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"Wilmington. The Attack on Fort Fisher," New York Times, December 30, 1864


"Wilmington. The Attack on Fort Fisher," New York Times, December 30, 1864


This newspaper article, from a Civil War era edition of The New York Times, represents an entire account of the First Battle of Fort Fisher by Union Admiral David Porter as well as an account of the battle by a special correspondent to The New York Times referred to as WHIT who was aboard the Union steamship Santiago de Cuba during the attack. The First Battle of Fort Fisher began on December 23, 1864 and ended on December 27, 1864. The battle marked an unsuccessful attempt by Union forces to capture Fort Fisher, the Confederacy’s last remaining port on the Atlantic and the chief supply line for the Army of Northern Virginia under command of General Robert E. Lee. This article recounts an attempt to destroy the gun powder reserves of the Fort by using a gunpowder laden warship as a torpedo as well as the ensuing artillery bombardment, the landing of Union troops, and the calling off of the siege due to inclement weather. A list of casualties and statements of commemoration for bravery are also included.


Admiral David Porter


Porter, David, and WHIT. "Wilmington.: The Attack on Fort Fisher." The New York Times, December 30, 1864. January 18, 2012).






Wilmington, North Carolina
New Hanover County, North Carolina

Original Format

Newspaper Article


WASHINGTON, Thursday, Dec. 29.

The Secretary of the Navy received this afternoon the following by special messenger:


SIR: I was in hopes that I should have been able to present to the nation Fort Fisher and the surrounding works as a Christmas offering, but I am carry to say it has not been taken yet. I attacked it on the 24th inst. With the Ironsides Canonicus, Mahepac, Monadnock, Minnesota, Colorado, Mohioan, Tuscarora, Wabash, Susquehanna, Brooklyn. Powhattan, Juinata, Seneca, Shenandoah, Patuxent, Ticonderoga, Mackinaw, Maumee, Yantic, Kansas, Iasco, Quaker City, Monticello, Rhode Island, Sassacus, Chippewa, Osceola, Tacony, Pontoosuc, Santiago de Cuba, Fort Jackson and Vanderbilt, having a reserve of small vessels, consisting of the Aries, Howqus, Wilderness, Cherokee, A.D. Vance, Anemone, [???]Eolus, Gettysburg, Alabama, Keystone Stale, Banshee, Emma Lillian, Tristam Shandy. Brittania, Gov. Buckingham and Nansemond. Previous to making the attack, a torpedo on a large scale, with an amount of powder on board supposed to be sufficient to explode the powder magazine of the fort, was prepared with great care, and placed under the command of Commander A.C. RHIND, who had associated with him on this perilous service Lieut. S.W. PERSTON, Second Assistant Engineer A.T. MULLEN, of the United States steamship Agawam and Acting Master's Mate PAUL BAYARD and seven mer. So much had been said and written about the terrible effects of gunpowder in an explosion that happened lately in England, that great results were expected from this novel mode of making war. Everything that ingenuity could devise was adopted to make the experiment a success. The vessel was brought round from Norfolk with great care and without accident, in tow of the United States steamer Sassacus, Lieut. Commander J.L. DAVIS, who directed his whole attention to the matter in hand, and though he experienced some bad weather and lost one of his rudders, he took her safely into Beaufort, where we filled her up with powder and perfected all the machinery for blowing her up.

Gen. BUTLER had arrived at the rendezvous before us, and I hastened matters all that I could, so that no unnecessary delay might be laid to my charge.

On the 18th inst. I sailed from Beaufort with all the monitors, the New Ironsides and the small vessels, including the Louisiana, disguised as a blockade-runner, for the rendezvous, twenty miles east of New-Inlet, N.C, and found all the larger vessels and transports assembled there, the wind blowing light from the northeast. On the 20th a heavy gale set in from the southwest, and not being able to make a port without scattering all the vessels, I determined to ride it out, which I did without accident of any kind, except the loss of a few anchors, the monitors all behaving beautifully. Only two vessels went to sea in order to avoid the gale, and fared no better than those at anchor. The transports being short of water put into Beaufort, N.C., and were not suitable for riding out at anchor such heavy weather.

After the southwester, the wind chopped around to the westward and gave us a beautiful spell of weather, which I could not afford to lose, and the transports with the troops not making their appearance, I determined to take advantage of it and attack Fort Fisher and its outworks.

On the 23d, I directed Commander RHIND to proceed and explode the vessel right under the walls of Fort Fisher, Mr. BRADFORD, of the Coast Survey, having gone in at Light and ascertained that we could place a vessel of seven feet draught right on the edge of the beach. Lieut. R.H. LAMSON, commanding the Gettysburgh, volunteered to go in the Wilderness, Acting Master HENRY ARSY in command, and tow the Louisiana into position. At 10:30 P.M. the powder vessel started toward the bar, and was towed by he Wilderness until the embrasures of Port Fisher were plainly in sight. The Wilderness then case off, and the Louisiana proceeded under steam, until within 200 yards of the beach and 500 from the fort. Commander RHIND anchored her securely there, and coolly went to work to make all his arrangements to blow her up. This he was enabled to do, owing to a blockade-runner going in right ahead of him, the forts making the blockade-runner signats, which they also did to the Louisiana. The gallant party, after coolly making all their arrangements for the explosion, left the vessel. The last thing take did being to set her on fire under the cabin, and then, taking to their boats, they made their escape off the Wilderness, lying clone by. The wilderness then put off shore with good speed, to avoid any ill effects that might happen from the explosion.

At 2:45 on the morning of the 24th, the explosion lock place. The shock was nothing like so severe as was expected; it shock the vessels some, aid broke one or two glasses, but nothing more.

At daylight of the 24th, the fleet got under way, and stood in line of battle. At 11:30 A.M. the signal was made to engage the forts, the Ironsides leading and the Monadnock, Canonicus and Mahopac following. The Ironsides took her position in the most beautiful and seamanlike manner, and opened a deliberate fire on the fort, which was firing at her with all its guns, which did not seem numerous in the northeast face, though we counted what appeared to be seventeen guns. But four or five of these were fired from that direction, and they were silenced as soon as the Ironsides opened her terrific battery.

