SIR: Your letter of July 7th is just received.
Your entire statement in the "Memoirs" concerning my part in the Meridian campaign is incorrect.
You overstate my strength, placing it at seven thousand effective, when it was but six. The nominal strength of my command was seven thousand.
You understate the strength of my enemy, putting Forrest's force at four thousand. On our return to Nashville, you stated it, in General Grant's presence, to have been but twenty-five hundred. Before and during my movement I positively knew Forrest's strength to be full six thousand, and he has since told me so himself.
Instead of delaying from the 1st to the 11th of February for "some regiment that was ice-bound near Columbus, Kentucky," it was an entire brigade, Colonel Waring's, without which your orders to me were peremptory not to move. I asked you if I should wait its arrival, and you answered: "Certainly; if you go without it, you will be, too weak, and I want you strong enough to go where you please."
The time set for our arrival at Meridian, the 10th of February, had arrived before it was possible for me, under your orders, to move from Memphis, and I would have been entirely justifiable if I had not started at all. But I was at that time, and at all times during the war, as earnest and anxious to carry out my orders, and do my fall duty as you or any other officer could be, and I set out to make a march of two hundred and fifty miles into the Confederacy, having to drive back a rebel force equal to my own. After the time had arrived for the fall completion of my movement, I drove this force before me, and penetrated one hundred and sixty miles into the Confederacy--did more hard fighting, and killed, wounded, and captured more of the enemy than you did during the campaign--did my work most thoroughly, as far as I could go without encountering the rebel cavalry set loose by your return from Meridian, and brought off my command, with all the captured property and rescued negroes, with very small loss, considering that inflicted on the enemy, and the long-continued and very severe fighting. If I had disobeyed your orders, and started without Waring's brigade, I would have been "too weak," would probably have been defeated, and would have been subjected to just censure. Having awaited its arrival, as I was positively and distinctly ordered to do, it only remained for me to start upon its arrival, and accomplish all that I could of the work allotted to me. To have attempted to penetrate farther into the enemy's country, with the cavalry of Polk's army coming up to rernforce Forrest, would have insured the destruction of my entire command, situated as it was. I cannot now go into all the particulars, though I assure you that they make the proof of the correctness of my conduct as conclusive as I could desire it to be. I was not headed off and defeated by an inferior force near West Point. We had the fighting all our own way near West Point, and at all other points except at Okalona, on our return, when we had the worst of it for a little while, but finally checked the enemy handsomely, and continued our return march, fighting at the rear and on both flanks, repulsing all attacks and moving in perfect order. And so my movement was not a failure, except that I did not reach Meridian as intended, for the reason stated, and for many more which it is not necessary for me to detail here. On the other hand, it was a very decided success, inflicting a terrible destruction of supplies of every kind, and a heavy loss of men upon the enemy. You should have so reported it in the beginning. You should so amend your report, and "Memoirs" now. This, and no less than this, is due from one soldier to another. It is due to the exalted position which you occupy, and, above all, it is due to that truthfulness in history which you claim to revere. If you desire it, I will endeavor to visit you, and in a friendly manner "fight our battles o'er again," and endeavor to convince you that you have always been mistaken as to the manner in which my part in the "Meridian campaign" was performed. But I will never rest until the wrong statements regarding it are fully and fairly corrected. Yours truly,
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE UNITED STATES St. Louis, Missouri, July 11, 1875.
General J. D. WEBSTER, Chicago, Illinois