Doc. 20. capture of Plymouth, N. C.
headquarters Army and District of North Carolina, Newbern, North Carolina, April 25, 1864.General: I have the honor to submit the following report upon the loss of Plymouth, which is as full as it can be until General Wessells is able to make his reports, when I will make a supplementary one: On the twentieth, at seven o'clock, P. M.,I received your communication of the seventeenth, in reply to the letter of General Wessels, of the thirteenth, asking for reinforcements. As this letter must have reached your headquarters in the evening of the fourteenth, or early on the fifteenth, a reply could have reached me on the sixteenth in time to have communicated with General Wessels during the evening or night of the seventeenth. Unfortunately, the reply was not written until the seventeenth, and did not arrive on the twentieth until some hours after the fall of Plymouth. You replied, viz.: “You will have to defend the district with your present force, and you will make such disposition of them as will, in your judgment, best subserve this end.” General Wessels sent his communication direct to your headquarters, to save time, expecting that any aid which might be sent, would come from Virginia, and not North Carolina. He  sent a duplicate to me, with a letter expressing the above views, knowing the reduced state of the force at my disposal. He writes, viz.: “I have no idea of getting any troops, but have always been anxious to see more troops in North Carolina.” Notwithstanding this expression of his sentiments, I had a conference with General Palmer and Commander Davenport, United States Navy, and the heavy gunboat “Tacony,” which is equal to two or three regiments, was immediately despatched to Plymouth. On the eighteenth instant the “Tacony” arrived back from Plymouth, with despatches from General Wessels and Commander Flusser. General Wessels wrote that he did not apprehend any attack, and did not think there was a large force in his front. He expressed the opinion that there was doubt as to the “iron-clad” making its appearance, and believed that she was at Hamilton undergoing repairs or modifications. He wrote on the sixteenth, viz.:
I have the honor to report that the gunboat Tacony arrived here to-day, but as her presence at this time does not seem to be necessary, I have so informed her commander, and he proposes to return to Newbern to-morrow. I cannot learn that there is any considerable force of the enemy on the river now, though such is the report from various sources. I very much doubt if there is any design of bringing the thing (iron-clad) down. Still there may be, as they say, when the ‘Neuse-Ram’ is ready. I am desirous of seeing more troops in this State,&c. Commander Flusser, also, wrote to Commander Davenport, Senior Naval Officer, viz.: “I think General Peck misinterpreted General Wessels' letter. We have had no scare here yet, and not even a small one for several days.” These able commanders had so much confidence in their ability to hold their positions against anything the enemy could bring against them, that they sent back the reinforcements sent them. This action placed me entirely at rest respecting affairs at Plymouth. On Monday (eighteenth) afternoon, about 5:30 P. M., I received advices by deserters that General Corse was in front of the outposts at Bachelor's Creek, with a large force of all arms, and that General Pickett would attack Little Washington on Tuesday. This information, taken in connection with that from General Wessels, of the sixteenth instant, respecting the disappearance or diminution of the force in his front, led the authorities here to believe that Little Washington would be attacked immediately. Two steamers loaded with troops, together with the gunboat “Tacony,” were despatched to Little Washington. At an early hour on Tuesday morning, the nineteenth instant, despatches were received from General Wessels and Commander Flusser, announcing an attack by a rebel land force, on the afternoon of the seventeenth instant. This was the first information received from General Wessels subsequent to the sixteenth instant, when the “Tacony” was sent back as above stated. The latest information