Teaching through our historic sites

The Second Battle

Not to be deterred, the North launched a second attack three weeks later. The mistakes of the first assault would not be repeated in the second. The most pressing problem, that of command, was the first to be rectified. The cantankerous General Butler was replaced with the more good-natured Gen. Alfred Terry. Admiral Porter remained in command of the naval force. Between January 6 and 12, 1865, the Union fleet of 58 warships and 10,000 soldiers, 3,300 of whom were United States Colored Troops (USCTs), set sail and headed for Fort Fisher. On the morning of January 13, the Federal warships began an intense shelling of the fort. This frightful pounding continued though January 14 and 15. During this time all but two of the guns on the land face were destroyed or otherwise knocked out of action.

Bombardment of Fort Fisher

Bombardment of Fort Fisher, January 15, 1865

The Union troops landed at 8:00 am on January 13 and pushed in from the beach to secure their landing site. By 5:00 pm, all Union troops were ashore and General Terry pushed south. When Union forces reached a point a few miles north of Fort Fisher, they established a line of breastworks across the peninsula to counter a possible counter attack by Confederate troops stationed north of the fort at Sugar Loaf. At midday on January 14, Terry and his staff scouted the land face and determined that conditions were favorable for an attack. Porter supported this decision and planned to put a force of Union sailors and marines ashore to aid in the assault. Starting at noon the next day (January 15), the first wave of Federal troops moved into position to attack the land face. At this same time, the storming party of roughly 2,200 sailors and marines landed north of Fort Fisher's Northeast Bastion. At 3:25 pm the signal was given to commence the ground assault.

The Naval Brigade was the first Federal force to move against the fort. Without waiting to coordinate with Army troops, sailors, armed with pistols and cutlasses, and marines, armed with Spencer rifles, rushed the palisade below the Northeast Bastion (the junction between the fort's land and sea faces). They ran straight into the teeth of the Confederate defenses, led in person by Gen. W. H. C. Whiting and Col. William Lamb. Outgunned and in a vulnerable position, the naval storming party was quickly broken and forced to retreat up the beach.

At roughly this same time, the Union army troops, led by the First Brigade under Gen. Martin Curtis, began their assault on the western bastion, along the edge of the Cape Fear River. The Union forces pushed over the ramparts and poured into the battery, leading to intense hand-to-hand fighting. The Second Brigade, led by Col. Galusha Pennypacker, followed hard on the heels of the First and, although they were raked by canister fire from Confederate artillery, they quickly forced their way through the River Road sally port and into the fort. Attempts by the defenders to bring up reinforcements failed, and Union forces captured more of the land face. In an act of near desperation, Confederate guns from Mound Battery and Battery Buchanan were turned on the land face killing both friend and foe alike. General Terry sent in the Third Brigade under the command of Col. Louis Bell. A counterattack led by General Whiting failed to halt the Union advance and one led by Colonel Lamb fell apart before it began when Lamb was wounded. Fighting persisted throughout the afternoon and into the evening, as the Union continued to bring in fresh troops. By 9:00 pm, the Union launched one final assault at the fort's center sally port, and Abbott's Brigade and the 27th USCTs marched into the fort. Confederate troops retreated south to Battery Buchanan. The final surrender occurred at roughly 10:00 pm on January 15, 1865. With the capture of Fort Fisher, the Cape Fear River was now controlled by Union forces, and trade at the Wilmington port came to a halt.


2nd Bombardment of Fort Fisher
January 13-15, 1865
The beginning of the end for Wilmington and blockade-running. (PDF)

Opposing Lines on Federal Point
January 14, 1865
Union troops make an amphibious landing on Federal Point and establish a strong position between Fort Fisher at Hoke's Confederates at Sugar Loaf. (PDF)

Union Ground Assault on Fort Fisher (1)
January 15, 1865: 3:30 p.m. - Dark
Attack of U.S. sailors and marines. (PDF)

Union Ground Assault on Fort Fisher (2)
January 15, 1865: 3:30 - 6:00 p.m.
Attack of U.S. Army infantry brigades. (PDF)

Advance of Abbott's Union Brigade
January 15, 1865: 6:00 - 9:00 p.m.
The final push against the Confederates. (PDF)

Fall of Fort Fisher
January 15, 1865: 9:00 p.m. - Midnight
Advance of the 27th U.S. Colored Troops and Abbott's brigade, Confederate retreat to Battery Buchanan, and surrender. (PDF)

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