from Beaufort through the Sounds in light-draught steamers. He would probably use all these. If he came to Topsail [Inlet] he would be compelled to have a sea-going fleet of transports, and until or unless he were sure of his harbor he would scarcely attempt that. Suppose him on the advance and on the line of New River, distant by the road between 40 and 50 miles from the city. There are two roads, one called the Holly Shelter road, which follows the Northeast Branch of the Cape Fear, and the other the Sound or Plank road near the coast. These fork a short distance from Onslow, which is 50 miles from here and separated by the great Holly Shelter Swamp. There is no communication between them until within 15 miles of the city. Except for cavalry and for the purpose of destroying the Northeast Railroad Bridge I do not think he will use Holly Shelter road in force. Every consideration would keep him to the coast. Communication all along with his gunboats, supplies, &c., would all influence him, together with the fact that he would have no bridges and rains would not hurt the sandy road. But is of the first importance that I should be able to check him on this road at a distance of one day's march, say, from the city (I would not put it farther on account of my own troops, supplies, &c.) and because I should be enabled to hold the Northeast Bridge to delay his advance until I could be supplied with re-enforcements sufficient to enable me to prevent him from attacking the town and Fort Fisher and do were I compelled from paucity of force to fall back at once upon my intrenchments. The longer he can be kept off the more uncertain he is as to our weakness, and time is given to G. W. [Smith] to effect with his troops a heavy diversion in my favor, either by crossing or heading the Northeast Branch of Cape Fear (see map-there is a bridge over Cape Fear near Bannerman and South Washington); or, supposing me to have saved the Northeast Bridge, to throw his force in the city, and combined, attack instead of defending. If Foster presses on to the close neighborhood of town, my troops being within the outer line, he with his force can keep us in (if, indeed, with my present numbers we can keep him out) while he at his leisure by the Old Brunswick road (see sketch) takes Fort Fisher and the river batteries in reverse.
It is this difficulty which makes so necessary the presence of a movable column to maneuver in defense of Wilmington, especially against a land attack, and to force the enemy to a choice in his operations-one or the other. The immediate vicinity presents no strong features and no obstacles-open, piney woods, where numbers must tell. The extent of the outer line of intrenchments, which, by the way, are not formidable in people, is too great entirely for the troops I have here now. We are using such time as will be allowed us to strengthen the outpost positions. I have Stevens at the Northeast Bridge and Island Creek with two batteries and Harrison on the plank road about 16 miles from the city with two batteries. At the latter point, had Gist his troops here, we might trouble the enemy greatly. I send you these maps.
Please have a tracing made of the country lying between the Trent, the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, and the Cape Fear, and send back as soon as possible. Gist says you have no map. You will see what a terrible effect the taking of Wilmington will have on Charleston and your whole department by examining this map; also that if beaten the relies of my force, if any escape, will have a very troublesome route. If satisfied that the enemy are approaching me with a very heavy force perhaps I may have to see you in person to work out the problem whether Foster, with 30,000 or 40,000 Yankees, is equal to three old en-