upon such a coup de main would follow in with scarce the chance of a shot, and the harbor is gone. In such an event, though the forts of the western entrance might readily hold out until their provisions were exhausted, yet the whole system would be broken, and the best course would be to save the troops. I have always hoped to have a strong garrison for Confederate Point to obviate this danger, together with such a powerful supporting force as would make such an attempt too hazardous for trial, and force an attack from above. But our circumstances have been such that this appears to have been impossible, and we are caught at great disadvantage. It was to prevent any chance of such a movement on the part of the enemy that I ordered from England long since, on my own responsibility, three calcium lights. They have been reported at Bermuda for a month past, but unfortunately have not yet come in. With them in play, we could so illuminate the bar as to enable us to annihilate a boat flotilla.
Many indications lead me to think the enemy have hit upon this plan, so fraught with danger to us and so promising to them, with small risk. The confirmation of the reports of my spy from Norfolk, that heavy frigates, like the Wabash and Colorado, loaded with troops, would form the advance of the attack under Butler. These vessels and other heavy frigates are off here now, and as against this place could only be used as transports. The reported exercising with troops in an immense number of small boats at Norfolk, the presence of Cushing, the knowledge of the enemy of the great diminution of our force, and especially the absence of the usual transports which accompany an expedition destined to make a land attack, are all to me strong indications in favor of such a movement as I have described, which, I must say, is the best they could devise with our present means. A successful coup de main would give them at an expense of no very large number of troops a position most formidably secure against any effort of ours to repossess it should we be re-enforced after the event, would completely stop all blockade-running and result inevitably, and at no distant time, in the possession of the Cape Fear River and Wilmington. If they delay till Hoke arrives we have a better chance. We have scraped up every pound of provisions-have about ten days for the troops now here; nothing for Hoke.
There is another course open to the enemy which would eventually produce the same results, but would take more time and trouble as well as cause more loss-that is, to make the landing near Gatlin Battery and take possession of any point on the river above Fisher. This would isolate the forts and, of course, cause their fall from want of supplies, unless we could in the meantime dislodge the enemy. The possession of the Sugar Loaf hills would make them too strong to give much hope of the latter. Either is feasible. I have made such dispositions as have been in my power to arrest this, and am waiting in much anxiety Hoke's arrival. The force here being entirely inadequate, of course I have to weaken some other points. I had prepared one of the partially disabled blockade-running steamers to obstruct the rip at New Inlet, but, as British property, General Bragg declines to seize her; but the enemy know too much to try to pass the forts with their fleet. Depend upon it their troops will be put to open the harbor.
Very truly, yours,
W. H. C. WHITING,
82 R R-VOL XLII, PT III