the western portion of the State south of and including Greenbrier, the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, and the salt-works, is to attack in the Kanawha Valley, and that is the move I had in contemplation, and was preparing to make if I found it practicable, when I received General Lee's letter and your telegram.
Simply to drive the enemy from the Kanawha Valley would be of little service to us. I could not remain in that Valley, even if there was no enemy there to contend with, because I could not support my troops there. I must either cut him up or capture him, in order to leave me free to move into Northwestern Virginia, and perhaps (which would be most gratifying to me) to take part in the campaign in Maryland and Pennsylvania. If General Lee had not taken one of my best infantry regiments and nearly all of my cavalry, I could leave an adequate guard temporarily on the principal approaches to this line of communication, and employ my remaining force more effectually and usefully in the northwest. If I drive the enemy out of the Kanawha Valley, as was done last fall, they will return, perhaps, with increased force, as soon as I move my troops to another theater of operations.
If I can cut him up or capture him, I doubt if the enemy will again occupy the Kanawha Calley very soon, and I should feel at liberty to move elsewhere.
As to whether I can so cripple an equal, if not superior, force, strongly intrenched, in a country ill adapted to offensive military operations, I cannot say until I have examined the position more closely.
If I am relieved from guarding the salt-works and this line of railroad, I can proceed without delay to Northwestern Virginia and Western Pennsylvania, greatly damage the enemy, and, perhaps, materially aid General Lee in his campaign. But to do so, I must leave the salt-works to the care of Brigadier-General Preston, and this line of railroad, with the rich and productive counties from Nicholas south, exposed to the enemy's raids, for my force is not large enough to admit of division.
It is for you, Mr. President, who from your position can take a comprehensive view of the entire theater of war, to decide whether the troops under my command can be best employed in guarding create the diversion in his favor, as suggested by General Lee. I think I can do all asked of me by General Lee, if released from the emphatic instructions of the Secretary of War, under which I have been acting; but otherwise I do not see that I can spare any troops and still protect the salt-works and the railroad, especially in view of the fact that General Buckner has withdrawn every available soldier from Eastern and Northeastern Tennessee, and sent them to Chattanooga and Middle Tennessee.
The enemy is not at present, I think, contemplating a move in force in this direction, and if the exigencies of the service demand it, I can send or carry from 2, 500 to 3, 000 good infantry to any point where they may be needed for immediate service, and I believe still leave guarded this important line until the troops could be returned.
With great respect, your obedient servant,