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.
On 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.