Benjamin H Porter

Buried in the Lake View Cemetery, Skaneateles, Onondaga County, New York

Lt, US Navy. Killed in the assault on Fort Fisher January 15, 1865.....Civil War soldier from Lockport, New York. One of the 600+ men from Niagara County who lost their lives in the war.

Benjamin Horton Porter was born in Skaneateles on the 10th of July, 1844, the son of James Gurdon Porter and Sarah Grosvenor Porter.

He was assigned to the command of the Malvern, the admiral’s flagship. Here Porter also reunited with his best friend, Lt. Samuel W. Preston.12 The pair had attended the Academy together, and both had been captured during the assault on Sumter. Preston served as the admiral’s flag-lieutenant. Cushing, Porter’s friend and former commander on the Ellis, was also on the scene.

Less than a month later, the trio was part of a Union expeditionary force that commenced operations against Wilmington, North Carolina. The Confederacy’s last major port and a critical supply line for the Southern armies, the city was defended by Fort Fisher. The incursion occurred during the last week of December 1864 and it failed.

Overall Union commander Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was disappointed with the results. He ordered another expedition to try again. On January 13-14, 1865, a Union force of 8,000 infantry and artillery landed and established a beachhead while an armada of 60 warships with a total firepower of 627 guns readied for action.

The commander of the expedition, Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Terry, planned a massive bombardment by the navy to soften the enemy’s defenses followed by a two-pronged ground assault. One column of infantry would attack the west side of the fort while a column of navy men hit the northeast salient. Terry scheduled the attack for January 15.

“It is 4 o’clock in the morning, and we are moving in for the attack,” Porter stated in a hastily written letter to his mother. “We will strike a telling blow for Columbia to-day. America expects every man to do his duty, and our gallant tars never flinch.”

The landing and initial deployment in preparation for the attack was made during the massive naval bombardment, which lasted from about 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. that afternoon. About that time a signal was given for the columns to begin the assault. Though the naval column was under the tactical command of Fleet Captain Kidder R. Breese, Lt. Porter was the catalyst to spur the men forward.

“The terrible hour for the assault came,” recounted historian John S.C. Abbott, “Young Porter, bearing the Admiral’s flag, claimed the post of honor in leading the headmost column with the Malvern men. As he left the ship, with the flag in his hand, he said, ‘Admiral, this shall be the first flag on the fort."

Lieutenants Preston and Cushing stood alongside Porter, and all were dressed in their best uniforms complete with gold lace. Cushing recalled the charge. “Ben looked grave and determined, and I remember being much impressed by his supremely noble bearing. In a moment we were under a terrific fire, and the men commenced to get confused. It needed all the pluck and daring that man can have to lead and give confidence to the sailors in charging up that bare and level beach. Ben threw himself to the front, flag in hand, and the charge went on.”

Cushing continued, “At the palisade, by the ditch that surrounds the fort, Ben fell, shot through the breast. His last words were, ‘Carry me down to the beach.’” Four sailors tried to move him, but two were killed in the attempt as shot and shells reined down upon them. Cushing, still on his feet, noted that Porter then “waved the others aside with a last motion, and died, with as sweet a smile as I could paint with words.”

Porter was twenty years old. His body was left behind in the sand. A few yards away lay his best friend, Lt. Preston, who had fallen at almost the same moment.

The assault lost power and the column crumbled. The defenders of Fisher sensed the shift in momentum, mounted the parapet and fired down into the disorganized mass. The sailors and Marines broke and ran while the enemy firing raged. A small group of stalwarts dug into to the sand and remained until nightfall when they made their escape. One of these men, Lt. John Bartlett, had befriended Porter at the Academy. Bartlett had seen Porter fall. “I wished to see if my friend Porter was still alive,” he explained to his sisters in a letter a few days after the fight. “He was lying on the beach about a hundred yards from the palisades. I ran to him and dropped beside him. I found him dead, a shot having passed through his body. I took his sword, belt, and glove, and then, oh! how I did run for a little way. The rebels fired about twenty shots at me."

The assault failed with a long casualty list—307 men and officers. Seeking perhaps to put a brave face on the disaster, navy commanders asserted that the action succeeded in creating a diversion that drew attention away from the west end of the fort. There the army column scored a major breakthrough that led to the capture of the fort and subsequent fall of Wilmington.

Taken from the Library of Congress.

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Battles and Leaders of the Civil War
Volume 4
Being for the most part contributions by Union and Confederate
officers.  Based upon "The Century War Series."  Edited by
Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarenct Clough Buel, of the
editorial staff of "The Century Magazine"
New York---The Century Company
Copyright--1884, 1887, 1888 by The Century Company