Cape Fear Civil War Round Table
Jim McKee, site manager of North Carolina’s Brunswick Town/Ft. Anderson State Historic Site, will present a program entitled “Abraham Lincoln and the Ft. Anderson Garrison Flag” at the Thursday, Jan. 12 meeting of the Cape Fear Civil War Round Table. The Round Table meets at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Wilmington. Doors open at 6:30 pm and the meeting begins at 7 pm.
Jim is a native of Clinton, NC, and grew up with a great interest in history nurtured by his parents. “Family vacations centered around a national park, historic site, museum, or something similar,” Jim said. He earned a Masters degree in U.S., military and public history at Southern New Hampshire University, and after several years at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, he moved to Southport. He has been at Brunswick Town/Ft. Anderson for more than 10 years.
About Fort Anderson
In 1861 the Confederate States of America decided to take advantage of the high bluffs overlooking the Cape Fear river by building a large fort at the site of the former colonial era town of Brunswick. The Cape Fear river was an essential route for supplies brought into the south by blockade runners and then loaded on rail cars at Wilmington to be transported to Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia, to sustain General Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.
The key to defense of the river, however, was the massive “Gibraltar of the South,” Ft. Fisher, located across the river from Ft. Anderson. A large and unusually effective joint Army-Navy operation delivered Ft. Fisher into the hands of the Union on Jan. 15, 1865. At that point, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg ordered all of the Confederate forts below Ft. Fisher to be abandoned and their garrisons to report to Fort Anderson. Within a few days the garrison at Fort Anderson numbered around 1,100 North Carolina soldiers, a motley assortment of teenaged Junior Reserves, Coast Guard, and mostly artillery troops. In addition Brig. Gen. Johnson Hagood's Brigade of 989 South Carolina infantry was transferred to Fort Anderson to reinforce the garrison, along with 152 troopers from the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry. All told there were about 2,300 troops in Fort Anderson by February 1865.
A strong Confederate defensive line anchored on the Sugar Loaf sand dune on the banks of the Cape Fear and ocean water near today’s Carolina Beach, stopped the Union advance up the east bank of the Cape Fear.
Moving to outflank the Sugar Loaf line, on Jan. 24, 1865 the Federal monitor USS Montauk entered the Cape Fear River to begin operations against Fort Anderson. For the next week, a squadron of sixteen vessels was assembled to prepare for an assault on the fort.
Starting on February 14, soldiers from the Second and Third Divisions of the Union XXIII Army Corps, under the command of Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox, began crossing the river from Fort Fisher to Smithville (present day Southport). By February 17, when the advance toward Fort Anderson began, Cox's 6,000 man force consisted of the entire Third Division and one brigade from the Second Division.
As the Union naval squadron bombarded the fort, Cox's men began their fourteen-mile advance. By the evening of the 17th, Cox's men had entrenched about a mile and a half south of Fort Anderson. The next morning, the Union advance on the fort continued, with Cox's men deployed in a three-brigade front with one in reserve. Within an hour, Federal skirmishers had begun to clash with the fort's skirmishers, and soon the engagement became general across the whole front. The Federals were able to advance to within six hundred yards of the defenses before superior Confederate artillery and horrendous terrain foiled further assaults.
It was obvious to Cox and XXIII Corps commander Maj. Gen. John Schofield that a frontal assault of Fort Anderson would be too costly, so they made alternate plans. The Confederates had cleared the ground in front of the fort for three hundred yards, creating a perfect killing ground. Federal commanders decided to split their forces and leave the brigades of Col. Thomas Henderson and Col. Orlando Moore in front of Fort Anderson's land approach, while Cox took the brigades of Col. John Casement and Col. Oscar Sterl on a flanking march around Orton Pond to gain the rear of Fort Anderson.
At 2 pm, Cox set off on his march with the brigades in front of the fort prepared to renew their assaults. Henderson and Moore engaged in heavy skirmishing against the fort's land face, while Cox forced his flanking troops around the head of Orton Pond. By 9 pm, Casement's and Sterl's brigades had rounded the pond and encamped for the night. The Confederates defending Fort Anderson had endured the heavy skirmishing against the land face and more than 2,700 shells, ranging from 30-pounder Parrott rifle shells to huge 15-inch shells, fired from the Union naval squadron. Residents in Wilmington, fourteen miles away, could clearly hear the bombardment.
Later that evening, news reached Hagood that Federal soldiers had flanked the fort and would attack in the morning. Hagood received permission to evacuate Fort Anderson and move his forces to a new line, about eight miles upriver at Town Creek. The Confederates quickly loaded as much as they could carry and hastily abandoned the fort. The evacuation was so quick that the large guns were not spiked and the magazines were not destroyed. In the confusion, the large garrison flag of Ft. Anderson was somehow lost.
By morning, Fort Anderson was in Federal hands, and the fate of Wilmington was sealed. On Feb. 22, victorious Union troops marched into Wilmington, and the last major port of the Confederacy was captured. Casualties at Fort Anderson were light when compared to the numbers engaged. Confederate casualties numbered about twelve while Union army and navy casualties numbered 34.
So, how could the garrison flag of a somewhat obscure southern fort be connected to President Abraham Lincoln in the tumultuous final days of the Civil War? Come to our meeting to find out.
The Jan. 12 meeting of the round table will be held at Elebash Hall at the rear of St. John’s Episcopal church at 1219 Forest Hills Drive. The church parking lot and the entrance to our meeting room is easily accessed via Park Avenue off of Independence Boulevard. For more information about membership in the Cape Fear Civil War Round table, go to http://www.cfcwrt.org and click on “Join/Rejoin.” See you there!