The Minnesota then took her position in handsome style, and her guns, after getting the range, were fired with rapidity, while the Mohican the Colorado, and the large vessels marked on the plan, got to their stations, all firing to cover themselves while anchoring. By the time the last of the large vessels anchored, and got their batteries into play, but one or two guns of the enemy were fired, this feu d'enfer driving them all to the bomb-proofs.

The small gunboats Kansas, Unadilla, Pequot, Seneca, Pontoosuc, Yantic and Huron took a position on the northward and eastward of the monitors, and enfilading the work. The Shenandoah, Ticonderoga, Mackinaw, Tacony and Vanderbilt took effective positions, as marked on the chart, and added their fire to that already begun. The Santiago de Cuba, Fort Jackson, Osceola, Chippewa, Sassacus, Rhode Island, Monticello, Quaker City and lasco dropped into position, according to order, and the battle became general. In one hour and fifteen minutes after the first shot was fired, not a shot came from the fort. Two magazines had been blown up by our shells, and the fort set on fire in several places; and such a torrent of missiles were falling into and bursting over it, that it was impossible for anything human to stand it. Finding that the batteries were silenced completely, I directed the ships to keep up a moderate fire, in the hopes of attracting the attention of the transports and bringing them in. At sunset Gen. BUTLER came in in his flagship with a few transports, the rest not having arrived from Beaufort. Being too late to do anything more, I signaled to the fleet to retire for the night to a safe anchorage, which they did without being molested by the enemy.

There were some mistakes made during the day when the vessels went in to take position. My plan of battle being based on accurate calculations, and made from information to be relied on, was placed in the hands of each Commander, and it seemed impossible to go astray if it was strictly followed. I required those vessels that had not followed it closely to get under way and assume their proper positions, which was done promptly and without confusion. The vessels were placed somewhat nearer to the works, and were able to throw in their shell before falling in the water. One or two leading vessels having made the mistake of anchoring too far off, caused those coming after them to commit a like error, but when they all got into place and commenced work in earnest, the shower of shell (one hundred and fifteen per minute) was irresistible. So quickly wore the enemy's guns silenced that not an officer or man was injured.

I regret, however, to have to report some severe casualties by the bursting of six 100-pounder Parrott cannon. One burst on board the Ticonderoga, killing six of the crew and wounding seven others; another burst on board the Yankee, killing one officer and two men; another on the Juniata, killing two officers, and wounding and killing ten others; another on the Mackinaw, killing one officer and wounding five men; another on the Quaker City, wounding, I believe, two or three; another on the Susquehanna, killing and wounding seven, I think the bursting of the guns (six in all) much disconcerted the crews of the vessels where the accidents happened, and gave one and all a great distrust of the Parrott 100-pounders,and as subsequent events proved, they were unfit for service, and calculated to kill more of our men than of those of the enemy, Some to the vessels were struck once or twice. The Mackinaw had her boiler perforated with a shell and ten or twelve persons were badly scalded. The Osceola was struck with a shell near the magazine, and was at one time in a sinking condition; but her efficient commander stopped up the leak; while the Mackinaw fought out the battle notwithstanding the damage she received. The Yantic was the only vessel which left the line to report damages.

Commander JOHN GUEST, at the last end of the line, showed unusual intelligence in selecting the position and directing his fire. Twice his guns cut down the flagstaff on the Mound Battery, and he silenced the guns there in a very short time, the Keystone State and Quaker City cooperating effectively.

Lieut. Commander J.R. DAVIS, with both rudders disabled, got his vessel, the Sassacus, into close action and assisted materially in silencing the works, and the Santiago de Cuba and Fort Jackson took such positions as they could get, towing other vessels not forming proper lines and throwing them out of place, and fought their guns well. The taking of a new position while under fire, by the Brooklyn and Colorado, was a beautiful sight, and when they got into place both ships delivered a fire that nothing could withstand. The Brooklyn well sustained her proud name under her present commander, Capt. JAMES ALDEN, and the Colorado gave evidence that her commander, Commodore H.K. THATCHER, well understood the duties of his position. The Susquehannah was most effective in her fire, and was fortunate enough to obtain the right position, though much bothered by a vessel near her that had not found her right place.

The Mohican went into battle gallantly, and fired rapidly and with effect, and when the Powhatan, Ticonderoga and Shenandoak got into their positions, they did good service. The Pawtuxet fell handsomely into line and did good service with the rest, and the Vanderbilt took position near the Minnesota, and threw in a splendid fire.

The firing of the monitors was excellent, and when their shells struck great damage was done, and the little gunboats that covered them kept up a fire sufficient to disconcert the enemy's aim.

The rebels fired no more after the vessels all opened on them, except a few shots from the Mound and upper batteries, which the lasco and her consorts soon silenced. Our men were at work at the guns five hours, and glad to get a little rest. They came out of the action with rather a contempt for the rebel batteries, and anxious to renew the battle in the morning.

On the 25th all the transports had arrived, and Gen. BUTLER sent Gen. WEITZEL to see me and arrange the programme for the day. It was decided that we should attack the forts again, while the army landed and assaulted them, if possible, under our heavy fire. I sent seventeen gunboats, under the command of Capt. O.S. GLESSON, to cover the troops and assist with their boats in landing the soldiers. Finding the smaller vessels kept too far from the beach, which was quite bold, I sent in the Brooklyn, to set them an example, which that vessel did, relying on every commander should, on the information I gave him in relation to the soundings. To this number was added all the small vessels that were covering the coast along. And finally I sent some eight or nine vessels that were acting under Commander GRIEST in endeavoring to find a way across the bar. This gave 100 small boats to land the troops with; beside those, the army were already provided with about 26 more.

At 7 A.M. on the 25th I made signal to get under way and form in line of battle, which was quickly done. The order to attack was given, and the Ironsides took position in her usual handsome style, the monitors following close after her. All the vessels followed according to orders, and took position without a shot being fired at them, excepting a few shots fired at the four last vessels that got into line. The firing this day was slow, only sufficient to answer the enemy while the army landed, which they were doing five miles to the east of the fleet. I suppose about 3,000 men landed, when I was notified they were reembarking. I could see our soldiers near the fort reconnoitering and sharpshooting, and was in hopes an assault was deemed practicable.

