my command, being, in general terms, all east of the Blackwater and Chowan. Several counties of North Carolina are nominally in General Foster's department, but really dependent upon me for protection. General Viele has a small force at Norfolk. My headquarters are at Suffolk, where I keep nearly the whole force, and from which point I move my columns according to circumstances. The service is hard and they are kept active when the weather permits. The enemy occupies the Blackwater in force down to the Chowan and probably below Winton.
From the fact that some 4,000 have been several weeks fortifying Fort Powhatan, on the James, I infer that Chipoak and Birchen Rivers, with Cypress Swamp, form the left of their line. (See military map of Southeastern Virginia from Coast Survey.)
All the fords, passes, and bridges are fortified and guarded. He occupies Surry Court-House and pickets a belt of 5 or 6 miles on this side of the river. The intermediate country is traversed by both and is the theater of many collisions.
On the 1st of March Hood's and Pickett's divisions left Fredericksburg for Petersburg, and General Longstreet assumed command about that time or a few days before. One division started for Charleston, but returned. General Longstreet made a reconnaissance, with General Jenkins commanding, on the river last week and returned to Petersburg. My information from numerous sources has been that Longstreet had within 20 or 30 miles of this place 15,000, and 15,000 along the railway this side of Petersburg which he could concentrate in twelve hours, and I was advised from headquarters a few days since that one of our spies had a list of the regiments and the strength, and they amounted to 28,000.
Deserters who left the Blackwater on the 1st say that General Corse's brigade of Virginia troops arrived at Zuni on the 23rd; also that a large pontoon train came by rail. They state that Hood's division was expected to follow. A large brigade of Mississippians, under General J. R. Davis, arrived recently from Goldsborough; also a brigade of South Carolinians, under General Bratton. He is strong in cavalry and artillery.
Ever since my arrival the enemy has been impressed with the idea that an army would attempt this route, and they have watched very closely. Much of the time their force has been greatly in excess of mine. This has been in part due to the demonstrations I have made. My force has been greatly magnified by our people, and the rebels' was rated from 30,000 to 50,000, when I had less than 12,000.
Total infantry for duty.................................. 12,590
Total cavalry............................................ 1,683
Total artillery.......................................... 893
Two divisions, total for duty............................ 15,166
Four of my batteries are good and three are indifferent.
There is no foundation for the report of an intended evacuation of Richmond.
It will give me pleasure to advise you from time to time of any important changes made by the enemy and of the information brought to me from creditable sources.
Wishing you all success in your very responsible command, I remain, very truly, yours,
JOHN J. PECK,