and Pennsylvania? But it may be said that by operating in North Carolina we would compel Lee to move his army there. I do not think so. Uncover Washington and the Potomac River, and all the forces which Lee can collect will be moved north, and the popular sentiment will compel the Government to bring back the army in North Carolina to defend Washington, Baltimore, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia. I think Lee would to-morrow exchange Richmond, Raleigh and Wilmington for the possession of either of the aforementioned cities.
But suppose it were practicable to send 30,000 men from Meade's army to North Carolina, where shall we get the other 30,000? We have there now barely enough to hold the points which it is necessary to occupy in order to prevent contraband trade. Very few of these would be available for the field. Maryland is almost entirely stripped of troops, and the forces in Western Virginia are barely sufficient to protect that part of the country from rebel raids. The only other resource is South Carolina.
Generals Foster and Gillmore were both of opinion at the commencement of operations against Charleston that neither that place nor Savannah could be taken by a land force of less than 60,000 men. Large land and naval forces have been employed there for nearly a year without any important results. I had no faith in the plan at first, and for months past have ineffectually urged that 10,000 or 15,000 men from Gillmore's command be sent against Texas or Mobile. And now these troops are sent upon another expedition which, in my opinion, can produce no military result.
I always have been, and still am, opposed to all these isolated expeditions on the sea and Gulf coast. It is true they greatly assist the Navy in maintaining the blockade and prevent contraband trade, but I think the troops so employed would do more good if concentrated on some important line of military operations. We have given too much attention to cutting the toe nails of our enemy instead of grasping his throat.
You will perceive from the facts stated above that there are serious, if not insurmountable, obstacles in the way of the proposed North Carolina expedition. Nevertheless, as it has much to recommend it, I shall submit it with your remarks to the consideration of the President and Secretary of War as soon as troops enough return from furlough to attempt any important movement in this part of the theater of war.
Lee's army is by far the best in the rebel service, and I regard him as their ablest general. But little progress can be made here till that army is broken or defeated. There have been several good opportunities to do this, viz, at Antietam, at Chancellorsville, and at Williamsport, in the retreat from Gettysburg. I am also of opinion that General Meade could have succeeded recently at Mine Run had he persevered in his attack.
The overthrow of Lee's army being the object of operations here, the question arises, how can we best attain it? If we fight that army with our communications open to Washington, so as to cover this place and Maryland, we can concentrate upon it nearly all your forces on this frontier, but if we operate by North Carolina or the Peninsula, we must act with a divided army and on exterior lines, while Lee, with a short interior line, can concentrate his entire force on either fragment.