received, through a contraband, the servant of Captain Stewart, A. . General, General Wessels' staff, is to the effect that early on Tuesday morning the “ironclad” had complete control of the Roanoke River, and in conjunction with the floating iron battery--the “Cotton plant” --was attacking the town in rear, while the land forces were engaging our troops in front. From this statement it will be seen that the enemy had complete control of the Roanoke River, within a very few hours of the time I received General Wessels' despatch of Sunday night, the seventeenth instant. On the reception of these despatches, which were very favorable, steamers were despatched with such available infantry as General Palmer could spare, together with supplies of ammunition for the Army and Navy at Plymouth, These steamers were detained in the Albemarle Sound by the gunboats, then lying in Edenton Bay, which had escaped from the “iron-clad” at Plymouth. In my judgment the non-arrival of the infantry at Plymouth, is most fortunate, as they, together with the steamers, beyond doubt, would have fallen into the hands of the enemy. A steamer with despatches was promptly sent to General Harland, commanding at Little Washington, notifying him of the state of affairs at Plymouth. He was also requested to send down such surplus troops as he might have, to be used at such points as might seem necessary. I also sent despatches for the “Tacony” to proceed at once from Little Washington to Plymouth. Before these despatches arrived, Colonel Dutton, Chief of my Staff, had procured the sailing of the “Tacony” for Plymouth-going on board himself. Colonel Dutton also suggested to General Harland that he should send the steamer “Pilot-boy” with the Seventeenth Massachusetts volunteers to Plymouth, but General Harland did not feel at liberty to do so, in view of his situation. All the information received by both the Senior Naval officer, Commander Davenport, and myself, was promptly sent to your headquarters, by both lines of communication. General Wessells was supplied with provisions, forage, ammunition, tools, and other requisites for a protracted siege. His command numbered some two thousand five hundred at Plymouth, and the casualties were very small, notwithstanding five assaults on Monday. His position was intact up to the appearance of the “iron-clad” and “Cotton plant” at three A. M., the nineteenth, and but for the loss of the river he could have held the land forces at bay for weeks. General Wessells and his command, and the navy under the late gallant Lieutenant-Commander Flusser, made a heroic fight worthy of our arms. They deserve well of the country, and  history will record in glowing terms their honorable conduct. A few days since, I communicated the information, entirely reliable, that floats were being prepared to buoy the “ram” over the principal shoals in the Neuse River, between this place and Kinston. It has been the intention from the first to bring the two “iron-clads” from the Roanoke and Neuse together in an attack upon Newbern. Should this movement be delayed, it will result solely from the exigencies of rebel service in other parts of the Confederacy. Colonel Ripley, commanding Sub-District of Beaufort, advised me of a contemplated movement upon Fort Macon, down the Banks, and that pontoons were being made with reference to this object. He further advised that it is currently believed in Onslow county, that General Martin has been assigned the same duty as before, to wit: the attack upon Newport Barracks and the railroad. The reinforcements sent to General Wessells have since been ordered to occupy Roanoke Island. The Chief Engineer has also been there to aid the Commander, in placing the Island in the best state of defense. The Chief Engineer expresses the opinion that the “iron-clad” will have no difficulty in passing through the Croatan Sounds and this opinion is concurred in by the Captains of our Transports. General Palmer, who is immediately responsible for the safety of Newbern and its appendages, was of the opinion that no more troops should be detached from his command. The Senior Naval Officer did not think it his duty to detach any of the force at his disposal here.
