Our Wilmington correspondence.
The irregularity of the mails has detained our Wilmington letters so long that they have lost much of their freshness, though they still retain a good deal of interest. We give them as they come to hand:
Wilmington, December 25--8 P. M.
We live in wonderful times. This is the Sabbath day; and yet our, enemies neither keep it holy themselves nor allow us to do so. It is Christmas day--the anniversary of the day when "the heavenly host" made proclamation of "peace on earth" and "good will toward men" and yet these same enemies give us war instead of peace, and a fearful fire of shot and shell instead of good will. We are not even permitted to drink our egg-nog in quiet, nor to fill the bags of the little ones with the gifts of thoughtful Santa Claus, nor to repair to the house of God, except with the accompaniment of 15-inch shells and rattling window panes.
The Federal fleet which had been lying off this port for some days, and which consisted, it was supposed, chiefly of transports, was found to be composed of over fifty ships of war, including two monitors, several armored vessels, and a large proportion of heavily-armed frigates and sloops. This formidable fleet stood in at 11 o'clock yesterday morning, and at twenty minutes to one, it opened a furious fire upon Fort Fisher, the principal work at the mouth of the Cape Fear. An English naval officer who was with Sir Charles Napier in the Baltic, and at Sebastopol, says the fire exceeded anything he had ever seen. It was maintained with unabated vigor until half-past 5, when the fleet drew off. The enemy's shot averaged thirty to the minute, being nine thousand for the five hours he engaged the fort. The space above the fort was filled with white puffs of smoke from bursting shells, many of which were of frightful size. Some of these monster projectiles passed entirely over the fort and fell in the river beyond.--And this, too, notwithstanding the fleet, with the exception of the iron-clads, stood off at long range.
The fort replied slowly and deliberately; but with what effect is not known, though Colonel Lamb, commandant of the work, telegraphs that he is confident the enemy suffered more than he did.--There were twenty-three men wounded on our part; one mortally, three severely and nineteen slightly. Two guns were dismounted, not by the fire of the enemy, but by unskillful management on our part. No other damage worth naming was sustained.
But fearful as the bombardment was yesterday, it was but the prelude to the infernal fire of to-day. The attack was renewed at 10 o'clock, and raged with tremendous violence until six this evening. Such a rain of shot and shell never before fell upon any spot of earth since gunpowder was invented. But the Confederates stood to their work in most gallant style. Many of them had never been under fire before; and yet they received the devouring blast from the fleet like men who knew not what fear was. We have no report of the casualties to-day, communication with the fort by telegraph having been interrupted; but there is reason to fear that they have been heavier than they were yesterday. Unofficial telegrams received during the afternoon, however, before the wires were broken, stated that all was well, and that the garrison had replied to the enemy's fire less frequently than on yesterday.
But the most serious part of the fight, to-day remains to be told. A portion of the fleet, moving up the beach two and a half miles above Fort Fisher, swept the shore with grape and canister for an hour, at the end of which the boats were lowered, and a force, estimated to be three brigades, was landed. This force was immediately engaged by Kirkland's brigade; but, at half-past 5 o'clock, the enemy still maintained his footing on the beach, after two hours fighting. It is not improbable that other troops will be landed to-night, and possibly some artillery.
The enemy is now between Wilmington and Fort Fisher, and has cut off communication by land with the latter. If he is not dislodged soon, Fisher must fall as Fort Morgan did, and with its fall the port of Wilmington will be sealed. Once firmly established on the narrow spit of sand, upon the outer end of which Fisher stands, the closing of the river above will be only a matter of time; and then, away go Fisher, Caswell and all the other works by which the harbor and town are defended.
There has been gross dereliction of duty between here and Richmond; but whether the military or railway authorities are responsible for it, remains to be seen. But more of this hereafter.
General Whiting is in command below. His report of the operations to-day has not been received as I close.--General Bragg is doing all he can with the handful of men present to hold the place.
I omitted to mention that one of the Federal blockaders got aground on Friday night, while chasing the Little Hattie, and was abandoned and blown up. The Little Hattie got in safe.
- The Daily Dispatch (Richmond, Va.) January 4, 1865