Attack on Fort Fisher

fisherToday we consider the attack on the Confederate bastion at Fort Fisher, near Wilmington, North Carolina.  Built to protect the vital port there, and to allow blockade runners in, Fisher  was built  mostly of earth and sand, meant to absorb shells. The sea face held 22 guns, in a series of 12-foot-high batteries, and on the south end was two larger batteries 45 and 60 feet high. Smaller mounds served as a telegraph room and  a hospital bombproof. The land face ( 25 guns ) contained  15 mounds each one 32 feet high with interior rooms used as bombproofs, powder magazines and connected by underground tunnels. A 9-foot-high palisade fence ran along in front of the land face.

The Union army and navy planned several attacks on Fort Fisher and the port of Wilmington, but did not attack until Christmas Eve 1864.  This attack failed, and the Federals returned for a second try on January 12, 1865. For two and a half days, Federal ships bombarded the fort. On January 15, more than 3,300 Union infantry, including the 27th US Colored Troops, hit the land face. After several hours troops captured the fort.

The Confederates evacuated their remaining forts in the Cape Fear area, the Union took Wilmington, and closed the last port available to blockade runners.


source: NC Parks

New Year’s Eve in History

469030-uss-monitor-public-domain-image285_rosecransOn New Year’s Eve 1862, the USS Monitor sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras, NC. The ship was being towed to Beaufort, NC by the USS Rhode Island, when a tow line broke and ship began taking on water. The Monitor sank with the loss of 4 officer and 16 crew. The wreck was discovered in 1974.

Also on New Year’s Eve 1862, and continuing into New Year’s Day 1863, was the Battle of Stones River outside Murfreesboro, TN.  The Federal Army of the Cumberland under General Rosecrans ( left ) engaged Confederates of the Army of Tennessee under Braxton Bragg. The result was a retreat by Bragg that abandoned much of Middle Tennessee  to the Union. After the battle, the Federals constructed  a huge fortification called Fortress Rosecrans that served as a supply depot and base of occupation for the Union for the duration of the war.

Merry Christmas from the 79th New York

nyhs_harpers1_3_1863_001-de1The 79th New York Infantry would like to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a joyous Holiday Season.

The scene at right was published in the January 3, 1863 edition of Harper’s Weekly. The image, by Thomas Nast, shows Santa Claus visiting a Federal camp. In the background is a sign that reads “Welcome Santa Claus.” The illustration shows Santa handing out gifts to children and soldiers, one of whom receives a new pair of socks. Santa is pictured sitting on his sleigh, which is being pulled by reindeer. Santa has a long white beard, a furry hat, collar and coat. Santa is holding a dancing puppet of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in one hand, and Davis appears to have a string tied around his neck, so Santa appears to be lynching Jefferson Davis. This is Nast’s first published picture of Santa Claus.






Happy Thanksgiving from the 79th New York!

Proclamation 118 – Thanksgiving Day, 1864
October 20, 1864

By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions:

Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this 20th day of October, A.D. 1864, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.


By the President:


Secretary of State .



The Road to Fort Sanders

This article is courtesy of Pvt Tom Vaselopulos, Co. A, 79th NY

Anyone familiar with the history of the 79th New York Volunteer Infantry, “The Cameron Highlanders”, are aware of the unit’s heroic defense of Fort Sanders in November, 1863.  But have you ever wondered how the unit got there?

The 79th New York was one of the most traveled units in the Federal Army, having fought in nearly every theater of the Civil War.  The unit fought its first major action in the eastern theater at the battle of Bull Run, near Manassas, VA.  The unit was then transferred to the Department of the South to fight in the amphibious campaigns in South Carolina, where they fought a heroic action at Secessionville, June 1862. 

Returning to the eastern theater the 79th New York was assigned to the IX Corp, Army of the Potomac and fought actions at Second Bull Run, Chantilly and then Antietam in 1862.  The Highlanders saw limited action at Fredericksburg to close out the year.  In March 1863 the unit as part of the IX Corp, was sent by ship and rail to Louisville, KY to join the Army of the Ohio in its anticipated campaign in eastern Tennessee arriving on March 26.  After making camp, and receiving four months back pay members of the unit made many visits to the town’s bars and parlor houses.  After a few days the unit was sent by rail to Lebanon, KY to establish camp.

On June 1st, the 79th had orders to return to Louisville for detached service, as the Highlanders were being transferred to the Army of Tennessee to participate in Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign.  They travelled by rail to Cairo, IL and then by the steamboat “Edward Walsh” down the Mississippi, where they landed at Young’s Point, MS on June 14th.

Upon landing the unit made camp and was awaiting the final assault on Vicksburg when it surrendered on July, 4th.  But there was still action for this fresh unit as Confederate General Joe Johnson was at Jackson, MS and threatening Grant’s rear.  The 79th was assigned to General William T. Sherman, their old Brigade Commander at Bull Run, and they proceeded to march to Jackson, MS, arriving there around July 8.  Sherman was in no hurry to attack Johnson, and he eventually decided to withdraw.  On July 16th the Highlanders entered Jackson to capture 150 “sleeping rebels”.  The 79th then proceeded to tear up railroad tracks before returning to Vicksburg.

On August 6th the Highlandersboarded the steamboat “Planet”, to return back to the Army of the Ohio and arrived back in Cairo, IL on August 12th.  After a two day rail trip the unit arrived in Cincinnati, OH.  From there the unit continued its train trip traveling through the cities of Paris and Lexington, KY before the rail line ended in Nicholasville, KY.  From there the unit marched almost two days to reach Camp Dick Robinson (near Hoskins Crossroads, KY) to rest and refit. Camp Dick Robinson had been established by General “Bull” Nelson in 1862 to recruit, equip and train Union volunteers from Kentucky.

