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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A salute to the great what-if

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The last year of the Civil War sesquicentennial anniversary will kick off in North Carolina on the battleground at Fort Fisher Jan. 17 and 18, where Confederate and Union soldiers will return to recreate the battle that turned the tides of the war and charted the course of the country.

The Friends of Fort Fisher and Fort Fisher State Historic Site staff worked for more than one year to plan the two-day commemoration, which will feature two reenactments of the Second Battle of Fort Fisher. For one hour and 15 minutes on both days, more than 700 reenactors will fight for the last lifeline of the Confederacy: the port of Wilmington and the blockade running operation vital to the South’s successional subsistence.
Less than 90 days after the Confederate surrender at Fort Fisher, the Civil War ended. Friends of Fort Fisher Executive Director Paul Laird said he hopes the reenactments and other events slated for the sesquicentennial weekend will shine a spotlight on the battle’s historical significance, both locally and nationally.

“It’s a good way to showcase Fort Fisher because Fort Fisher played a very strategic role during the Civil War, but it has been overshadowed by the larger, better-know land battles: the Shilohs, the Gettysburgs, the Chancellorsvilles,” Laird said. “But since ours was on the coast, a major amphibious operation, and it came so near the end of the war, it has been glossed over by historians. We think it deserves a spotlight.”

The future of the country hinged on the battle at Fort Fisher, said John Moseley, Fort Fisher State Historic Site assistant manager and historic interpreter. He hopes this message will be communicated to visitors.

“Fort Fisher’s a great what-if,” Moseley said, “and I hope they get an understanding of what the sacrifice was to make sure this nation would be healed.”

Events are planned each year to commemorate the battle’s anniversary, with a reenactment every five years. This year, organizers plan to demonstrate the sacrifices made by soldiers on both sides to fight and then bring the war-torn country back together.

“This is an observance, a recognition, of all the sacrifices that our ancestors made to give us the country we have today. Really, when Fort Fisher was surrendered at the end of that campaign, and then the surrender and evacuation of Wilmington roughly a month later, that really was the death nail to the South’s war effort. But as soon as that happened, the reunification of the country could take place,” Laird said.

Battle reenactments will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 and 10 a.m. on Jan. 18.

The reenactments only tell a part of the story of Fort Fisher, Moseley said.

“This isn’t just about the Union and the Confederacy. This is a real human story. Through our speakers, through the reenactment, through our kids’ activities, through all of the programs, we hope to tell snippets of that story,” Moseley said.

The historic site will open at 9 a.m. on both days. The opening ceremony at 11 a.m. on Jan. 17, featuring a keynote address by former National Park Service Chief Historian Ed Bearss, is expected to draw state and local officials, including Gov. Pat McCrory, and high-ranking military personnel.

Other confirmed speakers include Rod Gragg, Dr. Chris E. Fonvielle Jr., Michael Hardy, Jamie Martinez and Richard Triebe.

All parking for the event is located off-site at the Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area, where a free trolley service will transport visitors to the historic site.

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