Teaching through our historic sites

Fort Fisher and the Cape Fear River Defenses

The importance of Wilmington to the Confederate States can be seen in the scope of its defenses. (See Fig. 3) Old Inlet was guarded by Fort Caswell on Oak Island and by Fort Holmes on Smith's Island. New Inlet was protected by the mighty Fort Fisher. Protecting the land approach to Wilmington was Fort Anderson, located north of Fort Fisher on the opposite (western) bank of the river. On the eastern bank was Sugar Loaf, a large fortified hill that anchored a line of entrenchments running across Federal Point peninsula. Numerous other smaller forts and batteries supported these works and made Wilmington the second most fortified city on the Atlantic coast, following Charleston, S. C. Fort Fisher's massive earthen fortifications made it the lynch pin in the complex Cape Fear River defenses.

New Inlet

Union Blockaders off Fort Fisher at New Inlet

Construction of Fort Fisher began in spring of 1861 and continued into late December 1864. The labor force to build this fort came from 500 enslaved African Americans, impressed from nearby plantations and as far inland as the piedmont of North Carolina. This work force was supplemented by the fort's garrison and free individuals conscripted into service. By the time of its capture on January 15, 1865, Fort Fisher's land face spanned a half a mile from the Cape Fear River to the Atlantic Ocean. The fort's sea face then stretched south for one mile along the coast, culminating in the forty-three-feet high Mound Battery. In total Fort Fisher mounted roughly forty-four heavy seacoast guns that were evenly divided between the land and sea faces. Four other, smaller field guns were stationed at the fort's two sally ports. (see Figure 2) Battery Buchanan, a four gun battery independent of Fort Fisher, was built overlooking New Inlet at the south end of the fort.

MAP: Fort Fisher — Detailed structure map. Zoom and pan for detail. (PDF)

MAP: Wilmington's Defenses — The Cape Fear Estuary and Approaches to Wilmington. The River Defense System. (PDF)

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