February 18, 1864.
His Excellency JEFFERSON DAVIS,
President Confederate States, Richmond:
Mr. PRESIDENT: I have received the dispatch forwarded to me to-day from General Longstreet, requesting 10,000 men to insure the capture of Knoxville. * I have no information of the practicability of the plan. I think it may be assumed that its defenses are stronger now than when it was last attacked, and an attempt to capture it by assault would not only be hazardous but attended with great loss of life. To reduce it by approaches would require time and, it seems to me at this distance, render necessary an army sufficient to defeat a relieving force that, now the railroad to Chattanooga has been opened, could be quickly sent from Grant's troops. If a movement could be made to cut off supplies from Knoxville it would draw out the garrison, and this appears to me the wiser course. Could supplies be sent if troops were? For without the former the latter would be unavailing. I wrote to-day to the Secretary of War suggesting that Pickett's division be sent to him in the spring and that a brigade of Buckner's now at Dalton be returned to its division at once. I see by the Northern papers that General Gillmore and Admiral Dahlgren have gone to Florida, carrying three brigades with them. This reduces the force operating against Charleston. General Longstreet is under the impression that Sedwick's corps has been withdrawn from Meade's army and sent to Knoxville. A division of it was sent to Harper's Ferry at the time of General Early's descent upon Petersburg, and a brigade was sent to Johnson's Island when the alarm was spread of a congregation of a force at Point Pelee in Canada. I cannot discover that any other troops have been sent from the Rappahannock, and my instructions to the scout are to be particularly watchful, both here and on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; still they may be deceived. It is reported in the Northern papers that Longstreet has been re-enforced. If a portion of Meade's army is sent west a part of this could be withdrawn. I would not think it wise if it is not, as we are now greatly outnumbered. It is very important to repossess ourselves of Tennessee, as also to take the initiative before our enemies are prepared to open the campaign. My information is restricted entirely to my own front, and I can do nothing for want of proper supplies. With these and effective horses I think I could disturb the quiet of the enemy and drive him to the Potomac.
I ma, most respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. E. LEE,
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
February 18, 1864.
Major General A. ELZEY,
GENERAL: General Hampton has written me of the effects of the late hard march to the Peninsula upon his command. the injury done to the troops morally and physical by movements at this season is so great that I beg leave to call your attention again to the
*See Longstreet to Cooper, February 17, Vol. XXXII, Part II, p. 759.
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