Building a Confederate Fort

By 1864, only the Confederate capital of Richmond was more important to the fledgling nation than the port of Wilmington, N.C. The Cape Fear River was vital to blockade running ships, bringing vital supplies into the interior of the Confederacy, trade, and access to railroad lines to the various fronts throughout the South.1

The Cape Fear Estuary.

There were two paths to gain access to the Cape Fear and Wilmington: Old Inlet, to the south and west of Bald Head Island, and New Inlet, formed during a major hurricane in 1769, to the north of Bald Head Island. Forts Caswell, Campbell, and Battery Shaw on Oak Island, along with Fort Holmes on Bald Head Island guarded the Old Inlet entrance to Cape Fear. Fort Fisher was built on Federal Point to guard the New Inlet, and it was considered impregnable by both the Union and the Confederacy. Interior river fortifications leading up to Wilmington included Fort Johnston (renamed Fort Pender in 1864), a number of earthen batteries, and Fort Anderson.2

In 1862, it was decided that another fort would be built on the location of the old colonial Brunswick Town to aid in the defense of the precious port, Wilmington. “Brunswick struck [Brig. Gen. Samuel Gibbs] French as an ideal site to build a fortification. Although the Cape Fear River was more than a mile wide at that point, low bluffs overlooked the river’s narrow channel, which ran within a few yards of the west bank. A battery on high ground, French believed, would command both the river traffic and the western land approaches to Wilmington.” 3 Maj. Thomas Rowland was charged with construction of the fort, which he called Fort St. Philips, after the ruins of St. Philips Church, which sat within the fortification’s walls. 4 Rowland took up residence at nearby Orton Plantation, while he supervised the construction of Fort St. Philips.5

The fortifications consisted of two earthenwork batteries. Battery A ran parallel to the Cape Fear. Wooden barracks were built in a safe area behind the battery. Battery B ran perpendicular to the Cape Fear, extending from the river to the walls of St. Philips Church. “High buffer mounds were erected behind this battery which was equipped with 32 pound guns. A breech loading weapon with a long-range firing capacity was also used. This was the Whitworth gun, several of which were brought from other forts in the area. Other guns in the fort were three rifled 32 pounders, six smoothbore 32 pounders, and three smoothbore 24 pounders.” 6 The fortifications extended westward beyond smaller ponds, until they reached the larger Orton Pond. The fort was subsequently improved and enlarged while under the commands of Maj. William Lamb and Maj. John J. Hedrick. On July 1, 1863, the name was changed to Fort Anderson to honor Brig. Gen. George Burgwyn Anderson, who had been mortally wounded at Antietam.

An anonymous artilleryman of Company E, 36th North Carolina Regiment gave the following report for The Wilmington Journal on May28, 1863:

We have at length, by the sweat of our brows, and the power of our bone and muscle, completed one of the most formidable batteries in the Southern Confederacy. Guided and sustained by the energy and perseverance of Major [John J.] Hedrick, commanding (who is a good commander and a gentleman to boot), we have put up a work which will compare favourably with any work of its kind in the county, and now only want certain additions to our armament to feel confident of being able to defy all Yankeedom to reach Wilmington by this route. We have, up to this time, done our full duty in building fortifications for the defense of Wilmington, as well as for the protection of our homes and firesides, out wives and children, and of most of all near and dear to us. If the enemy should ever approach us here, we intend to give him a warm reception. With the help of God, we intend to stand by our guns until the last man falls, or gain the victory. 7

Notes

1. Fonvielle, Fort Anderson, 2.

2. Fonvielle, Fort Anderson, 4.

3. Fonvielle, Fort Anderson, 8.

4. Pedlow, The Story of Brunswick Town, 55.

5. Fonvielle, Fort Anderson, 8-9.

6. South, Colonial Brunswick, 8-9.

7. The Wilmington Journal, May 28, 1776, in Fonvielle, Fort Anderson, 19.

Further Reading:

Fonvielle, Jr., Chris E. Fort Anderson: Battle for Wilmington. Mason City, IA: Savas Publishing Co., 1999.

Fonvielle, Jr., Chris E. The Wilmington Campaign: Last Rays of Departing Hope. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997.

Moore, Mark A. Moore’s Historical guide to The Wilmington Campaign and the Battles for Fort Fisher. Mason City, IA: Savas Publishing Co., 1999.


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