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150th Anniversary (1865–2015) This Month in the Civil War: Fall of Fort Fisher

Civil War Collection 150th Anniversary

On January 15, 1865, Fort Fisher, in North Carolina, fell after a three-day combined land-and-sea assault by Union troops.

In December, Union major general Benjamin Butler had tried to bring down the Confederate fort (known as the “Gibraltar of the South” for its defenses) with the assistance of Rear Admiral David D. Porter but had aborted his attack. Butler was replaced with Major General Alfred H. Terry, who, along with Porter, tried again in January to take the fort, which sat on a peninsula guarding the river entrance to Wilmington, North Carolina, the last major Confederate port on the Atlantic and a supply lifeline for the Confederacy and its army.

Fort FisherOn the 13th, Porter and his 60 ships began a grueling bombardment of the fort. This lasted until 3 o’clock on the 15th, when Terry and half of his 8,000 available troops—along with 2,000 marines and sailors—began the land attack. The marines and sailors, who streamed down the peninsula to attack from the seaward side, suffered heavy losses from Confederate fire in their unsuccessful attempt, but they served as a distraction from Terry’s main force, which came at the fort from the river side.

After bloody hand-to-hand fighting, the Union force managed to take the fort. However, although the Union troops were the victors—and outnumbered the Confederates—they suffered more severe losses: 1,300 killed or wounded compared to the Confederates’ 500. Wilmington would fall into Union hands a month later.

For the full official correspondence regarding the second battle for Fort Fisher, see Fold3’s Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, series 1, volume 11, pages 425–596.


  1. My great, great grandfather, James Hatch Polley, was the ship’s Boatswain’s Mate on the USS Shenandoah during both assaults on Fort Fisher. He went with his ship’s contingent which was part of the Naval Brigade which attacked the fort from the beach. James was commended for his actions in the battle by his skipper, Captain Ridgely, in a letter to Rear Admiral Porter.

  2. Thank you for sharing that info John, about your GGF James. It is so nice to know about our family and to share their stories and to keep their memory alive. We of course wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t been.

  3. my two times GGf Samuel J. Moran was at missionery ridge an got capture by unio troups in 1863 and was in war camp until 1865 when war ended at louivelle ky.

  4. looked for my great grandfather John Devaughn Lindsay in Civil War. He was a Sargent in the NC , 38th regiment. Wounded at Chancellorsville, Va.

  5. My g grandfather was wounded at Ft. Moultrie and St. John’s Island in Charleston, SC. When the war ended he was in the Old Fellows hospital in Greensboro, NC.

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