the garrisons of Fort Fisher
and its adjuncts to a minimum; but even the small number required was not available for this purpose till October; when it was judged that the collection and evolutions of a great fleet in Hampton Roads
must have attracted the enemy's attention and prompted a reenforcement of the threatened defenses.
(The original plan of the expedition contemplated the collection and outfit of this fleet at or near Port Royal
, under the guise of a demonstration against Fort Sumter
; but this was overruled by considerations of obvious convenience.) Meantime, the fertile genius of General Butler
had been stimulated by the accounts of a tremendous gunpowder explosion at Erith, England
, whereby destructive effects had been produced at a considerable distance; and he had conceived the project of running a vessel filled with gunpowder under the sea-wall of Fort Fisher
, and there exploding it; trusting that, at least, the garrison would be so paralyzed by the resulting earthquake as to facilitate a prompt seizure of the fort by its expectant besiegers.
Delays in preparation occurred, as usual; Gen. Butler
by telegraph to New York, to keep the peace there during the Presidential election; and, when he returned,2
the powder experiment had been resolved on and preparation for it partially made.
But Gen. Grant
now left the front for a flying visit to his family in New Jersey
, devolving on Gen. Butler
the chief command; and, when he returned, of the 250 tons of powder required, 100 tons were still wanting, and did not arrive at Fortress Monroe
till December: thus the expedition did not get fairly off till the 14th. Admiral Porter
, commanding the naval part of it, was off Beaufort, N. C.
, on the 16th; though Gen. Butler
, in advance of the transport fleet, had reached our blockaders off Wilmington
the night before.
The transports and troops were at Masonborough inlet, 18 miles north, or nearly east of Wilmington
, it is clear, had not designed that Butler
should accompany the expedition, but intended that Weitzel
should be its commander; yet it is equally plain that, up to a very late hour, Gen. Butler
undoubtingly understood that he was not merely to fit it out, but personally command it. So he did.
, with his war vessels, arrived on the 18th, and at once sent up the powder-boat Louisiana
, intending to explode her forthwith; but, on Butler
's remonstrance that the land forces must be ready to follow up the explosion with an assault, he countermanded the order.
It appears that the Rebels
were not aware of the presence or imminence of the expedition till the 20th--a few vessels more or less in the offing, where several blockaders were generally visible, not wearing any special significance.
But now, as the wind was high and the sea rough, with a prospect of still worse weather, the transports put back 70 miles to Beaufort, N. C.
, for water, &c.; when a storm ensued which prevented their return till the 26th.
--who was not on terms of cordiality with Gen. Butler
--set to work by himself.
He had sent in the powder-boat Louisiana