Forgotten Forts Series - Battery Buchanan (NC)

NFB22

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jun 21, 2012
Location
Louisville, KY
Battery Buchanan, built in late 1864, was a formidable earthwork battery designed to support both Fort Fisher which was about a mile distant and to defend the New Inlet of the Cape Fear River. The battery was named after Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan. The battery's armament was composed of 2 Columbiads and 2 Brooke Smoothbores. These guns were manned by CSN sailors under the command of Lt. (later Captain) Robert Chapman. The garrison was augmented by Confederate States Marines sent from Wilmington first under the command of Lt. John de Berniere Roberts before he was replaced by Lt. James Murdoch.

Fort_Fisher_Battery_Buchanan_-_1.jpg

(John Stanton 27 Jan 2010)

During the first Union assault on Fort Fisher in late December 1864, the Marine detachment at Battery Buchanan redeployed to Fort Fisher to help man guns there and repel the Union attack. It was during this time that more Marines, under the Wilmington Marine Detachment commander Captain Alfred Van Benthuysen, arrived with the remainder of his force to reinforce both Fort Fisher and Battery Buchanan.

26170883_10159779196350333_3032740571549593356_o.jpg


When Union land and naval forces renewed their attack on Fort Fisher in mid-January 1865, Battery Buchanan became a fall-back position for the Confederate defenders still able to withdrawal to the battery after the fort had fallen. Marines under Captain Van Benthuysen helped evacuate the wounded commanding officer of the District of Cape Fear, Major General William Whiting along with the Fort's commanding officer, Colonel William Lamb.

Determined to make a final stand at Battery Buchanan, the retreating Confederate forces found that the battery's garrison had withdrawn across the Cape Fear to the North Carolina mainland while spiking the guns of the battery prior to their departure. Finding their position untenable, Major James Reilly, whom Col. Lamb had relinquished command to, surrendered the remaining forces to Union troops upon their advance on Battery Buchanan.

attack4.jpg


Today the remains of Battery Buchanan can be viewed as part of the Fort Fisher State Historic Site which was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961. The site is open to visitors and features a historic marker detailing Battery Buchanan at the site. There is additional information located at the park's visitor center/museum.

Photo100515o.jpg

(Bernard Fisher 11 Mar 2010)
 
Last edited:

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
I'm down in the Wilmington NC area for a few days and made my first-ever visit to Fort Fisher, down at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. I was going to post some photos and comments about my visit, but then I realized that we had been discussing Battery Buchanan only a few months ago here at Forgotten Forts & Places. I have some updated photos to share, but first I thought I would post some information about the design and positioning of Battery Buchanan. I'm not sure about some aspects of this fort's design, so I was hoping that @jrweaver, @NFB22, or others might be able to clarify some questions about it.

As Nate pointed out before, this battery was the most extreme south position of the Fort Fisher complex, and was in part conceived as a last-ditch stronghold in case Fisher was taken. In a couple of places, I noticed a site plan of Battery Buchanan, which is taken from this Union map:

FtBuchanan_FtFisher_PvtOttoJulianSchultze_LOC_ReducedMarkup.jpg


I've marked here the main works of Fort Fisher and the position of Battery Buchanan at the end of the peninsula. But you'll notice to the left there is a drawing of the battery's layout, which I've magnified here:

FtBuchanan_FtFisher_PvtOttoJulianSchultze_LOC_BuchananDrawing.jpg


I guess I just kind of want make sure I understand what the elements of this battery should be called and what their functions are:

1. I think what we're looking at here is basically just a massive earth gun platform, with a glacis sloping down all around.

2. The large E-shaped earth mound, is that just a kind of traverse, to protect the guns and crews? Wondering whether there's a better name than "traverse" for an enclosure like this that is open from the top.

3. Looks to me as if the platform is accessed by a ladder or stair coming from the rear left corner.

4. A bit inside the outer oval footprint of the the fort is another oval line. In the photo I'm going to show below, that looks like a ledge. Is that what might be referred to as a "covered way"? Just curious.

