- Historic Sites
“rocked In The Cradle Of Consternation”
A black chaplain in the Union Army reports on the struggle to take Fort Fisher, North Carolina, in the winter of 1864–65
October/november 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 6
Monday, December 26th This morning exhibited several of our troops still on shore, having several prisoners captured last night. The atmosphere has been very foggy all day—the attack has not been renewed on the Fort—so we spend the day in drifting about and look at each other. About 10 o’clock this morning Gen. Butler put to sea and disappeared in the distance; we all wondered where he was going but no one knew. The troops expressed great fear that he intended giving up the siege; as they were all eager to land and charge the fort, believing they could take it. They say they do not want to return without doing something.
Tuesday, December 27th This morning we were still lying near the rebel Fort Fisher. Several gun-boats had left during the night, leaving us, naturally, to infer that the expedition contemplated no further aggression. Shortly afterwards our troops on shore began to re-embark, and all necessary preparation is being made to leave. Several soldiers and a few officers expressed considerable regret as they do not wish to return without landing the infantry and charging the fort; others seem delighted at the prospect of returning; while others say they are here to obey orders and do not care what they do, that they only have their time to put in, anyhow.
Shortly after 12 o’clock, we all put to sea, leaving for Fortress Monroe.…
Wednesday, December 28th After traveling all night, we found ourselves this morning off Cape Hatteras light-house. The weather was ordinarily warm, the wind was blowing severely, causing the ship to rock a little more than usual; but shortly after sunrise however, it cleared off most beautifully, and the blue ocean presented all of those ravishing charms which is so natural to an admirer of physical grandeur. In the afternoon, the weather changed and a dense black cloud lowered over us, having the appearance of a harbinger of awful consequences; but it resulted only in darkening the sky, and passed away. Finally, Cape Henry light-house appeared in view, at which sight several rejoiced. Passing on, we soon anchored again in the harbor at Fortress Monroe. Here, the boys spent the entire night in singing, laughing, cheering, &c.
Thursday, December 29th Having anchored all night off Fortress Monroe, we received orders this morning, at daybreak, to proceed up James River to our old quarters, which we did more than willingly, the weather being much colder than any we had felt since we left this place. So up James River we came, passing several points made memorable in bygone days … and stopped at Jones’ Landing, where we disembarked, and several bid the ship adieu with a hope never to see it again. So, after some difficulty with my horse in getting him ashore, I took passage on his back, and here I am.
Turner and his fellow soldiers did not rest long. Furious at the failure to close the port of Wilmington, General Grant replaced Butler with Major General Alfred H. Terry. Terry and Porter again took to sea on January 4th. On the 13th, 8,000 men landed north of Fort Fisher where they quickly dug in against an expected land attack from the north. Half the force guarded the rear while the others attacked the fort on January 15th, after three days of naval bombardment. The Confederate land attack that could have saved Fort Fisher never came, so it fell after a day of hand-to-hand fighting and many casualties on both sides. Although Chaplain Turner’s regiment braced for the expected counter-attack, Turner himself went with the white troops who stormed the fort. Written just three days afterwards, here is his account of the battle and its aftermath:
The details of the capture of Fort Fisher I presume you have read long before this will reach you, for our mail facilities are so poor here that my letter has been unnecessarily detained. On Sabbath afternoon, of the 15th inst, about 3 o’clock, we had so fortified ourselves in this place that the General concluded he could venture to attack Fort Fisher. Consequently two brigades of the white troops were marched down from before our works, which were thrown up to protect our rear in case the rebels should come down the river side and attempt to capture or bother us while we made a land attack upon the fort. I might here say that our naval fleet had been bombarding the fort nearly three days before the infantry had got in such a position to carry the fort with safety. Notwithstanding my regiment was not engaged on the fort, yet it fell to my lot to accompany the attacking party, as I had been chosen by Surgeon Barnes (medical director) to act as his aide for the occasion, which was no easy job, considering the land was sandy and no horses were to be had. Shortly after our forces were drawn up in front of the fort I was ordered to the rear with a dispatch, which prevent me from seeing the strategical maneuvering of our commanders in preparing for the desperate contest. By the time I had returned, however, they had approached near enough to commence the attack, and with an awful yell and dauntless courage, they could be seen running over an open space in all apparent fearlessness, intent upon capturing the strong works which then lay in full view to every soldier. But the rebels replied to the charge and yelk of our boys with the most awful volleys of musketry, grape, and canister.…