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The War in America.—General Burnside's Expedition

The Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1133, p. 233.

March 1,1862

(From our Special Artist and Correspondent.)
On Board the Spalding, Pamlico Sound,
North Carolina, Jan. 29.

At last, after immense exertion on the part of those concerned, General Burnside especially having worked night and day, sufficient transports have been got over the bulkhead to carry 11,000 men up the Sound, and it is now a mere question of reshipping the troops that were landed to lighten the vessels and to provision them for ten days. It appears to me there must have been gross stupidity or cupidity displayed by those authorised to purchase the steamers for the service they are now engaged in, as their draught of water, in nine cases out of ten, exceeds by a great deal the depth found on the various banks and shoals that block the entrance to the inland seas of North Carolina; hence the delay of the expedition. Before we could continue up the Sound to Roanoke all the larger vessels had to land their troops and provisions, otherwise they never could have crossed the bulkhead; and, as it is, they have been worried through the sand, inch by inch, a distance of over three miles, many taking four and five days to force their way through. Again, the channel is so narrow that it is impossible for more than one ship at a time to attempt the passage; and, should one stick, she has to be removed before another can be brought up. The two last are now on their way over, but, unfortunately, the leading vessel has grounded, and may cause a further delay of a day or two; however, the general opinion appears to be that we shall get off by the end of the week, and, when once fairly started, it only takes ten hours to reach Roanoke. Now, had steamers of lighter draught been provided, nothing would have prevented the expedition from steaming up the Sound on the first day of our arrival and striking a decisive blow before preparations could be made by the Confederates to offer effectual resistance, as it is extremely probable they were in ignorance of the destination of the Federal fleet. By this time they will have learned through their spies everything required to be known (two Secesh gun-boats came within sight the other day and reconnoitred), and prepare accordingly a warm reception for the invading force.

As I understand the plan of attack it is as follows :—The gun-boats will take the lead up the Sound, followed by the larger transports having the troops on board, and the rear will be brought up by the store-ships in tow of tugs. On arriving off the southern extremity of Roanoke Island, the former will engage the batteries, which are said to be immensely strong there, while the troops under the cover of their fire will be transferred to scows and surf-boats, and, passing over the shallows on the western side, land, and take the Confederates in the rear, cutting off their retreat in the event of their being beaten. Now, there is just a possibility of the Southern fleet showing fight; they have fourteen gun-boats heavily armed with guns of large calibre, taken from the Norfolk Navy-yard; and, if they do, they may cause the Federalists great annoyance in going up the Sound. A few shells thrown among the transports, crowded as they are with troops, would create a considerable amount of confusion, and, as I happen to be on board the leading ship, the General's, I most fervently hope they will do nothing of the kind. As it is, I presume we shall get awfully pounded on drawing within range of the batteries. Well, supposing Roanoke to be taken, the expedition will then proceed to New Berne, seizing the railway at that place, and, advancing inland to Goldsboro', occupy all the converging lines there with ultimate intentions on Raleigh; thus, as I said in my previous letter, cutting off all communication with the more Southern States, and leaving the Confederate army at Manassas helpless as regards reinforcements or supplies from any State south of Virginia. In Kentucky the Unionists are pushing forward to assist and support the movements of this expedition, the idea being that the two forces should form a junction, and so entirely shut out Beauregard's army from the rest of Secessia; then, I presume, M'Clellan would advance with the main body of Federalists, and fight the decisive battle so long expected.

The last news we have here tells us that Sherman is about to move on Savannah from Port Royal, that Butler is preparing to menace New Orleans from Ship Island, and that the huge expedition down the Mississippi has started, or is at the point of starting. So that another month may bring you tidings of the last of the Confederate States' Government, or such intelligence as will probably cause its recognition by the European Powers, the latter in the event of the failure of the Federal plans. Mind, I don't mean to prophesy any successes for the Unionists; I simply mention the programme apparently to be followed. Again, as far as this expedition is concerned, I have certain doubts of its achieving all required of it, as I cannot shut my eyes to the glaring incapacity of those whose business it is to second the General in command. If everything depended on the exertions of one man—I speak of General Burnside—I am convinced my task would be to record a victory; as it is, I must wait the issue of the fight.

F. V.

Some Illustrations by our Special Artist sent with this letter will be given in our next Number.

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