Tag Archives: Ambrose E. Burnside

Eastern Tennessee: The Bean’s Station Engagement

December 14, 1863 – Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederates attacked a Federal detachment in the hopes of gaining more foraging ground for winter.

After Longstreet abandoned his siege of Knoxville, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio, had dispatched 4,000 cavalry troopers under Brigadier General James M. Shackelford to pursue him. When that proved ineffective, Burnside dispatched Major General John G. Parke’s IX Corps to join the pursuit.

(During this time, Burnside’s request to be removed as army commander was finally granted; he had long since grown tired of the intense criticism about his leadership. He was replaced by Major General John G. Foster.)

Confederate Lt Gen James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Longstreet continued his withdrawal from Knoxville under Federal pursuit, reaching Rogersville in northeastern Tennessee on the 9th. There his Confederates stopped to rest and gather supplies. Longstreet also took the time to file charges against several of his staff officers who questioned his conduct during the Knoxville campaign.

Meanwhile, Parke’s Federals headed out from Knoxville to Rutledge. From there, Shackelford led a combined force of 4,000 cavalry and infantry in search of Longstreet. Shackelford periodically clashed with Confederate cavalry along the Holston River over the next few days, particularly around Bean’s Station, south of the Holston.

After receiving word that Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals had returned to Chattanooga, Longstreet wrote President Jefferson Davis, “I presume that the enemy’s force now in East Tennessee will amount to about 27,000. Mine should reach 20,000.” He originally had just 15,000, but General Robert Ransom’s Confederates in West Virginia were moving south to join him. Longstreet continued:

“We are in some distress for want of shoes and other clothing, and are in want of horseshoes, and are a little short on ammunition; yet I dislike to move farther east unless my troops are really necessary at some other point. The season is so far advanced that I can scarcely hope to get shoes in time to accomplish much, and I dislike to venture out at so late a period without shoes.”

Longstreet hoped to last the winter by living off the forage south of the Holston River. To do so, he needed to drive the pursuing Federal force away, “or force him to come out and fight us.” But the Federals seemed content to remain at Bean’s Station. Longstreet resolved to assume the offensive, reversing his withdrawal by moving southwest on the road from Rogersville to Rutledge.

Shackelford had been observing Confederate movements and expected an attack, but he only expected a cavalry attack, not one from both cavalry and infantry. The Confederates cooked three days’ rations on the night of the 13th and moved out before dawn the next morning on a 16-mile forced march. The men moved through pouring rain that turned the roads to mud.

Shackelford reported to Parke at Rutledge, “The patrols on the roads to the river saw nor heard nothing of the enemy.” But when the Confederates approached around 2 p.m., skirmishing began and Shackelford wrote, “I am thoroughly satisfied that Longstreet’s command is in our front, and I think his cavalry is moving down the river.” Shackelford was right.

Longstreet sent four cavalry brigades under Major General William T. Martin down the Holston to get behind the Federal right and rear at Bean’s Station while the infantry and artillery kept the front occupied. Two cavalry brigades under Brigadier General William “Grumble” Jones would move around the Federal left and cut their line of retreat to Rutledge.

Shackelford had just 5,000 men to face Longstreet’s 12,000, but the Federals had Spencer repeating rifles that helped even the odds. Shackelford positioned his men on a defensive line between Clinch Mountain to the north and Big Ridge to the south. Both sides began trading artillery fire as two Confederate infantry brigades advanced.

The Confederates were stopped by the deadly artillery fire at least twice, but they resumed their advance after each time. When Longstreet saw the Federal line waver, he sent in Brigadier General Bushrod R. Johnson’s division. The Federals fell back but then held firm once more. Longstreet then committed Major General Lafayette McLaws’s division. This finally broke the Federal line and sent the enemy in retreat.

Casualties were remarkably low for such a violent engagement, with both sides losing less than 200 men. Longstreet claimed victory, but he soon learned that it was not the complete victory he hoped for. Martin’s cavalry was blocked from the Federal rear by enemy troopers, and Jones’s cavalry was held up capturing a wagon train. Consequently, the line of retreat to Rutledge remained open for the Federals to escape.

