Built atop the remnants of the colonial town, Brunswick, Fort Anderson protected the Cape Fear River and supply lines to Wilmington. Wilmington was a critical port for supply lines throughout the Confederacy and to General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in Petersburg and Richmond. Although originally named Fort St. Phillip after the colonial Anglican Church ruins within the fortress, the fort was renamed in honor of Brigadier General George Burgwyn Anderson who died after complications from injuries suffered at Antietam.
Lieutenant Thomas Rowland led the construction of Fort St. Phillip, which began on March 24, 1862. The earthwork was nearly a mile long and ran from the Cape Fear River to Orton Pond and was constructed by a group of North Carolina soldiers, conscripted slaves, free blacks, and Native Americans. Later, William Lamb and John J. Hedrick expanded the fort, and on July 1, 1863, the name of the Fort changed to Fort Anderson.
In January 1865, Union forces captured Fort Fisher then turned their attention to Fort Anderson. By this time, Fort Anderson had two main batteries. Battery A was equipped with a four-pattern 1840 smoothbore thirty-two pound gun aimed at the river, and it could open fire on vessels approaching the fort. Facing downriver, Battery B was equipped with two rifled thirty-two pounders and three smoothbore thirty-two pounders that could fire on ships as they approached from the mouth of the river. Battery B also supported a pattern 1840 smoothbore thirty-two-pound gun on a front pintle barbette carriage. This rare cannon (only fifty were cast between January 1841 and April 1843) had an effective range of 1,900 yards and weighed 7,100 pounds. The cannon’s carriage alone weighed 4,200 pounds. A thirty-two pounder of the “oldest pattern” and several field pieces faced the landside of the fort to protect against a land attack. Before their use at Fort Anderson, other Confederate forts on the Cape Fear River had used the guns.
On February 17, 1865, Union forces, in a combined land and sea attack, pelted the fort continuously for three days until Confederate forces retreated to Town Creek. The Union Army occupied Fort Anderson on February 19, yet soon were assaulted with gunfire from their own navy who were unaware that Confederates had abandoned the fort. Union infantry waved sheets to signal to their navy to halt the friendly fire.
Towards the end of the Civil War, African American refugees (who had followed Gen. William T. Sherman’s march from Georgia and South Carolina to Fayetteville) were sent to Wilmington. Fort Anderson was used as temporary housing for these refugees, and it is suspected that they lived in the former soldiers’ barracks.
Although many Wilmington residents knew the fate of their city lay in the hands of the enemy after the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, it was not until General Johnson Hagood ordered a retreat from Fort Anderson and Town Creek that Union forces would take permanent control of Wilmington. With the loss of access to the Cape Fear River and the supply lines from Wilmington, many residents predicted an imminent Confederate collapse.
John G. Barrett, Civil War in North Carolina (Chapel Hill, reprint, 1995); Carolina Comments, Vol 57: No 3 (July 2009); North Carolina Historic Sites, “Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson: Overview” http://www.nchistoricsites.org/brunswic/main.htm#ftanderson (accessed May 4, 2010).