TULLAHOMA, TENN., January 12, 1863.
General BRAXTON BRAGG, Commanding, &c.:
GENERAL: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of yesterday,* in which, after informing me of the assaults to which you are subjected, you invoke a response in regard to the propriety of the recent retreat from Murfreesborough, and request me to consult my subordinate commanders in reference to the topics to which you refer. You will readily appreciate the delicate character of the inquiries you institute, but I feel, under the circumstances, that it is my duty to reply with the candor you solicit, not only from personal respect to yourself, but from the magnitude of the public interests involved.
In reference to the retreat, you state that the movement from Murfreesborough was resisted by you for some time, after advised by your corps and division commanders. No mention of retreat was made to me until early on the morning of the 3rd of January, when Lieutenant Richmond, of General Polk's staff, read me the general's note to you, and informed me of your verbal reply. I told him, under the circumstances, nothing could be done them. About 10 o'clock the same day I met you personally at your quarters, in compliance with your request, Lieutenant-General Polk being present. You informed me that the papers of General McCook had been captured, and, from the strength of his corps (18,000), it appeared that the enemy was stronger than you had supposed; that General Wheeler reported he was receiving heavy re-enforcements, and, after informing us of these facts, suggested the necessity of retreat, and asked my opinion as to its propriety. Having heard your statements and views, I fully concurred, and it was decided to retreat. No preparation was made by me or my division commanders to retreat which was resisted by you for some time, and I recall your attention to the fact. Afterward, in the evening, about 7 o'clock, we met to arrange details, and the retreat being still deemed advisable, and having been partially executed, I concurred in an immediate movement, in view of the heavy losses we had sustained, and the condition of the troops.
You also request me to consult my subordinate commanders, stating that General Smith has been called to Richmond, with the view, it was supposed, to supersede you, and that you will retire without regret, if you have lost the good opinion of your generals, upon whom you have ever relied as upon a foundation of rock. I have conferred with Major-General Breckinridge and Major-General Cleburne in regard to this matter, and I feel that frankness compels me to say that the general officers, whose judgment you have invoked, are unanimous in the opinion that a change in the command of this army is necessary. In this opinion I concur. I feel assured that this opinion is considerately formed, and with the highest respect for the purity of your motives, your energy, and your personal character; but they are convinced, as you must feel, that the peril of the country is superior to all personal considerations.
You state that the staff officers of your generals, joining in the public and private clamor, have, within your knowledge, persistently asserted that the retreat was made against the opinion and advice of their chiefs. I have made inquiries of the gentlemen associated with me, and they inform me that such statements have not been made or circulated by them.
I have the honor, general, to assure you of my continued respect and consideration, and to remain, your obedient servant,
W. J. HARDEE,
*See Inclosure Numbers 1, Polk to Davis, February 4, 1863, p. 699.