+SUBMITTED BY: Tom Fagart
On Christmas Eve, 24 December 1864, the Confederate fortress of Fort Fisher (aka The Gibraltar of The South), located near Wilmington, North Carolina at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, came under attack by Union Naval and Army forces. Sixty Union ships took part in this assault. This was considered the First Battle of Fort Fisher. This task force was led by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler. On the second day of the assault, Butler started landing Union troops. The weather conditions were worsening, and when he received word that Confederate troops were reinforcing the fort and other defenses around Fort Fisher, he abandoned the operation and declared Fort Fisher to be impregnable. He was relieved of duty within two weeks and Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Terry was appointed as his replacement.
On Friday, 13 January 1865, with a much larger force, the Second Battle of Fort Fisher began. On Sunday, 15 January 1865, after two days of very heavy naval gunfire and large ground assaults by both Union Naval and Army forces, Fort Fisher “The Gibraltar of The South” fell. Wilmington was the last remaining Confederate sea port for its “Blockade Runners” bringing in badly needed supplies from England.
When Fort Fisher fell, the exact number of Confederate forces captured at Fort Fisher was not certain, but what is known is that of all the Confederate forces captured, the vast majority or 1,154 men were sent to the Elmira Prison in Elmira, New York. Other Union prison camps received prisoners from Fort Fisher: 639 were sent to Point Lookout Prison, Maryland, 97 sent to Fort Columbus Prison in New York Harbor, 61 sent to Fort Delaware Prison, Delaware, and 22 sent to Fort Morgan Prison, Virginia. The Union Navy ships used to transport the prisoners were the California, DeMolay, General Lyon, and North Point.
The journey of the Fort Fisher men to Elmira began with boarding them on steamers bound for New York Harbor at the port of Jersey City, New Jersey across the river from New York City. When Fort Fisher fell and the Confederate soldiers were captured, they were without their winter clothing and blankets due to the fact that they did not fight in their heavier winter clothing. Furthermore, their barracks were burnt due to the naval bombardment, so many supplies had been destroyed. The further north the steamers went, the colder the weather became, and the plight of the Fort Fisher men worsened.
All seriously wounded Confederate prisoners were sent to Union Army hospitals at the following locations: Point Lookout, Maryland; Fort Monroe Prison, Virginia; and Fort Delaware, Delaware. The combined Union Army and Navy casualties were: 266 dead, 1,018 wounded, and 57 missing.
After arriving in Jersey City, NJ, the Fort Fisher men were boarded on a Erie Rail Road prison trains for a 273 mile trip to Elmira, New York. There were two arrivals of Fort Fisher men in Elmira. The first arrival was on 30 January 1865 and consisted of 501 men and the second arrival was on 1 February 1865 and consisted of 653 men, for a total of 1,154. *Reference: National Archives, US Records of Prisoners of War, 1861 – 1865, NY, Elmira, Military Prison, Prison Register, 1862 – 1865, v. 218 – 220, images 343 – 355 of 399 shows 501 men and images 357 – 374 of 399 shows 653 men.
NEWSPAPER REPORT: Printed in the Lewiston Daily Evening Journal, Lewiston, Maine, Friday Evening, Jan 27, 1865 – “From New York – Arrival of 850 Rebel Prisoners from Fort Fisher”, “New York, 27th – Steamer De Molay from Fort Fisher with 850 rebel prisoners has arrived. Steam frigate Colorado from Fort Fisher has arrived.”
According to the book entitled Fort Fisher to Elmira, The Fatal Journey of 518 Confederate Soldiers, by Richard H. Triebe, there were 1,121 Confederate soldiers sent to Elmira from Fort Fisher. 761 or 68% of the men were “Tar Heel” – North Carolina soldiers. Three hundred-fifty-seven men were from South Carolina, and 4 were Confederate Marines. Out of the 1,121 Confederate soldiers sent to Elmira, 518 or 46% would die within five months. The major causes of death at Elmira were pneumonia, diarrhea, and small pox.
