Our Wilmington Correspondence.
We give below the letters of the correspondents of the Dispatch
at Wilmington, North Carolina
, both of which would have been received some days since but for the interruptions in the mails.
They will be found very interesting.
Sunday night, rumors of an impending attack upon this place were again current, and, as usual, caused no little excitement.
The alarm bell was rung and the citizens, called to arms; but no one could tell from what point the danger was apprehended.
At last, the reports began to come in, and we learned a fleet of sixty sail had left Fortress Monroe
for the avowed purpose of making an attack upon the forts and the defences at the mouth of the Cape Fear
At the same time, it was said further, a force of twenty thousand men, under Butler
, had landed somewhere in the Roanoke
rivers, and was preparing to march upon this city by land.
The best information from scouts, and also from Richmond
, seemed to confirm these reports.
Monday morning, at an early hour, the fleet came off Fort Fisher
— and in a short time thirty vessels, of all classes, were in sight.
Among them the Wabash
Throughout the day great activity was noticeable, the square-rigged vessels being busy in lowering their topsail yards, housing spars and clearing away for action; and it was expected they would engage the forts at high tide.
The day went by, however, without any movement on their part beyond the preparations mentioned; nor was anything farther heard from the land force higher up the coast.
During the night a gale arose outside, blowing on shore, and this morning it is terrific.
Such a storm has not been felt here for some years.
Nothing more favorable could have occurred; and it seemed as if the special hand of an over-ruling Providence
was in it. When I went out, the wind blew fearfully.--Houses swayed to and fro, loosened shingles sailed through the air, and the blinding dust flew in dense clouds, filling mouth, eyes and cars, and almost suffocating the struggling pedestrian.
The trees bent and rocked, while the leaves flew in drifts and the dead limbs fell to the ground.
Many fences in the town were levelled.
In the river, the sight was more interesting and reminded one of those lively marine pictures of Turner
, or the sketches in the harbors of Osteoid and Boulogne
by the French
artists the same school.
The waves ran high and drifted rapidly in. The ferry-boats were nearly swamped; and all the vessels in the harbor had to be securely fastened to the wharf, while, on deck, everything was lashed as in a gale at sea. The smaller steamers had to get up steam in case they broke loosed from their moorings, and the receiving ship Arctic
's old ship) drifted her anchors, and had to be bound, head and stern, to the shore.
From six to eight, the wind increased.
Eight, nine, ten, it continued to blow fearfully, threatening to unroof the houses and uproot the trees.
In addition to the dust and small particles of sand, that struck against one's face like bird shot, the air was white with feculent cotton whirling in fantastic circles like pallen or thistle down upon a summer breeze.
Large crowds gathered under the lee of corner buildings and watched the singular sights, while the dandies twirled their mustaches in store doors, keeping an eye out for neatly turned ankles, and — ankles; but few of the fairer sex dared the raving blast.
A gang of teal attempted to beat up the wind, but, making no progress for half an hour, finally plunged into the river; a bevy of school girls tried to walk up the street, but failing, turned and scudded before the wind to a place of safety.
Eleven o'clock, the barometer sinks; twelve, and the air grows heavy, while drops of rain begin to fall.
At one, came a shower, and even in mid-winter was heard low muttering thunder, like the roll of distant artillery.
Of course, with such a gale within the precincts of a town with forests around and a background of hills upon an unbroken stretch of sea, it must have been more sensibly felt.
Within the ground swell it was always impossible for a vessel to lay, and, one by one, the Yankees
ran out to sea under easy steam, with everything taut on board, guns lashed and close-furled canvass.
But a few of them remain in sight this evening.--What could have occurred more favorable to us than this?
For days and days back it has been very warm and pleasant, and the river and harbor almost as placid as a lake.
Now, at the very moment the enemy is preparing to attack us, a fearful storm arises and scatters their armada, knocking up such a sea it is impossible for troops to land or to work the guns against our works.
This delay gives us time to bring up troops and complete the preparations for defence.
It seems almost a special interposition of Providence
— as much so as when the waters of the Red sea
receded miles and miles to permit the passage of the Jewish host, and the returning tide came on to engulf their pursuers.
With this material aid from on high, if proper preparations for defence are not made, the place deserves to fall.
And about its defence.
In a previous letter I have spoken of the defences of the Cape Fear
, and remarked they seemed to be admirably situated and strong enough to resist any assault made upon them from the sea.
