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The Knoxville Campaign

Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee

Earl J. Hess

Publication Year: 2012

“Hess’s account of the understudied Knoxville Campaign sheds new light on the generalship of James Longstreet and Ambrose Burnside, as well as such lesser players as Micah Jenkins and Orlando Poe. Both scholars and general readers should welcome it. The scholarship is sound, the research, superb, the writing, excellent.” —Steven E. Woodworth, author of Decision in the Heartland: The Civil War in the West

In the fall and winter of 1863, Union General Ambrose Burnside and Confederate General James Longstreet vied for control of the city of Knoxville and with it the railroad that linked the Confederacy east and west. The generals and their men competed, too, for the hearts and minds of the people of East Tennessee. Often overshadowed by the fighting at Chickamauga and Chattanooga, this important campaign has never received a full scholarly treatment. In this landmark book, award-winning historian Earl J. Hess fills a gap in Civil War scholarship—a timely contribution that coincides with and commemorates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War
     The East Tennessee campaign was an important part of the war in the West. It brought the conflict to Knoxville in a devastating way, forcing the Union defenders to endure two weeks of siege in worsening winter conditions. The besieging Confederates suffered equally from supply shortages, while the civilian population was caught in the middle and the town itself suffered widespread destruction. The campaign culminated in the famed attack on Fort Sanders early on the morning of November 29, 1863. The bloody repulse of Longstreet’s veterans that morning contributed significantly to the unraveling of Confederate hopes in the Western theater of operations.
     Hess’s compelling account is filled with numerous maps and images that enhance the reader’s understanding of this vital campaign that tested the heart of East Tennessee. The author’s narrative and analysis will appeal to a broad audience, including general readers, seasoned scholars, and new students of Tennessee and Civil War history. The Knoxville Campaign will thoroughly reorient our view of the war as it played out in the mountains and valleys of East Tennessee.

EARL J. HESS is Stewart W. McClelland Distinguished Professor in Humanities and an associate professor of history at Lincoln Memorial University. He is the author of nearly twenty books, including The Civil War in the West—Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi and Lincoln Memorial University and the Shaping of Appalachia.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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pp. vii

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pp. xi-xiii

For the first two years of the Civil War, the predominately loyal population of East Tennessee weighed heavily on the mind of Abraham Lincoln and all Northerners who were aware of their harsh treatment at the hands of the Confederates. The Washington authorities prodded their generals to move troops into the region and liberate...

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pp. xv-xvi

Many people encouraged me in writing this book, and many generously provided useful material for it. Steve Dean, creator and producer of the well-known “Heartland” series on WBIR TV in Knoxville, made a half-hour video in 2007 that has been shown at a permanent exhibit on the campaign created...

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1. Burnside in East Tennessee

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pp. 1-18

Ever since the start of the Civil War, Union authorities in Washington felt an urgent need to send troops into East Tennessee. They were motivated both by political and military needs, for the mountainous eastern portion of the last state to leave the Union and join the Confederacy was largely inhabited by people who remained loyal to the Federal...

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2. Turnaround

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pp. 19-35

After having abandoned Knoxville to save Chattanooga, the Confederates turned the tables on their adversary by severely beating Rosecrans’s army at Chickamauga on September 19–20, 1863. Two divisions of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, led by Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, played a key role in the Rebel victory. ...

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3. Lenoir’s Station

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pp. 37-52

Longstreet intended to push on toward Knoxville as if he had twenty thousand men instead of only twelve thousand, hoping that a bold approach would compensate for his lack of numbers. He initially planned to approach the city from the south but found that there were no wagons to haul the pontoons he needed to cross the rivers and creeks along the way. ...

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4. Campbell’s Station

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pp. 53-76

Burnside was determined to get a head start on Longstreet by evacuating Lenoir’s Station during the night of November 15 and then securing the vital road junction at Campbell’s Station on his way to Knoxville. He sent all the artillery he could spare at 7 p.m., but the horses of Buckley’s Rhode Island Battery and Benjamin’s U.S. Battery...

