I received the following from General Steele:
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF ARKANSAS, &C.,
Little Rock, Ark., March 10, 1864.
Major General W. T. SHERMAN,
Commanding Department of the Tennessee:
DEAR GENERAL: Your letters were received this morning. You and General Banks are laboring under a mistake in regard to the strength of my command and I think in regard to other matters in Arkansas. There was a bearer of dispatches with a communication from me to General Banks later than the one you saw. It was my intention to co-operate with him and to do so with all my available force, but I never agreed to move by a route which would subject my depots and the State of Missouri to raids from rebel cavalry. I have just written a letter to General Banks which Colonel Woodrow will show you.
The force you send, joined to Banks’ 17,000, can drive all the troops in Kirby Smith’s department into the Gulf. I would be glad to take a contract to do it, if I had the command. Smith will run; Holmes’ command will break into fragments. Some of them will desert, and others will form guerrilla bands and attempt raids along the Arkansas and into Missouri.
The total for duty in my department is 16,517. Look now at the points which I am obliged to hold, and you will discover why I can move to the support of Banks with but 7,000 of all arms. The posts are Helena, Batesville, Devall’s Bluff, Brownsville, Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Lewisburg, Dardanelle, Fort Smith, Van Bureun, Fayetteville, Waldron, Clarksville, and in addition to these the troops necessary to guard the railroad, which is of vital importance to us. Scarcely one of these posts can be abandoned with safety. The country between here and Red River has been nearly exhausted of supplies by both armies, and it will be very difficult to obtain forage and impossible to subsist even 7,000 troops. I will send you a copy of my letter to General Banks,and will write you again by first mail.
Very truly, your friend,