|State Capital, Raleigh, 1861|
BALTIMORE, MD., February 26, 1864.
Major General H. W. HALLECK:
General-in-Chief U. S. Army, Washington, D. C.:
GENERAL: In a conversation with Grant at Nashville, Tenn., on the 12th instant, reference was made to a project of an operation from the Eastern sea-board, to aid, by co-operation, the contemplated movements in Alabama and Georgia. He desired, as I understood him, to have a column of 60,000 men move on Raleigh, by the way of Weldon, and thence to co-operate with the Armies of the Ohio and of the Cumberland. I have though of the project since, as I had in fact, often before, while in command in North Carolina and Virginia, and beg leave, respectfully, to present the following plan, which will, I think, meet General Grant's wishes, and also attain some other important objects:
I would respectfully propose that the force be collected in the vicinity of Hampton Roads, in such a way as to excite the least suspicion of its real object; that the artillery and infantry be moved by transports to Fort Powhatan, on the James River, landed at that point and the one opposite, on the north bank of the river, and a portion of the force put to work to intrench those points, so as to be
held against attacking force, while, the remainder be rapidly prepared for marching, the whole cavalry force to move at the same time quickly from Williamsburg to Bottom's Bridge, and make a dash on Richmond. Failing in this, to attack the enemy in rear at Malvern Hill or at Charles City Court-House, whichever place may be their point of concentration to meet our threatened advance in force; and then to cross the James River at Fort Powhatan by means of the steam ferry-boats, to be prepared at that point, and make a dash on Petersburg, the Petersburg and Weldon, and the Petersburg and Lynchburg Railroads. Succeeding or failing in this, to fall back toward Weldon, by the county roads, on the flanks of the main column, which, by this time, should be in full march for Weldon, destroying all bridges in their rear. Arrived at Weldon to assault the works at once, and failing in this, to settle down into a determined attack, opening the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad for supplies from Norfolk, and calling up the North Carolina force from Plymouth to act on the rear of the enemy at Weldon. After taking Weldon, to destroy the bridges at that place and at Gaston, and to sweep through the State threatening Goldsborough and Raleigh, and really only occupying Raleigh with the cavalry, while the main column moves directly for Wilmington as rapidly as possible, living on the country. All the railroad and other bridges are to be destroyed on the march. Reaching Wilmington, to attack that town in such a way as to succeed, opening at the same time a landing for a base of supplies at Masonborough Inlet. Capturing Wilmington all the defenses on the river and at its mouth are sure to fall in succession. This line of advance on Wilmington is the only one that offers decided chances for success, inasmuch as it entirely cuts off all re-enforcements from Virginia, and, if the cavalry succeeds in cutting the Wilmington and Manchester road, from Charleston also. It avoids the delays in crossing the White Oak and New Rivers of a column moving from Morehead City; at the same time it shuts off the troops that might, in the mean time, be poured into Wilmington by the two railroads mentioned above.
The reasons that I prefer the route by the way of the James River to that by the line of the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad to Weldon are that it avoids the delays consequent upon forcing the passage of the Blackwater, the Nottoway, and the Meherin Rivers, and of rebuilding the bridges over those streams, which the enemy will be sure to burn to retard the march of our forces, and that the route by Fort Powhatan and Prince George Court-House to Weldon turns those rivers is likely to insure the capture of the troops stationed along them to defend their crossings and the salvation of the bridges; also, that this way of coming down on Weldon cuts off the re-enforcements from Virginia, which might otherwise be thrown into Weldon by rail.
The reason that the main column should be hurried directly through North Carolina without waiting to occupy Raleigh in force is that it saves precious time in getting at Wilmington. At the same time the direct route lies nearer the bases of supply in North Carolina, viz, Plymouth, Washington, and New Berne.
The strength of the expedition should be fully equal to that estimated by General Grant, viz, 60,000 men, to insure the success of the movement, which covers a very long march, and must of necessity involve severe fighting, entailing considerable losses from deaths, wounds, sickness, and straggling.
I am confident that such an expedition of the above strength can succeed in all the points that I have described above, provided it be conducted with proper skill and determination.
A lesser force could not make sure of Weldon, upon the attainment of which everything depends. It could, however, operate up the James River, as a large water bayou, fortifying point after point in succession and, at last lay siege to Petersburg with good chances of success. Such a move would be important in view of the effect it would produce on the enemy at Richmond and on the Rapidan, but otherwise of very little value.
The above is respectfully submitted with the hope that it may meet the approval of the General-in-Chief.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. G. FOSTER,
Major-General of Volunteers
Official Records, Series I., Vol. 33, Part 1, Pages 602-604.
Weldon, the key to Foster's plan, was an obscure railroad junction. To possess it was to be threaten Petersburg. While an approach from the east was desirable it was not practical. There were not 60,000 troops available for the execution of the plan and the approaches were through marshland leading across country toward New Berne.