The stronghold of Wilmington North Carolina sat inland about 29 miles along the Cape Fear River. It was the last open port to the Confederacy and was heavily depending on for the shipping of goods out of the country to places like the Bahamas and Bermuda and even Nova Scotia. There the goods would be exchanged for other most needed war supplies and food. Capture Wilmington and the war would be over very soon.
And what protected Wilmington was Fort Fisher, along the Atlantic at the outlet of the Cape Fear River. It took 4 years to build this massive fort. It was the biggest the Confederates had, and one of the strongest in the entire world. And that's why it was known as the Gibraltar of the South. There were 44 heavy guns, 125 smaller cannons and 1500 infantry to defend Willmington against any attacks by land or sea. Her outer walls stood 9 ft. high. An inner series of walls stood upwards of 30 ft. high, and beyond that stood over a thousand men itching to kill the union attackers.
To take the fort the Union's Admiral David D Porter was sent in with his North Atlantic Fleet. His flag ship for the battle was the USS Malvern, and the Admiral's flag officer was none other than Lt Sam Preston.
Over about a 2 day period these powerful ships would launch over 40,000 shells into the Fort. One reference said there were 100 shells blowing up ever minute during some points in the battle. It would then send in an advance landing party of volunteers and then the main body of about 2,000 sailors and marines. The army would be advancing their troops from the back of the fort but had to go through dense brush.
Ontario born Sam Preston was in charge of a portion of the advance party of pioneers. Their job was to land and dig a series of slit trenches that the marines could occupy when the main landing party was landed. But as soon as they landed thay came under most gailing heavy fire of shot and shell and grape cannisters. It was most deadly and many men perrished within short order. Lt Preston's Annapolis class mate landed with him and within minutes both lay dead on the beach. Less than 50 yards from the fort walls. But they had succeeded in getting the rifle pits dug. Preston was only 23 years old. His class mate only 19.
The fort fell later that afternoon. Early in the evening the bodies of these two very highly thought of officers were brought back to the union flagship and to flags at half mast. Preston had issued instructions that his body was to be buried at Annapolis in the event he fell and those instructions were complied with.
Within a month Wilmington would also be taken. Less than 3 months later the Confederates surrendered and the war was over. Six days later President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
THE MEDAL OF HONOR
When a sailor or soldier's name is written up by commanding officers to their superiors, these write up's or MENTION IN DISPATCHES are, in themselves, often considered, as being bravery awards. Lt Samuel William Preston was often written up in these reports.
On 16 January 1865 Lt. Commander Breese wrote to Admiral Porter about Lt Sam Preston and the digging of rifle pits as part of the advance landing party. He said in part that... "The manner in which the work was done reflects most credibly upon Lt Preston." Lt Preston's services were most useful to me, and in his last movements he attempted to send me word that he had carried out my orders. The country will regret the death of Lt S W Preston, acting as my aide in carrying orders who was killed at the front. I could not fail to mention those above named, who came personally under my notice and I trust that the commanding officer of the assault lines will do justice to all."
On the 18th this same officer wrote to the Secretary of the Navy about Preston and his former class mate... Lt Porter. In this letter he stated that... "Two more noble spirits the world never saw, nor had the navy more intrepid men, young, talented and handsome, the bravest of the brave, pure in their lives, surely their names deserve something more than passing mention and are worthy to be handed down to posterity with the greatest and best of naval heroes.
On 1 Feb. Admiral Porter himself wrote to the Secretary of the Navy re these same two young officers. He said that..." No eulogy passed on these 2 gallant men could do them justice. To me they had both endured themselves by their noble qualities, and in their deaths, I feel as if I have lost 2 members of my own family. Their names and gallant deeds will be long be remembered by their associates in arms, and the memory of their heroic gallantry will inspire future heroes to emulate their conduct. The officers of the squadron propose to erect a monument at Annapolis to the memory of the gallant deed. But their memories will live in history long after the stone that records their deeds has crumbled to dust. They all died like heroes and the nation is as much bound to mourn their loss as those who have held higher positions. They are all regreted deaply here, and their names will all be forever associated with any of the most gallant attacks ever made on a powerful fortress."
Yet every man in his team got a Medal of Honor!
The record will show that a very similar event took place in the Spanish American War when Naval constructor Hobson was in charge of the Merrimack that was filled with powder to blow up in mid harbour in an ettempt to block the Spanish Navy inside the harbour. Every one of those volunteers was awarded a Medal of Honor. Except Dobson for the same reason noted above. But several years later the president awarded Hobson, then an Admiral, with a MOH. And it was for the SpanAmWar event just described.
But that has yet to happen to Lt. Samuel William Preston of Ontario, Canada.
It seems to me that if the Admiral can be so awarded so can the Lieutenant!
Over the years there have been several US war ships named after Canadians.
Lt Sam Preston has had SIX names after him!