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This Day in NC History: Fort Fisher falls to Union troops


On January 15, 1865, Fort Fisher, nicknamed “Gilbraltar of the South” fell to Union troops. Built on a peninsula named Federal Point at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, 18 miles south of Wilmington, Fort Fisher was the largest earthen fortification in the Confederacy. It served as guard for the port of Wilmington, and, as such, it was the most powerful seacoast fort in the South. Fort Fisher was the last remaining lifeline in the closing months of the Civil War. Blockade runners took advantage of the Cape Fear River to route supplies to troops inland.

On December 23 and 24, 1864, the Union Navy bombarded the fort. At the same time, the fort’s forces were reinforced with about 600 more men from Wilmington, increasing the number to around 2,000. The Union Navy attacked again on January 13, 1865. After two days, Union forces led by Gen. Alfred Terry overwhelmed the Confederate defenders led by Maj. Gen. W.H.C. Whiting and Col. William Lamb, and captured Fort Fisher.

The fall of Fort Fisher robbed Robert E. Lee’s army of their last connection to the outside and served as the beginning of the Wilmington Campaign, which also resulted in the fall of Fort Anderson and the occupation of Wilmington.

The action was extensively featured in the recent film Lincoln. Fort Fisher State Historic Site will commemorate the 148th anniversary of the battle this Saturday with a living history program.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online at

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