Thursday, February 26, 2015

Remembering What Fort Fisher's Patriotic Defenders Fought to Prevent

As we observe the Sesquicentennial of the final defense of Fort Fisher and Wilmington in 1865, we should deeply reflect upon the "what and why" of these historic events and view them all in a proper light.

Like the North Carolina patriots of the Revolution who resisted British invasion of the Cape Fear as they fought for independence, Wilmington's Committee of Safety in 1861 quickly took control of area defenses to protect their homes, families and country. Wilmington's patriots of '61 fought for independence as well and would construct the ironclads CSS North Carolina and Raleigh for the same reasons their Revolutionary fathers built the brigs George Washington and Eclipse -- to defend the Cape Fear River from invasion.

The Northern troops aboard the immense fleet in 1865 were there for the sole purpose of overpowering defenses designed to protect the Cape Fear and North Carolina.  Once ashore and in control of the forts, enemy intentions were to capture and subjugate Wilmington and place the city under martial law.  Afterward, the enemy army would move inland to seize transportation and industrial facilities, deny North Carolinians the ability to defend themselves, plus loot farms and homes at will.  They would then capture and occupy the State capital of Raleigh, overthrow the government of North Carolina and imprison its elected governor.

And this sad result was followed by 10 years of political corruption, despotism and racial turmoil incited by Northern political adventurers and carpetbaggers. This is what Fort Fisher's patriotic garrison of North Carolinians fought to prevent.

And a word about Fort Fisher's defenders.

We often hear that "Confederates" garrisoned Fort Fisher, though it should be trumpeted loudly that these were men from New Hanover, Brunswick, Bladen, Edgecombe, Carteret, Columbus, Sampson, Cumberland, Wayne, Duplin, Wake, Green, Beaufort, Lenoir and Craven Counties.  More than just "Confederates," these were North Carolina patriots defending their homes and country.

Some of the unit names were Sutton's Battery, Bladen Stars, Powell's Artillery, the Clarendon Guards, Brunswick Artillery, Bladen Artillery Guards, Lenoir Braves, Northampton Artillery, Cape Fear River Guards, Scotch Greys, Braddy's Battery, Edenton Bell Battery, Southerland's Battery and Capt. Abner Moseley's Sampson Artillery.  Clark's Artillery was led by Wilmington businessman, Maj. Robert G. Rankin, a man whose body would be pierced by eight enemy minie balls at Bentonville.

These and other North Carolina patriots garrisoned Forts Holmes, Caswell, Johnston, Campbell, Fisher and Anderson – all there for the protection of the Cape Fear from enemy invasion. At Wilmington were stationed Companies A through G of the Fayetteville Armory Guards under Col. Frederick L. Childs.  They were there to help repel the enemy.

Though not battle-hardened veterans, Fort Fisher's garrison fought a desperate battle from traverse to traverse and forced the enemy to pay very dearly for what they conquered. Both the fort commander Col. William Lamb and Gen. W.H.C. Whiting were severely wounded, only Lamb survived. This is a testament to the bravery of men who performed their duty heroically, and with their families and homes at their backs -- no finer patriots and soldiers could be found.

Remember too, the worried families of those within the forts, watching from the western bank of the Cape Fear with trepidation as enemy projectiles exploded within the forts their loved ones were defending. Think of what these women and children experienced that winter of 1864-65 – food scarcity, and a humiliating occupation by enemy troops should the defenders of the Cape Fear be overwhelmed.  And worse, would they ever see their brothers, fathers and sons again – dead or sent into captivity.

These should be our foremost thoughts during this Fort Fisher Sesquicentennial Observance. Let us keep in mind what was lost, what those North Carolinians were defending against, and how we today might honor and emulate their legacy of duty.

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"