Iron-clads.Since our only disaster in North Carolina has resulted from the introduction by the rebels of formidable “iron-clads” in their offensive operations, it becomes very important to show what steps have been taken to advise Major-General Butler, and to protect North Carolina from rebel invasions. Soon after my arrival, I learned that the “iron-clad” was on the stocks at Edwards' Ferry, and advised the Department Commander in two communications, proposing a raid to burn it. The reply (in September) was, that “the force of the Department will not permit of the proposed movement at present.” September tenth, I asked for a small “iron-clad.” November fifteenth, 1863, I addressed Major-General Butler as follows, viz.:
During a recent visit at Plymouth, I found the Senior Naval Officer somewhat nervous in consequence of a report having reached General Wessells of an examination of the Roanoke, with a view to bringing down a “ram” at Edwards' Ferry, some twelve or fifteen miles below Halifax. All sorts of reports are put afloat for the purpose of influencing our operations. My latest advices are that she is not yet complete. Since assuming the command in North Carolina, I have kept strict watch over this matter, and frequently advised General Foster respecting the progress of the work on the “iron-clad.” I suggested the propriety of burning it in August, but the General did not feel very apprehensive, and replied that the troops at our command would not warrant the enterprise. The fortifications at Plymouth have been pushed with great vigor, and I have added materially to the armament. A water battery is in progress for a two hundred pounder rifle with a centre pintle carriage, which will complete the river works. While waiting for the two hundred pounder, I have moved a hundred pounder from Hatteras, which is the only available gun of the kind in North Carolina. I do not feel very. apprehensive, unless the “ram” moves in conjunction with a land force. Doubtless General Foster advised you that he had withdrawn all the best and available troops in North Carolina. There is no reserve force here, nor in any of the sub-districts. In case of an advance upon the lines, the force would be quite too small for a proper defence.December twenty-sixth, 1863, I wrote Major-General Butler, viz.:
If Longstreet is well provided for during the inactivity of Grant and Meade, and the quiet of General Gillmore, some forces could be collected for rebel enterprises in North Carolina, during our destitute condition.After the attack on Newbern, about the first of February, I wrote as follows:
In view of the great interests at stake in the State, and of the smallness of the force for its protection, I hope one regiment of cavalry and a brigade of infantry may be sent to me. A large force is much needed, and should be sent, if it can be spared without jeopardizing public interests elsewhere.February thirteenth, I wrote, viz.:
My information is of such a nature as to induce the belief that ‘Jeff Davis’ has decided upon recovering Newbern and the Sounds, probably as a preliminary step to Lee's retrograde movement in the spring. Both rams are expected down the Neuse and Roanoke in conjunction with land troops. It seems certain that the one at Kinston is intended to come down on the next high water.February eighteenth, I wrote, viz.:
On receiving most reliable information of the organization of a naval brigade for opening these Sounds, with the aid of the rams in Neuse and Roanoke rivers, I directed the blockading up of the Neuse with old hulks, within range of our battteries. This work is now in progress. I then proceeded to Little Washington and perfected similar arrangements in the Tar River, and fully advised all the authorities of the rebel plans, and gave the necessary orders for foiling them, to the extent of our means. Since my return I have examined men respecting the “ram” at Kinston, and their in  formation is positive, reliable, and confirmatory of what I had advised you. The ram is to be sent down on the next high water. The engine has been taken fiom “Pugh Mills;” it was once in a factory in this city.February twenty-third, I wrote, viz.:
Your letter of the twentieth has just reached me, and I agree with your views, except in one particular, viz.: ‘I don't believe in the ironclad.’ Hitherto it has been a question of iron and time. A communication from General Wessels, of the same date as yours, settles the matter in my judgment. His spy has just come in from Halifax. He came from Wilmington, and twenty-five thousand pounds of iron was on the same train for this identical gunboat. The General writes that other parties, from near Garrysburg, who have not seen the boat, confirm the reports of the shipment of iron. He adds the following: ‘In view of the possibility of such a monster coming down it would be well, I think, to procure the hulks, if practicable, and cause them to be sunk in suitable places.’February twenty-fourth, I wrote, viz.:
Every day and hour brings testimony bearing upon the plan of the Confederate authorities for driving us out of the old North State. It has been substantially communicated by me. The present intention is to attack us as soon as the gunboat can get down. Mr. Hall visited the ram on Monday, this week, and confirms all that has been reported. Her machinery is all in, and she is about ready. Mr. Hall is about fifty-five years of age, of intelligence and extensive acquaintance, and has come back with his family.February twenty-ninth, I wrote, viz.:
He is now removing the blockade and obstructions, some six miles below Kinston, for the purpose of bringing the ram and boat flotilla to this city. The ram in the Roanoke is expected to be in condition to co-operate. The one at Kinston is virtually completed, and on the first flood will come down. They are so confident of success in the Neuse, that General Pickett will not delay for the one at Halifax.March seventh, I wrote, viz.:
