JANUARY 3-17, 1865.--Expedition to and capture of Fort Fisher, N.C., and its dependencies.
Report of Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Terry, U. S. Army, commanding U. S. Forces.
HEADQUARTERS U.S. FORCES,
On Federal Point, N. C., January 25, 1865.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following detailed report of the operations which resulted in the capture of Fort Fisher, and the occupation of Fort Caswell and the other works at the mouth of the Cape Fear River:On the 2d instant I received from the lieutenant-general in person orders to take command of the troops destined for the movement. They were 3,300 picked men from the Second Division of the Twenty-fourth Army Corps, under Brig. Gen. (now brevet major-general) Adelbert Ames; the same number from the Third Division of the Twenty-fifth Army Corps, under command of Brig. Gen. Charles J. Paine; 1,400 men from the Second Brigade of the First Division of the Twenty-fourth Army Corps, under Col. (now brevet brigadier-general) J. C. Abbott, Seventh New Hampshire Volunteers; the Sixteenth New York Independent Battery, with four 3-inch guns, and Light Battery E, Third U.S. Artillery, with six light 12-pounder guns. I was instructed to move them from their positions in the lines on the north side of the James River to Bermuda Landing in time to commence their embarkation on transport vessels at sunrise on the 4th instant. In obedience to these orders the movement commenced at noon of the 3d instant. The troops arrived at the landing at sunset, and there bivouacked for the night. The transports did not arrive as soon as they were expected. The first of them made its appearance late in the afternoon of the 4th. One of them, the Atlantic, was of too heavy draught to come up the James. Curtis' brigade, of Ames' division, was, therefore, placed on river steamboats and sent down the river to be transferred to her. The embarkation of the remainder of the force commenced at sunset of the 4th, and was completed at noon of the 5th instant. Each vessel, as soon as it was loaded, was sent to Fort Monroe, and at 9 p.m. of the 5th the whole fleet was collected in Hampton Roads. The troops were all in heavy marching order, with four days' rations, from the morning of the 4th, in their haversacks, and forty rounds of ammunition in their boxes. No horses, wagons, or ambulanees were taken; the caissons of the artillery were left behind, but, in addition to the ammunition in the limber chests, 150 rounds per gun in packing boxes were embarked. I went down the river personally with the lieutenant-general, and on the way received from him additional instructions and the information that orders had been given for the embarkation of a siege train, to consist of twenty 30.pounder Parrott guns, four 100-pounder Parrotts, and twenty Coehorn mortars, with a detail of artillerists and a company of engineers, so that in case siege operations should become necessary the men and material for it might be at hand. These troops, under the command of Bvt. Brig. Gen. H. L. Abbot, were to follow me to Beufort, N. C., and await orders. It was not until this time that I was informed that Fort Fisher was the point against which we were to operate.
During the evening of the 5th orders were given for the transports to proceed to sea at 4 o'clock the next morning, and accompanying these orders were sealed letters to be opened when off Cape floury, directing them to rendezvous, in case of separation from the flag-ship, at a point twenty-five miles off Beaufort, N.C. The vessels sailed at the appointed hour. During the 6th instant a severe storm arose, which so much impeded our progress that it was not until the morning of the 8th that my own vessel arrived at the rendezvous; all the others, excepting the flag-ship of General Paine, were still behind. Leaving Brigadier-General Paine to assemble the other vessels as they should arrive, I went into Beaufort Harbor to communicate with Rear-Admiral Porter, commanding the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, with whose fleet the forces under my command were destined to co-operate. During the 8th nearly all of the vessels arrived at the rendezvous; some of them required repairs to their hulls damaged by the gale; some repairs to their machinery; others needed coal or water. These vessels were brought into the harbor or to the outer anchorage where their wants were supplied; all the others remained, until the final sailing of the expedition, from twenty to twenty five miles off the land. The weather continued so unfavorable as to afford no prospect that we would be able to make a landing on the open beach of Federal Point until Wednesday, the 11th. On that day Admiral Porter pro posed to start, but at high water there was still so much surf on the bar that the iron-clads and other vessels of heavy draught could not be gotten over it; our departure was, therefore, delayed till the next day.On the morning tide of the 12th the vessels in the harbor passed out, and the whole fleet of naval vessels and transports got under way for this place. As we were leaving, the vessels containing General Abbot's command came in sight; orders were sent to them to follow us. We did not arrive off Federal Point until nearly night-fall, consequently, and in accordance with the decision of the admiral, the disembarkation of the troops was not commenced until the next morning. Our subsequent experience fully justified the delay; it would have been extremely difficult to land the men at night. At 4 a.m. of the 13th the inshore division of naval vessels stood in close to the beach to cover the landing; the transports followed them, and took positions as nearly as possible in a line parallel to and about 200 yards outside of them. The iron-clads moved down to within range of the fort and opened fire upon it; another division was placed to the northward of the landing-place, so as to protect our men from any attack from the