Bragg's reputation for incompetence as a field commander preceded him to Wilmington. Despite repeated and confrontational pleas from Chase Whiting, Bragg refused to engage the Union northern line with Hoke's Division during the defense of Fort Fisher. Bragg confided to his brother, Thomas, that he was "greatly disturbed by the tone and phraseology of General Whiting's dispatches, and by reports from others received by him in town . . . . My mind was easy. General Colquitt and his reinforcements were hurried forward." But there would be no help for the beleaguered garrison of Fort Fisher.
Both Hoke and Bragg, after a reconnassance on the morning of January 14, were jolted by the apparent strength of the rapidly-constructed Union line across the peninsula. Bragg ordered Hoke to dislodge the enemy, "if at all practicable." But Hoke quickly decided that his forces were outnumbered, and that the Union position was too strong to break under the circumstances. Bragg accepted Hoke's assessment. The damage had been done. The Federals had been allowed to come ashore virtually unopposed, and had boldly established a strong defensive line between Hoke's position and Fort Fisher.
William Lamb was seriously wounded in defending Fort Fisher — and crutches were a part of his daily life for a period of seven years following the battle. He went to his grave cursing Braxton Bragg for the loss of Fort Fisher. In truth, however, the deck was stacked against the Confederate stronghold from the outset. Fort Fisher was doomed — by circumstances that far outweighed the role Bragg played in the fort's demise. Nevertheless, most of Lamb's garrison fought with a fierce determination to oust the Union invaders from their bastion. In his post-war writings on the battle, Lamb passionately sought to secure his garrison's place in history: "North Carolina need cross no ocean to search among Roman or Grecian story for examples of self sacrifice in defense of home and country, for here among our own sons, upon her own soil, the valor of Pharsalia and of Thermoplylae were reproduced, and no correct history of this grand old State can be written unless the defense of Fort Fisher by North Carolinians in January, 1865, be placed among the most heroic deeds in the drama of our civil war." In later life, William Lamb toured the ruins of old Fort Fisher with an aging N. Martin Curtis — "my friend the enemy." The two old-timers pointed to various landmarks, and shared stories of their exploits in the battle. Lamb died in March 1909, at the age of 73. His vision for preserving Fort Fisher for posterity would not be realized for another 50 years.
Chase Whiting, forced to relinquish his post to Braxton Bragg, cast his lot with William Lamb and Fort Fisher — and he paid the ultimate price for it. Whiting came ashore at Battery Buchanan, and made his way to the fort's young commander: "Lamb, my boy, I've come to share your fate. You and your garrison are to be sacrificed." After exchanging so many barbs with Bragg, Whiting's blood was up, and he continued to fire off direct challenges to Bragg to pitch into the Federals and come to the relief of Fort Fisher. Seriously wounded in a Confederate countercharge along the third traverse, Whiting officially surrendered Fort Fisher to Alfred Terry on the night of January 15 (sparing Lamb that duty). Whiting died in a Northern prison on March 10, 1865. William Lamb mourned the loss of his friend and mentor, and never forgot him.