From here in the visitor’s center, it’s difficult to visualize what Fort Fisher was like in 1865. Today’s shoreline reflects many years of erosion that destroyed much of the original fort. But the scene was much different in 1865 as the Federals planned an all-out offensive to take Fort Fisher. “I saw through the ramparts of the fort the lights of a great armada, as one after another appeared above the horizon.” -Colonel William Lamb January 12th, 1865: The union fleet of transports and fifty-eight warships assembles off the coast, near Fort Fisher. Over the next two days the Federals land troops north of the fort, as the navy maintains a constant bombardment. “The game of the enemy is very plain to me. If they are permitted to remain there, the reduction of Fort Fisher is but a question of time.” -General Chase Whiting: Senior Confederate Officer “The first object, which I had in view after landing, was to throw a strong defensive line across the peninsula, so as to protect our rear from attack, before we should be engaged in operating against Fort Fisher.” -General Alfred H. Terry “Such a storm of shells poured into Fort Fisher that forenoon as I believe had never been seen before in any Naval engagement.” -Thomas O. Selfridge: U.S.S. Hera “A tremendous fire was kept up from the entire fleet. Its effect was terrible. The Fort was being torn to pieces. The exhausted condition of our men now breaking – decimated by fifty-six hours of hard fighting – rendered it necessary to fire at the fleet seldom, and at long intervals.” -Major William J. Saunders: Chief of Artillery – Fort Fisher January 15th: Two thousand sailors and marines come ashore to join Federal land forces. They move down the beach to attack the north-east bastion shortly after 3:00pm. “They were pent like sheep in a pen, while the enemy were crowning the ramparts not forty yards away, and shooting into them as fast as they could fire.” -Commander Selfridge “I have been in a great number of battles here, and have never seen men fall so fast in my life.” -Seaman William Cobb: United States Navy At 3:25, the army’s first brigade attacks the western palisade. The Federals come under heavy fire as they attempt to run through the gate at Shepherd’s battery. They finally succeed, and gather at the base of the fort. Bluecoats clamor up the fort’s outer walls, and the rebels hit them hard. A bitter hand-to-hand struggle ensues, as Union soldiers overrun the battery. The second brigade soon follows, as Confederate artillery from battery Buchanan rains down upon both sides. “A comrade next to me on the traverse was shot in his brains and killed. His brains splattered in my face.” -Corporal Henry McQueen: First Battalion, North Carolina Heavy Artillery “As the men were being shot down one by one, our boys took the places of the dead and disabled. I looked around, and saw the Stars and Stripes floating from the top of the parapet with, what seemed to me, to be a thousand bluecoats around it.” -Private Zac Foremore: First Battalion, North Carolina Heavy Artillery The Federals move on to the third and fourth batteries, and send in the third brigade. Only thirty minutes have passed since the initial land assault, and more than four thousand Federals now crowd the area around the western palisade, and pour onto the parade ground. Having repulsed the naval ground attack on the north-east bastion, the rebels soon realize the enemy has overrun Shepherd’s battery. “I turned to look at our left, and saw, to my astonishment, several Federal battle flags upon our ramparts.” -Colonel Lamb General Whiting impossibly orders a counter-attack. “The struggle for the fourth traverse was the hottest and most prolonged single contest of the day.” -General Ken Martin Curtis It was a demented struggle. The enemy and our men firing into each other’s faces at a few paces distance. -Sergeant T. A. McNeil: First Battalion, North Carolina Heavy Artillery General Whiting is wounded in hand-to-hand combat along the fourth traverse. Colonel Lamb desperately assembles his troops in an all-out defense of the fort’s interior. “I begged the sick and slightly wounded to come out, and make one supreme effort to dislodge the enemy.” -Colonel Lamb As rebel artillery stalls the Federal advance on the open parade ground, the Union fleet begins lobbing shells onto the fort’s land front, to erode Confederate resistance. “Just as the tide seemed to have turned in our favor, the remorseless fleet came to the rescue of the fallen Federals. I believed a determined assault with a bayonet would drive them out. ‘Charge bayonets! Forward! Double quick! March!’.” -Colonel Lamb Colonel Lamb is shot in the hip. The charge fails. Command falls to Major James Riley. At this, a brigade of fourteen hundred Federals pours into the fort around 6:00pm. General Terry orders them to continue to pursue the weakened Confederates. “Climbing over the dead, wounded, and dying, literally piled upon one another, we opened fire at once, with our Spencers, soon silencing the enemy. We then charged, and drove them from one traverse to another, until nine more are in our possession. The stronghold was ours.” -Captain William H. Tricky: 3rd New Hampshire By 9:00pm, the Federal mop-up operation is under way. Riley evacuates the injured Lamb and Whiting to battery Buchanan. “The final Union push compelled me to fall back from one position to another, until we were driven from the fort. And with saddened hearts, marched away from the fort we had defended with all our might.” -Major James Riley The 27th US Colored Troops enter the fort, and aid in the push to battery Buchanan. “As we came into close proximity of the battery, we could dimly discern men on top of it. As soon as they saw us, they disappeared. We continued to advance, and suddenly came into the presence of the enemy.” -Luetinet Alfred Jones: 27th US Colored Troops Major Riley is out of options, and forced to surrender. General Alfred Terry enters the fort, and accepts the surrender of Fort Fisher from the wounded General Whiting. “I surrender, sir, to you the forces under my command. I care not what becomes of myself. Goodbye, boys. They’ve got us, but you have done your duty well.” -General Whiting “Thousands of rockets and colored lights went up from the fleet, which were reflected again and again in the mirror-like water.” -C. McFarland Federal Surgeon “It was a grand pyrotechnic display.” -Colonel Lamb Thus, after two separate engagements, with the cost of nearly four thousand casualties on both sides, Fort Fisher belongs to the Union, and the harbor below Wilmington is closed at last.