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5. Sanders Buys Time

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pp. 77-94

As soon as Burnside reached Knoxville in the early morning hours of November 17, he told Poe to select positions for the arriving troops and ordered Sanders’s cavalry division west of Knoxville to delay the Confederate approach. Poe was ready to do his part. Burnside had already sent a message to him when the fight at Campbell’s Station...

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6. Siege

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pp. 95-123

The siege of Knoxville began in earnest on November 19, after Longstreet brought his entire force up as close as possible to the Union defensive perimeter. It was not a siege in the traditional meaning of the term, for the Confederates could not hope to cut the Federals off from the outside world. ...

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7. Search for a Solution

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pp. 125-149

The greatest difficulty of Longstreet’s problem-laden campaign lay in trying to find a vulnerable spot in the Union defenses of Knoxville. Alexander was convinced from the start that the best target was the northwest bastion of Fort Sanders. He arranged his artillery pieces so as to fire on that point, in addition to having the ability to target other Union...

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8. Fort Sanders

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pp. 151-174

The night of November 28 was one of the most uncomfortable of the siege. The rain stopped well before dawn, but then the temperature began to plummet. The skies remained cloudy as frost covered the ground and heavy fog settled in the valleys around Knoxville. A cold wind blew in from the north.1 ...

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9. Relief

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pp. 175-189

The morning of November 30 was very cold, with a temperature of only twenty degrees above zero at 5 a.m., which dropped to eighteen degrees two hours later. Ice formed on small bodies of water and did not melt all day. Burnside issued an order both congratulating his men on the repulse of Longstreet’s attack and announcing Grant’s triumph...

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10. Break Away

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pp. 191-206

As Sherman’s army closed in on his small, isolated command, Longstreet held a council of his subordinates on or about December 1. McLaws recommended that the Confederates not attempt to rejoin Bragg, as the mountainous route to Dalton was too difficult. But McLaws also urged a continued presence in East Tennessee...

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11. Bean’s Station

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pp. 207-220

A few days after his departure from Knoxville, Longstreet began to think of taking the offensive against the Federals once more. On December 10 Davis offered him the authority to command all troops in East Tennessee, essentially making him a department commander. Two days later word arrived that Sherman had returned to Chattanooga...

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12. Longstreet in East Tennessee

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pp. 221-243

Longstreet’s continued presence in East Tennessee prolonged the conclusion of the Knoxville campaign indefinitely. In late December, Grant began to plan a major offensive in East Tennessee to drive Longstreet back to Virginia. When Sherman consulted with his superior, he came away with the impression that this region would be...

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pp. 245-247

The struggle for Knoxville and with it the dominance of East Tennessee had been inspired by military as well as political-humanitarian motives on the part of Federal authorities, who waited two years for generals to move troops into the mountains. Only when Burnside was transferred west with two divisions of the Ninth Corps did the Federals...

Orders of Battle

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pp. 249-264

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Appendix A: The Forts of Knoxville

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pp. 265-267

Although Fort Sanders was named on November 24, 1863, the names of the other Union works at Knoxville were not officially designated until December 11, 1863, several days after the siege ended. General Orders No. 37, Headquarters, Army of the Ohio (included in Poe to Simpson, Apr. 11, 1864, OR, vol. 31, pt. 1, 312), designated the names of the forts. ...

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Appendix B: Knoxville’s Civil War Legacy

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pp. 286-311

The city of Knoxville slowly emerged from the siege of November– December 1863 to survive the war and the internal traumas associated with a population of divided loyalties. Area residents were keenly aware of their role in Civil War history and retained that awareness for many decades as the city became the venue for reunions...


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pp. 295-372


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pp. 373-395


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pp. 397-402

E-ISBN-13: 9781572339248
E-ISBN-10: 1572339241
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572339163
Print-ISBN-10: 1572339160

Page Count: 440
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Knoxville (Tenn.) -- History -- Siege, 1863.
  • Burnside, Ambrose Everett, 1824-1881 -- Military leadership.
  • Longstreet, James, 1821-1904 -- Military leadership.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Campaigns.
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