When Parke learned of the engagement, he sent his forces at Rutledge forward to support Shackelford. He reported to Foster at Knoxville, “The fight will probably be renewed tomorrow. If this division of infantry cannot hold them in check, I will fall back on the road to Knoxville.” The Federals set up defenses between Bean’s Station and Rutledge as Parke sent the rest of IX Corps forward to support them. Action would continue.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 352; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 382-83; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 51, 420-21

Advertisements

Sherman “Rescues” Burnside at Knoxville

December 4, 1863 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals hurried from Chattanooga to aid the Federals at Knoxville, only to find that they were not in as desperate shape as anticipated.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, overall Federal commander in the Western Theater, had rushed Federals under Sherman on an 85-mile forced march to rescue Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio besieged in Knoxville. The siege had not been as destructive as the Confederates hoped, but by December it was starting to take its toll on the Federal defenders.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Sherman quickly assembled about 25,000 men from three different corps into a small army of relief. According to his orders, “The whole army will move direct on the enemy at Knoxville and fight them at the earliest moment.” Regarding ammunition, the men were to “use it with great prudence.” And, “If rations are not to be had, the men will cheerfully live on meal till their fellows in Knoxville are released from their imprisonment.”

The relief force arrived at the Hiwassee River on the 1st, poised to advance on Loudon and Knoxville the next day. Sherman wrote Grant, “Recollect that East Tennessee is my horror. That any military man should send a force into East Tennessee puzzles me. Burnside is there and must be relieved, but when relieved I want to get out, and he should come out too.”

Meanwhile, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, commanding the Confederate siege force, remained at Knoxville despite failing to capture Fort Sanders outside town. Longstreet hoped to lure as many Federals as possible away from the recently defeated Army of Tennessee regrouping at Dalton, Georgia. A captured Federal messenger indicated that Sherman was on his way with six divisions, giving the Federals 10 total divisions against Longstreet’s three.

Longstreet held a council of war to consider his next move. The Confederates would need to leave Knoxville before Sherman arrived, but Longstreet was unsure where to go. The Davis administration wanted him to return to the demoralized Army of Tennessee, but his men would have to move through the forbidding terrain of eastern Tennessee in freezing cold, all the while avoiding Sherman’s Federals heading his way.

It was ultimately decided to stay outside Knoxville until Sherman was upon them, and then withdraw northeast toward the Virginia border. Sherman’s men entered Loudon on the 3rd. That night, Longstreet’s 15,000 Confederates began preparing to move northeast to Greeneville. From there they could continue to either operate in eastern Tennessee or move northeast to rejoin General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

By the morning of the 4th, neither Burnside nor Sherman were aware that Longstreet had abandoned Knoxville, as messages and prisoners taken indicated that the siege was still on. A Federal inspector general reported, “Longstreet is yet at Knoxville. He assaulted Burnside on Sunday and was badly whipped… Longstreet is evidently badly puzzled.”

Sherman’s Federals reached the Tennessee River, but it had swelled too high for a crossing. Without an engineer to build a bridge, Sherman sent his pioneers to take apart houses in Morganton to lay a makeshift span. By the night of the 4th, Sherman was approaching Knoxville just as the last of Longstreet’s men were leaving. Longstreet’s artillery chief, Colonel E. Porter Alexander, recalled, “About sundown it began to rain cats & dogs.” He continued:

“It was a hard night’s march. Not that the distance covered was great, but the killing feature is perpetual halting and moving, and halting and moving, inseparable from either night marching or bad roads, and at its maximum when both fall together. It was quite cold too, and the officers were obliged to relax discipline, and let the men burn fence rails at will, whenever a regular rest was made… In spite of the rain they seemed to have no trouble in starting fires… We marched all night, and until about 11 o’clock on Saturday (the 5th), when we camped at Blain’s Crossroads, 18 miles from Knoxville.”

The half-hearted Confederate siege of Knoxville was over, and while Longstreet remained in Tennessee, the Federals now virtually controlled the rest of the state. Burnside learned of Longstreet’s withdrawal late on the 4th and dispatched 4,000 Federal cavalry troopers under Brigadier General James Shackelford in a weak pursuit.

As Sherman’s Federals continued their forced march on the 5th, one of Burnside’s aides, Colonel James L. Van Buren, found Sherman and informed him that Longstreet had fled with Federal cavalry giving chase. Sherman responded by writing, “I am here, and can bring 25,000 men into Knoxville tomorrow; but Longstreet having retreated, I feel disposed to stop, for a stern chase is a long one. We are all hearty but tired.”

Sherman and his staff arrived in Knoxville the next day and met Burnside at his headquarters. Sherman, whose troops had hurried to rescue Burnside’s army, was enraged upon learning that Burnside had not been in as grave danger as had been earlier reported. According to Sherman, Burnside had “a fine lot of cattle, which did not look much like starvation.”

