HEADQUARTERS ARTILLERY DEFENSES,
Richmond, August 7, 1864.
Honorable J. A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War:
SIR: His Excellency the President is, as you are aware, very desirous that the most effectual measures which our means will admit shall, with the least delay, be employed in an effort to dislodge the enemy from his intrenched position on the north side of James River, at Deep Bottom. The President is also naturally very anxious that the navigation of James River be the enemy should be made as difficult and as dangerous as possible. To effect these objects, I have proposed, with the sanction of the President, General R. E. Lee, and Lieutenant-General Ewell, to locate mortar batteries, and if found practicable, to employ several 8-inch siege howitzers as auxiliaries, the trails to be sunk to give the necessary elevation. Unfortunately there are within this department but two 10-inch mortars, and Colonel Gorgas informs me that, for want of the proper iron, which can only be obtained from Staunton, several weeks must elapse before even a single additional mortar can be furnished. The President has been made acquainted with these facts, and although the means at my disposal may prove inadequate to the end proposed (i. e., dislodging the enemy by rendering his pontoon bridge useless to him), he nevertheless desires the experiment to be tried. From the character of the enemy's position, which is such as to enable him to use his gun-boats with great effect in connection with his land batteries, and in view of the strength of his fortifications, which can only be approached over an open plain, I am satisfied that an attempt to take his works by assault would result in failure, unless be can be so demoralized by alarming his communications and depriving him of the hope of assistance by the bridge as to render his resistance to an assault less determined than it is likely otherwise to be.
It is proposed to use the two mortars and auxiliary howitzers to enfilade the bridge, while a cross-fire from Tilghman's Gate with rifled field-pieces shall also be maintained. This appears to me to be the only practicable plan of dislodging the enemy from the threatening position he has so long held. It may prove a failure because of the insufficient number of our mortars to keep up a continuous fire; with a battery of six instead of two of these pieces, I am confident he could be compelled to withdraw by their fire alone. The difficulty with the howitzers will be to occupy a position near enough to the bridge to render their comparative short range effective, and this may prove to be impracticable. It is important to open fire as soon as possible, and I had made my arrangements to get everything under way to-day, but on applying for sling carts to transport the mortars, I am officially informed that one of the only two in this department has been ordered to General Lee's army near Petersburg, where it will probably be detained at least a week, and that the axle of the other is broken and unserviceable. This will cause great delay, unless arrangements can be made to give me the use of the cart before it is sent to General Lee's army.
I have always regarded it as all important to a successful use of field artillery against the enemy's gun-boats and transports that he should be compelled to abandon his position at Deep Bottom. The reasons for this are too obvious to need explanation, but whether he maintains this position or not, our operations with field artillery can, I am confident, be made