To David Hunter

Washington, Oct. 24, 1861

Sir: The command of the Department of the West having devolved upon you, I propose to offer you a few suggestions, knowing how hazzardous it is to bind down a distant commander in the field to specific lines and operations, as so much always depends on a knowledge of localities & passing events. It is intended therefore, to leave a considerable margin for the exercise of your judgment & discretion.

The main rebel army (Prices) west of the Mississippi, is believed to have passed Dade county, in full retreat upon North-Western Arkansas, leaving Missouri almost freed from the enemy, excepting in the South-East of the State. Assuming this basis of fact, it seems desireable, as you are not likely to overtake Price, and are in danger of making too long a line from your own base of supplies and reinforcements, that you should give up the pursuit, halt your main army, divide it into two corps of observation, one occupying Sedalia, and the other Rolla, the present termini of Railroads; then recruit the condition of both corps, by re-establishing, and improving, their discipline and instruction; perfecting their clothing and equipments, and providing less uncomfortable quarters. Of course both Railroads must be guarded, and kept open, judiciously employing just so much force as is necessary for this. From these two points, Sedalia and Rolla, and especially in judicious co-operation with Lane on the Kansas border, it would be so easy to concentrate, and repel any army of the enemy returning on Missouri from the South-West, that it is not probable any such attempt to return will be made before, or during, the approaching cold weather. Before spring the people of Missouri will be in no favorable mood to renew, for next year, the troubles which have so much afflicted, and impoverished them during this.

If you adopt this line of policy, and if, as I anticipate, you will see no enemy in great force approaching, you will have a surplus of force, which you can withdraw from these points and direct to others, as may be needed, the railroads furnishing ready means of re-inforcing these main points, if occasion requires. Doubtless local uprisings, for a time, will continue to occur; but these can be met by detachments, and local forces of our own, and will, ere long, tire out of themselves.

While, as stated at the beginning of this letter, a large discretion must be, and is, left with yourself, I feel sure that an indefinite pursuit of Price, or an attempt, by this long and circuitous route, to reach Memphis, will be exhaustive beyond endurance, and will end in the loss of the whole force engaged in it. Your Obt. Servt.

A. LINCOLN.

To the Commander of the Department of the West.

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