direction of Masonborough Inlet. At 8 o'clock nearly 200 boats, besides steam tugs, were sent from the navy to the transports, and the disembarkation of men, provisions, tools, and ammunition simultaneously commenced. At 3 p.m. nearly 8,000 men, with three days' rations in their haversacks and forty rounds of ammunition in their boxes, six days' supply of hard bread in bulk, 300,000 additional rounds of small-arm ammunition, and a sufficient number of intrenching tools, had been safely landed. The surf on the beach was still quite high, notwithstanding that the weather had become very pleasant, and owing to it some of the men had their rations and ammunition ruined by water. With this exception, no accident of any kind occurred. As soon as the troops had commenced landing pickets were thrown out. They immediately encountered outposts of the enemy, and shots were exchanged with them, but no serious engagement occurred. A few prisoners were taken, from whom I learned that Hoke's rebel division, which it was supposed had been sent farther south, was still here, and that it was his outposts which we were meeting. The first object which I had in view after landing was to throw a strong defensive line across the peninsula, from the Cape Fear River to the sea, facing Wilmington, so as to protect our rear from attack while we should be engaged in operating against Fisher. Our maps indicated that a good position for such a line would be found a short distance above the head of Myrtle Sound, which is a long, shallow piece of water separated from the ocean by a sand spit of about 100 yards in width, and communicates with it by Masonborough Inlet. It was supposed that the right flank of a line at that point would be protected by the sound, and being above its head that we should by it control the beach as far up as the inlet, and thus in case of need be able to land supplies in quiet water there. Our landing place was selected with reference to this idea. An examination made after we landed showed that the sound for a long distance above its head was so shallow as to offer no obstacle to the passage of troops at low tide, and as the farther down the peninsula we should go the shorter would be our line across it it was determined to take up a position where the maps showed a large pond, occupying nearly one-third of the width of the peninsula, at about three miles from the fort. Shortly before 5 o'clock, leaving Abbott's brigade to cover our stores, the troops were put in motion for the last-named point. On arriving at it, the "pond" was found to be a sand flat, sometimes covered with water, giving no assistance to the defense of a line established behind it. Nevertheless, it was determined to get a line across at this place, and Paine's division, followed by two of Ames' brigades, made their way through. The night was very dark, much of the ground was a marsh and illy adapted to the construction of works, and the distance was found to be too great to be properly defended by the troops which could be spared from the direct attack upon the fort. It was not until 9 p.m. that Paine succeeded in reaching the river. The ground still nearer the fort was then reconnoitered, and found to be much better adapted to our purposes. Accordingly, the troops were withdrawn from their last position and established on a line about two miles from the works. They reached this final position at 2 a.m. of the 14th instant. Tools were immediately brought up and intrenchments were commenced; at 8 o'clock a good breast-work, reaching from the river to the sea and partially covered by abatis had been constructed and was in a defensible condition. It was much improved afterward, but from this time our foothold on the peninsula was secured. Early in the morning of the 14th the landing of the artillery was commenced and by sunset all the light guns were gotten on shore. During the following night they were placed on the line, most of them near the river, where the enemy, in case he should attack us, would be least exposed to the fire of the gun-boats. Curtis' brigade of Ames' division was moved down toward Fisher during the morning, and at noon his skirmishers, after capturing, their way a small steamer which had come down the river with shells and forage for the garrison of the fort, reached a small unfinished outwork in front of the west end of the land front of the work. General Curtis, Lieutenant-Colonel (now brevet brigadier-general) Comstock, the chief engineer of the expedition, and myself, under the protection of the fire of the fleet, made a careful reconnaissance of the work, getting within 600 yards of it. The report of General Comstock, which, with its accompanying map, is appended hereto,(*) gives a full description of it and its condition at that time. As the result of this reconnaissance, and in view of the extreme difficulty which might be expected in landing supplies and the material for a siege on the open and often tempestuous beach, it was decided to attempt an assault the next day, provided that in the meantime the fire of the navy should so far destroy the palisades as to make one practicable. This decision was communicate, to Admiral Porter, who at once placed a division of his vessels in a position to accomplish this last-named object. It was arranged in consultation with him that a heavy bombardment from all the vessels should commence early in the morning and continue up to the moment of the assault, and that even then it should not cease, but should be diverted from the points of attack to other parts of the work. It was decided that the assault should be made at 3 p.m., that the army should attack on the western half of the land face, and that a column of sailors and marines should assault at the northeast bastion. The fire of the navy continued during the night. At 8 a.m. of the 15th all of the vessels, except a division left to aid in the defense of our northern line, moved into position, and a fire, magnificent