Colonel McChesney, on the fifth, states, that all the contrabands agree that there is a large force at Kinston, and also at Greenville, and that the obstructions below Kinston are being removed.March twelfth, I wrote, viz.:
He states that some four hundred men were put to work on the gunboat by Pickett on his return, with instructions to complete her as soon as possible, and before the fourteenth, the anniversary of the fall of Newbern. The boat is virtually done, and two additional guns for her arrived last Tuesday, making four in all. He was at the blockade, and it has been all removed and the channel staked out. He thinks they have great faith in the ram, and fully intend an attack when there is a freshet. I had hoped a sufficient force might be sent here to enable me to take the offensive and give the State a chance to break away from the rotten Confederacy, when the people would rally round the army of deliverance and the Union. This hope is long deferred, I fear.March eighteenth, I wrote, viz.:
A few weeks since I advised you of the return of a man sent out by General Wessels to procure information concerning the ‘ram’ at Halifax. He was on a train that carried some twenty-five thousand pounds of iron from Wilmington to Halifax. Yesterday several refugees came in from Wilmington.. One of them had been in the Coleraine Foundry, at Wilmington, since the commencement of the war. He is from Indiana. He says several shipments of iron have been made to Halifax and Kinston for the gunboats, and confirms the report made to General Wessels. Some of the iron has been made near Atlanta, where the Confederates have extensive works.March twenty-ninth, I wrote, viz.:
My spy came in from Kinston last evening, having been out seven days. He says the two “iron-clads” are to act in conjunction, and when the enemy is ready he will be attacked. The water has risen in the river, and the “ iron-clad” is afloat at Kinston.April fourteenth I wrote, viz.:
General Harland reports no change in his front on the twelfth inst.; his letter has the following, which I extract:General Butler and Admiral Lee examined a courier of General Pickett's, and he was sent to me March eighth. He stated:John Wolfenden, who lives about two miles from Fort “Jack,” says that he was up towards Greenville last Sunday and saw Captain Myers of Whitford's regiment; he says that Myers told him, that the ram at Kinston was completed, and that the only delay was in the construction of the small boats, to take her over the shoals. He thought everything would be ready in less than a week.I think his account of his conversation with Myers can be relied on.
Impression when he left was that Newbern would be attacked when the “ram” was done. General Hoke said it was a pity they had not waited for the “ram,” as Newbern might have been taken without trouble. General Hoke placed three hundred men at work on the “iron-clad.”On the ninth of March he wrote, viz:
I have laid your previous despatches before General Halleck, and he tells me that he knows of no troops that can be spared for our Department; so we must work along as we are.Major-General Butler wrote, February twentieth, in response to this and much more information, viz: “I don't believe in the ‘ iron-clad.’ ” On the ninth of March, he wrote as follows:
With the force you have, we shall expect you to hold North Carolina against all comers.  Don't let the army get frightened at the “ram,” she must have at least two feet of water to float in, and with proper vigilance you can take care of her.This command has been depleted from time to time, until on the (lay of the attack at Plymouth, there was only ten thousand men for duty in the whole District, scattered from the banks below Fort Macon to Plymouth, guarding long lines and many posts.
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. “Ordnance.” 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  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.
Conclusion.The criticisms in the letter on “Fortifications and Armaments” are based upon principles, and are unanswerable. The views set forth on the twenty-ninth of March, have been verified in the clearest manner by the fall of Plymouth. The defenses on the left of Fort Williams (the central work) consists of open works, and are dependent upon the gunboats. The gunboats were forced out of the river, the “iron-clad” attacked these works in rear, and they soon became untenable. The land forces entered the town on that flank. Had all the works been enclosed, the results would have been very different. When we were at Plymouth, I called your attention to this feature of the system of defence. I am, very respectfully, Your obedient servant,
Honorable Secretary of War should see, and as I am no longer in the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, I hasten to transmit the same with the request that General Butler may be furnished a copy. On the fourth inst., Colonel F. Beach, United States army, second in command at Plymouth, reported to me in person, that General Hoke informed General Wessells and himself, that the works I had constructed, since Pickett's demonstration at Newbern in February, saved that place from attack at that time. The works referred to are those pronounced unnecessary by General Butler. In my correspondence, the belief is uniformly expressed that. the Confederates would attempt to drive us from Eastern North Carolina. In February, Pickett attacked Batchelor's Creek, Croatan, Havelock, Newport, and other places, threatening Newbern. Other plans were interfered with, or delayed. The loss of Plymouth and Little Washington was promptly followed by a campaign for Newbern. The following letter is pertinent and verifies my prediction.
