HEADQUARTERS, Wilmington, August 31, 1864.
Commanding Dept. of N. Carolina and Southern Va., Petersburg:
GENERAL: I am compelled once more to call attention to the state of this place. We are running very dangerous risks. I do not know that the enemy contemplate taking present advantage; but they are fools if they don't, and if they do I assure you that this our last hold on the water will not be able to make the resistance it should do. The garrison of the forts is much too small-smaller than it was two years ago with a double development now. The extra demands upon it, due to blockade-running, quarantine, and the entire absence of any infantry support, are such that it must and does rapidly deteriorate. The long line of shore pickets, absolutely necessary to the security of the position and for succor to blockade-runners, has to be kept up by diminished garrisons of heavy artillery, who ought to be at their guns and keeping them in proper order and efficiency. With men doing double duty, and on guard every other night, I cannot hope to have efficient artillerists, and my last inspection shows the truth of this. Not more than 600 men guard the coast from the South Carolina line to the western bar, and in this are included the important forts Campbell and Caswell, each of which should never have less than 800 men apiece exclusive of its infantry support. The coast from New River to New Inlet, including the Virginia Creek lines and the long lines of batteries called Fort Fisher, is defended by less than 1,200 men. Fort Fisher alone ought never to be without a garrison of 2,200. Smith's Island, the key of the harbor, with a coast line of ten miles, requiring an equal force, has but 600. It must be recollected that island was never ordered to be defended previous to my command, and while the works are increased nearly double on this account the garrison is now less.
Referring to my frequent correspondence on this subject, beginning in December, 1862, I have always shown that for effective defense, in addition to the garrison, not less than five brigades would be required with their field artillery. Their positions have been pointed out, the lines and mode of enemy's attack most probably indicated. I dislike to have to write of these things, especially since receiving General Lee's reply of the 6th ultimo. He deprecates even my calling the attention of the department to the matter, and while I acquiesce in his views and decisions, yet with the warning of Mobile before us I feel compelled to state the case. It must be noted that a very material change has taken place as the immunity of this port from attack. Since the fitting out of the Tallahassee and her expedition, extensive destruction of the enemy's commerce, and return to this port, their fleet has been much increased and many earnest appeals are made by the Northern press to shut up this port. If we continue to send out privateers certainly the only port of refuge for them now in the world ought to be made secure beyond peradventure. I wish you would examine for yourself the military condition of this command, as to its lines of attack and means of defense, and satisfy yourself, as I am sure you will do, that in my repeated warnings I have in no way exaggerated the difficulties of the position or been unduly apprehensive for its security, considering the means at hand. A strong supporting force should always be maintained (now more than ever) at the head of the sounds, to protect Fort Fisher and the narrow peninsula between Masonborough and the river from being cut off; another at Smithville, for the relief of the