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for an expedition against Wilmington, to be undertaken whenever the state of affairs before Petersburg and Richmond would warrant the detachment of an adequate supporting force from the army. Meanwhile, Admiral D. D. Porter had been transferred, in the summer of 1864, from the command of the Mississippi Squadron, to exchange places with Admiral S. P. Lee, and the naval preparations, commenced in the month of August, were under the charge of the former officer. A military force, under Gen. Weitzel, from the Army of the James, was organized and fitted out under the supervision of Gen. Butler, to co-operate in the attack on the defenses of Wilmington. The primary object of the expedition was the reduction of Fort Fisher, commanding the entrance to the Cape Fear river.
Gen. Weitzel's forces, accompanied by Gen. Butler, sailed from the Chesapeake Bay in the afternoon of the 14th of December, reaching the rendezvous the following night. Admiral Porter, waiting for the preparation of a vessel (the Louisiana), which was to be used in testing the effects of exploding a large amount of gunpowder near the Fort, did not leave Beaufort, North Carolina, until the 18th. A gale on the 20th delayed the operations of the navy. On the 23d, Commander Rhind proceeded with the Louisiana, which was disguised as a blockade-runner, to play his preliminary part in the assault on Fort Fisher. This he accomplished by making the vessel fast at four hundred yards distance from the walls of the Fort, and lighting a slow fuse. The whole accompanying party safely retired toward the fleet. The explosion took place near two o'clock on the morning of the 24th, the main fleet being about twenty-five miles distant. Admiral Porter records that "the shock was nothing like so severe as was expected." Gen. Butler believes that, of more than one hundred tons of powder on board the Louisiana-stowed in bags-" not more than one-tenth ever did burn-making an explosion, indeed, which is described as hardly more than would have been felt from a fifteen-inch gun."
This magnificent inane flash fitly pre-figured the result of the expedition. Waiting for the Louisiana to be got in readi
ness, wasted two or three fair days after Butler's forces were on the spot, ready for their work. Directly after Porter's arrival, a severe gale compelled further delay, and the retirement of Butler's transports to Beaufort Harbor, sixty-five miles distant, where he was at the time of the great explosion, having understood that nothing was to be commenced by the Admiral without due notice to the Army. Re-enforcements from Wilmington reached Fort Fisher on the night following the Louisiana explosion.
On the 24th, about noon, Admiral Porter, without waiting for Gen. Butler to come up, attacked the Fort, his line consisting of the following vessels: The Ironsides, Canonicus, Mahopac, Monadnock, Minnesota, Colorado, Mohican, Tuscarora, Wabash, Susquehanna, Brooklyn, Powhattan, Juniata, Seneca, Shenandoah, Pawtuxet, Ticonderoga, Mackinaw, Maumee, Yantic, Kansas, Itasca, Quaker City, Monticello, Rhode Island, Sassacus, Chippewa, Osceola, Tacony, Pontoosuc, Santiago de Cuba, Fort Jackson and Vanderbilt. His reserve, of small vessels, consisted of the Aries, Howquah, Wilderness, Cherokee, A. D. Vance, Anemone, Eolus, Gettysburg, Alabama, Keystone State, Banshee, Emma, Lillian, Tristam Shandy, Britannia, Governor Buckingham and Nansemond.
After five hours' cannonading, some damage and loss of life having been suffered from the guns of the Fort, and from the explosion of a heavy gun on board the Ticonderoga, the attacking vessels withdrew. Two magazines are stated by Admiral Porter to have been exploded within the Fort, which was set on fire in several places, and its guns temporarily silenced.
Gen. Butler's forces arrived that night, and about noon on the 25th, the shore being covered by the navy, 2,200 men of his command were landed. The cannonading upon Fort Fisher had been renewed at an earlier hour the same day, and was continued while the troops were landing on the beach, five miles eastward. Gen. Weitzel advanced a skirmishing party, under cover of the bombardment, to within fifty yards of the Fort, after capturing two batteries near the beach, with a number of prisoners. After careful observation, he reported
against the expediency of attempting to carry the place by assault. The same evening, Gen. Butler ordered the troops to re-embark, and notified Admiral Porter that he should sail for Hampton Roads, as soon as the transport fleet could be put in order. He added: "The engineers and officers report Fort Fisher to me as substantially uninjured as a defensive work."
This termination of an expedition that had excited such universal interest and hope, was a great public disappointment. The want of hearty co-operation between the two branches of the service was manifest, and there is good reason to apprehend that disastrous failure would have resulted from an assault, under the circumstances then existing. On the report of Gen. Weitzel, a skillful engineer and a gallant officer, Gen. Butler could hardly do otherwise than as he did. His orders did not contemplate a siege, nor did he care, with a heavy storm approaching, to await an attack from Hoke's Division-larger than his entire force-then coming up in his rear.
