NA, CS 2/15/1864

Richmond, Feby 15, 1864
Major S. B. French
Richmond VA
   Having just returned from the duty assigned to me by the Commissary General as contained in your letter of the 14th ulto: and seen that delays and obstructions attending shipments of corn from Georgia to this point had been removed, I propose now to submit for your consideration the result of my observations and investigations.
   The Army of Northern Virginia can only be sustained by getting through from Southwestern Georgia: where there is an ample supply, its subsistence. The troops of General Beauregard can be well sustained from the resources of Southeastern Georgia and Florida, and those of Genl Johnston can obtain an abundance from Northern Georgia and Alabama. So there is food enough in the country for the sustenance of all our troops. One thing alone is lacking -- the facility of transportation. The immediate attention of the Government should be called to this subject, and the remedy applied at once. Otherwise our armies will become impotent and must disband, and our country over run and lost. Our Rail Roads without assistance cannot keep up their repairs, and as now managed, are utterly inadequate to meet with any degree of promptness the requirements in transportation for all the Departments of the Government. In this exigency such Departments that could suspend operations in part, continuing only those that were indispensably necessary must so -- at least until the difficulty in question is removed.
   If the Navy Department with the best mechanics in the country, and the most extensive work shops appliances and material can be brought to the relief and contribute to the repairs of Roads, Cars and Engines -- even to building them when essential, the evil will soon be remedied.
   But immediate aid is required. And this can only be had by obtaining absolute control of the Roads. The heavy transportation of private freights -- the immense freighting business carried on by the Southern Express Company must be arrested. This Express Company instead of confining its business to the shipment of packages as hitherto, has a large number of cars of its own, and is heavily engaged in transporting cotton and other bulky articles from one end of the country to the other. If a stop is put to all this, material and immediate relief will be afforded. The suspension as far as can be, of transportation for the Navy will also bring relief. If these things are not done and at once, you may despair of bringing food to our troops: but let these suggestions be enforced, and in a few months, with the aid of the Navy Department all deficiencies of transportation can be supplied. With that aid, the Atlantic & Gulf road of Georgia which extends only to Thomasville could soon be carried to its terminus. The Florida Roads could be brought in close connection with the Atlantic & Gulf Road, and transportation for hundreds of miles would be saved. A new road of about twenty miles in extent would secure this important end.
  The West Point & Montgomery Road which is heavily pressed and which is the great outlet for Iron & Coal; and subsistence from the rich country around and tributary to Montgomery, could be easily placed in good running condition: and the guage of this road should be widened so as to conform to that of those connecting with it. Through this Road the army of Genl Johnston will be largely dependent for its supplies of subsistence. The important Road between Danville Va and Greensboro NCa could also be brought to a speedy completion.
   These improvements are all highly essential, and I deem it my duty to urge through you, the early consideration of my suggestions by the proper authorities.
   The loss in the transportation of grain from Georgia to Virginia, say from Macon to Augusta, & thence to Columbia thence to Charlotte, on to Raleigh, to Gaston, to Petersburg and thence to Richmond, is immense. I compute the losses from the frequent breaking of bulk and carless & hurried handling at not less than twenty per cent. One fifth of a shipment of corn from Macon to Richmond is lost from wastage! In view of this, and of the fact that post commissaries cannot as they have been instructed give their personal attention at the Depots, with the uncertain arrival of freight trains, and attend to their other duties. I earnestly recommend that an efficient officer of the Commissary Department be stationed at the end of every road, to give exclusive and particular attention to the prompt shipment and careful handling of all commissary stores. Consignments should be made to him, with authority to give receipts, taking care that in all cases the conditions & stipulations of the bill of lading are faithfully executed. If packages should be received in bad order when this order on shipment was good, the road should be held responsible: and if the rod had not the proper appliances and materials at command, as appeared to me to have been invariably the case, the officer should be prepared to furnish them, and the attending expenses charged to the road and so endorsed on the receipt. With an energetic business man at every terminus of a road, more ready transportation would be and there would be little or no loss from wastage, and every road could be held accountable for its delinquencies: and whenever a train could be sent forward on another road, so as to avoid breaking bulk, it should be done.
   I am satisfied from my own observation that Post Commissaries cannot give personal attention to all this, other duties enpols (?) the, and the same remark will apply to transportation agents of the Qr Masters Department.
   It is unpracticable I apprehend to change the present order of things so as to confine the purchase of corn to one Department. A great benefit would however result from this. When deliveries were made at leading Depositories, the article could be meted out either to the Commissar or Qr Master according to the supply and the exigency of demand.
   Awaiting your further instructions,
I am, Major
Very Respectfully
Wm H Smith
Major & CS