5. I'm also wondering about the guns. The guns are labeled as 10-inch Columbiads and 11-inch Brookes, but the ones on the ends are drawn as if they were much smaller. Wondering whether that's just an error on the part of the illustrator. I think those two kinds of guns are about the same size, but I could be mistaken.

So those are a combination of observations and questions I have. This photo, taken, I believe, from the west (direction of the Cape Fear River), clarifies a lot for me (the guns also appear all about the same size, but I'm not good at identifying ordnance):

BatteryBuchanan_TimothHOSullivan_Abt1865_LOC_Crop2.jpg


(Map: Pvt Otto Julian Schultze, 1865. Library of Congress.)

(Photo: Timothy H. O'Sullivan, abt 1865. Library of Congress.)

Roy B.
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
I'm down in the Wilmington NC area for a few days and made my first-ever visit to Fort Fisher, down at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. I was going to post some photos and comments about my visit, but then I realized that we had been discussing Battery Buchanan only a few months ago here at Forgotten Forts & Places. I have some updated photos to share, but first I thought I would post some information about the design and positioning of Battery Buchanan. I'm not sure about some aspects of this fort's design, so I was hoping that @jrweaver, @NFB22, or others might be able to clarify some questions about it.

As Nate pointed out before, this battery was the most extreme south position of the Fort Fisher complex, and was in part conceived as a last-ditch stronghold in case Fisher was taken. In a couple of places, I noticed a site plan of Battery Buchanan, which is taken from this Union map:

View attachment 391379

I've marked here the main works of Fort Fisher and the position of Battery Buchanan at the end of the peninsula. But you'll notice to the left there is a drawing of the battery's layout, which I've magnified here:

View attachment 391381

I guess I just kind of want make sure I understand what the elements of this battery should be called and what their functions are:

1. I think what we're looking at here is basically just a massive earth gun platform, with a glacis sloping down all around.

2. The large E-shaped earth mound, is that just a kind of traverse, to protect the guns and crews? Wondering whether there's a better name than "traverse" for an enclosure like this that is open from the top.

3. Looks to me as if the platform is accessed by a ladder or stair coming from the rear left corner.

4. A bit inside the outer oval footprint of the the fort is another oval line. In the photo I'm going to show below, that looks like a ledge. Is that what might be referred to as a "covered way"? Just curious.

5. I'm also wondering about the guns. The guns are labeled as 10-inch Columbiads and 11-inch Brookes, but the ones on the ends are drawn as if they were much smaller. Wondering whether that's just an error on the part of the illustrator. I think those two kinds of guns are about the same size, but I could be mistaken.

So those are a combination of observations and questions I have. This photo, taken, I believe, from the west (direction of the Cape Fear River), clarifies a lot for me (the guns also appear all about the same size, but I'm not good at identifying ordnance):

View attachment 391386

(Map: Pvt Otto Julian Schultze, 1865. Library of Congress.)

(Photo: Timothy H. O'Sullivan, abt 1865. Library of Congress.)

Roy B.
Great drawing and picture! Very interesting questions, as well. I'll give you my thoughts, but they are thoughts, not definitive answers.

1. I think what we're looking at here is basically just a massive earth gun platform, with a glacis sloping down all around. Yes, the gun platforms are at the lower level to protect the gun crew and the earthen mounds around the guns provide rear and side protection.

2. The large E-shaped earth mound, is that just a kind of traverse, to protect the guns and crews? Wondering whether there's a better name than "traverse" for an enclosure like this that is open from the top. Technically, this is multiple components joined together. The back of the E is called a parados, essentially a traverse that runs parallel to the front of the battery. The branches coming out are, indeed, traverses. The parados provides protection from the rear and from shells that overshot the battery. The traverses isolate each gun so mortar and howitzer shells can only take out one gun position at a time.

3. Looks to me as if the platform is accessed by a ladder or stair coming from the rear left corner. Yes, that looks like a stairway to me as well. Most likely logs revetting each step.

4. A bit inside the outer oval footprint of the the fort is another oval line. In the photo I'm going to show below, that looks like a ledge. Is that what might be referred to as a "covered way"? Just curious. I'm not sure, but my guess is that that's a rifle pit to provide a rear defense of the battery. A covert (or covered) way is a connecting passageway, and this doesn't connect to anything.

