previous next


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Doubtless General Foster advised you that he had withdrawn all the best and available troops in North Carolina.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 [132] 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:

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.

General Butler and Admiral Lee examined a courier of General Pickett's, and he was sent to me March eighth. He stated:

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. [133]

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.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Benjamin F. Butler (10)
H. W. Wessels (6)
Pickett (6)
L. D. Myers (6)
R. E. Lee (4)
R. T. Hoke (4)
Frank A. Hall (4)
J. G. Foster (4)
John Wolfenden (2)
Whitford (2)
Wessells (2)
George G. Meade (2)
McChesney (2)
Longstreet (2)
Jack (2)
Harland (2)
H. W. Halleck (2)
U. S. Grant (2)
Q. A. Gillmore (2)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: