Arms is not my profession nor intended to be. I am over fifty years of age-in my fifty-first. I am too old to start out on a new career. I have a status which I understand and must maintain under every circumstance. I accepted place in the Provisional Army of the Southern Confederacy because my own State was, as I supposed, to be the theater of my effort, and because I knew that my influence in it would raise an army, provided I could get once among the people with a nucleus around which they could rally. I was promised such a force as, added to the force then at Prestonburg, would be equal to 5,000 men, to commence with; my own rank to be that of a brigadier (also to commence with), but with an express declaration that my command should be a separate command, and I only to be subject to instructions given to me as commander of the column in Eastern Kentucky by General A. S. Johnston, as head of the Department of the West. This was an express condition-precedent to my acceptance, for I would not have accepted had it not been made.
Authority to accept and arrange battalions and regiments to any extent accompanied the appointment, nor was I confined to the places or States from which they might be drawn, for it was meant, as I understood, that just as soon as I could get an army I was to have charge of one swollen to all the capacity I could give it. So much, indeed, was the expressed wish of the Department to me subsequently through one of my friends. Of course I cared nothing about grade of rank if I had power and was not to be interfered with by anybody of superior grade of rank, for that left me all I wanted in the field-the purpose and the power to effect it. My instructions of November 1 gave all I desired.
How I was disappointed in the force placed at my command I will not recount to you. It simply amounted to nothing at all. Two Virginia regiments were intended for me. I received my instructions on November 1. By the 6th I had given instructions to the two colonels to move. Response of Colonel Trigg to this: That he and his whole command were violently opposed to entering on the service to go to Kentucky. Reply by me: That I could not help it, and order to move made peremptory. Response by Colonel Moore: That he had no staff, arms, provisions, tents, or transportation. I sought an interview, and had it by the 11th, and repeated to him to get ready as soon as possible and to move immediately. I received an order to combine certain companies I would find at Pound Gap and others I would find on the road between Abingdon and Pound Gap with those at Abingdon, and so form the Twenty-ninth Virginia, to be commanded by Colonel Moore. Leaving Wythville after seeing Colonels Moore and Trigg, and urging them forward, I left without any staff, for I had no aide or adjutant (none at all), to go to Prestonburg and organize the Kentucky force by the time the Virginia regiments and Captain Jeffress with his battery of four pieces came up.
When I reached Jeffersonville I received a dispatch from Colonel Williams that he was retreating from Pikeville to Pound Gap with nine incomplete companies of infantry (new levies and barefooted) and about 400 mounted men, and that General Nelson had with him some 7,000 at Pikeville. At once I saw this retreat left open the road into Virginia and put at risk important and material interests. I was not well acquainted with the geography of the State, but I knew enough to be aware that an advance of Nelson to Jeffersonville would so combine his force in rear of General Floyd with that of Rosecrans at the mouth of the Gauley as to compel Floyd to retreat on the Greenbrier, and give the enemy the railroad at Wytheville, the salt-works, lead mines, and