Gen. WEITZES, in person, was making observations about 600 yards off, and the troops were in and around the works. One gallant officer, whose name I do not know, went on the parapet and brought away the rebel flag we had knocked down. A soldier went into the works and led out a horse, killing the orderly mounted on him, and taking his dispatches from the body. Another soldier fired his musket into the bombproof among the rebels, and eight or ten others who had ventured near the forts were wounded by our shells.

As the ammunition gave out the vessels retired from action, and the iron-clads and the Minnesota, Colorado and Susquehanna were ordered to open rapidly, which they did with such effect that it seemed to tear the works to pieces. We drew off at sunset leaving the Iron-clads to fire through the night, expecting the troops would attack in the morning, when we would commence again. I received word from Gen. WEITZEL informing me that it was impracticable to assault, and herewith enclose & letter from Gen. BUTLER, assigning his reasons for withdrawing the troops. I also inclose my answer.

In the bombardment of the 25th the men were engaged firing slowly for seven hours. The rebels kept a couple of guns on the upper batteries firing on the vessels, hitting some of them several times without doing much damage. The Wabash and Powhattan, being within their range, the object seemed mainly to disable them; but a rapid fire soon closed them up. Everything was cooly and systematically done throughout the day, and witnessed some beautiful practice.

The army commenced landing about 2 o'clock, Capt. GLESSON, in the Santiago de Cuba, having shelled Flag Pond Battety to insure a sale landing, and they commenced to reembark about 5 o'clock. The weather coming on thick and rainy, about a brigade were left on the beach during the night, covered by the gunboats. As our troops landed, sixty-five rebel soldiers hoisted the white flag, and delivered themselves up, and were taken prisoners by the seamen landing the troops, and conveyed to the Santiago dc Cuba; and two hundred and eighteen more gave themselves up to the reconnoitering party, all being desirous to quit the war.

I don't pretend to put my opinion in opposition to Gen. WEITZEL, who is a thorough soldier and an able engineer, and whose business it is to know more of assaulting than I do, But I can't help thinking that it was worth while to make the attempt, after arriving so far.

About 12 o'clock I sent in a detachmont of doubleenders under command of Commander JOHN GUEST, to see if I could effect an entrance through the channel. The great number of wrecks on and about the bar has changed the whole formation, and where the original channel was, we found a shallow bar. I sent Lieut. W.B. CUSHIN$ in to sound and buoy out the channel if he could find one, with orders to Commander GUEST to drag for torpedoes and be ready to run in by the buoys when ordered. One boat belonging to the Tacony was sunk by a shell, and a man had his legs cut oil; still they stuck to their work until ordered to withdraw for other duty.

In conclusion, allow me to draw your attention to the conduct of Commander RHIND and Lieut. PRESTON. They engaged in the moat perilous adventure that was, perhaps, ever undertaken, and though no material results have taken place from the effects of the explosion that we know of, still it was not their fault. As an incentive to others, I beg leave to recommend them for promotion. Also that of Lieut. R.H. LAMSON, who piloted them in and brought them off. No one in the squadron considered that their lives would be saved, and Capt. RHIND and Lieut. PRESTON had made an arrangement to sacrifice themselves in case the vessel was boarded, a thing likely to happen. I inclose herewith the report of Commander RHIND, with the names of the gallant fellows who volunteered for the desperate service.

Allow me to mention, also, the name of Mr. BRADFORD, of the Coast Survey, who has always patiently performed every duty he has been called on to carry out.

My thanks are due to Lieut-Commander R.R. BREESE, Fleet Captain, for carrying about my orders to the fleet during the action, and for his general usefulness to Lieut-Commander H.A. ADAMS, for promptness in supplying the fleet with ammunition; to Lieut. M.W. SAWDERS, Signal Officer, whose whole time was occupied in making signals, and who performed his duty well; and to ray Aids, Lieut. S.W. TERRY and Lieut. S.W. PRESTON, who afforded me valuable assistance.

I have not yet received a list of the casualties, but believe they are very few from the enemy's guns. We had killed and wounded about forty-five persons by the bursting of the Parrott guns.

I must not omit to pay a tribute to the officers and crews of the monitors, who rode out the heavy gales on an open coast without murmuring or complaining of the want of comfort, which must have been very serious. They have shown a degree of fortitude and perseverance seldom witnessed. Equally brave in battle, they take the closest work with pleasure, and the effect of their shells is terrific. The following are the names of the commanders, and I hope I shall ever keep them under my command: Commanders E.G. PARROTT, of the Monadnock, and E.R. CALHOUN, of the Saugus; Lieut.-Commanders GEORGE L. BELKNAP, of the Canonicus, and E.E. POTTER, of the Mahopac.

There are about 1,000 left on shore by the army, who have not got off ye: on account of the surf on the beach. These will be got off in the morning, and then the soldiers will be sent home.

I inclose the general order for the attack.

I am, Sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

DAVID D. PORTER, Rear Admiral. Hon. GIDEON WELLES, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D.C.



ADMIRAL: Upon landing the troops and making a thorough reconnoissance of Fort Fisher, both Gen. WEITZEL and myself are fully of the opinion that the place could not be carried by assault, as it was left substantially uninjured as a defensive work, by the navy fire. We found 17 guns, protected by traverses, two only of which were dismounted, bearing on the beach and covering a strip of land, the only practicable route, not wide enough for a thousand men in line of battle.

Having captured Flag Pond Battery, the garrison of which, sixty-live men and two commissioned officers, were taken off by the navy, we also captured Half-Moon Battery, and seven officers and two hundred and eight men of the Third North Carolina Junior Reserves, including its Commander, from whom I learned that a portion of HOKE's division, consisting of KIRKLAND's and HAPGOOD's brigades, had been sent from the lines before Richmond on Tuesday last, arriving at Wilmington Friday night.

Gen. WEITZEL advanced his skirmish fine within fifty yards of the fort, while the garrison was kept in their bomb-proofs by the lire of the navy, and so closely, that three or four men of the picket line ventured upon the parapet, and through the sally port of the works, capturing a horse, which they brought oil, killing the Orderly, who was the bearer of a dispatch from the Chief of Artillery of Gen. WHITING, to bring a light battery within the fort; and also brought away from the parapet the flag of the fort. This was done while the shells of the navy were falling about the heads of the daring men who entered the work; and it was evident, as soon as the fire of the navy ceased because of the darkness, that the fort was fully manned again, and opened with grape and cannister upon our picket line.

