As Roanoke Island has recently fallen into the hands of Government there is a natural desire to become fully acquainted with its geographical position in regard to important points still in the hands of the rebels. From a lengthy article on the subject in the Cincinnati Gazette we compile some interesting facts.
Roanoke Island commands the strait between Pamlico Sound on the south, and Albemarle and Carrituck Sounds on the north, being about midway between them and all being separate from the ocean by the narrow sand spit which runs the whole length of the North Carolina coast. The first English settlement in America was made on this island by Sir Walter Raleigh, in 1585. The island is about fifty miles north of Hatteras Inlet, and nearly twenty miles long. The rebels had an intrenched camp in the center, and five forts at the most commanding points. They had been fortifying this island ever since the capture of Hatteras and owing to the treason, which notwithstanding the efforts of Government, still exists at the North, they were fully advised of the destination of the Burnside expedition long before it sailed, as they have been by the same means of every movement made or contemplated in this war. Our soldiers fight treason in front and treason and treachery in the rear.
The question which now occurs to the people is, what is the strategic value of this situation? As the natural advantages of it to an invading army, North Carolina is open before it, “where to choose,” for two hundred miles north and south, penetrated by numerous rivers, bays and lagoons, giving access to many important towns, but of course we cannot appropriate all this wealth of opportunities, nor do our expeditions go about destroying towns. About twenty miles north of the island is the foot of Albemarle Sound, which stretches west sixty miles, and from five to fifteen miles broad. At the head of the bay, Chowan River enters from the north-west, by which our lightest draft boats could probably ascend to a point forty or fifty miles below the line of the railroad, which runs from the great North and South line at Weldon, N. C., to Norfolk, Va. Carrituck Sound runs along the coast from the foot of Albemarle Sound to within thirty miles of Norfolk. It is navigable for vessels of light draft, but cannot be regarded as much more commanding than the sea itself, near and parallel to which it runs.
Near the foot of Albemarle Sound Pasquatunk river, a broad, shallow arm of the Sound, enters from the northwest. At the head of this, twenty miles from the Sound, is Elizabeth City, where our vessels captured the rebel gunboats, and which the rebels set on fire. This place is connected with Norfolk by navigation, partly by a small stream and partly by the Dismal Swamp Canal. At the head of Albemarle Sound is Edenton, which has also surrendered to our forces. There are many towns accessible by the various streams and sounds but the country from the coast to near the head of Albemarle Sound is generally swampy, except near the margin of the sounds and lagoons. For sixty miles from the cost the country is a chaos of land and water.
The enemy has railroad lines for transferring troops from Petersburg, to Richmond and Manassas, to resist any advance of our troops into their interior. Therefore it will be seen that an advance must be supported by large re-inforcements, or by an aggressive movement from the Potomac that would prevent the diversion of troops from Manassas or Richmond to resist Burnside. His force is supposed to be from 15,000 to 18,000. It is not sufficient to advance far into a hostile country which has railroad communication with an army of 100,000 to 200,000 men, unless it is supported by a general movement from the Potomac.
The railroad lines below Petersburg give the rebels means of concentrating their forces either in the direction of Norfolk or Weldon. It is presumed that other movements are to be made in combination with this; and that warned by the inadequate result of the former expedition to that vicinity, the general in command has made arrangements to support this by the general movement of his strategic plan, which will result in the capture of Norfolk and Richmond.
– Published in The Davenport Daily Gazette, Davenport, Iowa, Tuesday Morning, February 18, 1862, p. 2