear Unearthed:  The Bombardment of Fort Anderson" by Hunter Ingram.

There will be a two-day living history event from 10 am to 3 pm, Saturday and Sunday, February 15-16.  It will be held at the site along the Cape Fear River on the west bank.

It will feature artillery firings,  and infantry demonstrations.  Lectures will be given by historians as well as  medical and embalming  interpretations as well as an expanded torpedo demonstration.

The fort's recently installed 32-pounder cannon will also be fired for the first time.

It is free for both daytime events.

On Saturday, the site will reopen for a nighttime  bombardment event called "Plunging Shot and Screaming Shells."   This will reenact the final hours of Fort Anderson with a heavy artillery duel, the first in North Carolina since 1865.

Tickets to the nighttime event are $10 or $15 at the door.

--Old B-R'er