movements from that quarter, and to break up any foraging parties that the enemy might send out upon the east side of the mountains. The general disposition of the troops was made more with a view to gathering supplies than for active military operations. In december last i reported to the Department that Rogersville was the nearest to the enemy that I could occupy without General Martin's cavalry, as the enemy's cavalry was strong and we entirely dependent upon foraging for our existence. Under the hope that the Department had advised you of these facts I was in hopes that I might retain the cavalry as long as it was intended that we should hold East Tennessee. The enemy re-enforced his cavalry force to a considerable extent from Middle Tennessee, and made an effort about the middle of January to get possession of the country that we were occupying for forage, &c., but we were fortunate enough to retain the country occupied by us and to drive the enemy entirely back to his fortifications. In his retreat the enemy gave such evidence of demoralization that I determined to advance our entire force as soon as our railroad was repaired and our men shod. Early in February the railroad wa finished and all of our men were tolerably comfortable with their winter clothing; the army therefore advanced as far as Strawberry Plains. General Martin's cavalry was advanced on the south side of French Broad, and his pickets were posted so a so keep the enemy under the protection of his fortifications. Our pickets on the north side of the Holston were also advanced and the enemy's stronghold reconnoitered from both sides of the river. The strength of the fortifications was greatly increased since the last siege, and many other works and improvements had been added to the general system of defenses. But the enemy had no provisions on hand, and I determined to ask for 10,000 men aid me against any succoring army in the reduction of the garrison at Knoxville. I telegraphed General Johnston at the same time, asking him to cut the communication between Chattanooga and Knoxville, so as to keep back any succoring force.
Failing to get the re-enforcements and co-operation both, it seemed to be useless to lay siege to knoxville again with an almost certainly of being obliged to raise it again before the enemy could be starved out. As we could not expect to capture the enemy's force at Knoxville unassisted, there was no particular reason for holding my lines so near the enemy's.
the order for the removal of General Martin's cavalry to General Johnston came, therefore, at the very moment that we were in want of some reason for withdrawing our lines to a point where we could give our men and animals some rest and time to prepare for the summer's campaign. Our present position is probably more secure than the line indicated in your letter, as the topographical features of the country are stronger. It also gives a little advantage over the other line, which we had entirely exhausted of forage and other supplies. It also gives us a little more room for maneuvers in case the enemy should come out from his works.
The advantage in taking Knoxville would have been very considerable, I think, inasmuch as we should have captured an army of 12,000 or 15,000 men and our loss would have been small, as we should have taken it by staring the enemy out. He was much demoralized and had no supplies in depot except meal. It would have given us a very strong point, too, for future operations against the enemy's line of communication in Middle Tennessee.