The "plan" was to arm East Tennessee Unionists. There was an elaborate effort to co-ordinate rail road bridge burning from SW Virginia to Alabama with an invasion and liberation. Many bridge burners were hanged and resentment against Buell was wide spread. Johnson according to his famous critic Parson Brownlow, "cuts like a case knife". Sadly much of Johnson's sometimes "colorful" behavior is lost to most of us.
S P Carter wrote to General George H. Thomas, who later earned the sobriquet "the Rock of Chickamauga", November 24, 1861: "We have arrivals every day from East Tennessee. The condition of affairs there is sad beyond description and if the loyal people who love and cling to the Government are not soon relieved they will be lost. "
Carter ally Major General George MC Clellan strongly urged Brigadier Don Carlos Buell to march into East Tennessee, November 27, 1861,
"GENERAL: What is the reason for concentration of troops at Louisville? I urge movement at once on Eastern Tennessee unless it is impossible. No letter from you for several days. Reply. I still trust to your judgement though urging my own views. "
On November 29th, MC Clellan to Buell:
" I think we owe it to our Union friends in Eastern Tennessee to protect them at all hazards. First secure that; then if you possess the means carry Nashville."
December 3rd, MC Clellan to Buell: "If you gain and retain possession of Eastern Tennessee you will have won brighter laurels than any I hope to gain."
On December 7th, ANDREW JOHNSON and HORACE MAYNARD to Buell: "Our people are oppressed and pursued as beasts of the forest. The Government must come to their relief. We are looking to you with anxious solicitude to move in that direction. "
December 10th Buell wrote the following to McClellan: " I have no means been unmindful of your wishes in regard to East Tennessee and I think I can both appreciate and unite in your sympathy for a people who have shown so much constancy. That constancy will sustain them until the hour of deliverance. I have no fear of their being crushed. The allegiance of such people to hated rulers even if it could be enforced for the moment will only make them the more determined and ready to resist when the hour of rescue comes."
WASHINGTON, January 4, 1862
Have arms gone forward for East Tennessee? Please tell me the progress and condition of the movement in that direction. ANSWER.
LOUISVILLE, Ky., January 5, 1862
To the PRESIDENT:
Arms can only go forward for East Tennessee under the protection of an army. My organization of the troops has had in view two columns with reference to that movement: a division to move from Lebanon, and a brigade to operate offensively or defensively according to circumstances on the Cumberland Gap route. * * * While my preparations have had this movement constantly in view I will confess to your excellency that I have been bound to it more by sympathy for the people of East Tennessee and the anxiety with which you and the general-in-chief have desired it than by my opinion of its wisdom as an unconditional measure. As earnestly as I wish to accompolish it my judgement has from the first been decidedly against it if it should render at all doubtful the success of a movement against the great power of the rebellion in the West which is mainly arrayed on the line from Columbus to Bowling Green and can speedily be concentrated at any point of that line which is attacked singly.
D. C. BUELL
EXECUTIVE MANSION, Washington, January 6, 1862
MY DEAR SIR: Your dispatch of yesterday has been received and it disappoints and distresses me. * * * My distress is that our friends in East Tennessee are being hanged and driven to despair and even now I fear are thinking of taking rebel arms for the sake of personal protection. In this we lose the most valuable stake we have in the South. My dispatch to which yours is an answer was sent with the knowledge of Senator Johnson and Representative Maynard of East Tennessee and they will be upon me to know the answer, which I cannot safely show them. They would despair; possibly resign to go and save their families somehow or die with them.
I do not intend this to be an order in any sense but merely as intimated before to show you the grounds of my anxiety.
Yours very truly,