Sunday, October 23, 2011

October 24, 1861 (Thursday): Target New Bern?

Remnants of Fort Thompson, New Bern NC
GOLDSBOROUGH, October 24, 1861.

J. P. BENJAMIN, Secretary of War:
Your telegram of yesterday just received (9.30 a. m.). I have but thirty-five companies in the vicinity of New Berne and Fort Macon, including those in the batteries, and no reserve. The other forces are so scattered as to make it difficult to bring them together; hence I beg that re-enforcement be sent at once. Will keep you informed of the movements of the enemy. 


RICHMOND, October 24, 1861. 

General R. C. GATLIN, Goldborough, N. C.:
I send you in the morning train to-morrow a regiment and a battalion of seven companies of Georgians with one battery, to rendezvous at Goldsborough, and will send you further re-enforcement as soon as we know you are the object of attack. At present it is conjectural. A part of enemy's expedition sailed last night for the South, but to what point is unknown. General Cooper sends written orders. Don't move the Georgians from Goldsborough till you are sure that your coast is the point of attack. 

J. P. BENJAMIN, Acting Secretary of War. 

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 4, Part 1, Page 689

The confusion caused by the expedition of Sherman and DuPont is little noted, nor the apprehension caused by the appearance of a large Federal fleet in Hampton Roads.  Beauregard, as we recently saw, felt Richmond was threatened and linked the fleet's arrival to a possible movement by Banks to the Valley.  Richmond felt New Bern was the more likely target.  In reality, the fleet was sailing for Port Royal Sound in South Carolina.  This letter gives a good idea of the difficulties faced by Confederate planners.  True it was the Union had a massive amount of land to occupy to win the war, but it was equally the fact that Richmond's forces were stretched thin and would have difficulty dealing with the element of mobility the Union Navy provided the North.  Like their modern counterparts, the Navy of 1861 was (although small) capable of projecting force with mobility and tying down their opposite number's armies along the coasts.  Gatlin was 52, former Regular Army, and in charge of North Carolina's coastal militia.  Traveling through Arkansas while still in the Army, he had been taken prisoner by Confederate troops and only afterwards resigned from the U.S. Army, making him one of the few men to have been taken prisoner by an Army they subsequently fought for.

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