alike for its power and accuracy, was opened. Ames' division had been selected for the assault. Paine was placed in command of the defensive line, having with him Abbott's brigade in addition to his own division. Ames' First Brigade (Curtis') was already at the outwork above mentioned, and in trenches close around it. His other two brigades, Pennypacker's and Bell's, were moved at noon to within supporting distance of him. At 2 o'clock preparations for the assault were commenced. Sixty sharpshooters from the Thirteenth Indiana Volunteers, armed with the Spencer repeating carbine, and forty others, volunteers from Curtis' brigade, the whole under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Zent, of the Thirteenth Indiana, were thrown forward at a run to within 175 yards of the work. They were provided with shovels and soon dug pits for shelter and commenced firing at the parapet. As soon as this movement commenced the parapet of the fort was manned, and the enemy's fire, both of musketry and artillery, opened. As soon as the sharpshooters were in position, Curtis' brigade was moved forward by regiment at the double-quick into line at about 475 yards from the work; the men there laid down; this was accomplished under a sharp fire of musketry and artillery, from which, however, they soon sheltered themselves by digging shallow trenches. When Curtis moved from the outwork Pennypacker was brought up to it, and Bell was brought into line 200 yards in his rear. Finding that a good cover for Curtis' men could be found on the reserve slope of a crest fifty yards in the rear of the sharpshooters, they were again moved forward, one regiment at a time, and again covered themselves in trenches. Pennypacker followed Curtis and occupied the ground vacated by him, and Bell was brought up to the outwork. It had been proposed to blow up and cut down the palisades. Bags of powder with fuses attached had been prepared and a party of volunteers axmen organized, but the fire of the navy had been so effective during the preceding night and morning that it was thought unnecessary to use the powder. The axmen, however, were sent in with the leading brigade, and did good service by making openings in portions of the palisading, which the fire of the navy had not been able to reach.
At 3.25 p.m. all the preparations were completed, the order to move forward was given to Ames, and a concerted signal was made to Admiral Porter to change the direction of his fire. Curtis' brigade at once sprung from their trenches and dashed forward in line; its left was exposed to a severe enfilading fire and it obliqued to the right so as to envelop the left of the land front. The ground over which it moved was marshy and difficult, but it soon reached the palisades, passed through them, and affected a lodgment on the parapet. At the same time the column of sailors and marines, under Fleet Capt. K. R. Breese, advanced up the beach in the most gallant manner and attacked the northeastern bastion, but, exposed to a murderous fire, they were unable to get up the parapet. After a severe struggle and a heavy loss of valuable officers and men it became apparent that nothing could be effected at that point, and they were withdrawn.When Curtis moved forward Ames directed Pennypacker to move up to the rear of the sharpshooters, and brought Bell up to Pennypacker's last position, and as soon as Curtis got a foothold on the parapet sent Pennypacker in to his support. He advanced, overlapping Curtis' right, and drove the enemy from the heavy palisading which extended from the west end of the land face to the river, capturing a considerable number of prisoners; then pushing forward to their left, the two brigades together drove the enemy from about one-quarter of the land face. Ames then brought up Bell's brigade and moved it between the work and the river. On this side there was no regular parapet, but there was abundance of cover afforded to the enemy by cavities from which sand had been taken for the parapet, the ruins of barracks and storehouses, the large magazine, and by traverses behind which they stubbornly resisted our advance. Hand-to-hand fighting of the most desperate character ensued, the huge traverses of the land face being used successively by the enemy as breast-works, over the tops of which the contending parties fired in each others' faces. Nine of these were carried, one after the other, by our men.When Bell's brigade was ordered into motion I foresaw that more troops would probably be needed, and sent an order for Abbott's brigade to move down from the north line, at the same time requesting Captain Breese to replace them with his sailors and marines. I also directed General Paine to send me one of the strongest regiments of his own division; these troops arrived at dusk and reported to General Ames. At 6 o'clock Abbott's brigade went into the fort, the regiment from Paine's division, the Twenty-seventh U. S. Colored Troops, Bvt. Brig. Gen. A. M. Blackman commanding, was brought up to the rear of the work, where it remained under fire for some time and was then withdrawn. Until 6 o'clock the fire of the navy continued upon that portion of the work not occupied by us. After that time it was directed on the beach to prevent the coming up of re enforcements which it was thought might possibly be thrown over from the right bank of the river to Battery Buchanan. The fighting for the traverses continued till nearly 9 o'clock, two more of them being carried; then a portion of Abbott's brigade drove the enemy from their last remaining strongholds, and the occupation of the work was completed. The same brigade, with General Blackman's regiment, were immediately pushed down the point to Battery Buchanan, whither many of the garrison had fled. On reaching the battery all of the enemy who had not been previously captured were made prisoners; among them were Major-General Whiting, and Colonel Lamb, the commandant of the fort.
