February 17, 1864.
General J. LONGSTREET:
GENERAL: I received by the hands of Colonel Sorrel your letters of the 2nd and 3rd instant. I have delayed my reply hoping to obtain certain information bearing upon the question presented, but it has not been received. The execution of your proposition is attended with many difficulties, and I do not now see how they can be overcome. It is stated in the papers that General Sherman with a large force has driven our troops from Jackson and is moving upon Newton with the supposed design of striking at Mobile. I have seen no official account, but if this is true S. D. Lee with all his cavalry will have full occupation and cannot at present advance into Kentucky. If Johnston's army could be transported by railroad to this department, without stopping the supplies upon which we depend, its withdrawal would open to the enemy the road to the Atlantic. In that event I could re-enforce you but slightly until troops began to arrive, and not then unless provisions could first be accumulated on your line. Pickett's division forms the principal protection of the eastern border of Virginia and North Carolina, and I have recently been obliged to re-enforce it with three brigades from this army. These are the difficulties as they at present stand. At this season, when forage has to be transported, as well as subsistence, the obstacles to an advance are enhanced. I have been trying to accumulate depots of provisions and forage, but have not succeeded. I can get 1,500 saddles and bridles, but only about 500 horses unless I take from the artillery wagon trains. This number constitutes our reserve, which will be wanted after the first battle, and is too small to be of practical advantage. The War Department has had in contemplation a reorganization of the force in West Virginia, and I think it probable General Breckinridge will be sent there. You do not state what amount of supplies can be had in the section of country you are now in, and from the statement of the quartermaster that he has been obliged to send you corn, I fear we could not support a large number of animals in that region. I notified General Elzey some time since that I desired General Pickett to join you in the spring, and wished him to get back his troops from Charleston. I will endeavor to get to General Buckner his brigade from Dalton, but fear it may be required there. Until the enemy gives indications of his intentions it is difficult to say what is best to be done, unless we could ourselves take the initiative, which if possible should be done. Now that the adjournment of Congress is at hand I hope that the Department will be able to make some definite arrangement. I do not know the strength of the enemy in Tennessee; the fourth and Eleventh Corps were said to have been united and the Twenty-third much reduced. The Ninth (Burnside's old corps) was originally large. The entire force may be too strong for you to make the movement you propose, even if other things rendered it practicable, unless you could divide and crush it. After getting into the country, without a sufficient cavalry force, you could not collect sufficient horses to mount your corps; when mounted you could avoid any infantry force and overwhelm any cavalry force that could be brought against you, and draw the enemy from Johnston's front, so that he could follow you. The cavalry of this army is much reduced, and I have dispersed it as far as prudent for the purpose of