I do not think the enemy in our front weakened materially by detachments to Johnston. The weight of the facts in my possession impresses me with the belief that General Bragg has sent from his army to Mississippi not far from 15,000 men, but I am reliably informed that troops have been withdrawn from garrisons, convalescent camps, &c., in Northern Alabama, Georgia, and perhaps elsewhere, to replace them. I estimate the actual deduction to be made from Bragg's strength, on account of troops sent to Mississippi, in numbers at 10,000 men; in general effectiveness something more.
Notwithstanding this impression of the strength of the enemy, which assumes, by the way, his inferiority to us, I do not believe this army can advance on the enemy with a reasonable chance of fighting a great and successful battle. I do not believe he will fight a decisive battle under present circumstances. It is now of vital consequence to the enemy that Bragg's army should be kept unbroken. If Vicksburg falls into our hands, it will probably be required as the nucleus of all further operations in the West and South. He is in possession of one or more fortified places of considerable strength on his present line; his line of retreat is over a rough, almost mountainous country, traversed only by narrow roads, easily obstructed or defended. Every march brings him nearer to re-enforcements and convenient points of concentration. I think he would fall back slowly, watching us closely, ready to take advantage of accidents, obstructing our advance and attacking our lines of communication. We can take care of ourselves, but we cannot compel him to fight a battle upon equal terms.
I do not think an advance of our army at present likely to prevent additional re-enforcements being sent against General Grant by the enemy in our front. This opinion is based upon the theory that Bragg has already contributed all the forces he is expected to furnish to the Mississippi army.
The foregoing answer to the second question must be understood with reference to the more general expressions to be employed hereafter in replying to the third question of the series.
I have already referred to the incomplete character of my information with respect to the present condition of the enemy in our front; I allude to it again to apologize for withholding a categorical answer to the question, "Do you think an immediate or early advance of our army advisable?" I would not advise an immediate advance of this army without more complete information that I possess, if by "an advance" is meant a forward movement of the army, with its train, &c. But, assuming what is hardly admissible, that the general commanding is as ill-informed as myself, I do advise that it used as far as possible, without involving it in a long march needlessly extending its lines of communication, in giving employment to the forces of the enemy, with his superior numbers of cavalry, in our neighborhood. It may be that he meditates further aid to Johnston, and he may be induced to do so by our inactivity.
The Army of the Cumberland has probably reached its maximum efficiency. What it will gain hereafter in drill and discipline, by a longer continuance in camp, will probably be lost by the growth and influence of habits of idleness and self-indulgence upon officers and men.
With great deference I submit that the enemy may, without risking an engagement under circumstances disadvantageous to us, be compelled to develop his strength and his purposes. The reasons which will induce Bragg to Decline a decisive engagement with our army under present circumstances ought to prevent us from risking it. If Grant