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Colonel Hawkins. General Williams retained command at Hatteras.
Thus organized, General Burnside was prepared to hold Newbern against any force which the enemy might bring. Indeed, the enemy was even rash enough to believe that he could reoccupy the place. Having fled as far as Kinston after the battle of Newbern, and finding that he was not pursued, he began to take heart again. Concentrating a considerable number—some reports mentioned fifteen thousand men-in the neighborhood of Kinston, he began to make threatening demonstrations upon General Burnside's position. But he soon ascertained that it was too strong to be forced by direct attack, and that General Burnside was too wary an antagonist to be surprised. All that he could do, therefore, was to place an army for the purpose of observing the movements of our forces, without making any serious attempt to dislodge them. The defences of Newbern were perfected, and its commander prepared to carry out the residue of his original instructions.
But the movements contemplated by those instructions depended upon certain other movements which were then making in a different quarter of the vast field of action. The capture of Wilmington would unquestionably have been a very serious blow to the rebel cause. The city is situated upon the Cape Fear river, and its approaches were then defended by formidable works. Through it passed the important line of seaboard communications uniting Virginia with the Gulf States. It was the most difficult port on the coast to blockade, and it thus became the enemy's greatest entrepot for smuggled goods. Were our troops in possession of that point, the enemy's communication with the extreme South would be severed, and his supplies stopped. Its importance was clearly appreciated by the rebel government, and a garrison held the defences sufficiently numerous to make an obstinate resistance. The
enemy also held all the interior, and could thus, in a short time, transport such reënforcements to the threatened point as would make an attempt to capture it a very doubtful, as well as haz
ardous experiment. Naval coöperation was also a decided desideratum. But, at that time, no vessels could be spared for an attack upon the fortifications along the banks of Cape Fear river. The iron-clad monster that lay in the harbor of Norfolk effectually neutralized any independent naval operations along the North Atlantic coast. The fear of its emergence a second time from its retreat, to scatter devastation and ruin along Hampton Roads and the entrance of Chesapeake Bay, and the imperative necessity of guarding that avenue of communication and supplies for General McClellan's army, then operating on the peninsula, prevented the Flag Officer of the North Atlantic Squadren from detaching any of his vessels. The gunboats already in the North Carolina waters were not armed hearily enough for an encounter with the works that protected Wilmington. The forces that General Burnside had at his command were not more than large enough to reduce the place, even if the help of the navy could be assured. Without the aid of the fleet, nothing could be done. Wilmington, therefore, could not at that time be added to the territory within the jurisdiction of the Department of North Carolina.
Was it possible to penetrate into the interior of the State, and, moving upon Goldsborough and Raleigh, cut the enemy's communications at either or both of those points? It was possible under certain conditions, but not otherwise. If those conditions did not exist, a movement into the interior was hazardous, even to the extent of foolhardiness. One condition was that: General Buell should operate towards Knoxville and East Tennessee. But General Buell at that time was needed to reënforce General Grant, struggling desperately forward towards Corinth and West Tennessee, by way of Fort Donelson and Pittsburg Landing. Another condition was the triumphant advance of the Army of the Potomac up the Peninsula between the James and York rivers. But General McClellan, in command of that army, had encountered obstacles which rendered his advance anything but triumphant. The season was especially unpropitious. The route chosen was through swamps
and muddy plains, rendered almost impassable by the continuous rain. The enemy was sullen and defiant even in retreat, giving back only step by step, and under the pressure of superior numbers. General McClellan proved himself to be slow and unready in all his enterprises, preferring to fight defensive battles, instead of pushing the enemy away from his front by determined attacks. Even in success, he did not seem to understand the proper method of pressing an advantage. Another condition was the occupation of the enemy's attention at Charleston and in its neighborhood. But in the Department of South Carolina, little was doing towards a speedy termination of the attempt upon the stronghold of secession. In fact, the movement of our armies on the Atlantic seaboard seemed to depend altogether upon the success of General McClellan's movements. The plan of the commanding general of the Army of the Potomac evidently was to have the armies at Newbern and Port Royal set in motion to cut off the enemy's retreat, when he should be driven out from Richmond. Until that most desirable consummation should be reached, the other movements were not to be expected. General McClellan and the Secretary of War had already written to General Burnside from Yorktown, that no offensive movement was to be made into the interior of North Carolina until the issue of the
