WAR DEPARTMENT, C. S. A.,
Richmond, Va., February 18, 1862.
Major General BRAXTON BRAGG,
SIR: The heavy blow which has been inflicted on us by the recent operations in Kentucky and Tennessee renders necessary a change in our whole plan of campaign, as suggested in your dispatch of this date, just received.
We had in contemplation the necessity of abandoning the seaboard in order to defend the Tennessee line, which is vital to our safety; but I am still without any satisfactory information from General A. S. Johnston. I know not the nature nor extent of the disaster at Fort Donelson, nor the disposition of his troops, nor his plans, and am only aware of the very large loss we have suffered in prisoners through the dispatches in the Northern papers.
However, all this is beside the question. The decision is made, and the President desires that you proceed as promptly as possible to withdraw your forces from Pensacola and Mobile and hasten to the defense of the Tennessee line. In doing this, of course the first care will be to save, as far as possible, all our artillery and munitions of war. It is not feasible, perhaps, to save all the artillery, but the munitions are invaluable to us.
It is not proposed to leave any force at all at Pensacola-a weak garrison would inevitably be captured-but it is deemed advisable to leave an effective garrison in the forts in Mobile Harbor and provide an ample supply of food for them. The continuance of the occupation of the forts would probably defer for some time a movement against Mobile, and it is possible might prevent the capture of that city; but the risk of its capture must be run by us.
All the Confederate forces in Mobile, as well as those in Pensacola, are to be moved as rapidly as possible to the Tennessee line, and by the time you can reach the Memphis and Charleston Railroad we will be able to determine towards what point they are to move.
We suppose it will be necessary to abandon Columbus and fall back to Island No. 10, or possibly to Memphis. Five thousand men have been ordered from New Orleans to the latter point. Until we hear from General Johnston, however, it will not be possible to determine upon this retrograde movement from Columbus. It is almost certain that he has agreed with General Beauregard upon the movement now to be made; but we grope in the dark here, and this uncertainly renders our own counsels undecided and prevents that promptness of action which the emergency requires. Enough, however, is known to satisfy us that without additional supplies of arms we cannot hold our entire exposed coast and frontier, and we must withdraw from the defense of the whole Gulf coast except New Orleans. I shall order all troops from Eastern Florida also to Tennessee. At Savannah an immediate attack is anticipated, and it is perhaps best to endeavor to give the enemy a decisive repulse there before withdrawing the troops at that point.
J. P. BENJAMIN,
Secretary of War.
NEW ORLEANS, LA., February 21, 1862.
Honorable J. P. BENJAMIN:
There are but 150 guns and 20,000 pounds of powder on the Victoria. Have sent four regiments to Corinth.