Captain Breese has arrived with greetings from Admiral Porter. The attempt to take Fort Fisher failed. Porter is angry with Butler.
FLAG-SHIP MALVERN, At Sea, off coast of North Carolina, December 29, 1864.
Major General W. T. SHERMAN, U. S. Army, Commanding Military Division of the Mississippi:
MY DEAR GENERAL: I send Captain Breese to communicate with you, and tell you about matters and things in this quarter. I congratulate you on your success, which I knew was sure when you started. I told the world you would be off Savannah on the 10th, and you were not far off on that day. I feel certain that you are in Savannah today, or will be there in a week. When you have captured that place I invite you to add to your brow the laurels thrown away by General Butler after they were laid at his feet by the navy, and which neither he nor those with him had the courage to gather up. I felt sure that it would be so when we started on the expedition. We attacked Fort Fisher, silenced it, blew it up, burned it out, and knocked it to pieces. An officer belonging to the small skirmishing party of twenty men sent out by the force that landed on the beach went on the parapet of Fort fisher and brought away the flag that we had shot down.
A sergeant went through the sally port into the fort, and met there a rebel orderly ready to mount a horse for the purpose of carrying a letter. He killed the orderly, searched his body, found the dispatch, mounted the horse and rode out of the fort. Another soldier went in and brought out a mule that was stowed away in a bomb-proof; another fired his musket at a crowd of covering wretches stowed away in the bomb-proof. Notwithstanding all this General Butler decided not to attack Fort Fisher, “as the navy fire has not injured it as a defensive work!” Great heavens! what are we coming to?
Well, I think that Providence intended it to be so; and it rests with you to add new honors to your name, already famous, notwithstanding the newspaper reporters. This is merely on your way to Richmond. Take this place and you take the “creme de la creme” of the rebellion. I leave to Captain Breese to tell you all my views; and I do hope, my dear General, that you will second me here and let our people see the folly of employing such generals as Butler and Banks. I have tried them both, and God save me from further connection with such generals. With you I feel sure of success, and shall bless the day when I shall once more see your esteemed self in our midst. A host of old friends are here to welcome you, and show you the most magnificent naval fight you ever laid your eyes on. I hope soon to see you here. I have much to tell you that will astonish you.
Very truly and sincerely, yours,
DAVID D. PORTER, Rear-Admiral
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, Savannah, GA., December 31, 1864.
Admiral D. D. PORTER, Commanding North Atlantic Blockading Squadron:
DEAR ADMIRAL: Captain Breese has this moment arrived with your letter of December 29, and I assure you it does my heart good to feet that I am once more near you. I hope soon we will meet again in person. I have already submitted to Generals Halleck and Grant a plan for a campaign which will bring my whole army to Wilmington, which I know I can take as easily, if not more so, than Savannah. I do not think you can take those shore batteries with your gun-boats, or do more than drive the gunners to the cover of their bomb-proofs. I have examined carefully many of the forts about Savannah, and find them so well covered by traverses and bomb-proof shelters, that you might blaze away at them for a month from the direction of the sea channels without materially harming them. I have no doubt, however, from what you say, that Butler’s men ought to have taken Fort Fisher in about three minutes, for its bomb-proofs cannot possibly shelter more than 200 men, who would be, as you say, crouching in a defenseless position as against an attacking force.
But even after you have got Fisher, then comes Caswell, Fort Johnson, and, I suppose, a string of fort all the way back to Wilmington. Now, I propose to march my whole army through South Carolina, tearing up railroads and smashing things generally, feign on Charleston, and rapidly come down upon Wilmington from the rear, taking all their works in reverse. I submitted this plan to General Grant on the 24th, and shall expect his answer very soon, and will be ready to start the moment I can replenish my wagons with bread, sugar, coffee, &c.
At present the Savannah River is badly obstructed by heavy cribs filled with cobblestones, which have served to make islands of mud and sand, leaving narrow, difficult, and tortuous channels between. Through these channels all our stores have to be brought in launches and light-draught boats, of which we have an inadequate number, so that thus far we barely get enough for daily consumption. But all hands are hard at work, and I hope by the 10th of January to get enough ahead to load our wagons, and be ready to start. It will take some time for me to reach Wilmington, but I am certain that mine is the only mode by which the place can be taken effectually. My army is a good one, but not large enough to make detachments from. I have to leave with my entire force.
It is very important that I should have two or more points along the coast where I can communicate with you, and where I could have some spare ammunition and provisions in reserve, say, Bull’s Bay, Georgetown, and Masonborough. Can’t you arrange to get all these points in your jurisdiction? Admiral Dahlgren is very accommodating, but you and I understand each other better. I think when you come to consider my position, you will agree with me that my proposition is better than to undertake to reduce in detail the fort about Wilmington, and you can so maneuver as to hold a large portion of the enemy to the sea-coast, whilst I ravage the interior, and when I do make my appearance on the coast, we will make short work of them all.
I have shown to Captain Breese my letters to Grant and Halleck, and will explain to him fully everything that will interest you. As soon as I can hear from General Grant, I will send a steamer to you, advising you of the time of starting. I rather fear, however, that the President’s anxiety to take Charleston may induce Grant to order me to operate against Charleston, rather than Wilmington, though I much prefer the latter, Charleston being a dead cock in the pit altogether.
I am, most truly, your friend,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General