Another trial was, however, determined upon, as apparently demanded by public opinion. The military forces, on this occasion larger in number, were placed under command of Maj.-Gen. Alfred H. Terry, who arrived off Fort Fisher on the night of the 12th of January, 1865. On the following day, his men were all landed, under cover of a heavy fire from the fleet. On the 14th, Gen. Terry made a careful reconnoissance, and determined to venture an attack on the Fort. The same day, he established a strong defensive line against any force of the enemy that might approach from the direction of Wilmington. This line, extending across the peninsula, was held by Gen. Paine's Division and Col. Abbott's Brigade, in all about 4,000 men, chiefly blacks. The assaulting party was. to be the Division commanded by Gen. Ames, and a column of seamen and marines.
Soon after three o'clock on Sunday afternoon, the 15th of January, a heavy bombardment having been kept up for three hours previous, the assault commenced. The seamen and marines, fourteen hundred strong, led by Capt. Breese, advanced against the walls on the front, which had been considerably battered by the heavy fire of the fleet during the preceding
three days, and succeeded in reaching the parapet. After a brief contest, they were checked, and thrown back in confusion. On the land side of the Fort, which was the most difficult, Curtis' Brigade, of Ames' Division, led the charge, simultaneously with that made by the men under Capt. Breese. Pennybacker's and Bell's brigades followed. The struggle was a severe one, the troops advancing little by little, under a destructive fire, but firmly maintaining their ranks, until, at five o'clock, half the land side was carried. The repulsed forces, under Capt. Breese, were then ordered to relieve Abbott's brigade, in the defensive line looking toward Wilmington, and the latter force was brought up to re-enforce the three brigades of Ames' division. The Rebel force in the Fort numbered about 2,200 men, who resisted desperately, defended successively by a series of seven traverses, each of which had to be carried by hard fighting. By signals understood between Gen. Terry and Admiral Porter, the guns of the navy rendered effective service, at intervals, by a well-directed fire-destructive to the enemy, without endangering the assailants. The conflict lasted until about ten o'clock at night, when the enemy had been driven out of the Fort and compelled to fall back to Federal Point-the extremity of the peninsula-pursued by part of the assailing force. It was near midnight when the Rebel Gen. Whiting unconditionally surrendered himself and his command, now reduced to about 1,800 in number, as prisoners of war.
The Union loss was estimated at about 800 in killed and wounded. Colonels Curtis and Pennybacker were severely, and Col. Bell mortally, wounded. Many other gallant officers fell. The Rebel loss was about 400 in killed and wounded. Both the army and navy heartily co-operated in this work, and shared its glory. The victory was hailed as one of the most important as well as brilliant of the war-hermetically sealing the great inlet heretofore so rejoiced in by the blockaderunner. It excited all the more public joy, for the disappointment which it so speedily followed.
Gen. Butler was relieved from the command of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, on the 7th of January,
and Maj.-Gen. E. O. C. Ord was appointed in his place. The organization of the Army of the James had been previously changed, by a general order of the War Department, under date of December 3d, 1864, which discontinued the Tenth and Eighteenth Corps, consolidating the white troops of those two corps into a new one called the Twenty-Fourth, and organizing the colored troops of the Department into a separate corps, called the Twenty-Fifth. Gen. Ord, by the same order, was put in command of the Twenty-Fourth, and Gen. Weitzel of the Twenty-Fifth Corps.
On the 1st of December, Gen. Gregg was sent southward, from before Petersburg, with his division of cavalry, to break up the enemy's communication by the Weldon railroad, and to destroy his supplies at Stony Creek Station, about twenty miles south from Petersburg. He captured the place on the same day, defeating the Rebel forces of infantry and cavalry, who were within defensive works and supported by artillery. Gregg captured two guns, nearly two hundred prisoners, and destroyed the depot, trains, and stores of various kinds, for the Rebel army. He also proceeded south to Duval Station, inflicting further damage, and returned safely to camp the same night.
For the purpose of still more effectually preventing the enemy from procuring supplies by the aid of the Weldon railroad, Gen. Warren's corps, with the Third Division (Gen. Mott's) of the Second Corps and Gen. Gregg's cavalry, was, a few days later (December 7th) sent down the road, destroying the track most effectually, and advancing to Hicksford, but declining to attack that place, which was strongly defended by the Rebels, occupying both sides of the Meherrin river. It appeared that one hundred cars, loaded with supplies, had passed over this part of the road every day. A general destruction of depots, mills, and other Rebel property, was made on the route passed over by Warren, who returned to his camp before Petersburg on the 12th of December. His losses were few, the principal fighting having occurred at Jarrett's Station on the return. Meanwhile, the two divisions of the Second Corps moved out toward Hatcher's Run, to the