Burnside and his staff were “domiciled in a large, fine mansion, looking very comfortable.” When Burnside invited Sherman to dinner, Sherman noted the “regular dining table, with clean tablecloth, dishes, knives, forks, spoons, etc., etc. I had seen nothing of this kind in my field experience, and could not help exclaiming that I thought ‘they were starving.’”

Burnside explained that reports of starvation had been exaggerated; Longstreet had never fully invested Knoxville, thus allowing him to keep his army well supplied. Sherman later wrote, “Had I known of this, I should not have hurried my men so fast; but until I reached Knoxville I thought his troops there were actually in danger of starvation.”

The generals toured the Knoxville defenses, which Sherman deemed “a wonderful production for the short time allowed in their selection of ground and construction of work. It seemed to me that they were nearly impregnable.” Having “rescued” Burnside, Sherman wanted to return to Chattanooga, but he needed Burnside’s permission as the ranking officer. Burnside agreed and issued a written declaration:

“I desire to express to you and your command my most hearty thanks and gratitude for your promptness in coming to our relief during the siege of Knoxville, and I am satisfied your approach served to raise the siege. The emergency having passed, I do not deem, for the present, any other portion of your command but the (IV) corps of General (Gordon) Granger necessary for operations in this section… I deem it advisable that all the troops now here, save those commanded by General Granger, should return at once to within supporting distance of the forces in front of (Braxton) Bragg’s army. In behalf of my command, I desire again to thank you and your command for the kindness you have done us.”

Granger had resisted going to Knoxville in the first place, and now Sherman would leave him there. Granger protested to Grant to no avail. Grant wanted Sherman to stay in the region longer to eventually confront Longstreet, but when he received word that Sherman was returning to Chattanooga, he did not object. Sherman’s “army of relief” arrived back in Chattanooga on the 19th.

——

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 349-50; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 862, 865-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 381; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 154-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 441-43; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 50-51, 420-21

The Battle of Fort Sanders

November 29, 1863 – Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s tentative Confederate siege of Knoxville climaxed with an assault on the nearly invulnerable Federal defenses. Continue reading

From Henry Curtis, 37th Illinois

Letter from Lieutenant Henry Curtis of the 37th Illinois Volunteer Infantry (also staff officer to Brigadier General Julius White)

Knoxville, Tennessee

November 21, 1863

Illinois State Flag | Image Credit: All-Flags-World.com

Being a rainy day and nothing doing, I will write you, though when this will get through is very problematical. On the night of the 13th, we got word that the enemy were building a pontoon bridge six miles below us. I took 25 cavalry and made for it, leaving orders for a regiment section of artillery to follow.

It was very dark and there was but one road down the point, at the extremity of which the bridge was and the woods each side were impassable with undergrowth. I expected a vigorous opposition and never hated a job worse in my life. However, by scientific maneuvering, I got to within 250 yards of the bridge and to within 50 yards of a heavy picket without firing.

Sent for the infantry to come out, but they had been ordered back–could get no further than I was, as the road was a narrow lane. I waited until near daylight and fell back. Reported I could get no more men. I went down again with 30 men, about halfway, the rebels being advanced. Took a position in an old church and held it with some occasional firing. (Brigadier General Julius) White wanted me to go on, but I sent him word that I could not without more men. Burnside had now got to our position (where the brigade was). I had sent a small regiment of cavalry to my aid. They were scared and stayed some four miles back. Burnside sent me orders to go on. Of course I went with what I had, though I had told White and him a dozen times I could do nothing but should get whipped and surrounded. Charged up a big hill in front, got the fire of about 200 men and got well whipped in a very few moments. Drew back and had just formed a line when about 100 rebels opened on my rear from the only road to get off by. They were right on us, and the chance looked bad. Only one side was open and they were making for that. Away we went over fences and through brush on the full run and bullets flying thick enough. Got out at last, losing three killed, some half dozen wounded and as many horses. Lost about six prisoners, their horses being shot and they caught.

White was coming up with the brigade, but I did not know it, I could only get back by circling round some 15 miles at Lenoir, a town six miles from our camp.

Camped for the night, it being dark, and the next morning went after the brigade. Burnside had gone on the evening before with the 9th A.C. and our brigade and driven the rebels nearly to the bridgehead. I found them on the retreat again, it not appearing advisable for him to go on. We lost some 100 men or more driving them in. Hope B. got it satisfactorily into his head, that 20 cavalry couldn’t go to the bridge!

