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Wilmington Campaign

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Title: Wilmington Campaign  
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Subject: Wilmington Campaign, Rainbow Bluff Expedition, North Carolina in the American Civil War, Battle of Altamaha Bridge, Southern Claims Commission
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Wilmington Campaign

Wilmington Campaign
Part of the American Civil War

Fort Fisher and Wilmington on the Cape Fear River were the two obstacles to the Union advance into North Carolina.
Date December 7, 1864 – February 22, 1865
Location Eastern North Carolina
Result Union victory
United States (Union) CSA (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
Alfred Terry
David D. Porter
Benjamin Butler
John Schofield
Braxton Bragg
William Lamb
William H.C. Whiting 
Alfred H. Colquitt
100,000 95,000
Casualties and losses
1, 971 1,748

The Wilmington Campaign was part of a Union effort to take Wilmington, North Carolina from the Confederates. Wilmington was the last major port on the Atlantic seacoast available to the Confederacy. Fort Fisher guarded the Cape Fear River and in order to capture Wilmington, Fort Fisher had to fall.

First Campaign

On December 7, 1864, Union troops under command of General Benjamin Butler were sent to take the fort. Before the troops arrived, Admiral David D. Porter sent the USS Wyalusing and two escort ships on an expedition to try to capture Rainbow Bluff and a Confederate Ram. But Porter didn't know was that there were Water mines in the river and both of the escorts were sunk by the mines and the expedition abandoned.

General William Lamb was charged with defending Fort Fisher. The Union troops numbered about 6,500 men, and the Confederates had about 7,000. Due to a number of delays caused by storms, the attack didn't begin until December 23, and in the interim, General Braxton Bragg was allowed to reinforce the Fort Fisher Garrison.

The navy began bombarding the fort and the Union troops started landing on Christmas morning, with Brig. Gen. Adelbert Ames' division the first ashore, and soon capturing a Confederate battery and two reserve battalions. After setting up a defensive line, Ames ordered N. Martin Curtis' brigade to reconnoiter the fort to see if it could be attacked. Curtis found the land wall lightly defended and was prepared to attack, but was prevented from doing so by Ames. By then, believing the fort to be too strong to assault, and with another storm forming in the area, Butler decided to halt the landings. He called off the Campaign on December 27, ignoring General Grant's orders to besiege the fort if an attack failed. The Union troops retreated back to their ships and returned to Hampton Roads and Fort Monroe.

Second Campaign

When the December expedition against Fort Fisher failed, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler was relieved of command and Maj. Gen. Alfred Terry was placed in command to make another attempt to take Fort Fisher several weeks later. General Terry selected Porter to land the troops. Union Marines landed, and fought their way up the beach. Soldiers engaged at Point-blank range, and the beach was taken and the right side of the fort fell into Union hands. Then, after horrendous Melee combat on the left side, the Confederates retreated to Fort Buchanan. That Fort surrendered too and the way up the Cape Fear River was clear.

Then, General John Schofield was given the responsibility of making the attempt to take Wilmington. General Bragg prepared 6,000 men in the city. General Schofield had 12,000 men. The Union and the Confederates battled from February 11 until February 22. Bragg was forced to surrender Wilmington to the Union troops.


  • Fonvielle, Chris E., Jr. Last Rays of Departing Hope: The Wilmington Campaign. Campbell, CA: Savas Publishing Company, 1997. ISBN 1-882810-09-0.
  • Gragg, Rod. Confederate Goliath: The Battle of Fort Fisher. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. ISBN 0-06-16096-9.
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