War of the Rebellion: Serial 014 Page 0474 THE PENINSULAR CAMPAIGN,VA. Chapter XXIII.

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General R. E. LEE, Commanding:

GENERAL: Up to last evening the enemy near Elizabeth City remained on board their vessels. A few gunboats ran some distance up the river, but returned. As I told you yesterday, the force now afloat can be moved in a few hours from any point along the Albemarle Sound or Chowan River.

I received yesterday a letter from General J. E. Johnston informing me the enemy were preparing to attack Yorktown with a powerful artillery, and if he succeeds in dismounting our guns, which he thinks inevitable, the numerous transports now waiting at Ship Point can turn his position by ascending York River, and the question comes, how long can we hold James River and the batteries on the south shore. The possession of James River by the enemy make Norfolk untenable. He desires I should reflect on the occurrence of this contingency and be prepared for a prompt movement, and if compelled to move, as little public property as possible should be left for the enemy.

I have reflected, but do not see that I can make preparation beforehand, and have so written to General Johnston. If I abandon my position the enemy are likely to occupy it at once, and as I have this large force afloat south of me, if they get another on James River they can select their points of landing and shut me in. The guns at he different batteries with our limited means could not be moved in weeks. Ammunition might be destroyed, but this is all, and the navy-yard, which contains more property than the rest of the country, is not under my control. It seems to me the best I can do is to be prepared to repel promptly any attack and defend the position as long as I can. In the contingency likely to happen refereed to by General Johnston I am in a cul-de-sac.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,




MY DEAR GENERAL: Captain Norris handed me yesterday your letter of the 27th instant. I have reflected what to do on the occurrence of the contingency you allude to. For a week past the enemy has kept a brigade afloat near Elizabeth City, N. C., which can move to any point of Chowan River. This force landed on night of 18th five or six regiments, under General Reno, and marched on South Mills, where they were met by the Third Georgia Regiment and six pieces of artillery and repulsed with great loss. At night the few companies who had stopped them retired, and next day found the enemy had also retired to their boats, leaving 17 wounded on the field, and over 1,000 pounds powder in barrels, arms, ammunition,&c. It is supposed their object was to destroy the locks of the Dismal Swamp Canal. These regiments were from New Berne and Roanoke Island. They have been re-enforced during the week, and are now afloat to the south of me.

If the enemy gets possession of the James River,and can have a moving force on it which he can land where he pleases, I do not see


*See Huger to Randolph, August 22 and 25, p.681.