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CHAPTER XXXIX. .
GUERRILLAS-PEACE RUMORS-RELIEF FOR THE DESTITUTE IN SAVANNAH
GRANT PLANS A SECOND EXPEDITION AGAINST FORT FISHER-TERRY COM
MANDS IT-THE BOMBARDMENT-THE ASSAULT AND VICTORY-EVACUATION · OF OTHER FORTS IN THE VICINITY-THOMAS' ARMY BROKEN UP-SMITH'S COMMAND SENT TO JOIN CANBY-SCHOFIELD'S CORPS ORDERED EAST
NORTH CAROLINA MADE A SEPARATE MILITARY DEPARTMENT-NARROW ES
CAPE OF THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC-PEACE COMMISSIONERS APPOINTED
BY DAVIS-THEIR INTERVIEW WITH THE PRESIDENT AND SECRETARY OF
STATE-EXCHANGE OF PRISONERS-SOUTHERN PRISON LIFE-INHUMANITY
OF THE SOUTH-ANDERSONVILLE PRISON-CAPTAIN WIRZ, THE
THE beginning of the year 1865 exhibited no active mil
itary movements in any part of the country. Guerrillas still swarmed in Kentucky, and other border States the steamer Venango was burned by them, on the Mississippi, and the more desperate the cause of the Confederacy became, the more vindictive and ferocious seemed their conduct.
Peace rumors were afloat, which acquired importance from the repeated visits of Francis P. Blair, Senior, to Richmond.
The destitution of the people of Savannah, called forth the sympathies of the citizens of New York, and provisions and supplies, of various kinds, were furnished for their relief.
But under all this apparent quietness, the most important preparations were going on. Not only was Sherman getting ready for his northern march, but Grant, indignant at the failure of the expedition against. Fort Fisher, was quietly
preparing for a second and more serious attempt to capture it. His movements were all so secretly made, that the public journals got no hint of his intentions until his work was accomplished.
Still, we must confess that we cannot see the wisdom of this second expedition. When Sherman reached Savannah, Grant directed him to place his army on transports and join him at City Point, in order to aid him in his projected operations against Richmond. But after the defeat of Hood by Thomas, he changed his plans, and wrote to Sherman, asking him what, under the circumstances, he thought it best to do. The latter replied, that he would, at once, come to him by sea if he desired, but that he had expected to march to Columbia, South Carolina, and thence to Raleigh, where he would report to him.
Grant says:—"The confidence he manifested in this letter of being able to march up and join me, pleased me, and, without waiting for a reply to my letter of the 18th, I directed him, on the 28th of December, to make preparations to start, as he proposed, without delay, to break up the railroads in North and South Carolina, and join the armies operating against Richmond as soon as he could."
Now, this order was sent the day after the re-embarkation of the troops that, under the first expedition, were to assault Fort Fisher. Hence, Grant was perfectly aware of Sherman's plan to march north to Raleigh, and was so confident of its practicability that he approved of it. But he also knew that if Sherman succeeded in carrying out that plan, Fort Fisher and Wilmington would fall of themselves. No one knew better than he, that the enemy could no more hold Wilmington, with Sherman marching on Raleigh or Goldsboro', than he could Charleston, with him marching on Columbia.
Before he reached even Fayetteville, these places would
be evacuated, or the garrisons hopelessly cut off; hence, to our apprehension, it would have been just as wise to have sacrificed the lives of our soldiers in an attack on Charleston, at this time, as on Wilmington. A glance at the map will make this plain, and any one will see that nothing between Sherman's line of march and the sea could be held by the rebels.
The original plan of attempting to capture Fort Fisher was not Grant's, but it having failed, he determined that it should be carried out. Taking the same troops that Butler had, with the addition of only a small brigade numbering about fifteen hundred men, he placed them under General Terry, also a civilian Commander, with orders similar to those which he had given to the former, or rather to Weitzel. In neither case did he direct that an assault on the fort should be made-he left this entirely “to the discretion of the commanding officer.”
