DECEMBER 7-27, 1864.--Expedition to and operations against Fort Fisher, N.C.
Report of Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel, U.S. Army, commanding Twenty-fifth Army Corps.
HEADQUARTERS TWENTY-FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
In the Field, Va., December 31, 1864.
In accordance with orders I moved on the evening of the 7th instant with about 7,000 men of Ames' (Second) division, Twenty-fourth Corps, and Paine's (First) division, of the Twenty-fifth Corps, to the rear of the left of our lines at Bermuda Hundred, and bivouacked for the night at the signal tower.
During the night I received an order from the general commanding to move my command at daylight next morning to Bermuda Hundred and embark it on transports that would be furnished, and then rendezvous at Fortress Monroe. This was done. We lay here until the 13th instant awaiting for the navy to get ready and the weather to improve. At 3 a.m. on the 13th the transport fleet, by direction of General Butler, moved up the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River to Mathias Point, and returned the next day and proceeded to sea, arriving off the rendezvous at Masonborough Inlet on the evening of the 15th. We lay here until the evening of the 18th, when Admiral Porter arrived. The weather during sixty hours of this period had been perfectly calm, and the sea smooth, but on the evening of the 18th there was quite a rough sea, making it impossible for troops to be landed on the beach; Admiral Porter was, therefore, requested to delay his attack until the sea became smooth, so that we could co-operate with him. The weather became more stormy, the sea rougher, and on the 20th, 21st, 22d, and 23d it blew a gale, compelling most of the vessels of the transport fleet to seek shelter in Beaufort Harbor, and to get a fresh supply of coal and water. On the 24th, at an early hour as possible, we left Beaufort H arbor for New Inlet, and found upon our arrival, just before dark, the navy engaged in shelling Fort Fisher. Shortly after dark, by direction of the commanding general, I proceeded on board of the flag-ship, in company with Lieutenant-Colonel Comstock, aide-de-camp on General Grant's staff, and learned from Admiral Porter that the powder vessel had exploded at 1.40 a.m. that day, close to Fort Fisher, and that he had commenced the attack at daylight, firing his first shot after 12 m., and that the rebels had replied with little or no spirit to his fire, and he seemed sanguine of an easy capture of the work. I reported this to General Butler upon my return, and I was then directed to land a reconnoitering party of about 500 men on the following day to push as close as possible to Fort Fisher, ascertain its true condition, and to report, so that if it were found practicable to assault all the troops could be landed and the assault made. At 6.30 a.m. the next day I saw Admiral Porter and arranged with him the details for covering the landing, and also for landing the troops. As soon as all the transports arrived and the preparations were ready 500 men (the One hundred and forty-second New York and about fifty men of the One hundred and twelfth New York Volunteers, of General Curtis' brigade, Ames' division, all under the command of Brevet Brigadier-General Curtis) were landed on the beach about three miles above Fort Fisher. I also accompanied this body of men in person. We were covered on our landing by a division of twelve gun-boats, under the command of Captain Glisson, U.S. Navy, and the sloop of war Brooklyn, Captain Alden, U.S. Navy, commanding. We were assisted by the boats of these vessels and those of other vessels. As soon as the landing was made I directed General Curtis to push his command down the beach as far as he could go. He pushed his skirmish line to within a few yards of Fort Fisher, causing in his way the surrender of a garrison of Flag-Pond Hill Battery. The flag of this battery and the garrison were taken possession of by the navy immediately after the white flag was raised and before our men, moving at a double-quick, could get up to it. I proceeded in person, accompanying the One hundred and forty-second New York, to within about 800 yards of Fort Fisher, a point from which I had a good view of the work. From what I saw there and before that time, and from what I had heard from what I considered reliable sources, I believe the work to be a square bastioned work; it has a high relief, a wide and deep ditch, excepting on the sea front, a glacis, has casemates and bomb-proofs sufficiently large to hold its garrison. I counted seventeen guns in position bearing up the beach, and between each pair of guns there was a traverse so thick and so high above the parapet that I have no doubt they were all bomb-proofs. A stockade ran from the northeast angle of the counterscarps of the work to the water's edge on the seaside. I saw plainly that the work had not been materially injured by the heavy and very accurate shell fire of the navy, and having a distinct and vivid recollection of the bombardment of Fort Jackson, of Vicksburg, of Charleston, and of Fort Wagner, in all of which instances an enormous and well-directed shell fire had done but little damage, and having a distinct and vivid recollection of the two unsuccessful assaults on Fort Wagner, both of which were made under four times more favorable circumstances than those under which we were placed, I returned, as directed, to the major-general commanding; found him on the gun-boat Chamberlain within easy range and good view of the work, and frankly reported to him that it would be butchery to order an assault on that work under the circumstances. After examining it himself carefully, he came to the same conclusion, and directed the troops to be re-embarked. This was accomplished by Tuesday morning. In the interval between my leaving General Curtis' command and their re-embarkation General Curtis performed several operations, re-suiting in the capture of 7 officers and 220 privates, making a total of nearly 300 prisoners. Lieut. W. H. Walling, of One hundred and forty-second New York Volunteers, is reported as having gone on the parapet of Fort Fisher and captured its flag. He deserves prompt promotion for this act of personal gallantry. General Curtis, personally, and his whole command, were under my eye, and they all behaved splendidly and deserve commendation. Lieut. Col. R. H. Jackson, inspector-general and chief of artillery on my staff, remained with the skirmish line near Fort Fisher until after dark, and deserves reward for his gallantry. I would respectfully refer to the accompanying reports of General Ames and General Curtis for further details. From these you will see that our total loss was 1 officer captured, 1 man drowned in re-embarking, and 15 wounded, nearly all the latter by our own naval fire. The garrison of Flag-Pond Hill Battery belonged to Kirkland's brigade, of Hoke's division, and unanimously reported that they left Richmond on the Tuesday previous, arriving at Wilmington on the Friday previous. From some of these and other prisoners we took, we learn that Kirkland's and Hagood's brigades had already arrived, and that the remainder of Hoke's division was on the way. Brigadier-General Graham, with his command, had charge of our boats and landing material, and deserves the greatest credit for his industry and energy in getting these into system and organizing them, and for the efficient services he and his command rendered during the disembarkation and re-embarkation of the troops.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major-General of Volunteers.
Brig. Gen. J. W. TURNER,
Chief of Staff.
Researched and Compiled