Shortly after sunrise on January 16, 1865, Fort Fisher's main magazine exploded — a tremendous blast that killed at least 200 men of both sides.
The tragedy sparked a heated debate, as the Union victors were eager to blame the Confederates for dastardly behavior. But the previous night's giddy celebration among the Federals had spawned many a drunken reveler; and the accident occurred despite the posting of guards at the fort's magazines.
An official Court of Inquiry determined the following:
After mature deliberation upon the foregoing evidence the court finds that the following are the main facts, viz:
The opinion of the court, therefore, is that the explosion was the result of carelessness on the part of persons to them unknown. The court then adjourned sine die.
JOSEPH C. ABBOTT,
Brevet Brigadier-General, U.S. Volunteers, President of Court.
GEORGE F. TOWLE,
Captain Fourth New Hampshire Volunteers,
Acting Assistant Inspector-General and Recorder.
Source: United States War Department. The War of the Rebellion, A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901. (Series I, Vol. 46, Reports, pp. 430-431).