War of the Rebellion: Serial 035 Page 0344 KY., MID. AND E. TENN., N. ALA., AND SW. VA.

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Mount Vernon, May 20, 1863.

Brigadier-General WILLCOX,

Commanding District of Central Kentucky, Lexington:

SIR: In answer to your telegraphic dispatch of the 17th, in regard to taking a large force through the by paths of the mountains in the vicinity of Cumberland Gap, and the holding of that position, if taken, with a force of 5,000 men, I have the honor to submit the following:

Light troops can pass from Cumberland River to Powell's Valley in two and a half days' march at almost any point. There are three or four good mountain roads that a few hours' labor in cleaning away barricades of fallen timber and loose rocks would render practicable for artillery and light baggage, and I think we could be in Powell's Valley, at any given point, in three days after crossing Cumberland River.

Citizens of East Tennessee say that this move of itself would produce an evacuation of the Gap, owing to the fact that the troops there have no supplies ahead. I would not depend upon this, however, but would endeavor, by a surprise, to carry the left-hand pinnacle and its battery, which, I understand, commands the other pinnacle and nearly the whole interior of the fortifications.

The men and material for such an expedition should be organized not farther forward than Crab Orchard, so that no clew would be given to their destination; and, when put in motion, should be kept moving until the blow was struck. The supplies for the party designed for the surprise could be easily accumulated at London without exciting apprehensions, and for my present command here and at Wild Cat. Owing to the fact that Cumberland Gap is even more thoroughly fortified toward the south than this way, the force that turned it would have to be strong enough to meet in Powell's Valley any enemy that might be marching to re-enforce or relieve the garrison if they failed to evacuate; or, if the surprise failed to be effectual, Morristown is but two days' march, and Knoxville and Clinton but three days from the Gap. The rebels are reported to have an aggregate of 25,000 (they claim more) within the limits of those places.

I believe we could take the place by surprise, but am not well enough acquainted with the locality to be positive. I can get 1,500 men out of my brigade who will give it a desperate trial anyway, and would be glad of the chance.

So much for the taking, and now for the holding. When General G. W. Morgan was there last year, about one-half his forage and meat was obtained in the country, within 50 miles of the Gap. Now, everything an army would require, both for its own use and for the use of its supply trains, would have to be drawn from the depot at Nicholasville, as the country south of a line drawn through Crab Orchard, Big Hill, and Proctor will not this year produce any surplus over the absolute necessities of the inhabitants. Nicholasville is about 120 miles from Cumberland Gap, or about sixteen days the round trip for army wagons. The kind of roads will not admit of hauling over four hundred rations per wagon, in addition to the grain for the animals. It will, therefore, take a train of 13 wagons per day to supply 5,000 men with rations, being 208 wagons.

That number of men stationed there would involve about 1,000 horses to be fed there all the time, which would require a forage train of 22 wagons a day, being 352 wagons.