Battle of Nashville; Sherman Captures Savannah; Federals Attack Fort Fisher: December 1864

In Georgia, General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea continued with mostly light resistance that did little to slow it down.  On December 10th, Sherman’s army was outside of Savannah.  In front of them was the Confederate garrison of Fort McAllister, a large earthen fort on the Ogeechee River.  On the 13th, one division of the 15th Corps attacked the fort, capturing it in minutes.  With that barrier gone, Sherman could now establish communications with U.S. Navy ships on the river, and receive supplies.  The remaining Confederate troops defending the city crossed the Savannah River into South Carolina on December 20th, and on December 21st, the mayor of the city of Savannah surrendered to Sherman.

The March to the Sea was over.  On December 22nd, Sherman sent a message to President Abraham Lincoln:   “I beg to present to you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah, with one hundred fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, also about 25,000 bales of cotton” he wrote. The message reached the president on Christmas Eve.

North of Savannah, Union forces prepared to attack  Fort Fisher outside of Wilmington, North Carolina in a combined army and navy operation.  Wilmington was the Confederacy’s last remaining port still open to

Major General Benjamin Butler

Major General Benjamin Butler

blockade runners.  Fort Fisher guarded the mouth of the Cape Fear River, a location about 30 miles down river from Wilmington.

A Union fleet arrived at Fort Fisher on December 23rd after a storm tossed voyage from Fort Monroe, Virginia.  The next day navy guns fired  thousands of shells at Fort Fisher, resulting in only minor damage.  Army troops under the command of General Benjamin Butler landed on Christmas Day.  They set up defensive positions, but Butler, after seeing that most of the Fort’s defenses remained intact was convinced the fort was impregnable and  withdrew the troops.  The expedition then returned to Fort Monroe.  This 1st Battle of Fort Fisher was poorly executed, with a lack of communication between Butler and the navy commander, Admiral David Porter.  Grant asked Lincoln to relieve Butler from command, and the president issued the order to do so on January 7th, 1865.

The 1st Battle of Fort Fisher was a victory for the Confederates, something that was becoming increasingly rare.  But it was only a temporary setback, and Union forces would return again in January.

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