Finding that nothing but the operations of a regular siege, which did not come within my instruction, would reduce the fort, and in view of the threatening aspect of the weather, the wind arising from the southwest, rendering it impossible to make further landing through the surf. I caused the troops with their prisoners to remark; and I see nothing further that can be done by the land forces. I shall, therefore sail for Hampton Roads as soon as the transport fleet can be got in order.

My engineers and officers report Fort Fisher to me as substanually uninjured as a detensive work.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, BENJ. F. BUTLER.

Major-General Commanding.

To Rear-Admiral PORTER.



GENERAL: I beg leave to acknowledge the receipt of your refer of this date, the substance of which was communicated to me by Gen. WEITZER, last night. I have ordered the largest vessels to proceed off Beaufort to fill up with ammunition, to be ready for another attack in case it is decided to proceed with this matter by making other arrangements. We have not commenced firing rapidly yet, and could keep any rebels inside from moving their head until an assaulting column was within twenty yards of the works, I wish some more of your gallant fellows had followed the officer who took the flag from the parapet, and the brave fellow who brought the horse out from the fort. I think they would have found it an easier conquest than is supposed. I do not, however, pretend to place my opinion is opposition to Gen. WEITZEL, whom I know to be an accsmplished soldier and engineer, and whose opinion has great, weight with me.

D.D. PORTER, Rear Admiral.



From Our Own Correspondent


The grand naval conflict for the possession of the Wilmington approaches, which, in consequence of the inclement weather and other unavoidable causes, has been postponed for a brief season, was fully inaugurated Friday night by the explosion near Fort Fisher of two hundred and fifteen tons of gunpowder, packed in barrels and bags, on board the steamer Louisiana.


In a previous letter to the TIMES I detailed at length the sailing of the fleet from Hampton Roads, and the arrival of many of the vessels in Beaufort Harbor, N.C. The larger ships of the fleet, including the Wabash, Colorado, Minnesota, New Ironsides, and others of like draft, did not rendezvous at Beaufort, but passed on further to the south, keeping out of sight of land, On Friday, the 16th, the Santiago de Cuba and the Fort Jackson sailed out of Beaufort Harbor, and proceeded on a cruise for blockade-runners, and on the 18th again joined the fleet. On the morning of the 18th all the vessels of the fleet, excepting a few that were still waiting at Beaufort for coal, assembled in latitude 33° 46' North, and Longitude 27° 20' West, the rendezvous designated by Admiral PORTER, and communicated by a printed circular to the principal officers in the expedition. This point is twenty-five miles from Fort Fisher, consequently none of the vessels were near enough to be seen from the shore. Conspicuous among the fleet; I noticed the Malvern, Admiral PORTER's flagship. Also the Ben Deford, the flagship of Gen. BUTLER. At 9 A.M. a signal was displayed from the Malvern for the vessels to get under way. In a short time paddle-wheels and propellers began to turn, and each ship took her assigned position in regular line and order. Two hours were occupied in maneuvering and inspecting, after which orders were signaled for the fleet to run in toward the shore. At 2 P.M. the fleet dropped anchor sixteen miles from Fort Fisher, and eleven from Masonboro Inlet. The morning of the 20th found the fleet still lying at anchor sixteen miles from Fort Fisher. The day was very clear, but nothing was done toward going into action that day.


Doubtless a brief description of the location, character and surroundings of the country at the entrance of the Cape Fear River will, in a measure, assist the reader in obtaining a clear and comprehensive view of the importance and magnitude of the approaching engagement. The river itself is approached from two main inlets, separated by Smith's Island, the southernmost one of which may be termed the mouth of the stream, the other being known as New Inlet. At the north of New Inlet and fronting the ocean, is a narrow strip of land twenty miles in length, which is nearly severed from the main land by a sound, the connection being formed at the southern end. The extreme southern point of this narrow peninsula is called Federal Point, on which Fort Fisher stands. Nearer the inlet is a mound, or earthwork, mounting heavy guns and supporting a lighthouse, the latter being for the special guidance of blockade-runners. Between the Mound and Fisher is a line of water batteries, with guns of moderate calibre. North of Fort Fisher are other water batteries, and five miles distant is the Half-moon Battery. Masonboro Inlet separates the northern end of the peninsula from the island above. Those familiar with the location of the rebel defences in Charleston harbor will readily perceive a resemblance between the military situation on Sullivan's Island and that on the narrow territory north of New Inlet. The soil is sandy and unproductive. According to a coast survey chart, three or four houses formerly stood near the bank of Coast Fear River. Doubtless these houses were owned and inhabited by pilots, some of whom have come into our lines. Near Masonboro Inlet the rebels erected salt works, which gave employment to about 800 men. Expeditions from our fleet have at different times destroyed these works, but on every occasion the rebels would soon rebuild them. One night last Summer a boat's crew from a blockader landed at Masonboro Inlet, and received the most hospitable treatment from the workmen. On returning to the ship fifty of the rebels accompanied the party, and over two hundred others were willing and ready to do likewise, but the boat would not hold them.

Directly opposite Federal Point, across New Inlet, is situated Zekes Island. Two months ago, about the time it began to be whispered that an attack on Wilmington was contemplated, the enemy commenced building an earthwork on that Island. Smith's Island is of little account, and is supposed to be free of earthworks, batteries and troops. The ground is low and marshy, and on that portion facing the beach can be observed a sickly growth of pines. On every part of it numerous reptiles abound in alarming numbers. Fort Caswell is situated on a point of the main land on the south side of the principal entrance to Cape Fear River. A short distance above it, on a line with the stream, is Fort Johnson and several smaller works. The distance from Fort Fisher to Fort Caswell, in a direct line, does not exceed nine miles. From Fort Fisher to Wilmington, on the line of the river, the distance is twenty miles. The difficulty of manceuvering ships off the entrance of the river is greatly enhanced by the presence of rocks and dangerous shoals. The Frying Pan Shoals, looked upon by the mariner as the most treacherous and dangerous of any on the coast, extend twenty-three miles seaward from Cape Fear. Thus it will be been that the vessels doing blockade duty at New Inlet, although within sight of the vessels guarding the main entrance of the river, cannot join them without passing over fifty miles of water besides Frying Pan Shoals. There are others which exist in the vicinity of the forts, and as a consequence, it requires the utmost care on the part of our officers to keep their vessels from grounding. At the first of the war, blockade-runners chose the South Pass in coming out of the river, Out recently they have manifested a preference for New Inlet. Each of the Captains is supplied with an excellent chart of the coast, of English drawing, upon which the depth of water and other particulars are carefully noted.


