The Gibraltar of the South

By Adrian Gerth

It’s early on a January morning. Cold wind sweeps across the beach, racing up the
earthworks and into the fort; a chill runs down your spine. Not from the cold; you’ve been
stationed here all winter, but from the sight of fifty-seven Federal warships floating off
the coast. You know that Fort Fisher is well armed, with forty-seven cannon, including the
impressive 150 pound Armstrong, but this battle will be different than the victory won just
a week ago. Reports come in that small units of Union troops have already landed on the beach,
and a large assault force is massing to the north. You pray that General Hoke will add to your
numbers, though this fight will be to the teeth, not only for you, but for the entire Confederacy.

150 years ago, Fort Fisher was a much different place than it is today. Aside from the
shift in coastline and the influx of condos, the entire southern tip of what is now New Hanover
County was an impressive military stronghold, protecting Wilmington from invasion, and a key port
for blockade runners bringing in vital supplies for Confederate forces. The fall of Charleston and
Richmond made Fort Fisher the last major stronghold, and the only feasible port for supplies to the
Northern Virginia Army. Union troops assaulted the fort in late December of 1864 to a somewhat
humiliating defeat for Major General Benjamin F. Butler and Rear Admiral David D. Porter. The second
assault, two weeks later on January 15th, proved to be the final blow to the fort, and the Confederacy
as a whole.

So what was it like to be one of those 1,900 men inside Fort Fisher? You can experience it
firsthand on January 17th and 18th. With over 400 re-enactors staging two battles, nighttime artillery
firings, evening lantern tours, and period music from the Huckleberry Brothers, you just might take a
step back in time. Infantry units will be showing visitors camp life and garrison duties, while artillery
units will give guests firing demonstrations of the twelve and thirty-two pound cannons onsite. Both
Confederate and Union troops will show their respective Manual of Arms for the audience throughout the day.

The highlight of Saturday’s events will be a special Commemoration Service featuring historian Ed Bearss,
Governor Pat McCrory, NC Secretary of Cultural Resources Susan Kluttz and other state dignitaries, music
and the massing of the re-enactor troops.

Inside the museum, new temporary exhibits will be unveiled especially for the 150th anniversary,
including the descendants of Medal of Honor recipient Bruce Anderson. A member of the 124th New York
infantry, and the only African American to be awarded the Medal of Honor for valor at Fort Fisher, Anderson
will be immortalized in a new exhibit featuring his medal and likeness. Some personal items of the forts
inhabitants, including Colonel William Lamb and his wife Sarah, will be on display as well. A special tour,
“Above the Scenes” will feature the story of the Fort, told by expert historians that runs along the earthwork
traverses. Children and adults alike can learn about various Civil War topics with hands-on activities and
demonstrations provided by the United States Marine Corps Historical Company.

The Friends of Fort Fisher is hosting a two day Descendants Reunion for those who had either Union or
Confederate ancestors in the Fort Fisher or Wilmington campaigns. While the event is by invitation only, any
descendant can go to www.friendsoffortfisher.com to submit their information and obtain an invite. The reunion
will take place the week preceding the memorial where attendees can share stories and meet with authors to
discuss history.

The entire reenactment is free to the public, though tickets will be sold for the “Above the Scenes”
tour. It’s recommended to anyone and everyone who loves historical reenactments, military history, or simply
watching artillery fire. From history buffs to school kids, this event is sure to be fun and educational, so
grab a jacket and some friends and come learn something new about the Cape Fear Coast.

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