formed us that you had received a regiment, with ammunition and provisions, through the blockade.
I am very sorry I cannot aid you. Suffolk is closely invested by Longstreet with over 30,000 men. The left bank of the Nansemond to the West Branch is occupied. Our gunboats hold the river and prevent the enemy from crossing, but he has disabled several of them. We have our hands full. I have just returned from the West
Branch, where the enemy has a battery and rifle-pits, from which the firing is incessant.
We captured General French's engineer to-day.
Thus far the enemy has gained no advantage over us.
Trusting your gallant resistance may be successful, I am, sincerely, yours,
JOHN A. DIX.
UNITED STATES FLAG-SHIP MINNESOTA, Off Newport News, Va., April 17, 1863.
Commanding Military Department of North Carolina:
MY DEAR GENERAL: I am glad to hear by the steamer Spaulding that you are at New Berne. The experience attending your escape will give you a practical idea of the difference between the endurance and capabilities of frail, improvised wooden gunboats and earthworks. I saw in the papers that a brigade hesitated to land and attack, but waited for the little Lockwood to silence a battery of field artillery occupying earthworks which the enemy had abandoned last spring.
I mention this now that you are in the gunboats as having too much veneration for such batteries. The Army places a complimentary but exaggerated opinion upon the capabilities of these gunboats.
In the Mississippi a scattered battery of six small field pieces did great damage to two regular Navy gunboats commanded by gallant officers. Here, at this time, on the narrow Upper Nansemond, a miserable creek, our frail, light-armed, light-draught steam-craft, called gunboats, with their powder and steam magazines and their machinery all so exposed and so vulnerable, are fighting the enemy's artillery and sharpshooters with great gallantry and sustaining much loss in killed, wounded, and injury to the vessels, which are much cut up, grounding, and having no water to work in.
The combat would be much more equal if our troops fought theirs with like means, as they should do, but somehow they don't see it.
The calls so numerous and so constant for gunboats to defend army posts are distressing, because so earnest and so much beyond my means to supply.
This important point (Newport News), upon the preservation of which the public interests in this quarter, the seat of Government, and even the communications of the Army of the Potomac depend, is wakened in its movable force to assist the army in its occupation of its many detached and assailable positions in the Sounds and here; but i will write you a brief official letter on this subject.
As I have before proposed to you, these detached and weak positions should be abandoned and our forces concentrated, then we can attack instead of being attacked in detail. This concentration cannot be effected as respects the naval force until it is done by the army, as the gunboats are required at the principal positions occupied by the army. Therefore the change depends upon you there and General Dix here.