Mattoax, June 26, 1864.
Honorable JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War, Richmond:
SIR: Your recent inquiry be telegraph in relation to the defense of Flat Creek induces me to explain myself more fully than it is usually convenient to do by that means of communication. The creek is easily fordable directly under the railroad bridge and, from what I can learn, in several other places near by. On both sides of the bridge,a nd on this side of the creek, are dikes, but mainly below the bridge, which can serve as rifle-pits, and above the bridge there is a thick growth; but on the other side the ground rises somewhat steeply, so that it commands the rifle-pits. From the rifle-pits or dikes the ground rises with a gentle acclivity, affording not the least shelter for troops retiring before a superior force. It would not be easy, therefore, to hold this position against a vigorous attack made even under the circumstances most favorable to the defense. That it was held before was owing to the feebleness of the attack, and perhaps to the enemy's indisposition to spare the time necessary to achieve success.
As stated in my telegram, the position may be turned with great facility. Such a course would be too obvious to escape attention. It may be done on either flank, but more easily on the right. In that event a defense is impossible. Our force must at once retire or be captured or destroyed; and then there are two miles and a half to be traversed in retreat before they arrive under the guns of the works at this point. As I have no means of moving artillery this retreat would be more hazardous. For these reasons, it being conceded that the Flat Creek bridge is scarcely less important than this, I conclude that the proper mode of defense there is the same as that adopted to wit, an inclosed fortification of sufficient strength to withstand, at least, a short siege. Indeed, if I may venture on an opinion, I respectfully suggest that as the best system for the whole line. The various posts so established would secure the most important points; they would have sufficient relation with each other to constitute properly one command; while in case of the approach of an enemy each would be in a degree self-sustaining, at least until assistance could be sent or a diversion effected. The marauding parties of the enemy would then be limited to such injuries to the road as could be easily and quickly repaired.
I have taken the liberty of offering these observations directly, on account of the difficulty of communicating with the department commander, and notwithstanding the fact that I have not yet been placed formally and distinctly in command of the line, though notified that that will be done. The special order directing me to receive orders from General Kemper leaves me in command of this post only, while requiring me to perform such additional duties as he might impose. That additional duty consists in the command of the reserve forces along the line from the James to the Staunton, including the latter; but no command of the troops in general on the line for all purposes has yet been conferred on me, though General Kemper, I think, is of the contrary opinion. Certainly, no order I have yet received admits of that construction. I find this an embarrassing situation, and respectfully ask that my powers and responsibilities may be clearly defined. I need hardly say that my remarks on this head are founded