Monday, December 22, 2014

Porter Unleashes Hell on Ft. Fisher, Xmas Eve 1864

Porter Unleashes Hell on Ft. Fisher, Xmas Eve 1864

The largest U.S. naval force yet assembled unleashed hell on Ft. Fisher on Christmas Eve, 1864.  Admiral David Dixon Porter's fleet of over 60 warships, including five ironclads, mounted 624 guns - and Porter intended to use every one of them to bury the Rebel fort under a torrent of iron.

Porter's ships fired over 8,100 rounds - with a combined weight of more than half a million tons - into the sandy bastions guarding the approaches to Wilmington, N.C.   Colonel William Lamb had only 44 guns inside the fort, and Porter hoped to so batter the defenses that General Benjamin Butler's troops could just walk into Fort Fisher unopposed.

Porter's massive bombardment was the greatest the Western Hemisphere had ever seen, yet it had minimal effect on the brilliantly designed fort.  Three guns were dismounted, and four defenders were killed and another 19 wounded.  Porter's fleet sustained heavier losses, with three ships forced to retire due to accurate fire from the fort.  Most of the 91 sailors killed or wounded in the action were victims of their own guns, a number of which exploded.

The Navy landed a portion of Butler's troops, but the assault never went in.   Reports from the advanced guard that the defenses were nearly intact convinced Butler, still offshore, to call off the attack. Much to Porter's fury, Butler re-embarked most of his men, except for about 700 who were forced to spend Christmas Day huddled on the beach, without food or water, due to a sudden storm.  Despite pleas to General Braxton Bragg for permission to attack and capture the remnants of the landing force, Bragg refused to give the order.  The last of Butler's men were pulled off by the Navy on the 26th, and the fleet retired to Beaufort.   

Less than a month later, Porter would return - and with troops commanded by the much more aggressive and competent General Terry.  Porter's fleet bested its own record, firing over 180 rounds a minute in a sustained and much more accurate bombardment that began on January 13 and continued through the day and night of the 14th and into the early hours of the 15th.  Porter's guns fired close support right up until Terry launched his assault - with ironclads and gunboats coming close in shore to rake the defenders when they came out of their bombproofs to battle Terry's infantry and a column of 2,000 sailors and marines that Porter had landed to support the assault.   Although the naval landing force was handily repulsed and with heavy losses, the infantry carried the fort - with help from the Navy's guns.

In GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, the Union player can build powerful fleets of screw sloops, ironclads and gunboats and recruit key admirals, Porter among them, to wear down the Confederate player's coastal defenses, which, through card play and careful planning, can be every bit as resilient as those constructed by Col. Lamb at Ft. Fisher.

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