HDQRS. DEPT. OF NORTH CAROLINA, EIGHTEENTH A. C.,
New Berne, N. C., May 13, 1863.
Rear-Admiral S. P. LEE,
Commanding N. Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Hampton Roads, Va.:
SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of May 1, repeating some of your views on the subject of posts on the Sounds in this department, and, as always, your views claim my careful consideration.
In, as it were, a joint department like this it is a matter of discrimination what points to hold as of greater benefit to both arms of the service. The points on the coast are of course equally important for all parties. Roanoke Island is of great advantage to us as a strategical point; would be to the enemy. If the island were abandoned and the works were razed I have no doubt that it would be occupied by the enemy via Nag's Head and across Roanoke Channel. At this point, from the shallowness of the water, gunboats could not prevent the occupancy and could not prevent the erection of batteries, even were it known that it would be attempted; whereas that position could be held by a small force on the island against a large one crossing.
Experience has shown us the facility with which sand batteries can be erected, and also proved that their power of withstanding fire is great than stone. It would require but a few weeks to again fortify Roanoke Island (should the enemy have it), and probably the taking of it has shown them the falsity of their previous line of defense; and I believe the division might lose more men than were withdrawn from my force as garrisons.
As to Washington and Plymouth my views were given in my letter of the 22nd ultimo. While I have force sufficient it seems to me important to hold the rich grain-growing counties lying in the pockets held by these towns, and also as strategical points for harassing the enemy so long as I have force sufficient for any offensive movements; but such may not be the case long.
Again, if the enemy should construct gunboats up the Tar and Roanoke Rivers they probably could not be made sufficiently formidable to defeat the naval forces at Washington and Plymouth; the naval as well as land batteries could assist in the defense. It is not likely, however, that naval vessels crossing through the Sounds would be in force equal to encounter the combined forces at Washington and Plymouth, in which case (the enemy always being in a position to make concerted movements) a concentration of the vessels from several might be made for attacking detached vessels, in which case the result might be disastrous. Of these probabilities you of course are the best judge. But merely in accordance with our mutual desire to exchange ideas for the general good I give it as my opinion that were the towns of Washington and Plymouth abandoned the mouths of the rivers so situated would be the right and best places for the guard-boats, and that the presence of the assistance on land would necessitate the presence of a large naval force to be as effective as the present guarding force.
Would the class of boats in service here be of much use in outside service?
I inclose herein a slip cut from a Raleigh paper, which shows the views held by the enemy upon the subject of our abandonment of the counties of Albemarle, the advantage gained by them of food, &c.
I have the honor to remain, admiral, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. G. FOSTER,