SATURDAY, Dec. 24.

The marvelous event of the age, the gunpowder explosion, which was to have taken place on the night of the 18th, actually came off at an early hour this morning; but the effect of the same was by no means so serious or astounding as most of us had been led to anticipate. The plan originally laid out for firing the vessel and getting her up to near Fort Fisher was changed in some few minor particulars and from an interview with the officers who had the matter in charge, I am placed in possession of many interesting facts connected with the event. With the exception of the boat sent out to take aboard the parties who conducted the affair, none of the vessels of the fleet were nearer than twelve or fifteen miles to the scene of the explosion. The Louisiana, the steamer used to receive the powder, was a purchased vessel of 295 tons measurement, carried an armament of five heavy guns, and for over a year had been doing duty off Newbern, N.C. Ten days ago she was at Craney Island, taking on board the powder, two hundred and fifteen tons, and at that time I remember meeting some of her officers at Norfolk, who, although aware that the vessel was being filled with an immense and precarious cargo, were greatly puzzled to divine the meaning of it all. They did not dream for a moment that the ship which had been their home for so long a time was to meet with such a novel and tragical end. On the morning of the explosion the ship was commanded by Com. ALEXANDER C. RHIND, of the doubleender steamer Agawam, who was assisted in the daring exploit by Lieut. S.W. PRESTON, of Admiral PORTER's Staff; Engineer A.T.E. MULLAN, of the Agawam; Master's Mate PAUL BOYDEN, formerly of the Louisiana. The crew consisted of seven picked men from the Agawam, in whom Commander RHIND could place full trust and implicit confidence Commander RHIND formerly had command of the monitor Keokuk, in Charleston Harbor, and is not unfamiliar with deeds that partake largely of the hazardous. Lieut. PRESTON was attached to Admiral DAHLGREN's staff during the attack on Fort Sumter, and while on a boat expedition that had been sent to seize that work, he was captured, together with a number of the men. Lieut. PRESTON's reconnoissances in Charleston Harbor would naturally tend to give him an appetite to again try his hand at an enterprise which calls for coolness and daring. The night, although not pitchy dark, was not sufficiently light for a vessel to be easily discovered when approaching the shore; and the fact that the moon did not rise till about 3 A.M., added to the chances of the complete success of the scheme. Of course, it was no secret that a gigantic plan had been concocted which bad for its object the demolition of the rebel earthworks, and the immediate putting hors du combat of all the rebel soldiers in the vicinity of Cape Fear. As a natural consequence the expectations of nearly every one connected with the fleet were raised to an exciting point, and on the night of the 23d all were on tiptoe to watch the phenomena attending the mighty and expeditious mode of opening and closing a battle. It was generally supposed that the terrific concussion would occur at about one A.M., but for fear that they would miss the sublime spectacle or fail to have their ears made forever deaf by the stunning report, hundreds of persons paced the vessels' decks from early in the evening till the hour of the explosion. The first visible intimation or encouragement given that the Louisiana was proceeding on her mission was conveyed in the flight of three rockets, followed by a display of constant signals, all of which appeared to originate from a point not remote from Fort Fisher. This was at 12:30 o'clock, and, for, one, I began to feel some doubt whether the vessel would escape discovery from the shore, as the signal might possibly create suspicion as to her character, instead of impressing the rebels, as was the intention, that she was a blockade-runner discovered and pursued by our cruisers. As it turned out, the enemy either did not see the vessel, or if he did, mistook the nature of her errand. At one o'clock the watch on deck reported a bright glare in the sky, directly over the place where it was expected the explosion would occur. This glow gradually increased to a bright light, which finally expanded into a brilliant illumination. The illumination did not retain its vividness throughout its appearance, but at intervals would die down to a dull glare, thus giving one the impression that a huge bonfire had been built and was occasionally replenished with fresh fuel. The light continued visible till fifteen minutes of two, when, as if by magic, the heavens were electrified into one vast sheet of vivid flame. This lasted but for a moment, and then the light disappeared altogether. We now breathlessly awaited the fearful shock. The immense concussion came to us in a very meek manner. A deep, heavy report, not unlike that produced by the discharge of a 100-pounder, which communicated a slight trembling mo[???]on to the ship, greeted our ears fifteen second after the disappearance of the flash of light. Thus ended the exhibition. The officers and men who engineered the experiment-for experiment it certainly was -- returned safely to the fleet that night. The next morning, not a vestige of the Louisiana was to be seen, and the presumption is that she was blown to atoms. Commander RHIND states that the affair was carried out to the letter. The Louisiana was towed by the steamer Wilderness to within a short distance o' the proposed anchorage, when the line was cast off and her engines put in motion. At a point 300 yards from Fort Fisher the engines were stopped and the steamer was anchored. The rebels on shore discoverd her and made signals, but did not fire on her. Everything being in readiness, a pile of two and a half cords of light dry wood, which had been placed on the stern of the boat for the purpose, and covered with oil, pitch and grease, was fired, when the party jumped into a small boat attached to the Wilderness by a rope, and pulled themselves band over hand to the latter. In a few minutes' time all were on board the Wilderness, and away she flew seaward as fast as her machinery would propel her. In about an hour's time, and when the Wilderness had crossed a distance of twelve or fifteen miles the explosion occurred. The size of the grains varied, some or the powder having been calculated for cannon and some for rifle use. The effect the explosion had on Fort Fisher or any other of the rebel works is not known, but it is the impression throughout the fleet that it must have been slight, from the fact that the rebels at times during the day, opened their guns in a manner too lively to indicate weakness in material. Major THOMAS CASEY, of the Engineer corps, and stationed at Portland, Missouri, witnessed the explosion, having been ordered to do so by the War Department. In due time ha will submit a lull and elaborate report of the matter to the authorities.


