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Headq'rs army East Tennessee,
Wednesday evening, Sept. 17.

It really seems to be the most difficult matter imaginable to get reliable news from this quarter. We get all sorts of rumors and reports from couriers, scouts, and the reliable gentleman, also, comes in to bear the burden of a portion of the blame for the many miraculous "yarns" we hear in this section as well as elsewhere in the broad limits of our Confederacy. Yesterday evening I telegraphed you from Bristol to the effect that our forces had advanced as far as within five miles of Greenville, Tenn., and that the enemy were reported evacuating East Tennessee. Indeed this was the news we had at these headquarters, until about 2 P. M., this day. It turns out that the enemy's pickets only fell back a short distance in front of our lines at Limestone, and from this fact the report originated in relation to the falling back. Yesterday morning they made another strong picket advance, and sharp skirmishing ensued in the vicinity of Limestone. Late in the afternoon of yesterday our forces fell back and the enemy occupied the ground which had been previously possessed by us. During the day we lost two killed and several wounded. The loss of the enemy, of course, could not be known to us. To-day at 12M. our advanced forces were still falling back in this direction. It is likely that this place will be the scene of the conflict that will decide the fate of East Tennessee and a portion of Southwestern Virginia. Of the strength of the advancing enemy we do not know much. Their cavalry force I have heard estimated as high as 5,000. There is some apprehension of an attempted flank movement on us from the direction of Cumberland Gap, in conjunction with the front advance. This is, however, a matter of speculation, which will be developed by subsequent events. To make out the general situation of affairs here is no very easy job, and will require some days yet, and until that is done you will have to be satisfied with meagre and disconnected reports. The tories all through the adjacent counties, as far as Knoxville, are represented to be using all their exertions to aid their Yankee brethren, and it is to be a rather dangerous experiment for a man loyal to our cause to go among them. Of our situation and defences it may not be prudent to say much, but I will state that the disposition of our forces in this vicinity is such as to inspire hope, and has allayed the fears of many citizens who were making preparations to become refugees. The militia of Sullivan county have been at this post for ten days past, and were discharged this evening and returned to their homes. They all seem a steady and intelligent set of gentlemen, and to Adjutant John G. King, of that command, I will take occasion to return thanks for the hospitality extended to me at that place.

Since writing this morning I have seen a Major who made his escape from Cumberland Gap who furnishes a complete list of the regiments and batteries captured at that point. The artillery captured consisted of Leyden's Georgia battery, as previously reported, Barnes's Georgia artillery, and Fains's Tennessee battery. Infantry: 64th North Carolina, 64th and 62d Virginia, and 55th Georgia. Only about 250 or 300 of the garrison are now thought to have escaped, a majority of whom belonged to the 64th Virginia. Burnside, it is said, left the gap on last Friday with a brigade for Knoxville, leaving only two regiments to guard it.

The reported fight sent you Wednesday evening by telegraph is said to have taken place at Cotton Port, on the Tennessee river. It still remains uncontradicted, and is credited here.

O. K.

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