By December of 1864, the Confederacy was in a dire situation. With Union armies sweeping into the South, Federal troops scoring success after success in the war against the Confederacy, and General William T. Sherman ravaging the Southern heatland in his March to the Sea, the Confederate armies had to contend with serious supply shortages. As the last remaining major seaport of the Confederacy still open to blockade runners evading the Union blockade, the port of Wilmington was an essential asset to the struggling Confederate war effort. Wilmington, due to its ability to supply the Confederate capital in Richmond and the remaining armies in the Eastern Confederacy with relative ease, proved to be an essential supply hub for foreign arms and aid. Fort Fisher, the anchor of the Cape Fear River defensive network charged with protecting Wilmington thus played a crucial role in the survival of the Confederacy. The most heavily fortified base in the Confederacy and the largest earthwork of its time, Fort Fisher was once thought to be impregnable. That is, until the Union leadership decided that capturing Wilmington and completely isolating the Confederacy was necessary to secure victory. Though the first Union assault failed to capture the fort, the second succeeded where the first had failed and, amidst incredibly brutal combat, the Confederate commanders of Fort Fisher were forced to surrender.
With the fall of Fort Fisher, the entire defensive system designed to protect Wilmington became obsolete and the Union blockade was sealed, completely isolating the Confederacy from the outside world. Without foreign aid, the Confederacy faced a dangerous lack of supplies which increased internal pressures for the Confederate States to negotiate for peace. President Lincoln, realizing that the fall of Fort Fisher and the resulting isolation of the Confederacy signaled a near end to the war, refused the terms offered by the Confederacy and demanded a complete surrender. The Union victory at Fort Fisher, coupled with Sherman’s March to the Sea also signified weakness on behalf of the Confederacy to foreign powers, ending any chance the desperate South had at securing an alliance. The strategic significance of the fall of Fort Fisher as well as the political ramifications emanating from the Union capture of the fort significantly harmed the Confederacy and hindered their war effort to a significant extent. As such, the Union capture of Fort Fisher in January of 1865 is a key event leading to the eventual Confederate surrender to end the Civil War.