At about 4 o'clock in the afternoon Hoke advanced against our north line, apparently with the design of attacking it, but if such was his intention he abandoned it after a skirmish with our pickets. During the day Bvt. Brig. Gen. H. L. Abbot, chief of artillery, was busily engaged in landing artillery and ammunition, so that it' the assault failed siege operations might at once be commenced. Consequent to the fall of Fisher the enemy, during the night of the 16th and 17th, blew up Fort Caswell, and abandoned both it and their very extensive works on Smith's Island, at Smithville and Reeves' Point, thus placing in our hands all the works erected to defend the mouth of the Cape Fear River. In all the works were found 169 pieces of artillery, nearly all of which are heavy, over 2,000 stand of small-arms, considerable quantities of commissary stores, and full supplies of ammunition. Our prisoners numbered 112 commissioned officers and 1,971 enlisted men. I have no words to do justice to the behavior of both officers and men on this occasion; all that men could do, they did. Better soldiers never fought. Of General Ames I have already spoken in a letter recommending his promotion. He commanded all the troops engaged, and was constantly under fire. His great coolness, good judgment, and skill were never more conspicuous than in this assault. Brigadier-General Curtis,(*) and Colonels Pennypacker,(*) Bell, and Abbott, the brigade commanders, led them with the utmost gallantry. Curtis was wounded after fighting in the front rank, rifle in hand; Pennypacker, while carrying the standard of one of his regiments, the first ma,, in a charge over a traverse; Bell was mortally wounded near the palisades.
Brigadier-General Paine deserves high praise for the zeal and energy displayed by him in constructing our defensive line, a work absolutely essential to our success. Brevet Brigadier-General Blackman deserves mention for the prompt manner in which he brought his regiment up to the work, and afterward followed up the retreating enemy. To Bvt. Brig. Gen. C. B. Comstock, aide-de-camp on the staff of the lieutenant-general, I am under the deepest obligations. At every step of our progress I received from him the most valuable assistance. For the final success of our part of the operations the country is more indebted to him than to me. Col. George S. Dodge, chief quartermaster of the Army of the James, acoompanies me as chief quartermaster of the force under my command. His able and energetic performance of his multitarious duties was all that could be wished for, and reflects the highest honor upon him. Surg. Norman S. Barnes, U.S. Volunteers, medical director, and Surg. A. J. H. Buzzell, Third New Hampshire Volunteers, medical inspector of the expedition, discharged their laborious duties on the field and in the hospital in a manner most creditable to their ability and humanity. I desire to express my high appreciation of the services of these officers. I shall have the honor to submit a supplemental report in reference to those subordinate officers and enlisted men who distinguished themselves on this occasion.I should signally fail to do my duty were I to omit to speak in terms of the highest admiration of the part borne by the navy in our operations. In all ranks, from Admiral Porter to his seamen, there was the utmost desire not only to do their proper work, but to facitate in every possible manner the operations of the land forces. To him and to the untiring efforts of his officers and men we are indebted that our men, stores, tools, and ammunition were safely and expeditiously landed, and that our wounded and prisoners were embarked for transportation to the North; to the great accuracy and power of their fire it is owing that we had not to confront a formidable artillery in the assault, and that we were able, with but little loss, to push forward the men, preparatory to it, to a point nearly as favorably for it, as the one they would have occupied had siege operations been undertaken and the work systematically approached. The assault of the sailors and marines, although it failed, undoubtedly contributed somewhat to our success, and certainly nothing could surpass the perfect skill with which the fleet was handled by its commander. Every request which I made to Admiral Porter was most cheerfully complied with, and the utmost harmony has existed between us from the outset to the present time.
I forward herewith General Ames' report. (+)
] have the honor to be, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
ALFRED H. TERRY,
Brig. Gen. JOHN A. RAWLINS,
Chief of Staff, City Point, Va.
Researched and Compiled