U. S. STEAM-SHIP AGAWAM, TRENT'S REACH,
James River, May 15, 1864-3.30 p. m.
Major General B. F. BUTLER:
Your dispatch answered by signal corps. Enemy vigorously intrenching ont he heights at Howlett's, under a destructive fire from gun-boats. They will doubtless mount guns to-night to command Trent's Reach. Only a land attack can dislodge them. River falling. Careful sounding to-day show [that we] cannot cross this bar.
S. P. LEE,
Actg. Rear-Admiral, Commanding North Atlantic Block. Squad.
P. S.-4 p. m. The rebel artillery has appeared on the heights at Dutch Gap.
S. P. LEE,
HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA,
New Berne, N. C., May 15, 1864.
Honorable E. M. STANTON,
Secretary of War, Washington:
SIR: Some days since I was informed by General Butler that i might not be able to communicate with him for some time as he would be actively engaged in the field, and I have considered it proper to address you directly in relation to matters here, in order that you may be in possession of precisely the state of affairs in this district. A very few days after the capture of Plymouth I was ordered to relieve General Peck in the command of this district, and General Butler, at the time of sending me the order, urged upon me the imperative necessity of sending to him every man that could be spared form my command; that he expected at least four of my best regiments. Plymouth was gone. The rebel ram Roanoke was a very formidable affair, and there was danger of her getting into the Sounds. Roanoke Island, Hatteras, New Berne, Morehead City, and Fort Macon, with the railroad, ought to be held at all hazards, but Little Washington, then threatened by the victorious rebels from Plymouth, was of no strategic importance. It took quite a force to hold it, while one or two gun-boats holding the Pamlico and mouth of Tar River would accomplish the same purpose.
I determined to concentrate as much as possible to hold the places first mentioned to the last, and to evacuate Little Washington. This movement was successfully performed; all of the men, stores, and munitions safely brought away, together with all of the Union people who chose to leave, and the contrabands. The force required by General Butler was sent to him, and it arrived, as he informed me, in good time and in good order. I found myself at this time with about 4,800 men aggregate here. Roanoke was re-enforcement to the naval forces which was to act in the Sounds made me feel that Roanoke was safe from the ram. The dispositions for resisting further attacks from the enemy were made not a moment too soon. The naval re-enforcement had scarcely reached Roanoke Island before the ram came out of the Roanoke River, drove away the smaller vessels, and gave battle to the large ones near the island.