5. I'm also wondering about the guns. The guns are labeled as 10-inch Columbiads and 11-inch Brookes, but the ones on the ends are drawn as if they were much smaller. Wondering whether that's just an error on the part of the illustrator. I think those two kinds of guns are about the same size, but I could be mistaken. I agree that this looks like a mistake by the illustrator. Those guns would be approximately the same size, and they look like they are the same size in the photograph.

John
 

NFB22

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jun 21, 2012
Location
Louisville, KY
I believe they constructed the battery the way they did because the more direct threat came from outside the bar, from the blockading fleet. The direct face of Battery Buchanan, which faces New Inlet, was a safe haven for blockade runners who reached it.

Also agree that the illustration is just off regarding the guns. There are multiple sources that list the armament as two Columbiads and two Brookes, both of the same size/caliber which is evidenced in the existing photo of Battery Buchanan.
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
The back of the E is called a parados, essentially a traverse that runs parallel to the front of the battery. The branches coming out are, indeed, traverses. The parados provides protection from the rear and from shells that overshot the battery.
I believe they constructed the battery the way they did because the more direct threat came from outside the bar, from the blockading fleet.

Thanks to both John and Nate. Yes, this makes sense now. The parados (thanks for naming that) would have protected the battery from the Union fleet on the Atlantic side. I imagine the enemy could have lobbed projectiles right over the main area of Fort Fisher into the rear of Battery Buchanan.

I had remembered reading the term parados before but had forgotten it. Just looked it up again and found it defined as kind of a "rear parapet" or "rear traverse."

Roy B.
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
Thanks to both John and Nate. Yes, this makes sense now. The parados (thanks for naming that) would have protected the battery from the Union fleet on the Atlantic side. I imagine the enemy could have lobbed projectiles right over the main area of Fort Fisher into the rear of Battery Buchanan.

I had remembered reading the term parados before but had forgotten it. Just looked it up again and found it defined as kind of a "rear parapet" or "rear traverse."

Roy B.
My definition in A Legacy in Brick and Stone is, "An earthen traverse located on the parade of a fort, parallel to the scarp. A parados prevents reverse fire on the ramparts and contained shot and shell passing over the ramparts." Obviously the derivation of parados is the parade, typically where a parados is located in a fort. These were used in early American forts like Fort Meigs in Perrysburg, Ohio, up through the Endicott Period.
The following picture of the incomplete Fort Totten in Queens, New York, was taken while standing on the parados of that Third System fort.
9-17 Totten panorama from parados.jpg
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
That would be exciting, but I haven't seen any indication of that, just reading the signage and history of the battery; so I expect not.

R
I'm often amazed by what remains! When exploring some earthwork defenses in Maryland, I came across a number of Rodman mounts that were in a wooded are, just sitting there. It was an exciting discovery. At the Fort McRee site in Pensacola I came across a portion of a wall from the old fort. Great stuff!
 

Lubliner

Captain
Forum Host
Joined
Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
I can see how the garrison stationed at Battery Buchanan could be used as a defensive measure for protecting Fort Fisher. But for all intents and purposes for those guns would be protecting the harbor and blockade runners that took shelter from the Union fleet. Knowing the difficulties from Cape Hatteras early in the war on defending the outer banks, and possibly understanding the strength of Fort Morris in Charleston Harbor, how is it they provided very little defensive works guarding the northern approach on that island? Those guns could not be brought around to bear down on any Union assault after Fort Fisher fell.
Lubliner.
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
how is it they provided very little defensive works guarding the northern approach on that island? Those guns could not be brought around to bear down on any Union assault after Fort Fisher fell.
Lubliner.

At one of the Atlantic-side batteries, they actually did turn the guns to fire inside Fort Fisher, once Federal forces got through the westernmost sally port. But by the time the fort was breached, I guess it became clear the fort was lost. The top commanders, Gen Whiting and Col Lamb, both severely wounded, tried to escape via Battery Buchanan, but by the time they got there, the garrison had already fled and spiked the guns, so they surrendered. Whiting died from his wounds.

Roy B.
 

Similar threads

Top