The 'Bloody Gate' at Fort Fisher - Crucial infantry assault through a sally port at the 'Gibraltar of the South'

jrweaver

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Dec 9, 2020
A quick note on terminology. A sally port is the main entrance to a fort, while a postern is the "back door" to a fort, often leading to a water battery, a ravelin, or a demilune. Generally both these had significant defenses, with the defenses of the sally port being the most elaborate.
 

A. Roy

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I have been away from the site for several weeks due to a life-threatening illness, but thankfully am getting back to normal now after a successful surgery. I have some physical limitations for another week or so, but I can research and type again!

So sorry to hear about this! Glad you're better, and I hope you continue to improve!

ARB
 

jrweaver

Corporal
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Dec 9, 2020
Duffy and Hogg disagree. Perhaps European and American terminology differs; most of my fortress library was written by Europeans.

Has Fort Pike reopened?
The terminology I use relates to the American Third System. The terminology changes as we move to Endicott Period fortifications, and differs from the terminology used by other countries/schools of design. I take my terminology primarily from what Mahan taught at West Point and from Scott's Military Dictionary (also 19th Century American).
 

NFB22

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I have been away from the site for several weeks due to a life-threatening illness, but thankfully am getting back to normal now after a successful surgery. I have some physical limitations for another week or so, but I can research and type again! :smile:
The sally port/entrance to a fort is considered a weak point, and is generally - at least in masonry forts - well defended to compensate for that fact. Early Third System forts often used multiple wet ditches with outworks between the ditches to defend the landward faces of the fort, and almost always had some significant outwork in advance of the sally port. While the idea of multiple ditches fell away as time progressed - it was found that even relatively simple outworks would prevent a land attack short of a siege - the sally port continued to be a well-protected point of a fort throughout the system. It was only toward the end of the system when funds were being cut off (after the war) that these defenses were abbreviated, though the original drawings still showed the extensive defenses of the sally port.
Here is a good example of an early-Third System sally port and its defenses: Fort Pike at Pass Rigolets to the northeast of New Orleans. The defenses of the sally port comprised two wet ditches with outworks between the ditches. Entrance to the sally port included a curved pathway that prevented direct artillery fire on the main gate of the sally port, with that passageway traversing a demilune that provided a strong defense. The outer ditch was crossed via a causeway defended by the demilune, with the inner ditch crossed by a combination of a causeway and a drawbridge. On either side of the sally port were casemates with embrasures for howitzers (firing cannister) providing forward fire down the causeway and drawbridge. Additionally, bastions to either side of the sally port provided flanking fire on the causeway and drawbridge. Even though it was a relatively small fort, the land defenses were formidable. This was true for all Third System forts of this time period.

While Fort Fisher was indeed designed for seacoast defense, so were all the permanent fortifications of the Third System (except one). They each had, however, extensive land defenses for self-protection. I'm surprised by the lack of strong land defenses for the sally port of Fort Fisher.

When I think of the defense of a sally port, Alcatraz really comes to mind. They still have a gun there on display at the guard house that illustrates how easily a single shot loaded with canister could have mowed down troops assaulting that part of the fortifications.

That, coupled with the fire from troops above and any naval support that may have been present, like Confederate defenders of Fort Fisher assumed would be present on the Cape Fear River, would have rendered that area unapproachable.
 

jrweaver

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Dec 9, 2020
When I think of the defense of a sally port, Alcatraz really comes to mind. They still have a gun there on display at the guard house that illustrates how easily a single shot loaded with canister could have mowed down troops assaulting that part of the fortifications.

That, coupled with the fire from troops above and any naval support that may have been present, like Confederate defenders of Fort Fisher assumed would be present on the Cape Fear River, would have rendered that area unapproachable.
The sally port at Alcatraz had a very effective design, and was based on the terrain at its location. It was designed for three howitzers, two providing forward fire up the road from the dock and one providing reverse fire outside the scarp. It was also equipped with loopholes for flanking fire along the ditch. A drawbridge crossed the ditch, providing another obstacle to an attacker.
Alcatraz sally port interior with labels.jpg
16-13 Alcatraz Sally Port.jpg

IMGP9482.JPG
 

Lubliner

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I just read the Wikipedia page for Fort Fisher and was surprised that no mention was made concerning General Lee's 1861 orders to fortify the coast in the south. It says Lamb was there in 1862 when he did not like the rudimentary works and asked for it to be better fortified. Didn't General Lee also visit the Wilmington area as well as Charleston Harbor? I thought he would surely have made recommendations for the defenses at Fort Fisher.
Lubliner.
 

NFB22

Sergeant Major
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Location
Louisville, KY
I just read the Wikipedia page for Fort Fisher and was surprised that no mention was made concerning General Lee's 1861 orders to fortify the coast in the south. It says Lamb was there in 1862 when he did not like the rudimentary works and asked for it to be better fortified. Didn't General Lee also visit the Wilmington area as well as Charleston Harbor? I thought he would surely have made recommendations for the defenses at Fort Fisher.
Lubliner.
I'm unsure of Lee's visits but you must remember that Lee was a West Point educated, US regular prior to the war. He was used to surveying and helping plan permanent fortifications. It's probably a hard habit to shake in terms of wanting to plan things.
 

jrweaver

Corporal
Joined
Dec 9, 2020
The sally port at Alcatraz had a very effective design, and was based on the terrain at its location. It was designed for three howitzers, two providing forward fire up the road from the dock and one providing reverse fire outside the scarp. It was also equipped with loopholes for flanking fire along the ditch. A drawbridge crossed the ditch, providing another obstacle to an attacker.
View attachment 403952View attachment 403951
View attachment 403953
To help clarify the sally port at Alcatraz, I drew a sketch of the plan.
Alcatraz sally port plan color with lables.jpg

Here is the larger plan for context
Alcatraz plan Color.jpg
 

J.H. Moose

Cadet
Joined
Apr 22, 2021
The gate appears badly sited, with no flanking fire covering it. I think it would have been better placed in the center of the wall where the approach could be covered by flanking fire from both sides.

The trace of the fort, with its lack of flanking fires and ditches, seems poorly designed to repel an infantry assault, which the actual event bears out. The bastion like work where the land front and sea front meet appears poorly designed with no line of fire down either front.
Fort Fisher's land face runs at about a 35 degree angle north of the gate, this allowed a decent amount of flanking fire. Not to mention that the gate was flanked by multiple field guns and rifle pits which all worked in tandem to earn the title: The Bloody Gate. Fort Fisher was rather genius in it's design, construction and simplicity. However, none of this could overcome how critically undermanned her garrison was. A fault of high command and Richmond.
 
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