War of the Rebellion: Serial 026 Page 0250 NORTH CAROLINA AND S. E. VIRGINIA. Chapter XXX.

Search Civil War Official Records

the road leading to Washington and Hill's Point, where it crosses Blount's Creek. From various sources I learned that the enemy were also in large force at Swift Creek Village and occupied both sides of the bridges, as well as the roads leading to Kinston and Greenville; but I could not learn their exact strength, except that they occupied five or six different camps. The fact that the enemy were in force at the cross-roads in front of Washington was also confirmed by both contrabands and prisoners in a manner that left n doubt in my mind that the strength of the enemy on the south side of Pamlico River and vicinity, and all of which were within supporting distance of each other, could not have been less than 12,000 or 15,000 men, although it was fixed by all the information received at a much greater number. With these facts before me, and after a consultation with the brigade commanders together with the chief officer of artillery, who were unanimous in their expressions of opinion that the column had better return to New Berne, as in their judgment an absolute failure would be the result of the expedition if we proceeded by this route, I therefore concluded not to go by the way of Swift Creek Village.

The infantry of the enemy at this place was strongly intrenched and had thrown up earthworks for their artillery which commanded all the direct approaches to the village, although from the evidence received their strength in the village proper was not as great as mine, and if I had attacked them there and driven them out of the place they could have retreated toward the cross-roads in front of Washington and joined the forces located at that point. Still, to have pursued this course and pushed on toward Washington by this route word have exposed my left flank to the assault of the enemy, who were encamped in considerable force on the roads leading toward Kinston and Greenville, while Pettigrew would certainly have crossed Blount's Creek and attacked my rear, for I had no way of protecting it except by dividing my force and it was not large enough to admit of that being done, particularly so as I would have been compelled to have met at the cross-roads and in my front a force very much larger than my own and well intrenched.

Thus hemmed in on three sides by an active foe, with an impenetrable swamp on my right, it would have left me but a small chance of success and no opportunity whatever of falling back in the event of a repulse at the cross-roads, the consequence of which would have been either the annihilation of my command or its capture, to avoid which I decided to try and reach Washington by the way of Blount's Creek road, and if possible drive the enemy back, so as to reach Hill's Point and capture that battery and thus raise the blockade. In making this march I could completely cover my rear and flanks by removing the bridges across Little Swift Creek and blockading the roads over which I was to p ass before reaching the main road leading to Blount's Creek, all of which I did, although I could not have protected my rear and flanks by the same means if I had taken the Swift Creek road, as it would have cut off my only means of retreat in the event of a repulse, as well as to have completely destroyed all communication with New Berne, which I was directed to protect and keep open for the accommodation of the wagon and ammunition train, which could not start until one day after the main body of the troops.

I further deem it of interest that the following communication, received from General Palmer while on the march, should be introduced in this report, as it is confirmatory of my own information in regard to the strength and position of the enemy: