Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Knoxville, TN, 1863

Dates: 2 September to 4 December, 1863


Union: Major General Ambrose Burnside, commanding the Department of the Ohio.

Confederate: General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Army of Tennessee, and Lieutenant General James Longstreet, on temporary assignment from the Army of Northern Virginia and commanding a corps in the Army of Tennessee.

Prelude: At this time, Bragg is holding the city of Chattanooga, TN from a determined Federal advance. While one Federal army is keeping Bragg occupied, there is another one out there. Burnside commands another army in his capacity as commander of the Department of the Ohio. His objective is the mountainous region of East Tennessee, with its mountain passes and a major rail line linking Chattanooga and the East. The region was garrisoned by troops under Major General Simon Bolivar Buckner, the officer who was left holding the bag at Fort Donelson. The area itself was actually a hotbed of Unionist sympathizers. The area became an objective that the Union had to accomplish in order to secure Tennessee.

16 August, 1863: Burnside departs Lexington, KY as part of a two prong movement toward Chattanooga. His first objective is the rail junction at Knoxville.

At the same time, Major General William Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland was advancing on Chattanooga, reaching the Tennessee River west of the city on 21 August.

Bragg, in Chattanooga, orders Buckner to come to his aid with all the troops he could gather. Buckner obeys, stripping the garrison. Knoxville was open for the taking.

2 September, 1863: Burnside enters Knoxville virtually unopposed. This action severs another east-west rail connection for the Confederacy, mainly the direct line from Chattanooga to Virginia, used for moving troops and supplies. This also gives Burnside a base in which he could mount operations throughout East Tennessee.

Burnside now sits in a position that could not be ignored. However, Bragg had other things to think about; he believes that he will be attacked from up river, but Rosecrans is coming in from the west. Bragg had a plan to put himself between Rosecrans and Chattanooga, but Rosecrans guessed his intentions and outmaneuvered Bragg. Bragg orders Chattanooga evacuated on 6 September, with Rosecrans following. Bragg’s quick turnaround on Northern Georgia would result in the Battle of Chickamauga, which resulted in Rosecrans being driven back to Chattanooga and ending up under siege.

Burnside was not idle while all this was going on.
9 September, 1863: Burnside sends troops north to Cumberland Gap, where they quickly force the surrender of the Confederate garrison there.

Buoyed by that success, and the timely arrival of two corps assigned to him, Burnside sends other detachments throughout East Tennessee, securing an area from Loudon in the west to Jonesboro in the east. This situation could no longer be afforded to be ignored by Bragg.

Now secure in his siege lines, Bragg assigns Longstreet the task of driving Burnside out of the area and secure the rail link to Virginia.

4 November, 1863: Longstreet’s corps and cavalry under Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler depart Chattanooga and head for Knoxville.

Bragg believes that Longstreet was attached to his command for the purpose of replacing him. He was very unpopular amongst his senior commanders, whom he blamed every time there was a defeat. The only thing keeping him in command was that he was friends with CS President Jefferson Davis. Soon, Bragg would be heavily occupied with other things as Federal troops were assembling for the operation that would lift the siege.

Longstreet moved his troops north through Cleveland, Charleston, Calhoun, and Athens, where his column splits. One group marched to Sweetwater, then Philadelphia, and finally Loudon. The other group marched to Maryville, where they had a straight route north to Knoxville.

6 November, 1863: Burnside is informed of Longstreet’s movements and orders his forces into defensive positions around Knoxville. This maneuver will be completed on 18 November.

Knoxville sits on the north bank of the Holston River with wooded areas around the rest of the city. Burnside was able to anchor his lines on the river. He also had the advantage of Fort Sanders, on the west side of the lines, as a strongpoint. With enough supplies and river access, Burnside could wait.

18 November, 1863: As Burnside sets his defense lines around Knoxville, Longstreet arrives. He tried to at least cut off the Federal rear guard, but failed.

The first thing Longstreet considered was a siege, but he did not have the heavy artillery needed for battering down defensive ramparts. He also did not have the numbers needed for such a siege. Longstreet sent word to Bragg requesting reinforcements and waited a week before realizing that they were not coming. Finally, he decides on a frontal assault.

29 November, 1863: Battle of Knoxville: Longstreet launches his assault in Fort Sanders, hoping to break the Union line and use the fort to cover other attacks on the line. He sends his two divisions, under Major Generals Lafayette McLaws and Albert Jenkins. The fort itself holds 400 Federals, four 20-pound Parrotts, six Napoleons, and two 3-inch Ordnance Rifles, a lot of artillery to defend the area around the fort.

As the Confederates came in with bayonets fixed, they are entangled in the obstacles that Burnside ordered placed there in order to slow down the charge, allowing rifle and cannon fire to decimate Longstreet’s forces.

Three color bearers, from the 13th and 17th MS and the 16th GA, managed to plant their flags on top on the fort’s walls, but are soon killed. Longstreet realizes that there was no further point to the attack and ordered a pull back.

The Confederates lost 813 in the attack, while the Federals only lost 100.

Longstreet decided to wait and see if those reinforcement would arrive. Sadly for him, two complications came up; Bragg was defeated at the Battle of Missionary Ridge and was marching into Georgia. This allowed the commander of Union forces in the west, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, to send an army, this one under Major General William Sherman, to relieve Burnside. Seeing what was coming, Longstreet decided that the best thing to do was to pull out entirely.

4 December, 1863: Longstreet pulls out of the Knoxville area and heads southeast. Federal troops begin a pursuit. The Confederates march to Rogersville, where they rest before attacking a Union cavalry detachment near Bean’s Station on 14 December, forcing a Federal withdrawal.

Afterwards, Longstreet orders his troops into winter quarters.

Burnside would be relieved of command, at his request, after Sherman’s army arrived at Knoxville.

Bragg tried to gat all of his senior commanders fired, but it is he who will soon be relieved of his army.

Longstreet would be reunited with the Army of Northern Virginia in time for the Union’s Overland Campaign in Spring, 1864.

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