That such is the importance and value, in a military point of view, of Roanoke Island, that it ought to have been defended by all the means in the power of the Government. It was the key to all rear defenses of Norfolk. It unlocked two sounds (Albemarle and Currituck); eight rivers (the North, West, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Little, Chowan, Roanoke, and Alligator); four canals (the Albemarle and Chesapeake, Dismal Swamp, Northwest, and Suffolk); and two railroads (the Petersburg and Norfolk and the Seaboard and Roanoke). It guarded more than four-fifths of all Norfolk's supplies of corn, pork, and forage and it cut the command of General Huger off from all of its most efficient transportation. It endangers subsistence of his whole army, threatens the navy-yard at Gosport, and to cut off Norfolk from Richmond, and both from railroad communication with the South. It lodges the enemy in a safe harbor from the storms of Hatteras, gives them a rendezvous, and large, rich range of supplies, and the command of the seaboard from Oregon Inlet to Cape Henry. It should have been defended at the expense of 20,000 men and of many millions of dollars.
The committee are of the opinion that the island of Roanoke was a military post of great importance; that it might have been placed in a state of defense against any reasonable force with the expenditure of money and labor supposed to be within the means of the Government; that the same was not done, and the defenses constructed were wholly inadequate for its protection from an attack either by land or water. And the committee have no difficulty
in assigning, as the cause of our disaster and defeat on February 8, the want of the necessary defenses upon the island and the adjacent waters and upon the main-land upon the Tyrrel side; the want of the necessary field artillery, armament, and ammunition, and the great and unpardonable deficiency of men, together with the entire want of transportation, by which the whole command might have been conveyed from the island after the defeat at the battery.
But the committee have had much difficulty in locating the responsibility for the neglect of his exceedingly important point, owing to the fact that the command of that island has been transferred so frequently from one military commander to another between the time that the Confederate Government became responsible for the coast defenses of North Carolina and the attack upon the island on February 7, 1862. That island, upon the fall of Hatteras, was taken possession of by Colonel Wright, under the instruction from General Huger, and the principal defenses constructed under the authority and directions of General Huger, who assumed jurisdiction over the island, although it was within the military command of General Gatlin. Afterward Brigadier General D. H. Hill was assigned for a short time to the immediate command of that post, who immediately entered upon his duty, made an examination of the defenses in person, and was making active preparations for putting the island in a state of defense, when he was suddenly superseded, and Brigadier-General Branch given the command. It does not appear in evidence that General Branch ever visited the island or made any move toward its defense. He, however, was superseded by Brigadier-General Wise, about January 1, 1862, who immediately proceeded to the island in person about January 6, spent several days in a reconnaissance of the island and its defenses and in examining the adjacent waters, with a view of constructing obstructions in Croatan Sound and to prevent the passage of a hostile fleet, and from that moment up to February 7 the committee are satisfied that General Wise has devoted his whole time in zealous, energetic, and indefatigable effort to place that island in a state of defense, and has done all and everything in his power, with the means he had at his command, to effect this important object.
At Norfolk, on January 2, upon his way to Roanoke Island, he met