Gen. Foster has been given the task of preventing Gen. Longstreet’s corps from returning to East Tennessee. Unfortunately, he is suffering from severe supply problems. He writes,
KNOXVILLE, December 15, 1863-4 p.m.
It is evident that I cannot perfect my arrangements for supplies by trains in time to meet the wants of this army for the next month. I have therefore to ask that you will order supplies of breadstuffs and small stores to be sent by the river, and that orders be given to get steamers over the shoals in the Tennessee River to be used for that purpose. The information from above is such a nature, though conflicting that I am now pushing the Fourth Corps to Blain’s Cross-Roads, to meet any demonstration or advance from Longstreet and to cover and protect our trains coming from Cumberland Gap.
Should it appear that Longstreet has been re-enforced from Virginia, we will take up the most advantageous position and accept battle.
In case he is retreating or attempting to cover his movement into Carolina, we shall endeavor to punish him to the extent of our ability.
J. G. FOSTER,
He also sent this dispatch to Gen. Halleck,
Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK,
KNOXVILLE, December 17, 1863.
Longstreet has taken the offensive against General Parke, who has fallen back to Blain’s Cross-Roads, where Granger is now concentrating his corps. I intend to fight there if Longstreet comes. It is reported that he is re-enforced by a portion of Ewell’s corps. Elliott arrived yesterday, and I have ordered him toward Morristown to meet Wheeler’s cavalry and operate on Longstreet’s flank.
This question of supplies is very serious, and cramps military operations, having to concentrate and call in the foraging parties. It is with great difficulty that I can get quarter rations of meal or flour from day to day. It is very important, therefore, to get boats running on the Tennessee River so as to supply us this winter with bread, small stores, and ammunition.
Beef and hogs can be driven to us. I have sent orders to Captain Dickerson to this effect, but ask that you will also give such orders as will put the thing through.
The boat has just arrived at Loudon with timely supplies, which have been brought up on the train.
Please order medicines and hospital stores to be brought up on the next boat.
J. G. FOSTER,
I had written him,
CHATTANOOGA, December 17, 1863.
Major General J. G. FOSTER,
I will try to send you stores to Loudon. You must get them from there by rail. Collect all the stores you can in East Tennessee this winter. A great battle may be fought in East Tennessee next spring, and stores must be collected for the subsistence of a large army. We are building boats here which will enable me, I hope, to send many stores from here.
U. S. GRANT,
He responded today,
KNOXVILLE, December 19, 1863.
I have just returned from the front to find your telegrams of the 15th, 16th, and 18th.
Longstreet is near Rutledge with a force equal to my own, but shows no disposition to attack us in our position. Had circumstances been favorable, I intended to attack him, acting in accordance with what I understood to be the wishes of General Halleck, but I am not sure that it would prove a good operation; at any rate, the freshet in the river from the recent rains has delayed operations for some days. I would like to confer with you in order to understand more fully what operations will lead to the best results.
Can I do this by telegraphing from Tazewell, to which place I can go for the purpose, or will it be better to come to Chattanooga by boat?
J. G. FOSTER,
The Papers of Ulysses S Grant, Vol 9, p 531, 546
O.R., I, xxxi, part 1, p 433
O.R., I, xxxi, part 3, p 284