At the onset of the Civil War the newly formed Confederacy found itself heavily dependent on imported manufactured goods for both its military and civilian needs. This reliance gave ports, like Wilmington, great strategic importance and made their defense a key concern of Southern leaders. Wilmington and the entrances to the Cape Fear River were defended by a series of forts and batteries.
Old Inlet was defended by Forts Caswell and Campbell on Oak Island, and Fort Holmes on Baldhead Island. Fort Fisher, a massive earthen fortification, and Battery Buchanan protected New Inlet. Fort Johnston, a fort dating to the colonial era, was located in Smithville, today known as Southport. On the east bank of the Cape Fear River, stretching across Federal Point from the river to the sound, just below present day Snow’s Cut, was a line of entrenchments anchored by a battery on Sugar Loaf Hill, inside present day Carolina Beach State Park. Located along the western bank of the Cape Fear River, opposite Sugar Loaf was Fort Anderson.
Constructed on top of the northern section of colonial Brunswick and situated on a low rise, the fort commanded the river channel and guarded the land approaches to Wilmington. Fort Anderson consisted of two large batteries overlooking the Cape Fear River. These batteries, between 16 and 25 feet high, mounted the fort’s heavy artillery and commanded the river. Extending out from these main batteries were a series of smaller emplacements and curtain walls running for nearly a mile out to Orton Pond. Fort Anderson was second only to Fort Fisher in size and strength.
After the capture of Fort Fisher by Union forces on January 15, 1865, Fort Anderson became the last major obstacle between the Union Army and the vital port of Wilmington. From February 16 through February 18, 1865, Union forces maneuvered against Fort Anderson and flanked the fort along its western end, going around Orton Pond, forcing the evacuation of the fort. This forced the defending Confederate soldiers to retreat towards Town Creek. With Anderson captured the Confederate line at Sugar Loaf was untenable, Union gunboats could now move up the river and threaten their rear. This was repeated at Town Creek and Forks Road. Wilmington fell on February 22, 1865 as Union soldiers crossed the Cape Fear River from the west.