Rod Gragg, "Confederate Goliath" (1991)
In “Confederate Goliath,” historian Rod Gragg provides a definitive history of the Union assault on, and eventual capture of, Fort Fisher. In this book, Gragg provides ample detail about the Fort, including its early days as a rundown battery until it was fortified into what was perhaps the Confederacy’s strongest and most feared fort. Gragg explains that by late December of 1864, with Sherman’s closure of the ports at Mobile and Charleston, Wilmington represented the last major open seaport of the Confederacy and was thus a crucial lifeline for the Confederate armies still in operation. Gragg states that the importation of arms and supplies was crucial to sustaining the Confederate troops. However, the Union blockade of the South prevented a significant portion of these much needed supplies from reaching their intended destination. “Confederate Goliath” explains how the geography of the Cape Fear River and the port of Wilmington enabled Confederate blockade runners to bypass the blockade with a high rate of success, essentially making the blockade effort useless. As a result of the inability of the blockade to keep supplies from reaching Wilmington, the closure of the port became an essential goal of the Union. By closing the port, the Union hoped to completely stop incoming supplies from reaching the Confederate armies, essentially starving the Confederates into submission. However, in order to capture and close the port of Wilmington, the Union army had to assault and conquer the most heavily defended fort of the time, Fort Fisher. In “Confederate Goliath,” Rod Gragg provides ample detail of the bloody and brutal conflict that comprised the Union assault on Fort Fisher, including the first and second battles and the massive artillery bombardment of the fort. Gragg also covers the various leaders involved in the conflict as well as the death tolls of both sides, the commendations received by the leaders of the Union assault force, and the aftermath of the fall of Fort Fisher including the resulting Union seizure of Wilmington. In this book, Rod Gragg furthers the argument that the fall of Fort Fisher and the subsequent Union capture of Wilmington, the last remaining lifeline of the Confederacy, was a crushing blow to the Confederate war effort and essentially starved Robert E. Lee into submission a scarce three months later.
“Fort Fisher was the strongest fort in the South,” proclaimed the New York Tribune. “Now for the first time is a really formidable earthwork carried by a direct assault, and in a military view, therefore, the storming of Fort Fisher is probably entitled to be reckoned the most brilliant, as it surely is the most remarkable, victory of the war. . . . The practical value of this success is two-fold. The port of Wilmington is closed absolutely against blockade-running. . . .” Harper’s Weekly echoed the Tribune’s editorial: “The assault made on the 15th and the five hours’ fight hand to hand with the garrison of the fort is not surpassed in the annals of warfare. . . . This success is of first importance. The capture of Fort Fisher does not mean alone the taking of 75 guns and several hundred prisoners. It involves a loss to the rebels of their principal port. . . .”
The newspapers were right – the capture of Fort Fisher sealed Wilmington and shut down the Confederacy’s last major port. The U.S. Navy’s stranglehold on the South was now complete. Even the troops in the field understood the significance of the Federal victory. “To hold our ground is to cut off the main artery of the Confederacy and that is done,” observed one of Terry’s sergeants. “This celebrated vein of supplies is effectively stopped off. . . . The blockade is now effectual."
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