On the morning of the 24th, at 6 1/2 o'clock, a signal was made from the flagship for the vessels of the fleet to prepare for moving. In a short time thereafter all the fleet were steaming toward the shore, which was distant five miles from the anchorage. The day opened favorably for the intended bombardment. The wind was blowing lightly from the southwest, and the rough sea that had been prevailing for two or three days previous had subsided into comparatively smooth water. That the reader may obtain a clear view of the plan of attack, I insert the substance of a general order issued by Admiral PORTER:

"It is first proposed to endeavor to paralyze the garrison by an explosion, all the vessels remaining twelve miles out from the' bar, and the troops in transports twelve miles down the coast, ready to steam up and be prepared to take the works by assault, in case the latter are disabled. At a given signal, ail the bar vessels will run off shore twelve miles, when the vessel with powder will go in under the forts. When the explosion takes place, all the vessels will stand in shore, in the order marked on the plan. The New Ironsides will steam along shore, coming from the eastward, until the flag-staff on Fort Fisher bears southwest by one-half west, and anchor; chain ready to slip, with her broadside bearing on the [???]est of the enemy's works, and open fire without delay. The monitors will come up astern, anchoring not more than one length apart, directly in line along the shore, leaving space only for a gunboat to lie outside of them and fire between them or over them. The New-Ironsides and monitort will in not less than three and a half fathoms water, which will place them about three-fourths of a mile from Fort Fisher and a little over a quarter of a mile from the beach. In the meantime the large ships will lie formed in line of battle to the east of the iron-clads, and heading parallel with the land south one-half west course in five fathoms of water. When the signal is made to 'take position,' the frigates and sloops will go ahead slowly and anchor about a mile from Fort Fisher with their cables ready to slip and with not more than fifteen fathoms of chain, the fifteen fathom shackle inside the hawse Hole.

"The reserves of each division will form a line out of gun-shot ready to act as occasion may require. Great care and coolness will be required to drop the vessels in their right places, and a too early commencement of fire on the part of those going into position, may create confusion. As we know but little about the calibre and number of rebel guns, the' vessels must concentrate their fires on the heaviest batteries, but get the range before firing rapidly. For instance, the large vessels and iron-clads concentrate on Fort Fisher, while the Vanderbilt, Fort Jackson and the vessels in the line with the Fort Jackson, will open on the forts within their reach between Fort Fisher and the mound.

"All the reserved vessels will prepare to attack Zeekes Island Battery, by taking a position where they can enfilade it, which is when the fort bears northwest Vessels drawing fourteen feet can go within a mile and three-quarters with perfect safety, and use their rifle guns with good effect. They can also reach the forts on Federal Point, and prevent their firing accurately on the other portions of the fleet in closer range.

"As only low steam will be required, those vessels that can move and work handily with half their boilers, will only use those on one side, keeping the boilers on the side near the enemy full of water and without steam; with water warm only, and ready to make steam in case of necessity. Slow, deliberate firing is desirable. There will be smoke enough, anyhow. Rapid and Indiscriminate firing will amount to little or nothing. I hope no shot will be thrown away."

The vessels moved up very cautiously, in two columns, and when within five miles of the coast, came to a temporary halt. In a short time the New Iron sides, followed by the monitors Canonicus, Monadnock, and Mahopac, left the main columns and advanced toward the rebel works. The first-named vessel crept slowly along the shore until a point three-fourths of a mile from Fort Fisher had been reached, when she came to a stand and gave the rebels the first shot at 1 P.M. This was succeeded by other shots, and by two good broadsides; but they all failed to elicit a response from any of the rebel works. The next vessel to come into action was the Canonicus, which took a position a few yards ahead of the New Ironsides, and gave Fort Fisher a fifteen-inch shell square in its water face. The Manopac next came into action, so that, by 1 1/2 o'clock, the Iron-clads were busily engaged. This amount of metal caused the rebels to throw off their reticence and return the fire, which they did from four pieces, directing it al the New Ironsides and then to the monitors. The gunboats Nyack, Unadilla, Huron, and Pequot remained near the iron-clads during the engagement No sooner had the first shot been fired than the frigate Minnesota, followed by the Mohican, Colorado, Tuscarora, Wabash, Susquehanna, Brooklyn, Powkattan and Juniata, steamed up and took a position on a line south of the iron-clads and distant from Fort Fisher; about one mile. Next came the Senaca, Shenandoah, Ticonderoga, Mackinaw, Maumee, Yantie and Kansas, which formed in line just in the rear of the line headed by the Minnesota, and covered the spaces between those vessels.

Such was the line of battle at two P.M. As soon as each vessel came into position, she threw out her anchor at the bow and kedge at the stern, in order to keep a broadside constantly present to the enemy. The firing now became very heavy and rapid, and was directed principally to for fisher, although the water batteries received considerable attention. While the vessels above enumerated were thus engaged, still another line was formed to the south of the first line of ships and at nearly the same distance from Fort Fisher, consisting of the Fort Jackson, Santiago de Cuba, Tacony, Osceola, Chippewa, Sassaeus, Maratanza, Rhode Island. Monticello, Quaker City, Alabama and lasco. The Vanderbilt took a position between the two lines. The vessels in reserve were stationed about one and a halt miles from the fort. They were the Aries, Howquah, Cherokee, A.D. Vance, Eolas, Gettysburgh, Montgomery, Keystone State, Banshte, Emma, Lillian, Trittam Shandy, Britannia, Gov. Buckingham and Bynonia. The Pontoosuc was in line with the iron-clads. The Wilderness, Nansemond, Ada and Moccasin were detailed for special service, and were engaged most of the time conveying dispatches from the Malvern to the other vessels. The above list includes all the vessels that were present in the engagement. Many of those classed with the force in reserve took an active part in the fight before the close of the afternoon. At three o'clock all the vessels in battle line were pouring their shots into the enemy's works with astounding rapidity. In foot rapidity rather than precision seemed to characterize the firing. For about an hour the enemy replied in a lively manner from a few guns in Fisher. But after that time he simmered down to an occasional shot. When the vessels moved up to take the position assigned them on the line farthest south from Fisher, the Mound Battery opened with a 100-pounder. This gun was used at long intervals, and apparently only when the cannoniers thought they were pretty sure of hitting the mark. During the afternoon the barracks within the fort and some buildings outside of it took fire several times. At one time three rebel steamers were noticed coming down the Cape FEAR RIVER. They arrived as far as the point, and then halted as if to give parties on board an opportunity of watching the progress of the fight. But it so happened the Keystone State got a sight at the crowd, and pitched into them with a few rounds of shell, which had the amusing effect of sending the rebel craft up the river as rapidly as their wheels would propel them. Daring the first part of the fight, I cannot say the accuracy of the firing on the part of the vessels was what we expected, but they Improved greatly in that respect later in the day. Far too many missiles foil short. The air was filled with, exploding shells, which were intended to be exploded inside the rebel works. The rebels, however, were equally deficient in the accuracy of their range, as may be inferred from the fact that during the day's action, they injured not more than eight or ten of our men. The flagstaff on Fisher was shot away several times. The flag on the mound battery was also struck down three times before sunset From the number of the vessels engaged in the action, the number of guns brought to boar on the rebel works, and the persistent determination of every men to perform the duty assigned him, the battle could not be otherwise than the most interesting and the grandest that has ever taken place on the sea. From the moment the first shot was fired till nearly dark the terrific roar of the guns was incessant, especially when the monitors sent hurling a fifteen-inch sphere of iron, or the New-Ironsides let fly a broadside, the deep, ominous rumbling that followed was almost deafening in its result.