, and most harbors, the navigation here is exceedingly difficult even when there is opposition or obstruction; and it can be easily inferred, then, that, with a score or two of guns bearing upon the narrow channel, and submarine batteries to aid the forts on shore, and enemy would find it "a hard road to travel."--As for the attack by sea, all is ready, the guns are trained, the powder dry, the men in good spirits, "and," remarked an old "we are just waiting to send a few of them to the D--." [Davy's locker, probably.] I am confident nothing can be done from the scar alone and that while the fleet engages the fort, it will be merely to cover up the operations of a force previously landed at Wrightsville
or Masonboro' sound.
In General Whiting
I have every confidence, and so have the people here.
All he wants is men, and those ought to be sent at once.
--hurried on with the greatest possible speed, for without them the town certainly falls.
Already I hear troops are on the road.
God grant they may arrive in time.
In my opinion, the loss of Wilmington
would be the greatest loss the Confederacy
has sustained since the fall of New Orleans.
I do not care to give my reasons, although I could do so, I think, in a manner satisfactory to any one, and could show cause why it should be defended above all other towns.
Only those who have been here within the past year know its importance fully; but should the town fall into the hands of the enemy, the soldiers of our armies would feel its loss, and would then know why it should have been protected at any cost.
All day long the storm has raged furiously.
Wind southwest, and blowing heavily.
This evening, a singular incident occurred to me, and one peculiarly illustrative of the times.
There is a Latin law maxim which says: Legis constructionon facit infuriam
--the, interpretive construction of the law shall wrong no person; and also a maxim in Terrence, which I remember to have met in college days: Jus summum sape summa est
--law enforced to strictness sometimes becomes the severest injustice. --Now, I do not wish to quarrel with a very wise law that forbids the publication of nows that might produce harm; but this much I do say: that what is lawful to publish in one paper is also lawful to publish in another.
I think I can prove that logically should any one be disposed to dispute the conclusion; and I maintain further, that what my neighbor is permitted to publish in his paper, I may be permitted to publish in mine, under the same law; and that a denial of that right to me is, according to Terrence — tolerable authority by the way — a law enforced to strictness and injustice.
This morning appeared in the Wilmington Journal
, what every man, woman and child knew perfectly well, and what the Owl
and Colonel Lamb
took abroad, the following item of news:
"Amongst the fleet off New inlet
, the war ships Colosado
have been recognized.
We are not sure the report of a portion of the fleet being off the western bar is correct; at least, no such report had been received at headquarters up to 6 o'clock yesterday evening.
The fleet off New inlet
consists of over thirty vessels, of all classes.
The wind yesterday evening was from northeast, and the weather was unfavorable for landing.
No demonstration had been made to land, at last accounts, from the coast."
Knowing this would reach Richmond
to morrow and appear upon the Dispatch
bulletin board, I thought to expedite matters by sending the gist of this paragraph by telegraph; so wrote the following:
"Yankee fleet (of) about thirty vessels (of) all classes appeared (at) New inlet
Among them, recognized Wabash and Colorado
, all day engaged (in) lowering topsail yards, housing spare (and) clearing for action.
This morning, terrible gate blowing on shore (and) fleet probably be obliged (to) scatter (and) put to sea." [Here follows a few words private, containing no information or news.]
This was returned later in the evening with a note from the telegraph agent, who says:
"-- --, Esp
.: Sir: General Bragg
refuses to approve your telegram to the Dispatch
of this date.
Our orders are not to send such telegrams without the approval of the commanding officer
I regret this, but orders must be obeyed.
"Very truly, -- --"
I cannot say exactly I would give five pounds to know why one of these items is "contraband" and the other not, but such knowledge would gratify abundant curiosity. "What's the odds fifty years hence?" said Smith
, who very patiently listened to may indignation.
"Very true," I said, "there is consolation in that.
, there are many things in this world they did not teach at Oxford
At the date of my last letter — the 19th--the Federal fleet, reported to have sailed from Fortress Monroe
for this port, had not arrived.
It has since made its appearance off New inlet
, the eastern entrance to the harbor of Wilmington
It came to anchor during the night of the 19th and the morning of the 20th, and consists, all told, of about forty transports and the steam frigates Wabash
Nominators or gunboats have been seen, and, if any started, they were compelled by stress of weather to put into port at some point north of this, or have gone down in the gale that has swept the coast for the last three days. The wind has blown with great violence from all points of the compass, and the sea has been exceedingly rough, rendering it utterly impossible for barges to land on the open beach.