When the first shipment of Fort Fisher men arrived in Elmira on Monday, 30 January 1865, the weather was bitterly cold and the snow was deep. Pvt. Thaddeus C. Davis, a soldier from Morehead City, Carteret County, North Carolina, who served in Co G of the 40th Regiment, 3rd NC Artillery, recalled the following after the war: “We arrived (at Elmira) about eight o’clock in the evening, in four feet of snow, and many prisoners had neither blankets nor coats. We were kept standing in ranks in the street for half an hour before starting for the prison.” Note: Pvt. Thaddeus C. Davis and Pvt. Thomas O. Hildreth of Ansonville, Anson County, NC were both in the same company and arrived in Elmira in the first shipment of prisoners.
Union Army inspecting officer Lt. James R. Reid wrote in February 1865, “The Fort Fisher prisoners arrived in cold weather very depressed, poorly clad, and great numbers were soon taken sick with pneumonia and diarrhea, rapidly assuming a typhoid character.”
In February 1865, there was an exchange of prisoners, and the most sick in the Elmira Prison were sent to the James River in Virginia for exchange. Of the 1,121 Fort Fisher men sent to Elmira, 518 died within five months, and 372 of those men were Tar Heels. Of the 372 Tar Heels who died, 319 died in the Elmira Prison and be buried in the Confederate Section of the Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira. Fifty-three of the sick Tar Heel soldiers who were paroled either died in transit or died soon thereafter in various Confederate hospitals in Richmond, Virginia, or Raleigh, Greensboro, Weldon, or Charlotte, North Carolina.
South Carolina had 482 men captured at Fort Fisher. Over three hundred of those men were sent to Elmira, and 134 of those died there and are buried in the Woodlawn National Cemetery. A number of sick South Carolina Fort Fisher men were paroled and exchanged and also died either during transit to the James River or very soon thereafter in Confederate hospitals.
Note: Reference book Fort Fisher to Elmira – I counted the names in the “Roster of Fort Fisher Prisoners Sent to Elmira”: There were 319 North Carolina Fort Fisher men and 134 South Carolina Fort Fisher men who died in Elmira Prison and are buried in the Woodlawn National Cemetery for a total of 453 Fort Fisher men.
There were 2,970 Confederate graves in the Woodlawn National Cemetery of men who died in the Elmira Prison. 1,228 are graves of Tar Heel soldiers. Three hundred-nineteen Tar Heel Fort Fisher soldiers were buried in Woodlawn, which was 25.9% of all Tar Heel deaths in Elmira and 10.7% of all deaths in the Elmira Prison. 134 South Carolina Fort Fisher men were buried in Woodlawn, which was 28% of the 482 South Carolina deaths in Elmira and 4.5% of all deaths in the Elmira Prison. A total of 457 Fort Fisher men, including 3 Confederate Marines, died in Elmira and represents 15.4% of all Elmira deaths.
Three Confederate Marines were captured at Fort Fisher and sent to Elmira. They were Pvt. William Brown, died of diarrhea, buried in grave #2562; Pvt. James Drew, died of pneumonia, buried in grave #2121; and Pvt. Frank A. Dean, concussion of brain, died July 18, 1865, location of grave not known. He died in the Elmira Union Army Hospital and should have been buried at the Woodlawn National Cemetery. In depth research needs to be done to determine where those marines were from.
INTERESTING FACTS AND NOTES ON FORT FISHER MEN
The average age of the Fort Fisher man was nineteen years old.
The youngest Fort Fisher man to be sent to Elmira was 17-year-old Pvt. William H. Faulk of Co E, 36th Regiment, 2nd N.C. Artillery. He was 15 years old when he enlisted at Columbus County, North Carolina, on Feb. 9, 1863. He was exchanged on the James River in Virginia on March 2, 1865. Pvt. Faulk was most likely buried in the Tabor City / Whiteville, Columbus County, North Carolina area.
The oldest Fort Fisher man was fifty-six-year-old Pvt. Samuel Hales of Co D, 36th Regiment, 2nd NC Artillery. He was born in 1808 and was fifty-four when he enlisted at Blockerville in Cumberland County on Feb. 26, 1862. He was transferred to Point Lookout and exchanged on the James River on March 2, 1865. Prison records spell his last name Hale.
The deadliest month for Fort Fisher men was March 1865 when over 200 of them died at the Elmira Prison.
There are 4 Jewish Tar Heel Artillerymen from Fort Fisher and 9 other Jewish Tar Heels who died in the Elmira Prison and are buried in the Woodlawn National Cemetery, along with 12 other Jewish Confederate soldiers.