Under the impression that the troops were going to land this day, the Santiago de Cuba and the Fort Jackson were detailed in the afternoon to proceed up the coast three miles from Fort Fisher, and shell the woods, which they did thoroughly, but failed to elicit a reply. The flagship Malvern was constantly moving about the fleet, and was not for a moment out of range of the enemy's fire. The only serious injury inflicted by the enemy, so far as I can learn, was on board the Mackinaw. A shot pierced her boiler, and caused six men to be slightly scalded and two seriously by the escaped steam. Unfortunately, the Ticonderogo, Yantic, Juniata, Mackinaw, Quaker City end Susquehanna had each one of their one hundred-pounder Parrotts explode. The accident on board the Ticonderoga left eight men killed and eleven wounded. Nearly a complete list of casualties will be found elsewhere in the correspondence. The exploding of so many puns can only be accounted for on the supposition that the men were careless in the loading. It would, of course, hardly be possible for an engagement of the magitude that of to-day to take place without some of the vessels being hit. The Minnesota, Colorado, Wabash, Brooklyn and others on the same line, were struck a number of times, but they were not in the least crippled. The Colorado, at one time, was made the mark for all the guns on Fort Fisher, no attention whatever having been given to the other vessels. She was struck twenty times in the bull, but not a man was hurt, and the ship still kept on firing as though nothing had happened.

At 5:30 the firing ceased on both sides. The ships retired to an anchorage a short distance from the line they held in battle and calmly awaited the events of the morrow. All through the night I do not remember of hearing the report of a single shot. Long after dark I could see a brilliant reflection above Fort Fisher, caused by the burning barracks. At midnight all was dark and still.


The morning opened with a light breeze from the northwest. The sea was very calm, out a heavy mist hanging over the shore prevented for a time the resumption of hostilities. Early in the day the monitor Saugus, which was not with the fleet yesterday, came in and took a position preparatory to going into action. At 9 o'clock the fleet moved up in about the same order that was observed the day previous, taking a position some yards nearer to the fort. The Santiago de Cuba, followed by the Aries, Cherokee, A.D. Vance, Alabama, Banshee. Emma, Tristam Shandy, Gov. Buckingham, Yantic and Britannia, moved up the beach to a point three miles from Fort Fisher, and commenced shelling the woods in order to secure a landing for the troops who were preparing to disembark. At half past ten the New Ironsides moved up to her old position, near Fisher, and sent her Christmas compliments to that work in the shape of a solid broadside, a courtesy which the repels declined to acknowledge. At 11 A.M., the ironclads were actively engaged, but not a shot did the rebels fire until the wooden vessels had formed in line abreast off Fort Fisher. Our fire was aimed principally at Fort Fisher during the day, with the exception of a few shots sent Into the Mound Battery. The effect of our fire was far better to-day than it was yesterday. It was more deliberate, and fewer shots burst over the water. The rebels fired very lazily, and apparently did not use more than four or five guns during the entire action. At 2 o'clock the transports had steamed up to within a few hundred yards of the beach, near the position held by the gunboats. Gen. Butler then communicated with Capt. O.S. GLISSON, of the Santiago de Cuba, who had charge of the disembarkation, and arrangements were made by which boats were sent from the various naval vessels to the transports to take the troops on shore. There were altogether forty-one boats, three of which were from the Santiago de Cuba, one from the Britannia, one from the Triatarm Shandy, and one from the Brooklyn. The boats were in command of Lieut. N.H. FARQUHAR, of the Santiago de Cuba, an officer fully competent to undertake the duty assigned him. The first boat that touched the beach was the one from the Britannia, in charge of Ensign BRYANT. The first regiment that reached the shore was the One Hundred and Forty-second New-York. Immediately on landing, Ensign BRYANT planted the American colors on the soil, around which the men gathered and gave nine long and lusty cheers. They then formed in line and marched a few yards inland, on a reconnoissance. A short distance ahead was an earthwork, called the Flag Fond Battery, which the small party under Ensign BRYANT charged and carried in handsome style. The charge resulted in the capture of sixty-five prisoners, including one Captain, named H. Koontz, and one Lieutenant, one 08-pounder gun, and a quantity of small arms and ammunition. The gun was dismounted probably from effect of the gunboats' shots. Near it was an old pivot carriage, considerably broken. The earthwork itself was but partially completed. The embrasures measured sixteen feet on the lace by ten in depth. The work was provided with a good bomb-proof. The prisoners captured in it did not fire a single shot, but when our men charged, gave themselves up without hesitancy of any kind. In the rear of them could be seen about two hundred and fifty infantry and cavalry, who soon dispersed when our man scattered among them a few rounds of rifle bullets. While this was going on the One Hundred and Forty-second New-York Regiment, having formed on the beach, were marched up in the direction of Fort Fisher. Capt. WINSLOW's company were deployed as skirmishers. These gallant fellows not only marched three miles up a beach that had the full sweep of the guns on that side of Fort Fisher, but they actually took shelter under the guns, charged a redoubt and captured a flag. Not only that, but one of the number crept up to an angle of the fort and shot a mounted orderly who had just passed within the sally port, capturing his mule and took from him an important dispatch which he was conveying to the commandant from the rebel authorities in Wilmington. That was not all achieved by that regiment on that occasion. Soon after arriving at the fort a company deployed to the right and surprised and captured over two hundred rebels who were marching down a road. In the meantime the other regiments of Col. CURTIS' brigade, Second Division. Twenty-fourth Corps, landed and formed in line. This brigade was followed by the Third Brigade. The entire number of troops that landed did not exceed three thousand out of seven thousand on the transports. A few colored troops landed, remained on the beach an hour or two, and were then ordered to return to the steamers. One other regiment started to follow the One Hundred and Forty-second, and when they had advanced a mile or so, were marched back to the place of landing, with the exception of making a reconnoissance in the direction of the half-moon battery, and skirmishing a little with the enemy in the woods. The above particulars include all that was accomplished by the land force of the expedition sent to operate against the Wilmington defences. The trooss that did land took with them nothing in the way of provisions -- not even a piece of hard bread. They had not been on the land three hours -- some a less Unit than that -- before orders were issued to reembark. The reasons assigned for this was that possibly on the following day the sea would be so rough that provisions could not be sent to the troops, and for another reason that the dispatches captured from the orderly in the fort conveyed the information that four thousand rebels were marching from Wilmington to reinforce the garrison, consequently our force was not sufficiently strong to maintain their ground. The navy performed its share of the work heroically and splendidly. The bombardment was as effective as any sane man could expect it to be. Shot and shell were thrown into Fort Fisher with such rapidity that the rebels were not able to man more than live guns at a time. The main portion of the garrison were stowed away in bomb-proofs from which they dared not come out.

