Like the vastly outnumbered Texans’ at the Alamo, and similar to Col. William Lamb’s vastly outnumbered and outgunned North Carolinians at Fort Fisher the following month, Fort McAllister’s garrison was fighting an enemy seventeen times their own strength. As is common today, Southern defenders are often termed as merely “Confederates” rather than identified as mostly local men defending their homes, farms, families and State. At Fort McAllister were the First Regiment, Georgia Reserve Companies D and E under Captains George N. Hendry and Angus Morrison, respectively; the Emmet Rifles under Capt. George A. Nicoll; and Capt. Nicholas Clinch’s Light Battery of artillery. All were defending their country to the last extremity.
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
“Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty”
“The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial”
“The sporadic crackle of musketry echoed through the woods and marshes as Union patrols probed the defenses of Fort McAllister on Tuesday, December 13, 1864. Hunched in the fort were about 230 Confederates commanded by [Savannah native] Major George W. Anderson, Jr. All of them knew they faced a grim and hopeless task in repelling the expected attack.
Behind . . . skirmishers and shielded by forests . . . four thousand Federals were deploying, intent on overrunning the fort at any cost. McAllister had a number of large-caliber guns, but most were aimed at the sea. Under the direction of engineer Capt. Thomas A. White, the Confederates had done everything possible to strengthen McAllister, especially the landward defenses . . . as [enemy] troops neared the sea.
Anderson realized it would be much more difficult to hold the fort against a land assault, but vowed a fight to the last. “I determined under the circumstances, and notwithstanding the great disparity of numbers, between the garrison and attacking forces, to defend the fort to the last extremity,” he later recalled. Numbering his effectives as 150 men, Anderson added that “with no possible hope of reinforcement, from any quarter, . . . holding the fort was simply a question of time. There was but one alternative – death or captivity.”
The attack was launched shortly after 4PM. Ragged musketry and cannon fire dropped some of the Yankees as there neared the breastworks. Other explosions ripped gaps in the blue line . . . “[and torpedo-mines] were exploded by the tread of the troops, blowing many men to atoms.” “The Federal skirmish line was very heavy and the fire so close and so rapid that it was at times impossible to work our guns,” Anderson said of the [enemy] assault. “My sharpshooters did all in their power, but were entirely too few to suppress this galling fire upon the artillerists.”[Enemy troops swarmed] onto the embankments to engage the Rebels in hand to hand combat. “[The enemy commander wrote that] There was a pause, a cessation of fire. The smoke cleared away and the parapets were blue with our men, who fired their muskets in the air . . . “
The surviving Confederate troops scrambled into the bombproofs, where the close-quarter fighting continued. The combat swirled for several minutes before the last defenders were overwhelmed. The Southerners “only succumbed as each man was individually overpowered,” [an enemy commander] reported.
“The fort was never surrendered,” Anderson recalled, “It was captured by overwhelming numbers.”
Captain Nicholas B. Clinch, Anderson’s artillery commander, personified the Rebels’ mettle.
Refusing to surrender, he became engaged in a personal duel with [an enemy captain]. “The two fought for some minutes after the fighting had ceased,” a soldier recalled, “Both were good swordsmen and they were permitted to fight it out.” [The enemy captain] was “severely wounded about the head and shoulders” before other bluecoats intervened and subdued Clinch.
Bayoneted six times, sabered six times, and shot twice, Clinch was captured and survived the war.
The fort was taken at 4:30PM, the assault lasting but fifteen minutes.”