Thursday, February 26, 2015

Remembering Fort Fisher's Black Confederate Soldiers

One-hundred fifty years ago an enemy invasion fleet landed troops at Fort Fisher after a fierce bombardment, beginning a military campaign which would end North Carolina's second bid for political independence.  This fort began existence as Battery Bolles in early 1861 and steadily grew into a mammoth   earthen fortification under the direction of Col. William Lamb and Gen. W.H.C. Whiting.  The garrison troops, black and white, were assisted in daily construction activity by African slaves hired out by area plantations – all were responsible for the impressive work that defended the Cape Fear River and Wilmington.

Notable among the fort's heroic defenders, who all fought with a grim determination though outnumbered by an enemy nearly ten times their number, were black soldiers of the Thirty-sixth and Fortieth Regiments, North Carolina Troops (NCT).  At the final capitulation of the fort, Charles and Henry Dempsey, both privates in Company F, Thirty-sixth Regiment, NCT; Privates Arthur and Miles Reed of Company D, Fortieth Regiment, NCT; Private J. Doyle of Company E; Private Everett Hayes of Company F, Tenth Regiment, NCT; and regimental cook Daniel Herring.

A total of nine black soldiers surrender to the enemy at Fort Fisher, and this does not include those who escaped capture by crossing the river to Fort Anderson.

Most if not all the black soldiers captured were imprisoned at Point Lookout, Maryland along with their white fellow soldiers. Unlike the segregated black Northern units that landed with white enemy troops, Southern black men fought alongside their comrades in integrated companies with little if any distinction of skin color.  The Dempsey brothers served with other men from Halifax, Edgecombe, Nash, Pitt and Wayne counties; the Reed brothers did the same with their white neighbors from Craven, Wilson, Wayne and Lenoir counties.

These patriotic black soldiers, who were paid with virtually worthless money, fought bravely alongside fellow North Carolinians in defense of their homes, families, neighbors, State and country.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"