The expedition sailed from Fortress Monroe on the 6th of January, "arriving on the rendezvous off Beaufort on the 8th, where, owing to the difficulties of the weather, it lay until the morning of the 12th, when it got under way, and reached its destination that evening." The next morning, the disembarkation of the troops commenced, and by three o'clock was completed without loss. The next day a reconnoissance was made to within five hundred yards of the fort, "and a small advance work taken possession of, and turned into a defensive line against any attempt that might be made from the fort."
The third day, Sunday, was fixed upon for the assault, but, in the meantime, the fleet had kept up a terrible fire upon the fort. It attacked in three columns. The first, led by the Brooklyn, numbered one hundred and sixteen guns; the second, by the Minnesota, one hundred and seventy-six guns; while the third, composed of gunboats, numbered
ASSAULT ON FORT FISHER.
one hundred and twenty-three-in all, over four hundred guns, that played with fearful precision on the hostile works. When the firing was most rapid, shells fell at the rate of four
Under this horrible fire, guns were dismounted, embrasures blown open, and traverses disappeared with amazing rapidity.
A force of marines and sailors, numbering about two thousand, was to assault from the sea-side, at the same time that the columns of Terry advanced from the land-side. For three hours previous to the assault, the four hundred guns of the feet were worked to their utmost capacity, till the ponderous shells fell thick as hailstones from heaven, on the door.ed fort-driving the garrison to the casemates. The parapets were twenty-five feet thick, and twenty feet high, and surrounded by a strong palisade. About two hundred yards in advance of this, was strung a line of torpedoes, eighty-five feet apart-each one containing a hundred pounds of powder, and all connected by wires. Fortunately, the shells from the fleet had cut the wires leading to those that lay in the path of the assaulting columns. The shells, also, broke down a part of the palisade, so that they had almost a clear sweep to the ramparts—though in some places they had to be cut away or beaten down.
At length, every thing being ready, at three o'clock the signal was given, and the three brigades—the arst led by Curtis, the second by Pennypacker, and the third by Belldashed forward, following one another about three hundred yards apart, making, in their final rush, for the west end on the land-side. As they started, Porter ran up his signal which set all the steam-whistles shrieking. This was the signal to change the fire of the fleet from the fort, and concentrate it on the batteries to the left and above, to avoid hitting our own troops. The smoke hanging over the
mighty armada, out of which arose the shriek of countless steam-whistles, and came incessant explosions too quick to count--the volcano that opened from the fort, as with loud cheers those gallant brigades drove on, combined to make that Sabbath afternoon one of the most terrific the earth ever witnessed. On the sea-side, the marines and sailors dashed gallantly forward, but were swept like chaff before the wind, from the ramparts. Terry's troops, however, boldly mounted those in their front, when a fearful hand to hand conflict followed. Soon the high parapets swallowed up
the combatants, but the work of death went on within. Shouts and curses, mingled with volleys of musketry, made the interior of that fort a pandemonium-but our troops, bent on victory, won their way steadily from traverse to traverse in spite of the desperate opposition of the enemy.
The wintry sun went down on the strange scene, and darkness closed around the combatants. Fighting in the fitful light of the flashes of musketry, and of the flaming shells streaking the sky above them, they drove the garrison back step by step, until at last, at half past nine the fort was cleared. A long, loud shout arose from the bosom of the bloody and trampled works, and then Terry's signal torches flamed from the summit, announcing to Porter that the place
The firing ceased, and rockets were immediately sent up from the flagship, signaling to the fleet the glorious news, when cheer after checr rung over the water, ship answering ship in the darkness--the shouts being echoed back from the fort, till land and sea shook with the wild huzzas. About midnight, General Whitney, and Colonel Lamb, the Commanders, with the garrison, eighteen hundred in number, surrendered. "Seventy-three guns fell into our hands, besides the camp equipage and storcs.
Our loss was six hundred and forty-six in killed and wounded, while that of the enemy was only four hundred.