The fleet lay at anchor on the 20th and 21st, but last night it drew off, and this morning only the tops of the masts of the Wabash
are visible from Fort Fisher
It is impossible to say whether the transports, under convoy of the frigates, have merely drawn off shore or sought port elsewhere until the gale shall have subsided, or have gone on to Port Royal
The prevailing opinion is, that they have gone farther south, and that their appearance here was only a feint to distract attention.
It would be more agreeable to know they had shared the fate of the Spanish
armada, and that in distributing a medal commemorative of the event, we might adapt the language employed by Queen Elizabeth on that occasion: Afflavit Deus et hostes dissipantur.
We hear of no movement yet from Newbern
'. On the Roanoke
, however, the enemy is quite active.
A number of barges, filled with troops and convoyed by gunboats, have ascended the river to a point six miles by water below Poplar Point
, and an attempt was made to land on the evening of the 20th, which was happily defeated by Brigadier-General Leventhorpe
, of the North Carolina
The battle lasted until night, three hours, and "the loss of the enemy was severs."--Yesterday morning, the 21st, the Federals
renewed the fight and succeeded in landing some sharpshooters; since which we have had no later accounts up to this time.
is a few miles above Poplar Point
, on the river.
The policy of the enemy is manifestly the same in North Carolina
that it is in Georgia
: It is to destroy our railway lines and devastate the country.
The movement against the Weldon railroad some ten days ago was part of the plan of operations at present being undertaken against this place and the railway leading hence to Weldon
The fate of Richmond
— as I hope General Lee
and Mr. Seddon
will discover in time — will not be decided alone on the banks of the James
.--Should the enemy be permitted to gain possession of Charleston
, the great battle for the Old Dominion and for Confederate Independence will be fought early next spring, probably near Branchville, South Carolina
, and, at all events, somewhere on the single and all important line of railway from Kingsville
For four years the enemy has sought in vain to overrun the country from the Ohio
and the Potomac
, and to defeat us in battle.
Henceforth his policy will be to operate from the sea, by short lines, against our railways.
is now doing; and such will be the future policy of Sherman
Having failed to take Richmond
by marching overland, Grant
now hopes to effect its fall by cutting off its supplies.
The time has come, therefore, for the President
and General Lee
to elevate their telescopes and take a wider view of the situation.
Proclamation of the Governor of North Carolina.
Whereas, the long-expected attack upon our only remaining seaport is now about to be made, and our State is also likely to be invaded at other points by an enemy to whom mercy and civilization are alike unknown and unregarded; and whereas, all the organized forces of the State
, already ordered to the front, may still be insufficient to roll back the tide which threatens us with worse than death, and to drive from our doors a fate horrible to contemplate:
Now, therefore, I, Zebulon B. Vance
of the State of North Carolina
, relying upon the loyalty and devotion of her citizens, do issue this, my proclamation, commanding and adjuring all good people, whether by law subject to military duty or not, who may be able to stand behind breastworks and fire a musket, of all ages and conditions, to rally at once to the defence of their country and hurry to Wilmington
And I do appeal to every man who has the spirit of a freeman in his bosom, who has a spark of the fire or a drop of the blood of the heroes of the great army of the great captain in his veins, to come, and come at once.
The man who hangs back now because the law does not compel him to go, and consoles himself with the much amused and mean-spirited plea that he can "be more useful at home," will find it hard to make us believe that he is not pleading the cause of cowardice or disloyalty.
The country needs their help new,
and that help must be given in this hour of distress, or they must own that their souls are only fitted to enjoy the freedom purchased with other men's blood.
For a few days all men physically able are needed at the front, and especially do we need the example of all those who a foretime panted for the fray, while it was yet at a distance, and snuffed the battle while it was yet afar off. Let every man physically able, then, hurry with his blanket to Wilmington
, where arms and rations will be furnished, and let those left behind mount themselves and patrol their counties, looking after the women and children and preserving order.
Your Governor will meet you at the front and will share with you the worst.
Given under my hand and the great seal of the State
Done at our city of Raleigh
, on the 20th day of December, 1864.
The Wilmington Journal
of the 24th says:
"A heavy report, resembling an earthquake, was heard and felt in this town about half-past 1 o'clock last night.
We learn that the report was caused by one of the Yankee steamers off Fort Fisher
getting aground, and being unable to get off, the enemy blew her up. The explosion shook the houses in town severely."