May 3, 1864.General: I have just heard from Captain Cook, commanding the iron-clad Albemarle, who writes that he feels satisfied that the boat can stand the Sound, and will be with us. I will move at six o'clock to-morrow morning, and will communicate with you at Pollocksville, on the river bank, as soon as I reach that point. I desire you to move at six o'clock to-morrow morning, and proceed to Pollocksville, and while your column is resting there, you will construct a bridge over Mill Creek. You will have two miles less to march than my column, in going to Pollocksville. Respectfully yours,
Hoke's forces, estimated at twelve thousand, left the vicinity of Newbern on the sixth of May, for Richmond, and Newbern is still ours. General Butler did not believe any demonstration would be made upon my command, at any time, and adhered to his theory up to my withdrawal, as will be seen from the following extract:
headquarters Eighteenth Army corps, Fortress Monroe, May 3, 1864.General: Your note of the twenty-fourth of April reached my hand to-day, and I hasten to reply. Your being relieved from Newbern by me in no manner implies any censure upon your action or disapproval of your administration, and was determined upon many days before the order was actually sent, and before it was known or believed that there would be any demonstration upon your command by the enemy. That order was delayed by the necessities of the service in other movements of the Department, which are solely subjects of explanation. With sentiments of respect and esteem, I have the honor to be, Very respectfully, Your obedient servant,
John J. Peck, Major-General.
headquarters Eighteenth Army corps, Newbern, August 17, 1863.On the fifteenth instant I received a communication from Admiral Lee, United States Navy, to the effect that the iron-clad on the Roanoke, at Edwards' Ferry, was nearly completed. On the sixteenth I reached Plymouth, and had an interview with General Wessels and Captain Flusser. Some deserters had just arrived, and from them the following information was elicited in respect to Rainbow Bluff, etc., etc.: Three guns in embrasure to command the approach by the river from below. One, a rifled thirty-two pounder; others twenty-four pounders. One twenty-four pounder on field carriage in an angle of the fort, sweeps the land approaches. There are also two twelve-pounders, brass, and three six-pounders playing over the breastwork; rifle-pits on bank below fort, two hundred yards long; five field-pieces artillery in Hamilton — Graham's battery; three companies, Pales' battalion, garrison the fort. At Butler's Bridge, two miles from the fort, are intrenchments, with a place for one gun. Camp of Seventeenth regiment (eleven hundred strong), near the fort, and the camp of the Fifty-sixth regiment about one mile from Hamilton, from fort, and from Butler's Bridge. At Whitney's Bridge (river road) the bridge is destroyed, road barricaded, and a breastwork one hundred yards above. Five thousand men at Garrysburg; five hundred men at Edwards' Ferry, guarding the iron-clad battery and ironclad in course of construction. These recent dispositions have resulted from your late raids, and will make it a matter of some difficulty to destroy the “iron-clad” at Edwards' Ferry. For this enterprise, from eight hundred to one thousand good cavalry will be requisite. My plan would be to land the cavalry six or eight miles above Plymouth, and move by Windsor, on an intermediate road, Roxobel, etc., since this rout has been less used by our troops than the one via Winton. A demonstration from Norfolk via Winton upon Weldon, at the same time, would materially enhance the chances of success. I respectfully submit the above information and suggestions for your consideration. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major-General J. G. Foster, commanding Department of Virginia and North Carolina, Fortress Monroe:
Major-General J. G. Foster, commanding Department of Virginia and North Carolina, Fortress Monroe:
John J. Peck, Major-General.