On this day in 1864, a Union fleet under Admiral David Dixon Porter begins a bombardment of Fort Fisher, North Carolina. Although an impressive display of firepower, the attack failed to destroy the fort; a ground attack the next day did not succeed either.
Fort Fisher guarded the mouth of the Cape Fear River, the approach to Wilmington, North Carolina. Throughout the war, Wilmington was one of the most important ports as the Confederates tried to break the Union blockade of its coasts. By late 1864, Wilmington was one of the last ports open in the South. Even though Wilmington was an important city, Union leaders initially directed more attention to other targets, such as the capture of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Not until late 1864 did the Union turn attention to the massive wood-and-sand Fort Fisher, which was constructed in 1862 to withstand attacks by the most powerful Federal cannon.
Sixty ships attacked the fort on Christmas Eve. Inside the stronghold, some 500 Confederates hunkered down and withstood the siege. Although buildings in the fort caught fire, there were few casualties. The next day, a small Yankee force attacked on the ground, but reinforcing Confederates from Wilmington drove them away. The Union fleet sailed back to Hampton Roads, Virginia, with nothing to show for their efforts. The Union tried again to take Fort Fisher in January 1865. After two days, a Union force overwhelmed the fort and the last major Confederate port was closed.