HEADQUARTERS ARMIES OF THE UNITED STATES, City Point, Va., January 1, 1865.
Lieutenant Colonel T. S. BOWERS,
SIR: I have the honor to submit some considerations on the recent failure at Wilmington and on the chances of success of any future attempt. In my opinion the cause of the failure was the delay in making the attack, giving ample time to the enemy to put a force at Wilmington larger than the land force sent by us. The land forces embarked at Bermuda Hundred on the 8th of December in the expectation of a very short delay at Fort Monroe. Owing to the weather and the powder-boat they did not go to sea until the 14th, arriving off Wilmington the night of the 15th. Three days of good weather then ensued, on any of which the army could have landed, the enemy, as we afterward were informed, having at that time but 400 men in Fort Fisher and about 2,500 in the vicinity of Wilmington. If an attack had been made it would have had every chance of success that could have been expected.
On the evening of the third of these three days of fine weather Admiral Porter arrived, but a breeze sprang up the same night (December 18), making a landing impracticable. From this time till December 25 the army force could not land from bad weather, and the necessity of going into Beaufort, N. C., for coal and water. On the 25th a landing was effected. Prisoners captured from Hoke's division, of Lee's army, informed General Butler, as he told me, that Kirkland's and Hagood's brigades were there as re-enforcements. Seventeen days had elapsed since the embarkation at Bermuda Hundred and eleven since the departure from Fort Monroe; both army and navy had shown themselves at Beaufort; all chance of a surprise was gone; a reconnaissance of Fort Fisher from the land showed it uninjured; a few skirmishers went up to the work, but when a body of about 300 men showed themselves 1,000 yards away from the work, they were fired on by the work; and assault of the work in its uninjured condition, with sixteen or seventeen heavy guns sweeping the ground over which the assault would be made, was deemed impracticable, and the troops were re-embarked. Prisoners who left the work in the morning reported the garrison to be 1,000 men, and gave the regiments.
The proper method of defense of a work like Fort Fisher under such circumstances would be to keep its garrison in its bombproof to avoid loss, firing a few guns to prevent the navy from running by, and only manning the parapets at the moment of an assault. If there were more troops than were needed for the defense of the work, or than could be sheltered in its bombproof, they should be kept out of the work in the day to avoid loss from the navy fire, and brought back at night to resist any night attack. This seems to have been the method followed. The artillery fire of the fort was very slight, as was the musketry fire on our skirmishers, during daylight, but heavy after dark. We captured 200 men who had left the fort in the morning for want of bombproof shelter on their way back to it at night.
As to future operations, I think if an equal force, say 600 men, could be placed before Fort Fisher under the same circumstances as our force was in from the 15th to the 18th of December, it would have a good chance of success. This supposes that the enemy will at once diminish the garrison of Fort Fisher to 400 men, and take away whatever re-