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EXPEDITION AGAINST FORT FISHER
battles while such stirring events were transpiring West and South, it was not idle. On the 7th of December, General Warren, with twenty thousand men, moved south toward Hatcher's Run, and in two days reached Bellefield Station, on the Meherrin River, forty miles from Petersburg, where he destroyed the rebel works, depot, &c. The next day he commenced his return march, destroying every thing in his line of march, and twenty miles of the Weldon railroad.
The most important event, however, of the month, connected with the Army of the Potomac, was the attempt to capture Fort Fisher, which commanded the entrance to Cape Fear River.
Wilmington, at this time, was the most important seaport left to the South, for through it she got most of her supplies, and from which she sent out blockade-runners, loaded with cotton and other products. The blockade had been only partially maintained here, and it was deemed very important by the Navy Department that it should be taken. Besides, it was a point of great strategic importance.
As there has been much dispute respecting the cause of the failure of the first attempt to capture the fort, and a direct issue made between the Commanders of the navar and land forces, on questions of fact, we prefer to let General Grant give the history of the affair himself.
"To secure the possession of this land required the co-operation of a land force, which I agreed to furnish. Immediately commenced the assemblage in Hampton Roads, under Admiral D. D. Porter, of the most formidable armada ever collected for concentration upon one given point. This recessarily attracted the attention of the enemy, as well as that of the loyal North; and throngh the imprudence of the public press, and very likely of officers of both branches of service, the exact object of the expedition became a subject of common discussion in the newspapers both North and
South. The enemy, thus warned prepared to meet it. This caused a postponement of the expedition until the latter part of November, when, being again called upon by Hon. G. V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, I agreed to furnish the men required at once, and went myself, in company with Major-General Butler, to Hampton Roads, where we had a conference with Admiral Porter as to the force required and the time of starting. A force of six thousand, five hundred men was regarded as sufficient. The time of starting was not definitely arranged, but it was thought all would be ready by the 6th of December, if not before. Learning on the 30th of November that Bragg had gone to Georgia, taking with him most of the forces about Wilming: ton, I deemed it of the utmost importance that the expedition should reach its destination before the return of Bragg, and directed General Butler to make all arrangements for the departure of Major-General Weitzel, who had been designated to command the land forces, so that the navy might not be detained one moment.
“On the 6th of December the following instructions were given:
“City Point, Va., Dec. 6, 1864. “GENERAL:—The first object of the expedition under General Weitzel is to close to the enemy the port of Wilmington. If successful in this, the second will be to capture Wilmington itself
. There are reasonable grounds to hope for success, if advantage can be taken of the absence of the greater part of the enemy's forces now looking after Sherman in Georgia. The directions. you have given for the numbers and equipment of the expedition are all right except in the unimportant matter of where they embark, and the amount of intrenching tools to be taken. · The object of the expedition will be gained by effecting a landing on the main land between Cape Fear River and the Atlantic, north of the north entrance to the river. Should such landing be effected wiilst the enemy still holds Fort Fisher and the batteries guarding the entrance in the river, then the troops should intrench themselves, and, by co-operating with the navy, effect the reduction and capture of those places. These in our hands, the navy could enter the harbor, and the port of Wilmington would be sealed. Should Fort Fisher and the point of land on which it is built fall into the hands of our troops immediately on landing, then it will be worth the attempt to capture Wilmington by a
GRANT ON BUTLER.
forced march and surprise. If time is consumed in gaining the first object of the expedition, the second will become a matter of after consideration.
“ The details for execution are intrusted to you and the officer immediately in command of the troops.
“Should the troops under General Weitzel fail to effect a landing at or near Fort Fisher they will be returned to the armies operating against Richmond without delay.
U.S. GRANT, Lieutenant General. Major General B. F. Butler.
“ General Butler commanding the army from which the troops were taken for this enterprise, and the territory within which they were to operate, military courtesy required that all orders and instructions should go through him. They were so sent; but General Weitzel has since officially informed me that he never received the foregoing instructions, nor was he aware of their existence until he read General Butler's published official report of the Fort Fisher failure, with my endorsement and papers accompanying it. I had no idea of General Butler's accompanying the expedition until the evening before it got off from Bermuda Hundred, and then did not dream but that General Weitzel had received all the instructions, and would be in command. I rather formed the idea that General Butler was actuated by a desire to witness the effect of the explosion of the powder-boat. The expedition was detained several days at Hampton Roads, awaiting the loading of the powder-boat.
“The importance of getting the Wilmington expedition off without any delay, with or without the powder-boat, had been urged upon General Butler, and he advised to so notify Admiral Porter.
“The expedition finally got off on the 13th of December, and arrived at the place of rendezvous, off New Inlet, near Fort Fisher, on the evening of the 15th. Admiral Porter arrived on the evening of the 18th, having put in at Beaufort to get ammunition for the monitors. The sea becoming rough, making it difficult to land troops, and the supply of
water and coal being about exhausted, the transport fleet put back to Beaufort to replenish; this, with the state of the weather, delayed the return to the place of rendezvous until the 24th. The powder-boat was exploded on the morning of the 24th, before the return of General Butler from Beaufort; but it would seem from the notice taken of it in the Southern newspapers, that the enemy were never enlightened as to the object of the explosion until they were informed by the Northern press.
“On the 25th a landing was effected without opposition, and a reconnoissance, under Brevet Brigadier General Curtis, pushed up toward the Fort. But before receiving a full report of the result of this reconnoissance, General Butler, in direct violation of the instructions given, ordered the reembarkation of the troops and the return of the expedition.
"The re-embarkation was accomplished by the morning of the 27th.”
The powder-boat was Butler's device, he having read of the effects of the explosion of a large amount of powder in England. It was placed under the command of Commander A. C. Rhind, who, with Lieutenant S. W. Preston, Engineer A. T. E. Mullen, and Acting Master's Mate Paul Boyden, and seven men undertook the perilous task of towing it in. Having anchored it within four hundred yards of the fort, he set fire to the fuse that was to explode it, and, hastening back to the Wilderness, steained away twelve miles to avoid the effects of the explosion. The whole fleet lay off at this safe distance. The object was to explode the magazine of the fort, and blow it and the garrison together into the air. It proved however quite a harmless affair, but the bombardment that followed was one of the most terrific ever witnessed.
The fleet of Porter consisted of seventy-three vessels, carrying in all six hundred and fifty-five guns, some of them
A GUNBOAT SUNK.
of the largest calibre. For two days it was kept up, com. pletely silencing the fort, which Porter insists could easily have been taken by a man of any enterprise.
There is one short sentence in Grant's report, which for keen sarcasm, and quiet humor cannot be surpassed. In speaking of his ignorance that Butler was to command the expedition he says, “I had rather formed the idea that General Butler was actuated by a desire to witness the effect of the explosion of the powder-boat.”
This ended the extraordinary military career of General Butler, for soon after he was superseded by Ord.
As a co-operative' movement in this expedition, General Palmer sent off a force from Plymouth, which proceeded up the Roanoke River beyond Jamestown, but not being sustained by the gunboats that were kept back by the torpedoes in the river, it effected nothing of importance. In the fore part of the month the gunboat Otsego was sunk in the river by one of these torpedoes.