Fort Fisher mounts thirty-six guns on the sea face. It was the heaviest and fiercest bombardment that was ever witnessed on this, or perhaps any other continent. The vessels engaged in it ceased firing, and sought an anchorage about a mile in the rear of the position held during the day.

The casualties on the fleet such as between fourty and fifty, all of which, with the exception of eight or ten, were caused by the bursting of our own guns. It is remarkable that a battle on such an immense scale could be conducted two days without resulting in a greater loss. The following is a partial list:

Killed. Ticonderoga -- L. Wietz, C. Hiele, Wm. Semtch, J. Ward, James McCormick, James Mcmillen, James M. Duffy, John Hill, Lieut. pile. Marine Corps. Juniata -- Lieut. D.D. Wempler, drowned; Acting Ensign Ed. Winnemore. Yantic -- James Horfon. Ed. R. Bowman. Ticondcroga -- Wounded, -- Chas. Brown, leg; Liaut. L.G. Vascello, face; Wm. Jones, arm; James Williams, leg; Phinens Snyder, eye; Jacob Holt, hip; S.B. Martin, hip; C. Collins, hip; Wm. H. Milliken, leg; and four others of the Yantic, killed and unrecognized.

The land forces lost fourteen men wounded, twelve slightly, and two seriously, from the One Hundred and Forty-second Regiment. When marching on Fort Fisher, the rebels opened on this regiment with shell, but the men soon got so far ahead that the enemy could not depress his guns sufficiently to inflict damage, hence one reason for the slight loss. The wounded soldiers were placed on board the Ban Deford, Gen. BUTLER's flagship, where they were carefully attended. The Killed and wounded of the navy were gent to the Fort Jackson, which vessel was detached as a hospital-ship on Sunday morning.

One of the prettiest little events of the day was an expedition of row-boats from various vessels, headed by Capt. GUEST, of the lasco, which shot out toward Fort Fisher for the purpose of making soundings end taking observations. Some of the boats went almost to the shore, and during the whole time of the reconnoissance they were, of course, the object for a concentrated fire from several or the enemy's guns, yet none of them took effect, although the shot and shell struck and exploded all around them. Among the boats was one from the flagship Malvern, in charge of Lieut. CUSHING, of Albemarle notoriety. The cool and deliberate manner in which the pariy performed this dangerous duty was certainly astonishing, and the men who engaged in it are entitled to the highest praise.


On Sunday night the troops that had landed during the day were busily engaged getting themselves back to the transports. The night was dark and stormy and by no means propitious for such an undertaking. All of the small boats of the vessels under Capt. GLISSON, were brought into the service, and the work of reembarking progressed as fast as wind and weather would admit. In the meantime the rebels in Fort Fisher would occasionally send a shot howling down the beach. At 6 o'clock in the morning ail of the troops, with the exception of nearly 500, had been placed again on board of the transports. The five hundred could not be got off to-day in consequence of the tremendous swell of the sea, which made it utterly impossible for a boat to go to the shore, There are no fears, however, as to their safety, for a number of gunboats lay ready to open on the rebels should they attempt a demonstration. This morning the weather was thick and cloudy, and the sea ran quite high. At 10 o'clock a large, dense column of smoke appeared above Fort Fisher, caused, doubtless, by burning buildings in the vicinity. The Brooklyn ran down abreast the fort and opened on it, keeping up the fire for over an hour. Not a reply came from Fort Fisher. To-day the fleet did not engage in action. The iron-clads and large wooden vessels were employed taking in coal and ammunition preparatory to renewing the fight to-morrow. It is the intention of Admiral Poster to bombard the works until something definite and satisfactory shall be accomplished. WHIT.


From the account of the correspondent of the Associated Press, which we cannot print for want of room, we extract the following incident relating to the powder ship:

"A few minutes after the explosion, a dense black smooe rose up rapidly on the horizon, and stood out in sharp, well-defined outlines against the clear, starlight sky. The cloud was of huge proportions, and as it rose rapidly in the air, and came swiftly toward us on the wings of the wind, presented a most remarkable appearance, assuming the shape of a monstrous water-spout, its tapering base seemingly resting on the sea.

"In a very few minutes it passed us, filling the atmosphere with its sulphurous odor, as if a spirit from the infernal regions had swept by us.

"Thus passed off and vanished in smoke this anxiously awaited event."


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Admiral David Porter, "Wilmington. The Attack on Fort Fisher," New York Times, December 30, 1864, Civil War Era NC, accessed June 16, 2024,