I have determined that the supply situation in East Tennessee is just too difficult to support a move by Gen. Foster against Longstreet. However, the wait gives us time to decide on our course in the spring and to prepare for our next move. I wrote Gen. Halleck,
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
Nashville, Tenn., January 15, 1864.
Major General H. W. HALLECK,
General-in-Chief, Washington, D. C.:
GENERAL: I reached here the evening of the 12th on my return from East Tennessee. I felt a particular anxiety to have Longstreet driven from East Tennessee, and went there with the intention of taking such steps as would secure this end. I found, however, a large part of Foster’s command suffering for want of clothing, especially shoes, so that in any advance not to exceed two-thirds of his men could be taken. The difficulties of supplying these are such that to send re-enforcements at present would be to put the whole on insufficient rations for their support. Under these circumstances I only made such changes of position of troops as would place Foster nearer the enemy when he did get in a condition to move, and would open to us new foraging grounds and diminish those held by the enemy. Having done this, and seen the move across the Holston at Strawberry Plains commenced, I started on my return, via Cumberland Gap, Barboursville, London, and Richmond, to Lexington, Ky. The weather was intensely cold, the thermometer standing a portion of the time below zero; but being desirous of seeing what a portion of our supplies might be depended upon over that route, and it causing no loss of time, I determined to make the trip. From the personal inspection made, I am satisfied that no portion of our supplies can be hauled by teams from Camp Nelson. While forage could be got from the country to supply teams at the different stations on the road, some supplies could be got through in this way; but the time is nearly at an end when this can be done. On the first rise of the Cumberland 1,200,000 rations will be sent to the mouth of the Big South Fork. There I hope teams will be able to take [them]. The distance to haul is materially shortened, the road is said to be better than that by Cumberland Gap, and it is a new route and will furnish forage for a time.
In the mean time troops in East Tennessee must depend for subsistence on what they can get from the country and the little we can send them from Chattanooga. The railroad is now complete into Chattanooga, and in a short time (say three weeks) the road by Decatur and Huntsville will be complete. Steamers then can be spared to supply the present force in East Tennessee well, and to accumulate a store to support a large army for a short time if it should become necessary to send one there in the spring. This contingency, however, I will do everything in my power to avert. Two steamers ply now tolerably regular between Chattanooga and Loudon. From the latter place to Mossy Creek we have railroad. Some clothing has already reached Knoxville since my departure. A good supply will be got there with all dispatch. Then, if necessary, and subsistence can by possibility be obtained, I will send force enough to secure Longstreet’s expulsion.
Sherman has gone down the Mississippi to collect at Vicksburg all the force that can be spared for a separate movement from the Mississippi. He will probably have ready by the 24th of this month a force of 20,000 men that could be used east of the river; but to go west so large a force could not be spared.
The Red River and all the steams west of the Mississippi are now too low for navigation. I shall direct Sherman, therefore, to move out to Meridian with his spare force (the cavalry going from Corinth) and destroy the roads east and south of these so effectually that the enemy will not attempt to rebuild them during the rebellion. He will then return unless the opportunity of going into Mobile with the force he has appears perfectly plain. Owing to the large number of veterans furloughed I will not be able to do more at Chattanooga than to threaten an advance and try to detain the force now in Thomas’ front. Sherman will be instructed, while left with large discretionary powers, to take no extra hazard of losing his army or of getting it crippled too much for efficient service in the spring.
I look upon the next line for me to secure to be that from Chattanooga to Mobile, Montgomery and Atlanta being the important intermediate points. To do this large supplies must be secured on the Tennessee River, so as to be independent of the railroads from here to the Tennessee for a considerable length of time. Mobile would be a second base. The destruction which Sherman will do to the roads around Meridian will be of material importance to us in preventing the enemy from drawing supplies from Mississippi and in clearing that section of all large bodies of rebel troops. I do not look upon any points except Mobile, in the south, and the Tennessee, in the north, as presenting practicable starting-points from which to operate against Atlanta and Montgomery. They are objectionable as starting-points to be all under one command, from the fact that the time it will take to communicate from one to the other will be so great; but Sherman or McPherson, one of whom would be intrusted with the distant command, are officers of such experience and reliability that all objection on this score, except that of enabling thaw two armies to act as a until, would be removed. The same objection will exist-probably not to so great an extent, however-if a movement is made than one column. This will have to be with an army of the size we will be compelled to use. Heretofore I have abstained from suggesting what might be done in other commanded than my own in co-operation with it, or even to think much over the matter; but as you have kindly asked me in your letter of January 8, only just received, for an interchange of views on our present situation, I will write you again in a day or two, going outside of my own operations.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
U. S. GRANT,