On Sept 10th the Highlanders were on the move once again, marching towards Knoxville, crossing over both the Wildcat and Clinch Mountains, before making their way through the Cumberland Gap.  (This route is now part of US Route 25E.) The Highlanders reached Knoxville on September 26th.

On October 4th, the 79th marched to a tributary of the French Broad River, called Lick Creek fighting a skirmish there with advancing rebels there.  On October 10th, the Highlanders were part of Federal forces under General Edward Ferrero which engaged rebel forces at Blue Springs, TN.  The 79th took part of the attack that broke into the rebel line, causing heavy casualties, and advanced almost to the enemy’s rear before being checked, after dark, the rebels withdrew.

Returning to Knoxville on Oct. 14th, the 79th was camped near Loudon, TN.  The Highlanders were engaged in scouting and foraging expeditions around the Knoxville area. On Nov. 12th, pickets from 79th were driven back by rebel cavalry as part of General Longstreet’s campaign to re-take Knoxville.

General Burnside the commander of the Army of the Ohio, decided to have all units fall back to defensive positions established at Knoxville.  The Highlanders were one of the units selected to cover the withdrawal.  On Nov. 16th, the 79th was deployed across the Kingston Road (now the Kingston Pike) near Campbell Station (now Farragut, TN).  The Highlanders were assigned to support Benjamin’s Battery, stalled the rebel advance allowing Burnsides forces the time needed to make the march to Knoxville in safety.  After the action the 79th was withdrawn into the Knoxville defenses on Nov. 18th

The next day the Highlanders were once again assigned to support Benjamin’s Battery which was given the task of garrisoning Fort Sanders, the former rebel Fort Loudon.  The fort was renamed for General Sanders who was killed during a cavalry engagement during the withdrawal to Knoxville on Nov. 18th.

While assigned to Fort Sanders the Highlanders traded their rifles for shovels and were involved in improving the defensive works.  By this time the once 1,000 strong 79th New York, had been reduced to only 120 men.  From Nov. 19th to Nov. 28th, the Highlanders stood to in the Fort in face of the approaching rebel forces.  Working hard to improve the fort the unit took casualties from snipers awaiting the assault on the fort which took place on Nov. 29th.  The Highlanders withstood the attack earning the unit everlasting fame and one member of the 79th the Medal of Honor.

But that is another story.

Authors Note: Anyone traveling to the Perryville Battlefield in Kentucky, would be a short trip away from areas the 79th New York were stationed at.  Camp Dick Robinson no longer exists but a marker off US 27 marks the spot.  A few miles up the road from there is Camp Nelson, which has one original structure and a visitor center and displays that show camp life at that time.


“Thank God Lincoln had only one 79th Highlander Regiment” By Tony Mandara, Battles and campaigns, Crossfire, the magazine of the ACWRT – American Civil War Round Table

“Yankees in Kilts”, W. Mark McKnight, Civil War Times, December 1996

“The Seventy-ninth Highlanders, New York Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865“, William Todd, 1886.


“Blue Bonnets O’er the Border, The 79th New York Cameron Highlanders”, William Mark McKnight, 1998.


Wikipedia articles on Camp Dick Robinson, Battle of Blue Springs, and the Knoxville Campaign




Today in Civil War History

McClellanG_mainOn November 1, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed General George B. McClellan General In Chief of the Federal Armies. The President, along with many other leaders, grew increasingly impatient with McClellan’s delays in attacking the Confederates  massed near Washington. At a meeting with top Generals ( but not McClellan )  in January 1862, Lincoln remarked “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a time.”

On March  11, 1862, after a series of  embarrassments, and amid growing dissatisfaction with his job performance, Lincoln removed McClellan as General In Chief, leaving him in command of only the Army of the Potomac.

Happy Halloween!

In November 1864, Kate Stone wrote the following in her journal Brokenburn:“Some gentlemen called, and we had cards. After they left, Lucy and I tried our fortunes in divers ways as it was ‘All Hallow’e’en.’ We tried all magic arts and had a merry frolic, but no future lord and master came to turn our wet garments hanging before the fire. There were no ghostly footprints in the meal sprinkled behind the door. No bearded face looked over our shoulders as we ate the apples before the glass. No knightly forms of soldiers brave disturbed our dreams after eating the white of an egg half-filled with salt.”3c15352vHappy Halloween from the 79th New York!






Did You Know?







Two Confederate governors fought at the 1862 Battle of Shiloh.  Tennessee governor Isham G. Harris ( left ) was an aide to Confederate commander Albert Sidney Johnston, while Kentucky’s Confederate governor, George W. Johnson, was killed on the second day  of battle.


( source NPS )

Fact of the Day: USS Monitor

469030-uss-monitor-public-domain-imageToday we consider the USS Monitor, an ironclad warship built to counter the CSS Virginia.  The Monitor (  designed by John Ericson ) displaced 987 tons and had  dimensions of 172 x 41.5 x 10.5 feet Propulsion was provided by Ericsson VL engines, using 2 boilers, producing 320 horsepower. The ship had one shaft and could make 6 knots. She carried a crew of 49. Her armor  was iron, 2-4.5 inch on the sides with  1 inch deck armor.  But what was most revolutionary was her turret ( seen above ). Carrying 8-9 inches of armor, the turret contained two 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore cannons.

Over two days, March 8-9, 1862, the Monitor fought the CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads, VA,. The battle was indecisive, the two ships essentially returned to home ports and the blockade remained in place. The Virginia was burned by the Confederates in May 1862, the Monitor sank in a storm while under tow off Cape Hatteras on December 31, 1862.   ( source US Navy )