HEADQUARTERS, Blain's Cross-Roads, December 6, 1863.
Colonel W. PRESTON JOHNSTON,
Aide-de-Camp to the President:
Your letter through General Ransom was received yesterday about 6 miles west of this. The views expressed by you had been somewhat anticipated by me.
Finding myself cut off from General Bragg's army by his falling back to Dalton, and the enemy getting in as far as Cleveland, I concluded that it would not be possible for my command to force a junction with General Bragg without his co-operation. From the tone of the dispatches received from General Bragg, I thought it unsafe to count upon his co-operation in such an effort, and concluded that the next most important thing for me to do was to hold the enemy at Knoxville, and force the enemy to make a large detachment from his army at Chattanooga, and in that way relieve the pressure upon General Bragg's army.
I had some hopes that the enemy, in sending succor to his garrison at Knoxville, might expose himself in such a way as to give me an opportunity to beat him out in detail. I found, however, that my ammunition was getting too scarce, and my force too weak to venture to hold against the enemy's forces approaching in various directions. I was surrounded by streams that I could not pass, except by the neck between the Clinch and Holston.
In view of all of our difficulties, I determined to take a position of safety somewhere near Bean's Station, with the hope of getting an opportunity to strike the enemy's column that might attempt to approach from Cumberland Gap, and if he should pursue me from Knoxville, to destroy that force.
My transportation and supplies are not in condition to warrant any such hope now. The roads are getting to be almost impassable, and, to increase our difficulties, many of our men are without shoes. If I should have an opportunity, I shall not fail to improve it. I presume that I shall be obliged to make my way slowly back to Virginia.
If the railroad bridges could be repaired, I think that my proper position would be about this point.
DECEMBER 7, 1863.
At Rutledge, Tennessee, via Morristown:
Your dispatch of to-day [6?] received. To answer your inquiry it is necessary to know the result of your operations at Knoxville; what forces you have; where and what enemy is opposed to you, and what are the operations contemplated by you in the country where you are, and such other information as would enable the Department to understand your present condition.