My right flank rested upon the Upper Nansemond for some 8 miles, a narrow, shallow, and tortuous stream, offering great facilities to an enterprising enemy for crossing and cutting the communications with Norfolk. Including this the whole line extending to the Dismal Swamp was from 12 to 15 miles in length; besides a force in observation was requisite at South Mills, 30 miles distant, the key of the southern approaches to the swamp. In view of these and other objections I advised the withdrawal of the troops to a new short line near Portsmouth after the reduction of the rebel and Union fortifications.
The advance of Pettigrew toward New Berne and of Hill upon Little Washington were only feints (our casualties being less than a dozen at both places) made by order of Longstreet some days before the date fixed for his own advance upon Suffolk for the purpose off inducing the authorities in North Carolina to call on Virginia for re-enforcements. As designed, 10,000 were asked for North Carolina, of which I was contributing 3,000 on the 10th. The information reached Longstreet at Franklin, and he crossed the Blackwater that night.
Major-General Hooker kindly telegraphed that he had advices that General Hill would join Longstreet. The time when the North Carolina troops arrived is material. Major Stratton, of the cavalry, reported the fact on the 20th, and I did the same on the 25th, some of them being captured. Major Stratton was correct, for Major-General Foster advised that the enemy retired from Little Washington on the evening of the 15th, and that the deserters said the cause was that they were ordered to re-enforce the army in Virginia. May 4, while in fully of the columns of Longstreet, and Hill toward the Blackwater, an order was received to dispatch General Gordon with a large force to West point. Ten thousand additional were also ordered to be held in readiness to move at a moment's notice, leaving but the ordinary small garrison intact at Suffolk and of course ending offensive operations.
On May 4 prisoners were taken representing forty odd regiments and independent commands, which gives some idea of the organization and masses of the enemy. The many miles of earthworks thrown up by the rebels were constructed by the troops. Lest the contrabands should come into my lines the bulk of them were left on the other side of the Blackwater.
It is proper to remark that the forces under my command from September to April, 1863, were rated by the public at twice and even trice the actual numbers.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOHN J. PECK,
Brigadier General LORENZO THOMAS,
Adjutant-General, U. S. Army.
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE EAST,
New York City, January 21, 1864.
The withdrawal of the troops to a line nearer Norfolk was suggested by me after the investment of Suffolk and was ordered by the General-in-Chief.
JOHN A. DIX,