The bridge is precisely where I told the chief of engineers it would be, but he, being a West Point man, of course would not admit I would know anything! We fell back to Lenoir that night, and I went into line. Only one small brush in the night and we killed a couple of rebels…

Our brigade (one being away) took the advance at 3:00 a.m. At 12:00 p.m., we went into line at Campbell’s Station, 15 miles from Knoxville. The 9th A.C. was not fighting heavily. We were to let it pass and check the rebels. They came down thick, but we broke from lines and held them until dark. Fell back a mile, our brigade holding the enemy and coming off splendidly. General B. said he never saw troops behave so well on a field of battle.

At dark, started for this place, our brigade in rear, arrived next morning and are now in position and fortifying. Got no hits myself. One shell hit right beside my horse and two shrapnel burst right in my face but never a scratch did I get. We’re now on the defensive here–enemy are very slow and I think can’t take us in; if they do you’ll not see this. We fire occasionally and so do they. We have enough food for present purposes and are in good health.

Was pretty well worn out when I got here, having no sleep, nothing to eat, and being in the saddle day and night from the start some 24 hours longer than most of the others. Am now quite recuperated. November 29th–still besieged. The rebels made assaults early this morning but were repulsed. We took some 300 prisoners. December 4th, reinforcements arrived at last.

—–

Source:
Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: First Vintage Books, 1988), p. 177-80

The Siege of Knoxville Begins

November 17, 1863 – Lieutenant General James Longstreet expected to renew the fight at Campbell’s Station, but Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federals had fallen back to Knoxville.

Confederate Lt Gen James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

As the day began, Longstreet realized he only faced Federal cavalry, as the rest of Burnside’s 5,000-man detachment from Loudon had withdrawn. Longstreet wrote General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga, that there had been a “severe skirmish and artillery duel” the previous day, and added, “The enemy seems to have gone into Knoxville. We have not been able to bring him to battle yet.”

The Federal cavalry, consisting of about 700 troopers under Brigadier General William P. Sanders, fought a delaying action, falling back each time the Confederates began flanking them. The Federals made their last stand just outside Knoxville, along the edge of a deep ravine that would delay the Confederate pursuit. Meanwhile, Burnside’s men inside Knoxville strengthened their defenses. Sanders agreed to try holding out against Longstreet as long as possible, or until the defenses were completed.

To the southwest, Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal reinforcements arrived at Bridgeport, poised to reinforce the Federals in Chattanooga. Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, wrote Burnside:

“I have not heard from you since the 14th. Sherman’s forces commenced their movement from Bridgeport, threatening the enemy’s left flank. This alone may turn Longstreet back, and if it does not, the attack will be prosecuted until we reach the roads over which all their supplies have to pass, while you hold East Tennessee.”

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Burnside reported how he had delayed Longstreet’s advance and was now behind fortifications in Knoxville. Grant wrote, “So far you are doing exactly what appears to me right. I think our movements here must cause Longstreet’s recall within a day or two, if he is not successful before that time.” Burnside replied, “Shall hold this position to the last.”

Meanwhile, Sanders’s troopers continued holding the Confederates off about a mile from Fort Loudon, in the northwest section of forts built by Confederates to defend Knoxville before the Federals took over. Sanders held off 15,000 Confederates for several hours and was mortally wounded. His men successfully allowed Burnside to finish his defenses, and Fort Loudon was later renamed Fort Sanders in honor of the fallen cavalry commander.

As Burnside’s Federals positioned themselves behind strong fortifications, Longstreet’s Confederates began surrounding them. Grant heard nothing from Burnside for several days, and Brigadier General Orlando Willcox, commanding Federals at Cumberland Gap, could not contact him either. Grant wired Willcox and asked him to break Longstreet’s siege.

Willcox replied, “I will try it, and endeavor to subsist on the country. It would be a desperate attempt, as the roads are bad and the country pretty much fed out along the route.” Addressing rumors that Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry intended to invade Kentucky, Willcox wrote, “Cumberland River is up, and if we have more rain there is no danger of Wheeler getting into Kentucky.”

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck wrote Grant, “The President feels very anxious that some immediate movement should be made for his (Burnside’s) relief,” especially if rumors were true that Longstreet’s force was “larger than was supposed.”

Skirmishing occurred at various points along the siege line over the next week. Longstreet began preparing to launch a general assault on Fort Sanders, but then he received a message from Bragg stating that “nearly 11,000 reinforcements are now moving to your assistance.” Bragg gave Longstreet the option to either attack now or wait for the reinforcements to arrive. Longstreet opted to wait.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 344; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 839; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 372-74; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 109, 112; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 436; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 108-09, 420-21; Williams, Frederick D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 278

The Campbell’s Station Engagement

November 16, 1863 – Elements of Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps and Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio clashed as both forces raced to get to Knoxville first.

