Exhibits at Fort Fisher

Shepherd's Battery

Shepherd's Battery, Western Salient

Our exhibits trace the history of Fort Fisher in vivid detail ...

Outdoor Exhibits

Shepherd's Battery
This restored gun emplacement features a reconstructed, fully operational heavy seacoast cannon (32-pounder). Fort Fisher also has fully functional reproductions of a Napoleon fieldpiece and a Coehorn mortar. These weapons are fired for the public during special events. (All three cannon types were represented at Fort Fisher during the Civil War).
Tour Trails & Wayside Exhibits
A tour trail and 15 wayside exhibits surround the restored remnants of historic Fort Fisher. Battle Acre (with monument), a walking trail, two overlook structures (gazebos), and two wayside exhibits are located across the highway from the visitor center, along the oceanfront.

Indoor Exhibits

Fiber-Optic Battle Map
  • The map is 16 feet long and encompasses the Federal Point peninsula as it appeared in 1865 — with three-dimensional models of Fort Fisher and Battery Buchanan.
  • Nine minutes of narration and 5,000 colored moving lights illustrate the final bloody hours of Fort Fisher: the Union naval bombardment, the amphibious landing on Federal Point, the Union ground attack, the Confederate surrender at Battery Buchanan, and the Union victory celebration.
  • The narration is enhanced by exciting sound effects, and features commentary from combatants of both sides.

View: Map Photo

  • Sleek, shallow-draft steamers ran the Federal blockade to provide the South with everything from munitions of war to luxury items.
  • By 1864, Wilmington was the last major Confederate seaport open to the outside world — and Fort Fisher was her protector. The guns of Fort Fisher engaged Federal "blockaders" as the daring blockade-runners slipped across dangerous shoal waters into the Cape Fear River. Once safely across the bar, the runners steamed up to the docks at Wilmington to unload their wares. From Wilmington, goods were shipped by rail to points across the South — especially to Robert E. Lee's Confederate army in Virginia.
  • Artifacts from the blockade-runner Modern Greece — which sank off the coast of Fort Fisher — are featured in this exhibit.

See: Running the Blockade.

Fort Construction
  • By the mid-1850s, military forts built of masonry had been rendered obsolete by exploding shells fired from rifled cannon.
  • A string of Confederate officers oversaw the initial stages of construction of earthen batteries at Fort Fisher: Capt. Charles Pattison Bolles, Capt. William L. DeRosset, and Capt. John J. Hedrick.
  • On July 4, 1862, Col. William Lamb (age 26) assumed command at Fisher. Under Lamb's supervision, hundreds of slaves, free blacks, and Confederate soldiers labored to make Fort Fisher the largest and most powerful defensive bastion in the Confederacy. Drawing upon the military lessons of the Crimean War (1854-1856), Lamb modeled Fort Fisher after the Russian defensive works at Sebastopol: elevated batteries and traverses, with internal passageways, bombproofs, and magazines.

See: Fort Fisher.

Weapons and Technology
  • Fort Fisher was armed with heavy seacoast weapons, mortars, and fieldpieces. Aside from artillery, Fisher's garrison fought with numerous small arms.
  • Fisher was connected to the outside world through an extensive telegraph system.
  • Mines (called "torpedoes") were a hidden danger for Federal blockaders in the waters off Fort Fisher. The Confederates also mined the northern land approach to Fisher — a system of buried explosives that could be fired using "electricity" (galvanic batteries). This exhibit features a torpedo shell and numerous projectiles recovered from the battlefield at Fisher.

See: Armament.

Preparing to Fight
  • Life at Fort Fisher was difficult. The soldiers spent their time digging the sand needed to build the fort, chopping trees for the palisades, cleaning and mounting the fort's heavy guns, and walking guard duty at night. The ubiquitous sand and mosquitoes made for an uncomfortable existence.
  • For recreation, the men played cards, fished, and wrote letters to loved ones back home. Alcohol was forbidden on post, but Wilmington's "red light" district flourished.

See: Decline of a Thriving Port City.

The First Assault
  • The first Union attempt to capture Fort Fisher was unsuccessful.

See: "1st Attack", including Engagement Chronology.

The Second Assault
  • The second Union attack resulted in the capture of Fort Fisher, which sealed the port of Wilmington and hastened the collapse of the Confederacy.

See: "2nd Attack," including Engagement Chronology.

Ladies of Fort Fisher
  • The most prominent woman associated with Fort Fisher was Sarah Anne Chaffee Lamb ("Daisy"), wife of the fort's commander, Col. William Lamb. The couple and several of their children lived in a cottage north of Fort Fisher, near Craig's Landing. When the Union fleet appeared off Cape Fear, Daisy and the children were ferried across the river to Orton Plantation, where they watched in horror as the battles for Fort Fisher raged. Husband and father, William, emerged unscathed from the first engagement. He was not so lucky in the second engagement.
  • The famous Confederate spy, Rose O'Neal Greenhow, was lost in the surf at Fort Fisher on September 30, 1864. She had been aboard the blockade-runner Condor when the vessel ran aground near the fort. She was rowed ashore, but the little craft capsized in the heavy surf. Weighted down by $2,000 in gold, the formidable lady drowned. "Wild Rose" is buried at Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington. Her tombstone reads: "A bearer of dispatches to the Confederate Government."

Additional Civil War Exhibits

  • Bullets, Blankets, Rifles
  • Wilmington, 1860
  • Wilmington Falls — The War is Lost
  • My Friend the Enemy (N. Martin Curtis and William Lamb)
  • Units That Fought at Fort Fisher
  • Outfitting a Confederate Soldier
  • Outfitting a Union Soldier.

See: "Forces" - Federal Army & Navy and Confederates.

Supplementary Exhibits

  • Sand Dunes, Oyster Beds, Maritime Forests
  • Pirates, Hurricanes, Lighthouses
  • Shifting Sands
  • Ever Changing Fort Fisher
  • Uncovering Fort Fisher
  • Flags of the Civil War
  • World War II — 1941-1945 (at Fort Fisher)
  • Wartime and the 559th AAA (World War II at Fort Fisher)

See: Fort Fisher During World War II.

Some of Our Notable Artifacts

Confederate Maj. James Reilly's Saber
This weapon features a steel scabbard, dates from 1860, and was made in Massachusetts. Major Reilly surrendered the garrison at Fort Fisher in January 1865. In so doing, he relinquished this saber (a cavalry weapon) to Union Captain E. Lewis Moore. In 1893, Moore returned the sword to Reilly. It is on loan to Fort Fisher by the major's descendants. (Fort Fisher was officially surrendered to Union. Gen Alfred Terry by Confederate Gen. W. H. C. Whiting on the night of January 15, 1865).
Bell from the Spanish Brig Luzon
Brass bell with iron clapper, engraved with "Luzon 1852." The Luzon went down in a storm off New Topsail Inlet in 1857, and its salvaged cargo was auctioned. This bell eventually made its way to the guardhouse at Fort Fisher and was captured by the 16th New York Heavy Artillery in 1865. It was given to the fort by the State of New York in 1985.
Sauceboat from the Modern Greece
This piece of china is from the blockade-runner that ran aground off Fort Fisher in June 1862.
Wooden Fife
This musical instrument was used by Joel Elmore of the 40th Regiment, N.C. Troops, at Fort Fisher in 1862.
Naval Signal Lantern
Used in sending Morse code to vessels at sea.
Pieces of Original Palisade Fence
Fort Fisher.
General Whiting's Table
The Confederate general wrote official dispatches on this ca.1840 walnut, tilt-top table. It then passed to family members.

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