Fall of Fort Fisher
The Union success at Fort Fisher put them within easy reach of capturing the port at Wilmington, the last major seaport available to receive the supplies needed to provision the Army of Northern Virginia and the majority of the surviving armies in the Eastern Confederacy and, scarcely a month later, Union troops marched into Wilmington on February 22, 1865 and took possession of the city. (Robinson 1998, 191) The capture of Fort Fisher and the resulting Union capture of Wilmington meant the General Robert E. Lee lost his last dependable connection to the outside world. (McCaslin 2003, 97) However, the capture of Wilmington would prove to be unnecessary in regards to denying the Confederacy access to its most essential supply hub. The protection offered to Wilmington by the once powerful Confederate defense system designed to secure the Cape Fear River, though it had appeared impregnable for the majority of the war, was instantly rendered obsolete with the fall of Fort Fisher, the anchor of the defensive network. (Gragg 1991, 244) The loss of their most formidable fort proved disastrous to the morale of Confederate soldiers stationed at the other forts charged with protecting Wilmington while making their position untenable, prompting the garrisons of Fort Caswell and Fort Campbell to march out of their forts and destroy their magazines and guns with demolition charges. (Robinson 1998, 187) But far from simply rendering the Confederate defense of the Cape Fear River obsolete, the capture of Fort Fisher sealed the port at Wilmington within the Union blockade, rendering blockade running useless and sealing the Federal stranglehold on the South. (Gragg 1991, 240) Though the fall of Fort Fisher was incredibly significant in terms of military strategy, it had a tremendous effect on the political environment in the Confederacy as well.
The political critics of Confederate President Jefferson Davis saw the loss of Fort Fisher as another example of poor leadership, and pressure mounted on him to negotiate with United States President Abraham Lincoln for peace. (Gragg 1991, 242) However, with the fall of Fort Fisher, President Lincoln was able to approach the negotiating table from a much stronger position as the Union blockade of the Confederacy had been firmly established and vital supplies would be much harder to acquire for the ailing Confederates. The successful capture of Fort Fisher rendered the Confederacy’s last major port obsolete and the resulting isolation of the South convinced Lincoln that the death of the Confederacy was near and as a result he refused to negotiate for peace on Confederate terms and instead demanded a complete surrender of the Confederacy. (Gragg 1991, 243) Far from simply affecting domestic politics, the fall of Fort Fisher significantly hampered the Confederate goal of achieving recognition from foreign powers. The closure of the port of Wilmington ended Confederate blockade running, and the ailing South would have to survive without the supplies sent by Great Britain. (Item 361) Indeed, the capture of the port of Wilmington was considered as significant by the British as it was by President Lincoln, with the British believing that “the isolation of the Confederate States [was] necessary for the successful termination of the war.” (Item 361) William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea, coupled with the Confederate loss of Fort Fisher, demonstrated that the Confederacy was too weak to defend its heartland and was losing the war, making it impossible for the Confederate states to secure recognition from foreign powers such as France and Great Britain. (Gragg 1991, 243) In the words of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens “the fall of [Fort Fisher] was one of the greatest disasters which had befallen [the Confederate] cause from the beginning of the war.” (Gragg 1991, 242) Nothing could replace Wilmington as an essential Confederate port, and Wilmington was rendered useless with the Union capture of Fort Fisher. Supplies of foreign arms and provisions could no longer be sent from Wilmington to the Confederate capital at Richmond or General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, the lifeline of the Confederacy had been effectively severed.