will perceive now helpless I am. Upon the recent advance of the enemy on Whitemarsh Island, it was with extreme difficulty that one-fifth of the attacking force could be collected for opposition. I feel it proper to state the true condition of affairs, that the commanding general may act advisedly.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. W. MERCER,
SAVANNAH, GA., February 27, 1864.
Lieutenant Colonel A. ROMAN:
COLONEL: I have the honor to submit for your consideration the following reflections on the defense of East Florida:
The principal problem is to cover with a small force the large area of country between the Saint Mary's and Saint John's Rivers on the east and the Gulf coast on the west. Fortification is nearly impracticable on the water approaches, from our scarcity of guns and from the lack of sufficient infantry to support a battery if erected. Fortification is only useful in the interior as a very temporary checked to the enemy's advance, the natural obstacles being of short extent and readily flanked by detour.
The enemy may land at will under the protection of their gun-boats, and their progress for a short distance into the interior cannot be materially checked by the necessarily weak coast guard which would oppose them. The contest with an invading force must therefore be carried on in the open woods and field where the only advantage of position which could probably be gained by either side would be to have one flank covered by a pond or swamp.
The initiative being with the invader he concentrates upon the point chosen by him, and if provided with transformation his advance is irresistible until an adequate force can be gathered to attack him. Our only practicable preparation, therefore, must be in providing facilities for concentrating our troops in his front, taking away or destroying whatever might assist his advance, and having a force on the frontier which would at least worry him on every occasion as soon as the advance began.
There is only one way possible of concentrating troops rapidly in East Florida from the points available, namely, by railroad; therefore to make a continuous line of railroad from East Florida to the points whence re-enforcements may be drawn is the most important step which can be taken to defend that country.
The coast being barren and thinly settled there is little which can be moved or destroyed there except the line of railroad. this would unquestionably be used by the enemy as a base of supply, and to take away the railroad for at least 20 miles from the coast would materially delay the enemy's advance in force into the interior.
To check and harass the enemy's approach from the Atlantic side, a regiment of mounted rifles should be scattered along the coast from the Satilla River in Georgia to Black Creek in Florida, under a bold and vigilant officer, and with the means of crossing the Saint Mary's River by a pontoon bridge, with tetes-de-pont and a small battery to prevent the ascent of gun-boats. There should also be the means of assembling this regiment by telegraph, keeping one-half in front and the other half at the most practicable central point in reserve.