SUBMITTED BY: Joel Ringgold Stegall
My fourth great-grandfather, John Sampson “Samp” Page, was single, 24 years old, and living with his parents, John and Mary Autry Page of Sampson County, when the war broke out. He enlisted and was assigned on Nov. 4, 1861 to North Carolina Cmpany A, 2nd Light Artillery Battery, which operated primarily at Fort Fisher and Fort Caswell on the Atlantic coast.
Fort Caswell and Fort Fisher, strategically located on either side of the mouth of the Cape Fear River leading to the Port of Wilmington, were charged with protecting ships running the Union blockade of Confederate ports Lincoln had imposed in April 1861. Without the manufacturing capacity to sustain the war, the South had to depend on shipments of goods and war matériel from Europe, primarily England. For those products to get to their destinations, the ships carrying them had to get past Union gunboats anchored off every Southern port. This description of Fort Fisher gives a good explanation of the importance of protecting those ships:
At the dawn of the American Civil War, the Confederacy took control of a neck of land in southern North Carolina near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. There the government constructed what was to become the largest and one of the most important earthwork fortifications in the South. Fort Fisher guarded the entrance to the Cape Fear and the port of Wilmington, which proved vital to the Confederacy. The seacoast guns at Fisher kept Federal blockading ships at a distance and allowed blockade runners safe passage to Wilmington, where they supplied the Confederate Army and brought much needed goods into the South. The story of Fort Fisher is an integral part of the North Carolina Civil War Experience.
Battles of Fort Fisher
Late in 1864, Union strategy was to take Fort Fisher, choke off the South’s last access to foreign goods and bring the war to an end.
When United States navy, marine and land forces attempted a beach landing at Fort Fisher 24-27 Dec 1864, Samp Page’s unit, under the command of Col. William Lamb, was charged with defense of the fort. The battle, a fiasco for the Union, was the only time in history the US Marines have failed in a beach landing. The North re-grouped and attacked again three weeks later. Lasting for three days, 13-15 Jan 1865, the Second Battle of Fort Fisher was the world’s largest land-sea battle until WWII. This time, Confederates could not withstand the onslaught of overwhelming forces. With the collapse of Fort Fisher, the fall of the Confederacy was inevitable.
Five hundred of Col. Lamb’s men were killed or wounded. Samp Page was among another 1500 who were captured and sent to a Union prison camp at Point Lookout, MD. Samp had lived through two-and-a-half years of armed combat; now he and his fellow POWs had to fight to survive in one of the ghastly enclaves of brutality military prisons on both sides had become.
Although Gen. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House on 09 Apr 1865, only three months after Fort Fisher fell, another two months went by before Samp was released 17 Jun 1865. He was allowed to return home when he signed an oath of allegiance to the United States of America.
A year after he returned to the Page farm in Pitt County, John Sampson Page married Margaret Ann Fisher. He fathered 13 children, the oldest of whom was my grandmother, Jemima Page Ringgold. Living her last years in our home when I was a child, Grandmother Jemima taught me the alphabet, how to tell time, and how to count. She also wrote the story of her father-in-law’s (Benjamin Franklin Ringgold’s) service in the Confederate Army.