Mix a bit of education with pleasure at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site and Recreation Area. Tempt the kids with tales of sandy beaches and swimming, they won’t even realize they are learning while enjoying a day at this Wilmington area attraction. Relax in the sand as seagulls dip and dive overhead. Six miles of beach area provides plenty of elbow room for visitors to tour the seashore without tripping over coeds with blaring music or stepping on a beach blanket every few feet. Fort Fisher was named in honor of Colonel Charles F. Fisher. A member of the Sixth North Carolina Infantry, Colonel Fisher served valiantly before taking a fatal bullet during the Battle of Bull Run.
During the Civil War, Fort Fisher served as a port for the Confederate army. Blockade runners utilized the port to supply the army with much needed arms, ammunition and food. Near the end of the war between the states, Fort Fisher provided the sole access point for General Lee’s soldiers. When the fort was overrun by the Union army in January of 1865, it was a staunch blow to the Confederacy.
When visiting this North Carolina historic site you can tour the remains of the fort, and run your fingers across the mounds which once offered protection for southern soldiers. The Shepherd’s Battery exhibit offers a reconstructed version of a 32 pound seacoast gun, which was once used to keep opposing forces at bay. Guided tours of Fort Fisher include a trail leading to a recovered blockage runner. The visitor’s center includes a mini-museum boasting Civil War artifacts and exhibits.
Cape Fear River
The fort, located along the Cape Fear River was the location of two major battles. Multiple Union soldiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their heroic acts during the fighting to claim to fort. While part of the fort has been eroded by ocean water, several earthen mounds still exist. Providing cover during battles, the earthwork mounds are considered sacred grounds.
Under the direction of Colonel William Lamb in 1862, the fort grew to cover a full mole of sea defense and a third of a mile of protected land. The earthen mounds were 32 feet tall, with hollowed out areas serving as bomb shelters and powder magazines for the Confederate soldiers. The mounds were once connected by tunnels, creating a nine foot tall natural fence along the waterfront.
Mounds did not serve just as shelters for the soldiers. A make-shift telegraph office situated inside one of the mounds provided communication between Colonel Lamb’s troops and the surrounding Confederate army. A mound hospital, as primitive as it was, allowed wounded soldiers to receive treatments from battalion medics.
Building of the mounds and tunnels were the work of both soldiers and an estimated 500 African Americans. Both “free blacks” and slaves labored under the hot sun building the protective structures. The fort armory also grew under the command of Colonel Lamb. Before the fall of the fort, approximately 50 artillery guns dotted the landscape of both the sea face and land towers.
Fort Fisher played a valuable role in keeping the waterway open to allow safe passage for the Confederate navy. The Confederacy bartered with steamers ships traveling through the port from Nova Scotia, the Bahamas and Bermuda. Southern staples such as tobacco and cotton were traded for much clothing, food and ammunition.
A two and a half day battle with the Union army and navy sealed the fate Fort Fisher. On January 15, 1865 an estimated 3,300 Union troops toppled over the mound walls and a bloody hand-to-hand fight ensued. After the fort fell into Union hands, the Confederate forces evacuated their forts near Cape Fear. In the following weeks, the Confederate supply line dried-up, and Union troops overran the town of Wilmington.
Today Fort Fishers serves as both a Civil War historic site and a seaside beach retreat. Almost ten percent of the fort remains. The historic site is also home to the headquarters of the North Carolina Underwater Archeology facility. A nominal fee is charged to enter the aquarium located on the northern end of the facility. Decades after the final shots rang out at the “Last Major Stronghold of the Confederacy” Fort Fisher now plays a vital role in preserving Civil War history.
Join in an interactive nature seminar led by park rangers and learn about Loggerhead sea turtles, shorebirds and marsh habitats. All of the park programs are free, and often allow participants to touch native animals. Park programs often include tree identification hikes, night astronomy hikes and the popular, “Turtle Talk” sea turtles experience. Plan on spending an hour inside the visitor center to fully explore all exhibits. A 16 foot long fiber optic map demonstrates the details of the battle which overtook the fort. A 20 minute film, interpretive displays and gift shop round out the offerings at this free North Carolina coastal attraction.