whose term of service expire by next fall. These amount to over 21,000 officers and men present. It is believed that more than half of them, or over 10,000, will re-enlist provided they can have at once a furlough of thirty days to spend at their homes. I tis calculated that over 5,000 of the cavalry will also re-enlist on the same terms.
Much, however, depends on the furloughs being granted immediately, as it is feared if any system of volition is adopted, only those who at once benefit by the act will re-enlist. I would therefore like, if practicable, to let the whole go, to be absent the month of January and part of February. The expediency of permitting so large a part this army [do depart], 15,000 men, equal to the largest corps now in it, is a question I do not like to decide in ignorance of your views as to future contingencies. If nothing more is to be done, and I have already reported that in my judgment nothing more can be done this season, the force can be spared provided the enemy remain quiescent. The present position of the army, however, invites an advance from the enemy in case he deems one justifiable.
His position is very different from mine. To move against him I have to make a detour of over 50 miles, abandonging my communications and carrying my large wagons trains over impassable roads. If he advances, however he has only 8 or 10 miles with his communications intact in his rear, and hence by picking out a favorable moment, when the ground is frozen, he could get his artillery, all he would care to bring, and could make the advance with comparative safety. In this view, I should not like to weaken myself to the extent proposed above; but would rather propose above; but would rather propose taking up the line of the Warrenton Railroad, holding in force the covering of the Rappahannock at the railroad bridge.
Another advantage in occupying this line would be that the troops could be supplied from depots on the railroad, and much of the difficulty of hauling supplies and the labor of making roads now encumbered be avoided. If the army can take up this line, I would send away all willing to re-enlist; but should it be deemed essential to maintain the present position south of the Rappahannock, I would only permit portions, say one-third,or 5,000 to be absent at a time.
I should be pleased to have your views upon these points at your convenience.
GEO. G. MEADE,
Case of First [West] Virginia Cavalry referred to Colonel Fry for orders and report.
EDWIN M. STANTON, Secretary of War.
DECEMBER 5, 1863.
Report: The plans for securing the re-enlistment of veterans in the field (General Orders, No. 376) requires that they shall have thirty days' leave. I am satisfied that the men will not re-enlist for three years longer without going home. The sooner some of them are permitted to go, the better it will be for the recruiting service. I