Next weekend, the Fort Fisher State Historic Site will present "The Lights of the Great Armada: the 147th Anniversary of the Battle of Fort Fisher," featuring artillery and small arms demonstrations, and special presentations including lectures by Dr. Robert Browning Jr., chief historian for the U.S. Coast Guard, and representatives of the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Company.
The battle was significant because Fort Fisher protected the port of Wilmington and allowed blockade running on the Cape Fear River. Its fall in 1865 cut the "Lifeline of the Confederacy" and led to the occupation of Wilmington by Union troops.
As the 100th anniversary of the battle neared, a project began to restore the fort. "The big sand installation, the largest earthen defense works in the South, was the key to the port of Wilmington and with it went the last hope of supplying the dying Confederacy." A.L. Honeycutt, historic site specialist for the Department of Archives and History, relayed some of its history.
The movement to make the fort a State Park or National Park originated with the local citizens of New Hanover County in the early thirties. The movement after little success died completely with World War II, as the fort once again became an active military post. Many of the old earthen batteries served as machine gun nests, and today some of the remains of the nests can be seen with fragments of their protective sandbags. It was during this period that a section of the land defense had to be leveled by bulldozers in order to construct a landing strip for airplanes.
After the war the sit was deserted by the United States Army. Soon a jungle of live oaks and yaupons grew to cover the area, thus completely hiding the outline of the remaining mounds of the old fort. The visitor was left with little to stimulate the imagination in re-enacting the massive earthen works and the heroic battles which occurred at Fort Fisher.
Construction of earthen works on Confederate Point began in April of 1861. During the first year a series of batteries was built and 17 guns were mounted. The place was named Fort Fisher in honor of Colonel Charles F. Fisher of Salisbury, who was killed at the battle of First Manassas while commanding North Carolina's Sixth Regiment.
Two largest land-sea battles in history until that time took place at Fort Fisher on December 24-25 1864, and January 13-15, 1865. During the first battle fifty Federal warships and three monitors mounting 500 guns were engaged against it. The Federals sent a land force to assault the fort, but the Union commander decided the works were too strong to carry. The Federals withdrew to Beaufort.
On January 13, 1865, the federals returned with a fleet of 58 warships and an array of 10,000 men. After continuous bombardment day and night from the 13th to the 15th the Federals assaulted the fort and a fierce hand-to-hand battle ensued. The Confederates surrendered the for at 10:00 p.m. Sunday, January 15, 1865.
With the fall of Fort Fisher the Confederates abandoned the Lower Cape Fear River fortifications ... and a month later Wilmington, the last southern port open to blockade running, fell. General Lee had sent ... word that he could not subsist the Army of Northern Virginia unless Fisher and the port of Wilmington were held. Three months later Lee abandoned Richmond and the end came for the Confederacy.
Fort Fisher is well documented with maps, detailed scale drawings, and photographs made by the federal forces a few days after the fort was captured in 1865. These make vivid exhibit items as well as being the best possible guides for restoration. -- The News & Observer 1/14/1961
The restoration of Fort Fisher included a $100,000 visitor center-museum, which was dedicated by Governor Dan K. Moore in August 1965.
Col. Fisher's sword was presented at [the] dedication program by Mrs. R. R. Stone and Cornelius M. Dickinson-Thomas.
Also presented were the gun of Confederate Sgt. John W. West, who used it in the second fight at the fort, and a small table, used as a desk by Maj. Gen. W. H. C. Whiting during the two battles. -- The News & Observer 8/12/1965.