CONFIDENTIAL.] HEADQUARTERS C. S. ARMIES,
March 9, 1865.
JOHN C. BRECKINRIDGE,
Secretary of War, Richmond:
SIR: I have received to-night your letter of this date* requesting my opinion upon the military condition of the country.
It must be apparent to every one that it is full of peril and requires prompt action.
My correspondence with the Department will show the extreme difficulties under which we have labored during the past year to keep this army furnished with necessary supplies. This difficulty is increased, and it seems almost impossible to maintain our present position with the means at the disposal of the Government. In our former operations in this State a large portion of our forage and subsistence was collected by the staff officers connected with the army by the use of transportation, and we were not confined t what the several departments could supply. The country within reach of our present position has been nearly or quite exhausted, and we are now dependent upon what those departments can provide. Their respective chiefs can best inform you of the means a their command, but from all the information I possess, the only practicable relief is in the generous contribution of the people to our necessities, and that is limited by the difficulties of transportation, whatever may be the extent of their willingness and ability, of which I am unable to form an accurate opinion.
Unless the men and animals can be subsisted, the army cannot be kept together, and our present lines must be abandoned. Nor can it be moved to any other position where it can operate to advantage without provisions to enable it to move in a body.
The difficulties attending the payment and clothing of the troops though great, are not so pressing, and would be relieved in a measure by military success. The same is true as to the ordnance supplies, and I therefore confine my remarks chiefly to those wants which must be met now, in order to maintain a force adequate to justify a reasonable hope of such success. If the army can be maintained in an efficient condition, I do not regard the abandonment of our present position as necessarily fatal our to success.
The army operating under General Johnston has not yet been concentrated, and its strength is not accurately known. it is believed, however, and be inferior to that of the enemy, nor do I see any prospect, from my present information, of putting them on a footing adequate to the performance of the services that they will probably be called upon to render during the approaching campaign.
While the military situation is not favorable, it is not worse than the superior numbers and resources of the enemy justified us in expecting from the beginning. Indeed, the legitimate military consequences of that superiority have been postponed longer than we had reason to anticipate.
Everything, in my opinion, has depended and still depends upon the disposition and feelings of the people. Their representatives can best decide how they will bear the difficulties and sufferings of their condition and how they will respond to the demands which the public safety requires.
*See March 8, p. 1292.