Tennessee River is an object the importance of which cannot be overrated. It is well worth the risk of losing a gunboat or so.
I have written to General Halleck on this subject, and do not hesitate to recommend it to your prompt consideration.
I have just received your dispatch about Beauregard. I will try to write to-night at length about matters here.
D. C. BUELL.
General Smith reconnoitered Fort Henry. He says two of the new gunboats could go right up and shell it out in two hours. The site of the old masked battery, a few miles below, being about 14 feet under water, and gunboat (on which he was) went within long range of the main work and threw a few shells, one of which burst right over the works, to draw their fire. The fort replied with one shot, which fell far short. General Smith says there must be five acres in the work, and that it is full of houses. The force appears to be not less than 3,000 their tents showing upon the higher ground back of the fort. General S. thinks there are no works on the west side of the river, but I still incline to think there are. He suggests that two new gunboats could run the gauntlet of the fort and destroy the bridge across the river above. No doubt of it; but they might as well out the fort, and then tugs could go up to assist the slower gunboats in the ascent, and going to the bridge would do little good without going to Tuscumbia to take the steamboats.
It could all be done with ease on this high tide and with perfect safety. It is altogether that the Lexington or Conestoga (old boats) could run up in the backwater to the bridge of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, near Tuscumbia, and destroy it.
Two new gunboats, one old one, and 500 troops on one transport up Tennessee River can shell out Fort Henry, destroy the bridge, run up the river to Tuscumbia, and the troops can land and destroy two or three bridges near the river along there. The expedition would meet no opposition above Fort Henry; and if he will send two or three bomb-barges soon, they can run over the Muscle Shoals on this tide and destroy the long bridges at Decatur and Bridgeport, Ala., closing in Middle Tennessee. I believe the Constoga or Lexington could at present run over Muscle Shoals. I believe an equal force of gunboats could clear out the Cumberland on the water of the next ten days to the point where General Thomas has possession of it. It would not be necessary for more than one new gunboat to accompany the old one on the Tennessee farther up than Fort Henry.
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE OHIO,
Louisville, Ky., January 30, 1862.
Major General H. W. HALLECK,
Commanding Department of Missouri:
GENERAL: I venture to inclose to you can extract from a letter I have received from an intelligent and well-informed person at Paducah.*
I believe his suggestions to be feasible to a considerable extent, if
* See inclosure above.