Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Major General William S. Rosecrans to Abraham Lincoln, August 1, 1863


Winchester, August 1, 1863.

His Excellency The President:

Major-general [sic] on his return from Washing[ton] told me you would not deem it improper for me to write you unofficially. General Halleck’s dispatches imply that you not only feel solicitude for the advance of this army, but dissatisfaction at its supposed inactivity. It is due to Your Excellency to state a few facts in a condensed form which from time to time [have] been laid before General Halleck and the War Department in my dispatches. First. What first delayed this army after I assumed command of it was that we were at Nashville, 183 miles by rail [from] Louisville, our depot of supplies, and had to bring them over this Louisville and Nashville Railroad, forty-five miles of which had been so destroyed that it took all the force we could work on it night and [day] for twenty days to put it in running order, and then it took twenty-five days more to bring over it our clothing, ammunition, and get thirty days’ rations ahead (the minimum deemed necessary to warrant an advance). Second. What hindered us from occupying the country and using its forage, subsistence, and animals was the want of an adequate cavalry force to beat the enemy's cavalry and cut off all his supplies beyond the reach of his infantry supports. The want of 5,000 more mounted men cost us all these, the battle of Stone’s River, and $50,000,000 by delay. Third. What prevented us from taking an advanced position after the battle of Stone's River was this same want of mounted force. Without one, advance beyond Murfreesborough would have increased our hazards and the wear and tear of our men and teams without countervailing benefit. In the nature of the soil in this part of Tennessee the rains of winter render wagoning on any but turnpikes next to impossible until the ground settles. Fourth. When the ground was settled the contest at Vicksburg was going on, and was deemed inexpedient by moving on Bragg to furnish the pretext for his retiring on Chattanooga, whence he could re-enforce Johnston again with comparative safety. Corps and division commanders with but two or three exceptions opposed the movement. Sixth. While the movement was successful in driving the rebels out of Middle Tennessee, it did not injure them as much as would have been done but for the unprecedented rains – fourteen days in succession – which delayed us nearly ninety hours and prevented us from gaining the rebel rear before he was aware of our intentions. Seventh. Compare the position of this army with that of any other in the United States. What [other] has to draw its supplies a distance of 260 miles inland through a country exposed to hostile cavalry raids? Your Excellency knows also that to move an army and subsist it during a certain [number] of days’ march is a very slight thing from [having] to subsist and supply it with ammunition. Nor is the latter problem to be solved by getting a sufficient number of wagons. You must have roads of such capacity as to enable the trains to pass each other and encamp. Eighth. We have now before [us] sixty miles of barren mountains, traversed by a few poor roads – to cross not the little Shenandoah a few miles from the Potomac. Our bridge material is brought from Louisville by rail and must [be] hauled over the mountains, a total distance of 300 miles, and we must cross a river, not at present fordable for a length of 500 miles, from 800 to 1,800 yards wide, and secure our crossing [in] the face of a strong opposing force. This problem is also one of the first magnitude. We have [no] gun-boats to aid us, and if our communications are interrupted no broad Mississippi, covered with transports, to supply us. Ninth. If we cross the Tennessee we must do so with expectation of maintaining ourselves, not only against the present, but any prospective opposing. The political moral injury to our cause of retrograde movements is such that it would be better for us to go a mile a day and make sure. You will not be surprised if in face of these difficulties it takes time [to] organize the means of success. Our roads must be opened, stores brought forward and put in places of security, bridging trains got ready, and the enemy must be kept in ignorance of our plans. We must learn the country, which appears very differently in reality from what is shown on map.

Asking pardon for the length of this letter, I remain, very respectfully,


SOURCES: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 52, Part 1 (Serial No. 109), p. 427-8; This letter, though faded and hard to read, can be found in The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress

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