Preparations having been completed, at noon on the 18th of December the largest fleet that had ever sailed under the Union flag formed lines in accordance with instructions, and proceeded to the rendezvous, twenty-five miles east of Fort Fisher
, a distance of fifty miles from Beaufort Roads. There was a good deal of awkwardness in forming lines with vessels that had never acted together, and there were several officers in command not well versed in the matter, simple enough, had the leading vessels steamed slowly on their course and thus permitted their followers to fall into the positions assigned in line.
The appearance was not promising; there was much room for improvement; but when under the fire of the enemy the vessels took up their positions with less disorder and more celerity than in forming the first order of sailing, or ‘line ahead,’ at distances of two ships' lengths apart.
The fleet reached the rendezvous and anchored after a run of ten hours, and found the transports at anchor, having on board the command of General Butler
The weather was not regarded as favorable for landing troops, and the vessels remained at anchor.
On the 20th a heavy southwest gale set in, and the army transports being short of water, and many of them not well adapted to ride out a gale at anchor, a number of them made for Beaufort
The depth of water where the vessels anchored was seventeen fathoms with sandy bottom;