For quartermaster and ordnance stores and other supplies, not less than 5 wagons per day would be required, being 110 wagons, a total of 770 wagons. To this estimate should be added 20 per cent for contingencies, which runs the total up to 924 wagons as being necessary for the daily supply of 5,000 men and 1,000 horses at Cumberland Gap. My calculations are based upon the proposition that six mules can haul 2,000 pounds 16 miles per day, and one day loading and unloading. Whatever additional time they would require, would add 48 wagons for each day, added to the length of the round trip.
To secure a supply so that we might not be starved out if shut up there, as Morgan's army was, the foregoing calculation will show that for every sixteen days' supply secured in that number of days a similar number of wagons must be added. This supply of transportation is so prodigious that it brings me to the belief that the surest way to occupy East Tennessee is to extend the railroad from Nicholasville, as recommended by the President a year and a half ago. The money required to get up and run this immense number of wagons, and to keep up the wear and tear in them and in the roads, would, with the aid of the "contrabands" accumulated at various points along the Mississippi River and Atlantic Coast, not now usefully employed and an expense to the Government, go far toward the constructions of this railroad, and at the close of the war, instead of broken down mules and shattered wagons, the Government would have for sale a valuable improvement, and would have added wealth to the land by the development of its resources.
As a military position, Cumberland Gap is certainly not very important or controlling; it is too easily turned. When occupied by the rebels, General Morgan easily turned it. Kirby Smith found no difficulty in turning it when occupied by General Morgan. We can again turn it, and march into Powell's Valley without opposition. The ease with which it may be turned renders it unimportant as a defensive position for the protection off this State. That was demonstrated last summer. Had General Morgan's command been at Wild Cat or Big Hill, the battle at Richmond would not have been lost. Kirby Smith would have been defeated on the edge of the productive regions of the State, where they arrived in an almost destitute condition; and to have been detained a few days south of the line before named, through Crab Orchard, Big Hill, and Proctor, would have secured their annihilation, as they came without supplies, depending upon breaking through into the fertile blue-grass region. That country is infinitely more destitute now than it was then. Kirby Smith disposed of, General Morgan would have been free to operate against their main force under Bragg, and in a position where he would have had good roads and abundant supplies at the least cost, and the occupation of this State by the rebels would have been saved. This mountain country was poor then; it is utterly exhausted now, and its destitution forms a very fair barrier to an invasion.
If we are to be on the defensive in this locality, we should throw upon the enemy all the disadvantages of having to move through this destitute country to reach our main line of defense. His energy will thereby be somewhat exhausted, and if his attack fail, we would, by assuming the offensive, vigorously annihilate the invading army. As an offensive position, Cumberland Gap would be valuable if our means of transportation would enable us to accumulate a sufficient store of supplies to sustain an army in the field when operating near Knoxville or other points along the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad.