This dispatch was received at Abingdon at 3 p.m., which marks the time which had elapsed since I ordered Colonel Hawkins to wait for the return of the train until I obtained by regular approach consent from the proper quarter that one should come at once. But the promised train did not come until nearly 8 p.m., and after the enemy had burned both the bridges and had gone west from the Watauga, and the scouts from Union had made the fact known at Bristol, for the scouts returned by dark (say 5 p.m.), and then the trains came to aid me in "the prompt movement of the troops."
I had received from Colonel Slemp in the afternoon a closing dispatch which gave me quiet upon the point as to whether the enemy had met:
BRISTOL, TENN., December 30, 1862.
Reliable information received 1.30 p.m. states that the enemy are at Union, and bridge burning. Clay's and my command are here; Johnson is coming. Our strength is 900. We will advance on them until word from you. Their strength supposed to be large (3,000). Communication stopped in that direction by telegraph.
Thus, Mr. Secretary, you will see that to the last, when the enemy had reached the bridge and had burned it, his force was estimated as very superior to any I could command, and you will readily realize anxiety I labored under to get forward to Bristol the limited re-enforcement I had to furnish from Abingdon. I was raining all that evening very hard indeed. I had been kept in momentary expectation of the arrival of the cars from Bristol. It never occurred to my mind that Minor's dispatch to [George] Keller was in the nature of a protest against my authority to order the cars, for my mind was only bent on getting the transportation, and I supposed the agent would be as anxious as I to afford the protection to Bristol a re-enforcements would furnish. As to collision, that was impossible, for it is only 15 miles from Bristol to Abingdon, and there is no stopping-place between. Cars might run the distance in half an hour, and one hour from Abingdon should have put the troops at Union. Had they been started by 12 o'clock they could have saved the bridge, or, at least, could have contested its possession even with a superior force. I did all, as it seems to me, I could to get there to bring the required relief; but, as you see, I tried in vain.
Before leaving Abingdon on the 30th, I addressed the following order to Colonel Giltner by courier:
ABINGDON, VA., December 30, 1862-6 p.m.
Colonel Giltner will move his cavalry regiment so as to join the main body of my command before Bristol without delay, unless his scouts inform him of the approach of a force of the enemy on the road to Lebanon. Leave all baggage behind, except a few cooking utensils and ammunition, and hurry. This order extends also to Witcher's battalion, which communicate to them at or near Little Moccasin Gap.
As my artillery had not arrived from Wytheville, I left an order for it to come direct to Bristol that night, which order I have already set forth in a former page of this report. I embarked on the cars with the troops about 8 p.m., and we arrived at Bristol between 11 and 12 o'clock. I was met at the cars by Colonel Slemp, and from him and Lieutenant-Colonel Clay I learned the existing state of the facts: The enemy had gone to Union; overcome the guard stationed there; had burned the railroad bridge and the county bridge, nearly; had marched away to the Watauga Bridge, 10 miles farther off, and had destroyed that struct-