operations on the lower peninsula had been determined. When Yorktown was abandoned by the enemy, General McClellan hoped that the way would be opened to Richmond, and that he would have to fight bút one decisive battle in front of the coveted point. The sharply contested fight at Williamsburg showed him that the enterprise was more difficult than he had supposed. He then began to feel that there were largely superior forces before him, and that they must be beaten before any successful operations could be made farther to the South. The most that could by any means be done would be simply a diversion, and the authorities in the field and at headquarters were undecided as to whether Winton, Weldon, or Goldsborough should be the objective point. In fact, the irresolution
and delay which prevailed in regard to affairs in Virginia, had their natural effect upon affairs in North Carolina, and General Burnside was in consequence restricted within the narrow limits of his conquests along the coast. But the chief condition of moving into the interior was a supply of transportation and cavalry for a march of sixty miles. General Burnside had thus far marched his troops and fought his battles without baggage or cavalry. There was scarcely a wagon in the Department, and, without means of transportation for his supplies and his sick and wounded soldiers, the march to Goldsborough could not be made. Colonel Mix's cavalry relieved the mounted artillery men in their picket duty, and supplied the deficiency which had previously existed in that arm of the service. It was not till nearly the middle of May, that cavalry, wagons, ambulances, cars and locomotives arrived in the Department for the purposes of a long campaign.
On the tenth of May, General Wool, stimulated by the presence of the President and the Secretaries of the Treasury and War, advanced from Fortress Monroe on Norfolk. The city surrendered, the rebel General Huger having withdrawn his command. On the eleventh, the rebels set fire to the Merrimac, and she was blown up and sunk near Sewall's Point. This event opened the James River as far as Drury's Bluff, the Elizabeth River and the canals between North Carolina and Norfolk to the undisputed possession of our naval and military forces. Had General McClellan immediately transferred his base of operations from the York River to the James and made an attack upon Petersburg, he would have changed the entire character of his campaign and indeed of the whole record of the summer of 1862 in Virginia. The perils of the Chickahominy swamps, the disastrous and bloody battles around Richmond, and the terrible scenes of the retreat to Harrison's Landing would have been avoided. Then General Burnside could have made a successful demonstration on Goldsborough, and it is safe to presume that the most brilliant and satisfactory results would have followed. Indeed, while General McClellan
was at Harrison's Landing, General Burnside suggested an attempt upon Petersburg. But then the opportunity had passed, and the baffled Army of the Potomac was not equal to such a movement.
During the military operations in North Carolina the Government had steadily kept in view the political pacification of the State. With this end, communications had passed between the authorities at Washington and the Hon. Edward Stanley, once a member of Congress from North Carolina, and a popular and influential man there, but at this time resident in California. The correspondence culminated in his appointment as Military Governor of North Carolina. He arrived at Newbern on the 26th day of May, and General Burnside at once turned over to him the jurisdiction of all civil and political affairs, assuring him of the most cordial coöperation on the part of the military officers. It was a manifest relief to the commanding general, and whatever was the subsequent success of the experiment, it had the merit of having originated in a humane spirit and was conducted with good and patriotic intentions.
With the exception of Governor Stanley's arrival, the month of May was a comparatively quiet season in the Department. On the 14th the naval expedition visited Plymouth. The newly arrived troops were engaged in short expeditions into the neighboring country, in which Colonel Mix's cavalry bore a conspicuous part. The enemy made occasional dashes upon our outposts with indifferent results upon either side. Political events were of unimportant significance. The life of the camp was somewhat monotonous and dull. The most pleasing event of the month was the release of several hundred Union prisoners, in accordance with the cartel at Roanoke Island. Among these, General Burnside was glad to recognize and welcome several members of his old command, the First Rhode Island. The great exploits that were performing elsewhere—at New Orleans, on the Mississippi, in Tennessee—had no parallel on the Atlantic seaboard. Finally “ Stonewall” Jackson's discomfiture and pursuit of General Banks down the Shenandoah