A Most Important and Brilliant Success (January 17, 1864)

A Currier & Ives print depicts the capture of Fort Fisher. The caption read: "Both the Army and Navy were engaged in this great exploit, the most terrific of its kind on record. The Iron clads and Frigates under command of Rear Admiral Porter poured in a most destructive fire of shot and shell; while the gallant Soldiers under Genl. A.H. Terry rushed to the assault, and after a bloody contest of several hours, drove the Rebels out of their strong hold, capturing over 2000 prisoners, the rebel Genl. Whiting, and 75 Guns of large calibre; many of them of 'celebrated English make'. Three cheers for the Army and Navy!" Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

A Currier & Ives print depicts the capture of Fort Fisher. The caption read: “Both the Army and Navy were engaged in this great exploit, the most terrific of its kind on record. The Iron clads and Frigates under command of Rear Admiral Porter poured in a most destructive fire of shot and shell; while the gallant Soldiers under Genl. A.H. Terry rushed to the assault, and after a bloody contest of several hours, drove the Rebels out of their strong hold, capturing over 2000 prisoners, the rebel Genl. Whiting, and 75 Guns of large calibre; many of them of ‘celebrated English make’. Three cheers for the Army and Navy!” Click to enlarge (Library of Congress).

The reason Meade believes the fall of Fort Fisher will be bad news for Benjamin Butler is because Butler lost his command of the Army of the James because of his failure to take the fort back in December. The fort, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, controlled access to Wilmington, North Carolina, the last open port for the Confederacy. Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel’s XXV Corps (African-American troops led by white officers) had made the unsuccessful land attack. When the attack stalled, Butler had pulled out rather than follow Grant’s orders to place the fort under siege. A second attack, led by Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry (with support, once again, by a naval force under Adm. David Porter) captured the fort on January 15.

The interior of Fort Fisher (Library of Congress).

The interior of Fort Fisher (Library of Congress).

To-day we have the news that the second expedition has succeeded in taking Fort Fisher, which is a most important and brilliant success. It will, however, have a most damaging effect on Butler’s case, and will also materially injure Weitzel’s reputation. I must confess I thought Butler’s report cleared him in every particular except two. First, he should not have wasted three days, waiting for the enemy, when he knew the fort was weakly garrisoned. Secondly, he should not have left there because an assault was impracticable; and his statement that a siege was not within his instructions, is contradicted by Grant’s written instructions, which say that, if a landing is effected, and the work not carried, he is to entrench and hold on. There will, no doubt, be bitter controversy on these points.

Grant has been away for three days, to parts unknown, though I suppose Wilmington.

Meade’s correspondence taken from The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, Major-General United States Army, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913), p. 256. Available via Google Books.

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