IN THE FIELD,
Elm Springs, Ark., February 15, 1864.
Major General H. W. HALLECK,
To better understand my department, I have traversed the Indian country via Baxter Springs west of Grand River and Fort Gibson, and spent several days at Fort Gibson and Van Buren, Ark. I am now 12 miles north of Fayetteville, en route for my headquarters, Leavenworth, where I expect to arrive in about six days. Fort Gibson has been fortified by the volunteers, making it a pretty safe position; but some finishing and repairing are necessary, and two or three good siege guns would be a great additional strength. Fort Smith is a town of about 1,800 inhabitants; it is much scattered and the public stores are exposed to raids. The troops are distributed in various directions, leaving about 2,000 at the place. It has been proposed to make square earth-works on three elevated points back of the town, and I have directed the work to be commenced immediately. These will greatly economize the force required to protect the place and the public stores.
General Thayer, from Little Rock, arrived previous to me, and (in the absence of Generals Blunt and McNeil, who had before commanded) assumed command of the District of the Frontier, which, by an order of mine made last year, includes territory and troops on both sides of department lines, together with Van Buren and Fayetteville, in Arkansas. As the letters and telegrams I have sent in relation to these points of associating the troops with the towns have not yet been answered, I have made no determination of the matter, allowing General Thayer to remain commanding old lines till General Blunt returns, and I may learn from you or the honorable Secretary of War your wishes in the premises.
Van Buren is unquestionably the proper depot for stores that must supply Fort Gibson and other points up the Arkansas, as well as Fayetteville. Indeed, in high water Van Buren is the proper landing opposite Fort Smith, being the only high land convenient on the north side. Van Buren is also easily strengthened by field-works that would resist raids, but to make a very strong work we would have to take position on a more remote, high, rocky hill, where a work would be very expensive. But as we may hope to prevent the return of heavy rebel artillery to the north side of the river, I would recommend the construction of two small works on two secondary heights in town, believing these would resist a raid or protect our stores till we could bring forces to resist a rebel force. Fayetteville is a high place, easily defended, but much exposed, being very remote from other posts. The troops (First Arkansas Cavalry) are much scattered. There is a fine battery of Parrott guns here with only about 150 men to protect it.
But the enemy is only found here in small bands of what they denominate bushwhackers. He is in force below the Canadian, and General Price a few days since crossed the Red River southward. But when the grass and leaves return raids are apprehended, and the public anxiety, as well as proper prudence, requires me to exert all my energies to avoid even the appearance of danger before proposing, as I will do, a forward movement. But to make provision for troops and proper disposition to resist assaults which may be apprehended, it is necessary to know the troops and territory properly apperatin-