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Fortifications and their Armaments.

About the first of March there was strong reason to believe that an attack, in conjunction with an “iron-clad,” was meditated on Newbern. Works of vital importance were ordered, and a few rifled guns were called for to arm them. To the letter disapproving of these works, as not required, I replied March twenty-seventh, viz:

General Foster's plan of defense, on my arrival (in August), depended upon the presence of a goodly number of gunboats, which should command the interior of his flank-works, Stephenson, Anderson, and Spinola, and sweep the ground in form of the Cremaillere line, and also on the other side of the Trent, about Amory and Gaston. Upon calling his attention to the uncertain nature of the Naval defences, he assured me that he would send six army gunboats, and in a measure render the army independent. In view of this arrangement the naval force was materially reduced, as well as the land force, and the expected army boats did not arrive. Under these circumstances, I proposed a small work (Fort Chase) across the river, the strengthening of Anderson, and the short face on the water side of Spinola.

General Foster never expected a water attack, much less by an “iron-clad” which he attempted to burn at Whitehall, or he would not have made wooden gunboats an important element in his defensive system. Consequently, when attack may be looked for by an army and “iron-clad,” some slight modifications are essential to security.

In the latter part of February, two “ironclads” were near completion, and all information from all quarters, indicated a grand combined attack upon Newbern. The Senior Naval officer had some four gunboats for this river, which he regarded as mere “shells,” and only fit for the “Coast Survey service.” For a few days the “Eutaw” was here. In the interview with the Commanders, Davenport and Blake, both agreed that the shots from the “iron-clad” at the obstructions would pass through their steamers with the greatest ease. They also conceded that the Whitworth guns had far greater range than any at their command. Commander Blake assured me that he would take position on the right of the Cremaillere line, and let the “Eutaw” sink, if necessary, for the security of that flank. Under the circumstances I deemed it judicious, in common with officers of rank, to attempt to hold that flank with earthen walls, rather than depend upon wooden ones. The Senior Engineer traced out a small redoubt, using the old lines, and giving a face upon the river. It was done quickly; a one hundred pounder rifle is in the salient, with two thirty-two's sweeping the dead angle in front of the Cremaillere line, between the line of fire of Rowan and the river. The Army and Navy appreciate the importance of this work, which I brought to your notice on the twelfth inst.

Fort Amory.”

The Trent River is a very weak feature in the defence of Newbern, compelling two distinct lines, dependent for communication upon a bridge, liable to be burned at any moment, and giving the enemy the opportunity of concentrating upon either line. Last summer the river was guarded by one or two gunboats, which afforded a measure of protection to the small works, Amory and Gaston, exposed to assault from their advanced positions. These works are located upon the high ground where the bank is bluff, permitting a flotilla of small boats, or a column of infantry, to pass with comparative security in dark and stormy weather.

Upon an examination with General Palmer and Colonel Dutton, something was deemed essential for the Trent side. This conviction was greatly strengthened by the information that the officers do not like to have their gunboats in the Trent.

The absence of the naval element, and the expectation of an early attack, decided that a slight extension of Amory was imperatively demanded. Colonel Dutton, one of the most accomplished Engineers in the service, and of great experience, has looked after this work. It will command the Trent and have a cross-fire upon all the approaches to Fort Totten, besides making us independent of gunboats in that quarter.


The preceding observations upon the general system of defence, apply with equal force to the armament of the fortifications. While no water attack was expected, the old ordnance in North Carolina, when I assumed command, would have sufficed. Not so now. Two “iron-clads” menace us, and may at any moment attempt to recover the command of the Sounds, in conjunction with land forces. In view of this sudden revolution in the rebel means of attack, what artillery has this army which can be depended upon to destroy these “iron-clads” in the absence of “Federal iron-clads?”

It has only seven suitable rifles, six of which were here when no iron boats were dreamed of. A two hundred pounder and a one hundred pounder are at Plymouth. A one hundred pounder is at Hatteras; two are at Fort Macon, and two at Newbern.

In case the “iron-clad” passes Plymouth, Roanoke Island and Hatteras will be visited. One rifle is needed at Hatteras to replace the [134] one moved to Plymouth; and one at Macon, to replace the gun removed to Newbern. “Guns are burst, and otherwise crippled in active service,” and there should be at this depot, at least one or two extra, for such contingencies.

The “Southfield,” burst a one hundred pounder in extricating the “Bombshell” on the Chowan. On the twenty-fourth Commander Flusser was expecting the “iron-clad” and an attack at Plymouth, and wrote to Commander Davenport, urgently, for a one hundred pounder rifle, for the “Southfield.” Had I an extra gun, I could have served our naval friends at a time when it would have been appreciated.

If these considerations have any force at all, the number seven) of guns asked for by the Ordnance Officer on the fourteenth instant, is quite as small as is proper.

* * * * * *

What has been done are such modifications as seemed imperatively called for, in view of the public interests intrusted to me. Had they not been made, and disaster befallen us, the Government and the Major-General commanding the Department would not have excused me for delaying to communicate with the Engineer Officer at Fort Monroe.

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