In the first place, I deny that my order was in contravention of any previously-settled purpose of the council of general officers held on the night of February 14. I deny that it was ever determined or even proposed in the count of the night of the 14th to retreat from the battle-field or to abandon on the next day (15th), and we settled the plans of battle, nothing else. Our purpose was to cut up the enemy's investing forces before his fresh troops could get in position, thus defeating his designs upon our position and opening our communications, and indenting afterwards to be governed by circumstances. We all believed we would ultimately be forced to retire from the position, then anastate by a force of 30,000 men, threatened with the fresh force of 20,000; but it was likewise believed that if we were completely successful in the sally we might hold the position for a time and save the vast interests known to depend upon our doing so.
In proof of the correctness of this position I refer to the supplemental reports of Brigadier Gens. B. R. Johnson and Forrest and Colonel Gilmer. I maintain, therefore, that my order calling off the pursuit was not in contravention of any purpose previously settled by the council of general offices before the battle and was not a grave error of judgment.
Secondly, no retreat of the army was defeated by the order, for none had been resolved upon, and at that time a successful retreat from he battle-filed could not have been made. I maintain that the order was necessary and proper, and was the only means of avoiding an immediate conflict with a vastly superior force of fresh troops, which in our then condition we could not have withstood.
We had fought seven and a half hours a force of three to one. We had pursued the retreating foe nearly 3 miles and to within 3 miles of the gunboat landing, and until we me and had a severe conflict with the advance of his fresh troops, under General C. F. Smith. These facts all appear in General Buckner's report as well as in my own.
My own command (fully two-thirds of the army in the fight was out of ammunition, and the reports of General Buckner and those of his colonels show that his command had but little left. Our artillery was left in the works because we could not use it in the field. Our artillery was left in the works because we could not use it in the field. If we had pursued the enemy farther, we would have had to contend with his veterans and fresh forces combined-fully 40,000 men. With our small and exhausted command (originally only 10,000 men in the fight), it is obvious that we would have been crushed, and perhaps annihilated.
If we had remained in the open field outside our works long enough to have reformed the command, supplied its wants, and brought out our artillery and the six regiments left within, as necessary in their positions, the whole force of the enemy would have been precipitated upon us before it was possible to have commenced the retreat.
When fully prepared, it is known to be a most difficult operation for an exhausted command to retreat before a superior force; but when the retreating force is without ammunition and artillery and the pursuing force is fresh a successful retreat is impossible.
The proof shows that the weather was intensely cold; that the country over which we would have had to pass was destitute of any supplies; that we had no artillery at hand; that my command had neither rations, knapsacks, blankets, nor ammunition, and that General Buckner's had an inadequate supply; that the regiments and brigades were broken mixed, and scattered over the field, as is always the case after so long and severe a battle. Under such circumstances I maintain that retreat