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4th USCT

The 4th United States Colored Troops helped lead the advance on Wilmington

The Advance on Wilmington

When news of Fort Fisher's capture reached Confederate general Braxton Bragg in Wilmington, he ordered the abandonment of the fortifications south and west of the fort. This included Fort Caswell on Oak Island, Fort Holmes on Smith's Island, and the works around Smithville or modern day Southport. The troops from these positions either reinforced Fort Anderson or continued on to Wilmington. General Terry, commander of the Union ground forces, wanted to push the attack against Wilmington to capitalize on the momentum gained by the victory at Fort Fisher. Admiral Porter, commanding the naval force, advised caution. Terry decided to consolidate his position and await reinforcements. The fighting that did occur came largely in the form of skirmishing between Terry's men and the Confederates occupying the Sugar Loaf Line.

Starting on February 6 and continuing through February 14, 1865, the reinforcements, in the form of the three divisions of Gen. John Schofield's XXIII Army Corp, began arriving on Union held Federal Point. Once the first division landed, but before the other two had reached the Cape Fear Region, Schofield, now in command of the Wilmington Expeditionary Force, made two attempts to push the Rebels from their positions along the Sugar Loaf Line by moving up the strip of beach between the Atlantic Ocean and Myrtle Sound. Both of these attempts, from February 11 to 13, to flank the Confederate's line were detected and repulsed. While these attacks did not open the way to Wilmington, they prevented Southern troops from being sent across the river to aid Fort Anderson later in the campaign.

With the attempts to breach the Sugar Loaf Line unsuccessful, Union forces crossed the Cape Fear River at Smithville (now Southport) on February 16, with plans to attack Fort Anderson on the western bank of the river. Fort Anderson was captured on February 19, forcing the Confederates to abandon Sugar Loaf and retreat towards Wilmington. In order to deny the withdrawing Rebels a chance to regroup, Schofield ordered an advance up both sides of the river, while Porter led his flotilla up the river itself. With fighting at Town Creek on the western bank of the river and Forks Road on the Cape Fear's eastern bank, Union troops pushed towards Wilmington. By February 22, the city had been evacuated by the Confederates and occupied by the Union army. The last of the fighting of the Wilmington Campaign took place to the north and east of the city on February 22, as the Union troops pursued the retreating Confederates.

The Wilmington Campaign was over, but the war was not. The retreating Confederates met up with the battered Army of Tennessee under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in eastern North Carolina. They fought in the last major Confederate offensive movement of the Civil War, the Battle of Bentonville, March 19-21, 1865.

While the fall of Fort Fisher and the loss of Wilmington did not end the American Civil War, it did hasten its conclusion. Roughly ninety days after the capture of Fort Fisher and the closing of Wilmington, General Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, unable to maintain its position around Petersburg because of lack of supplies, was compelled to surrender to General Grant and the Army of the Potomac on April 9, 1865. Only a few weeks later, on April 26, General Johnston surrendered all troops in North and South Carolina as well as Georgia and Florida to General Sherman at the Bennett farm near Durham. This surrender affected 89,270 soldiers and effectively brought an end to the war.

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