Wilmington, N. C., January 28, 1863.
Honorable JAMES A. SEDDON, Secretary of War, Richmond, Va.:
SIR: I send you a sketch* showing the lines about Wilmington. Though not of a formidable kind, yet, manned by brave troops, they will make a stout resistance. My last information, received this morning from Beaufort, is that during the past week large bodies of troops have been moved by railroad from New Berne and put on board the transports, twenty of thirty of which have swung out into the stream preparatory to mooring. They are mostly sailing craft. There are no blockaders off the harbor this morning, which indicates that they have been called off to assist the transportation. Seven steamers from the southward arrived at Beaufort last Friday. My great trouble is the possibility of the monitors forcing their way in the outer harbor and destroying the forts, thus opening an easy and admirable base for their future operations against the city and the interior. The attack by land, if such is made, I do not fear, by reason of our advanced positions and the dispositions of his army by Major-General Smith; but the tremendous ordnance possessed by the enemy makes me apprehensive of the results of an action with the forts should wind and weather enable him to cross the bars. i have strengthened Fort Caswell by iron-clad casemates; 450-pounder shot, however, are hard to fend off, either for forts or monitors. It is much to be regretted that a judicious system of obstruction has not been made for this important harbor during the two years past, time enough for executing any work of the kind. One similar to the Charleston boom (impracticable there) could readily have been placed and maintained here on the "keys" or inner bulkheads, near [Fort] Caswell and New Inlet, and in the narrow river near the city, where this would be invaluable. Such means of obstruction as I have been able to gather in the last two months I have employed; that is, scows laden with stone and two small vessels, the only ones to be had. Obstructions of this nature are objectionable here from the shifting nature of the bottom and the great extent of shoal. A channel is soon formed around them to restore the equilibrium which they disturb. Strong, open framework or chevaux-de-frise of timber, iron, and chain, which would not interfere with the water-way, is the best for this coast; but that is work for which I have not been able to find the time, the workmanship, or the material. The submarine mortars of General Rains may aid us. They are placed to the best of my judgment. Though the number of guns at [Forts] Caswell and Fisher is considerable, their quality is bad and caliber small. Many of the rifle guns are not banded and not to be trusted. We have but one 10-inch gun and but one rifle as large as 42 in the district. I have great hopes in the inefficiency of the monitors at sea and in the difficulty of the channel. A scoundrel of a pilot has managed to go over to the enemy in the past three weeks and is now on board their fleet. I cannot disguise the fact that the consequences of a successful passage will be very serious. In this respect I refer to my letter to the Secretary of War of November 14 last, previous to my assuming command here, and to a consideration of the map of this section. Major-General Smith, being now in Richmond, will be able fully to inform the Department in this matter, our views being, I am happy to say for my part, identical.
W. H. C. WHITING,