By late 1864, Wilmington was the last major port open to the Confederacy. Fort Fisher, the “The Gibraltar of the South,” the largest and one of the most important earthwork fortifications in the South, guarded the river approach to Wilmington. It was twice attacked by Federal forces. The first expeditionary attack on 24 December 1864 failed but was followed by a second, successful attack three weeks later. The Fort was assaulted on sea face by an assembled armada of nearly 60 Federal vessels and on land face by overwhelming numbers of Union infantry. After three days of fierce fighting, the Fort was captured on 15 January 1865. Union forces soon overtook Wilmington, capturing it on 22 February. Once Wilmington fell, the supply line of the Confederacy was severed. Within three months of the fall of Fort Fisher, the War Between the States was over.
The strategic importance, heroic defense, and fall of Fort Fisher were determining factors for the establishment of the Fort Fisher Chapter of the UDC. Further, most of the charter members had grandfathers who fought at Fort Fisher, and for many years on Confederate Memorial Day, they had laid a wreath at the Fort Fisher Confederate Monument on Battle Acre, donated by the North Carolina UDC and dedicated on 2 June 1932. On 21 September 1962, a group of interested ladies met at the home of Mrs. Blanche Tucker, organizer and first president, for the purpose of establishing Fort Fisher Chapter #2325.
Mrs. Sam Kellam, Mrs. Ashley St. Armond, and Mrs. Allie Moore from the Wilmington sponsoring chapter were present to assist in founding the new chapter. The new chapter was presented with its Charter and Certificates of Membership for the individual members at the UDC State Convention held 09 October 1962 in New Bern.
Charter members were:
- Ruth Williams Adams
- Eunice Hair Benway
- Hannie Inman Burnett
- Pearle Beason Burnett
- Estelle Sally Fergus
- Katie Burnett Hines
- Maggie Harrelson Leiner
- Dorothy Riddle Mathews
- Lelabel Nance Richardson
- Blanche Silver Tucker
Following are the chapter’s major contributions to the Fort Fisher Historic Site since 1962:
The Fort Fisher Chapter played a key role in getting the Fort Fisher
Museum built. In February 1963, the chapter wrote letters to State Senator Yow and Representative Caulder endorsing the Appropriations Bill for the building of the museum. Mrs. Tucker’s husband, Glenn Tucker, appointed by Gov. Luther Hodges to serve on the first North Carolina Air & Resource Board, was influential in getting the Appropriations Bill passed. He also helped negotiate the land purchase from the Orrell Family.
Also that year, the chapter set up the Fort Fisher Scholarship Fund for Wilmington College, now UNC-W; helped compile the records of veterans for the new Roster of North Carolina Troops 1861-1865; refurbished the Sugar Loaf marker site; and planned and implemented the first Confederate Memorial Day service at the UDC monument on Battle Acre, an observance which has continued to this day.
In August 1964, the State Department of Archives & History, the New Hanover Board of Commissioners, and the Fort Fisher Restoration Committee announced the opening of the new Visitors Center – Museum at the Fort Fisher Historic Site to be held 11 August 1965. Chapter members served on various committees to ensure a successful opening.
Fort Fisher was named in honor of Colonel Charles Frederick Fisher of Salisbury, who was killed in the Battle of First Manassas while commanding the 6th North Carolina Infantry. On the occasion of the museum’s opening, Col. Fisher’s sword was presented to the museum by the Sisters of Mercy, Sacred Heart Junior College at Belmont. General Whiting’s table, used in the Headquarters at Fort Fisher for writing official dispatches, was presented by the children of Mrs. Henry J. MacMillan.
The Fort Fisher Chapter and the Cape Fear Chapter helped plan the 100-year commemoration ceremony of the battles and fall of Fort Fisher, held 15 January 1965. The ceremonies included a luncheon and a memorial program at the Fort Fisher Historic Site. During the Battle of Fort Fisher, Major James Reilly had assumed command of the Fort after the wounding of his superior officers, Colonel William Lamb and General W. H. C. Whiting, and the Major surrendered his sword to the Northern commander on 15 January 1865. On this anniversary day 100 years later, Major Reilly’s sword was returned to Fort Fisher by his grandson, Dr. Lawrence Lee. A dramatic narrative was given Friday and Saturday evenings at Thalian Hall in Wilmington. An inter-denominational vesper service at St. James Episcopal Church marked the closing.
Among its accomplishments in the years 1965-1979, the chapter requested and received money from the state for paving of the Fort Fisher Museum parking lot.
The problem of coastal erosion control at the Fort Fisher Historic Site was the major focus of the chapter in 1979, however, at that time the chapter was unsuccessful in its appeal to the state to address this critical problem. In 1988 the chapter joined forces with Friends of Fort Fisher, organized by Dr. Robert Fales. Members wrote letters to the State Legislature requesting state funds for the Seawall Project. Other interested parties included the Chamber of Commerce and Rod Gragg, author of Confederate Goliath, The Battle of Fort Fisher , a book about the dramatic struggle for the Confederacy’s greatest bastion. A reception was given at Fort Fisher for state legislators to solicit and encourage their support for the project, and each Senate and House member who attended received an autographed copy of his book from Mr. Gragg.
All of these endeavors helped obtain the money needed for erosion control. In 1991 the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated $250,000 for the project. The following year the United States Congress appropriated a like amount, and in 1993 the President included another $296,000 in that year’s Federal budget.
In its continuing efforts to support and preserve Fort Fisher, in 2005
the chapter donated $500 to the Fort Fisher Restoration Committee to help defray expenses of the loan of an Armstrong cannon by the United States Military Academy. This particular Armstrong was at Fort Fisher when it fell in 1865. A plaque recognizing the chapter’s donation is on display in the museum’s lobby.
Through the years, many chapter members have served as volunteers and participated in a wide array of site activities.
In 1962, the year the chapter was founded, Fort Fisher was the first property in North Carolina to be declared a National Historic Landmark, the nation’s highest designation for historic properties. The Fort has been North Carolina’s most visited state historic site for nearly four decades, contributing significantly to tourism in the Cape Fear area. UDC Fort Fisher Chapter #2325 is justifiably proud of its contributions to that success.
Chapter History updated 6/2/08