Wilmington, October 6, 1864.
Chief of Engineers, Richmond:
GENERAL: Your two letters of 30th of September and 1st of October received. In reference to impressment of labor, I have telegraphed, both to you and the Secretary of War, requesting the enrolling officers to effect this purpose. They have been gathering the free negroes, and they are prepared with officers, detailed men, and districts to do the work promptly, much more so, than I can, who have not an officer and man to spare. My district is limited to defenses of Wilmington, and includes but a few counties, which I have heavily taxed already, and which has supplied three-fourths of all the labor expended. I am at them again. You have no idea of the difficulty, the delay, and the obstacles. Since the 16th, when I wrote you so urgently, I have not received seventy-five hands, and that would not make up the deficiency incurred in the meantime by sickness and desertion. The demands are enormous on the very small space I have. The quartermaster and commissariat of General Lee's army depends on my engineer labor, and I can neither help it nor remedy it. Instead of carrying on all the necessary works at once, which ought to be done in ten days by such a force as North Carolina can spare from her 300,000 negroes, I can only slowly carry on one work at a time. All aid is grudged and precious time lost. The works you propose have all been well considered and approved long since between General Hebert and myself. They are practicable only with a force very largely increased, both of labor and men, not otherwise, because I must complete the water defenses first, especially since Farragut's success may embolden their navy. You may see what my prospect for aid is, either in troops or labor, by the accompanying correspondence,(*) which I inclose for your information and that of the War Department. The lines you propose can only be constructed by troops in position. Only after the attack is developed and a foothold gained will anybody be convinced that Wilmington is not safe, and only then will an unarmed and disorganized body of old farmers be sent down here. In the meantime, I am doing all I can. Please have the Conscript Bureau impress the slaves out of my district. Order it by telegraph.
W. H. C. WHITING,
SOURCE: United States War Department. THE WAR OF THE REBELLION: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.