For a long while the rebel leaders at Richmond permitted this occupancy by the Union forces to pass without interference, although it was exceedingly unpalatable to their adherents in the country occupied. Within the last two or three weeks, however, for reasons that may appear in the sequel, they detached a heavy force, under their pet general-Longstreet-to recover Suffolk and to bring Norfolk once more under the sway of the rebellion. The movement commenced about the same time with that of General Hill against General Foster's garrison at Washington, N. C., and the two were unquestionably intended to co-operate with each other.
Having massed some 38,000 men behind the Blackwater River General Longstreet began the execution of his plan on the 10th instant by crossing his grand army over that stream by means of five pontoon bridges.
On the next night his advance drove in our pickets in front of suffolk, and the situation of our forces began to look serious.
The rebel plan was to cut the nansemond River some 6 miles or so below Suffolk, or our right flank,while another force was to be thrown against the Norfolk Railroad, on our left flank and rear, and thus surrounded, General Peck's entire army and the city of Norfolk were to fall a rich and easy prize into the hands of the enemy. It so happened however, that two matters over which the rebel chieftains could exercise but little control interfered to defeat the scheme. In the first place General Peck, who was in command of the National force, was entirely too vigilant, too active, and too enterprising for General Longstreet, and in the second place General Foster's resolute resistance against Hill at Washington, N. C., where the latter stubbornly persisted in holding our after his adversary claimed that he was hopelessly cut off, prevented Hill from coming up in time to execute his share of the grand achievement. nevertheless, General Longstreet went at his plan with energy, and from April 11, when he first drove in our pickets until energy, and from April 11, when he first drove in our pickets, until Tuesday last he kept up an incessant series of attack of the most harassing and vexatious character to General Peck's troops. He rushed his squadrons of cavalry against our lines in one place and established batteries of field artillery to sweep the nansemond River at others. He maneuvered to overwhelm us here and flank us there, and in every way endeavored to penetrate our lines,but was baffled in every attempt by the watchfulness, activity, endurance, skill, and courage of General Peck and his brave companions in arms.
Among those who were conspicuous on our side General Getty Colonel Foster, of the light troops, and Lieutenant lamson, of the Navy, are mentioned by General Dix; Colonel Foster having repelled an assault upon the right, and General Getty, which Lieutenant Lamson having stormed, in the most gallant manner, a troublesome battery of six guns, which they captured, with 160 prisoners.
Thus repulsed at every point, Longstreet appears to have abandoned his enterprise, at least for the present, for the latest advices state that skirmishing cease on the 21st.
Now, what is the importance of this defeated movement of Longstreet's? To get an intelligent answer to that question we have only to look at contemporaneous operation on the James River. For several weeks past the rebels have been quite busy fortifying it banks just as they have fortified the Mississippi. They are casemating Fort Powhatan, and have three batteries thoroughly finished. They are taking up the obstructions at Fort Darling. They know the value of water communication to us, and of what priceless advantage it is to them