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Letter from Gen. W. H. C. Whiting to Sect. James A. Seddon, August 31, 1863


Letter from Gen. W. H. C. Whiting to Sect. James A. Seddon, August 31, 1863


In this correspondence from W. H. C. Whiting to Sect. James Seddon, Whiting tries to impress upon Seddon how vulnurable he percieves Wilmington to be, and how tragic the loss of Wilmington would be for the entire Confederacy. He even subtly suggests that Wilmington, now as important as Vicksburg was, according to the General, deserves its own army.


W. H. C. Whiting


The War of Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume 29, Series 1, 0696 - 0697.




York, Robert




Wilmington, North Carolina

Original Format



Wilmington, August 31, 1863.

Honorable JAMES A. SEDDON,

Secretary of War, Richmond:

Sir: Suppose the map of North Carolina before you, andallow me to illustrate briefly only a single phase in the condition of Wilmington, and its probable attack or ddefense.

Suppose me without an army, or at most with but a single brigade, a force much larger than I really have at my command. The enemy, after due preparation, of which we may or may not have received notice, lands a strong force at Shalotte, 18 miles from Fort Caswell and 36 from Wilmington, a point much more suitable for his operations and more convenient than Light- House Inlet at Charleston.

Once landed, as I have not the force at hand to fight at once, three courses are open to him, any of which will be demonstrably fatal He can advance on Fort Caswell as he is doing on Sumter, slowly but securely, strengthening always his position and the tenacity of his grip on the land, or, which a bolder foe would do at once, march upon Smithville, take its batteries in reverse, cut off Fort Caswell and shortly destroy it, or march directly upon the city andd in its front, secure from attack by the obstacles of Brunswick River and the Cape Fear, plant his long range guns and at the easy distance of 2 miles destrouy the city, close the river, and turn all the formidable batteries against naval attack, on which so much labor has been expended. All this is not only possible but highly probable. There are besides other lines of attack equally feasible. I use the description of this in particular only to illustrate what I wish to impress, that the whole system of the plan of defense adopted here, the only plan, indeed, which can be successful, depends on th epresence, I might almost say the constant presence, of an army. On that, and that alone, depends the safety of the flanks, and not only that, but on the rapidity and success of the attack of that army rests the safety of Caswell and Fisher, of this the last harbor left to us, and of the city, an important point however considered.

To have this army assemble, but assemble too late, would, it seems to me, only increase the disaster. I hope that nothing here will be left to chance. The assembling a force, and such a force as would undoubtedly be required, will take, in the present condition of our transportation and resources, a long time -time that we cannot afford to lose.

While the rairoads are constantly deterriorating, they are liable also to be cut off daily. I have intimated that a large force is required here.

Let me illustrate by again referring to the map, and suppose the enemy attempting the southerly line of attack. With but a small force at my command, I throw my troops to the west of the Cape Fear to oppose him, for I cannot in this case sit down and wait the progress of events, and the enemy, landing a few thousand men at Masonborough before the movement can be arrested, cuts off the peninsula between the ocean and the Cape Fear River, and the fate of Fort Fisher and the harbor is sealed. I know no place now in the Confederacy where the presence of a large body of veteran troops is more cecessary or more important than this. It is necessary now to prevent possible and by no means improbable disaster and to be ready. In the event of an attack this presence will be indispensable. I beg that you will not consider me importunate in thei matter. It oppresses me. It is not at all for me to make a comparison with the iportance of this as compared with any other part or movement of the war. It is only for me to call attention to the case and to point out the necessities and indicate the means of defense.

I hope you will please to lay the subject before the President for his consideration.

When Vicksburg was threatened, if I am correctly informed, 20,000 troops were not thought insufficient. At that time Vicksburg was a point first in importance. It has fallen. I think now that this place is quite as important as Vicksburg was then. When it is attacked in the changed circumstances which now may be observed, the fewer objects of attack for the enemy, the greater power of concentrating his forces on a single point, and the increased need on our part to hold this with certainty, I must say that less than 20,000 men will hardly succeed.

Very respectfully,


Major- General.


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W. H. C. Whiting, Letter from Gen. W. H. C. Whiting to Sect. James A. Seddon, August 31, 1863, Civil War Era NC, accessed July 17, 2024,