Thursday, May 15, 2014

March 27, 1864 (Thursday): Longstreet Eyes Kentucky

Near Dalton GA (

Greeneville, East Tenn., March 27, 1864.
Brigadier General T. JORDAN,
Chief of Staff, Dept. of S. C., Ga., and Fla.:
   GENERAL: Your latter of the 19th and the general's telegram were received yesterday. I send a copy of my letter to the President,* which will explain my proposition for the spring campaign in the West.
    The troops in this department are living on half ration of meat and bread, without any good reason to hope for better prospects. Our animals re in the same condition, with the hope of getting grass in a mouth more. Supplies seem to be about as scarce all over the Confederacy. It seems a necessity, therefore, that we should advance, and this route seems to offer more ready and complete relief than any other. If we had an abundance of supplies it seems to me that we should go into Kentucky as a political move.
    If we retain our present position the enemy will, in the course of a few months, be able to raise large additional forces, and when entirely ready he will again concentrate his forces upon some point, and will eventually get possession, and he will continue to proceed in the same way to the close of the chapter. If we go into Kentucky, and can there unite with General Johnston's army, we shall have force enough to hold. The enemy will be more of less demoralized and disheartened by the great loss of territory which he will sustain, and he will find great difficulty in getting men enough to operate with before the elections in the fall, when in all probability Lincoln will be defeated and peace will follow in the spring.
    The political opponents of Mr. Lincoln can furnish no reason at this late day against the war so long as it is successful with him, and thus far it has certainly been as successful as nay one could reasonably except. if however, his opponents were to find at the end of three years that we held Kentucky and were as well to do as at the beginning of the war, it would be a powerful argument against Lincoln and against the war. Lincoln's re-election seems to depend upon the result of your efforts during the present year. If he is reelected, the war must continue, and I see no way of defeating his re-enlisted except by military success.
    I was under the impression that General Beauregard could bring into the field at least 20,000 men. These, with what we have here, could go into Kentucky and force the Yankee army out of Tennessee as far back as the borders of Kentucky. If the enemy should attack us before Johnston joins us, he would be obliged to do so in some haste, and we ought, therefore, to be able to beat him. If he uses caution we could maneuver so as to avoid battle and make a junction with Johnston, when we could advance to the Ohio.
    This, thorough, should be done without delay and before the enemy can have time to being his plans. If he beings to operate I fear that we shall adopt our usual policy of concentrating our troop s just where he wants them. Dalton, as you say, would be a more easy point of concentration, but I should have to travel a thousand miles to get there, and should then be twice as far from Louisville as I am at present. His troops (the general's) would be farther from Louisville at Dalton than they would be at Morganton, N. C., and they would be quite as far from Louisville at Dalton as they would be at Greenville or Spartanburg, S. C. From Dalton we should be obliged to march through a country that may not be able to supply the army. My chief objection to Dalton, however, is the time that will be occupied in getting there and getting away from there. One or the other I regard as essential.
    You speak of the enemy getting behind us to fortify the Cumberland Mountain passes. This I regard as next to an impossibility. He will be obliged to seek a base before he can anything else., and whilst he is doing Johnston can open ours, and we shall have the mountain passes besides.
I remain, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    Lieutenant-General, Commanding.

* See inclosure of Longstreet to Johnston, March 16, p. 637. 

Longstreet was 161 miles from Dalton and 215 miles from Louisville.  Dalton is 245 miles from Louisville.  You might observe that 245-215 is 30, which is not twice 215.  Also Longstreet was off by 839 miles in his estimate of the distance from Greenville, TN to Dalton.  It is 286 miles from Morganton to Louisville.  In short, Longstreet wanted to leave from his current position and march with a combined force (including men from Beauregard) into Kentucky.  His fear was if the army fell back to Dalton it would concentrate there and end up on the defensive.  What he did not plan on, obviously, was returning with his troops to the Army of Northern Virginia.

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