The miserable condition of our troops, the season of the year, the almost total lack of means of transportation for supplies and of a pontoon bridge to cross the river, rendered any considerable movement on our part impossible.
But to relieve the existing apprehension, I determined to assume the offensive at once, and to maintain it as far as possible.
Early in February General Grant
had proposed to give me 10,000 additional troops from General Thomas
's army at Chattanooga
, and to let me begin the campaign against Longstreet
But on February 16 he informed me that the movement would have to be delayed because of some operations in which General Thomas
was to engage.
Nevertheless, I advanced on the 24th with what force I had, at the same time sending a reconnaissance south of the French Broad River
to ascertain the nature of a hostile movement reported in that direction.
Upon our advance, Longstreet
's troops withdrew across the Holston
and French Broad
and retreated toward Morristown
His advance had evidently been intended only to cover an attempted cavalry raid upon our rear, which the high water in the Little Tennessee rendered impracticable.
We now occupied Strawberry Plains, rebuilt the railroad bridge, pushed forward the construction of a bateau bridge which had been commenced, in the meantime using the bateaux already constructed to ferry the troops across the river.
In this manner we were able to advance as far as Morristown
by February 29 with sufficient force to reconnoiter Longstreet
This reconnaissance demonstrated that the enemy held Bull's Gap
, and that his entire force was grouped about that strong position.
The object of this movement having been accomplished without loss, our troops retired to New Market
to await the arrival of the troops to be sent by General Thomas
, the completion of the railroad