Longstreet’s 15,000-man force, having been detached from General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, crossed the Tennessee River west of Loudon and moved northeast toward Knoxville. In eight days, the Confederates covered just 60 miles due to the harsh terrain and supply delays. Burnside, fearing that his 25,000-man army was outnumbered, pulled his 5,000-man detachment out of Loudon and prepared to abandon Knoxville.

Maj Gen A.E. Burnside | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Burnside initially planned to fall back to Cumberland Gap, but Major General Ulysses S. Grant, Burnside’s superior, wrote him from Chattanooga on the 14th:

“(William T.) Sherman’s advance has reached Bridgeport. If you can hold Longstreet in check until he gets up, or by skirmishing and falling back can avoid serious loss to yourself, and gain time, I will be able to force the enemy back from here and place a force between Longstreet and Bragg that must inevitably make the former take to the mountain passes by every available road to get back to his supplies.

“Every arrangement is now made to throw Sherman’s force across the river, just at and below the mouth of Chickamauga Creek, as soon as it arrives. (George H.) Thomas will attack on his left at the same time, and together it is expected to carry Missionary Ridge, and from there push a force on to the railroad between Cleveland and Dalton. (Joseph) Hooker will at the same time attack, and, if he can, carry Lookout Mountain. The enemy now seems to be looking for an attack on his left flank. This favors us.”

Thus, Grant hoped for Burnside to hold Longstreet in check long enough for Grant’s Federals to break out of Chattanooga. Once that was done, Grant would send Sherman’s four divisions northeast to help Burnside defeat Longstreet. Grant told Burnside that he planned to attack on the 19th, adding, “Inform me if you think you can sustain yourself until that time. I can hardly conceive of the enemy’s breaking through at Kingston and pushing for Kentucky.”

Based on this, Burnside began reconsidering his plan to retreat to Cumberland Gap. He was further emboldened to hold his ground when one of his officers reported that “the rebel soldiers were all through the country for food. They said they must get to Kentucky or starve.” Burnside decided to fall back to his fortifications inside Knoxville and conduct a delaying action against Longstreet.

Meanwhile, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck sent a message to Grant that seemed a bit redundant since he did not yet know about Grant’s plan:

“He (Burnside) ought not to retreat. Cannot Thomas move on Longstreet’s rear and force him to fall back? A mere demonstration may have a good effect. I fear further delay may result in Burnside’s abandonment of East Tennessee. This would be a terrible misfortune, and must be averted if possible.”

Grant followed up with a second message to Burnside: “Can you hold the line from Knoxville to Clinton for seven days? If so, I think the whole Tennessee Valley can be secured from all present dangers.” Burnside’s Federals began falling back to the northeast along the railroad line at 4 a.m. on the 15th. Burnside hoped to reach Campbell’s Station, a strategic crossroads just before Knoxville, ahead of Longstreet.

The Confederates advanced on the Hotchkiss Valley Road, a parallel route about a mile west of the Federals and separated by a bend in the Tennessee. Longstreet hoped to flank the enemy, but the Federals were moving too fast. Both sides spent the day racing for Campbell’s Station in heavy rain and mud.

Major General Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry, detached by Longstreet to ride ahead and seize the heights outside Knoxville, approached that day but was blocked by Federal cavalry under Brigadier General William P. Sanders. Wheeler finally broke through, but when he reached the Holston River south of Knoxville, he discovered the Federals had the heights heavily guarded.

Burnside’s Federals rested at Lenoir’s Station and resumed their rush to Campbell’s at 2 a.m. on the 16th. Longstreet’s troops continued moving as well, using a shorter route that a Confederate sympathizer had shown them. As the troops raced through heavy rain, Burnside left much of his wagon train and some artillery behind to gain speed.

The Federals began arriving at the intersection of the Kingston and Concord roads in front of Campbell’s Station around noon, just 15 minutes before Longstreet’s vanguard. Both sides deployed in line of battle, with Longstreet sending Major General Lafayette McLaws’s division against the Federal right-center. The Federals repelled two attacks.

Longstreet then sent Brigadier General Evander M. Law’s brigade around the enemy flank to try getting between Burnside and Knoxville. However, Burnside anticipated this maneuver and fell back a half-mile, under the cover of his artillery, to repel it. Colonel E. Porter Alexander, Longstreet’s artillery commander, recalled that a 20-pound shell “cut both arms and one leg off a man”:

“He was kneeling behind a limber on his right knee, facing to the right, and was putting a fuse in a shell placed on the ground, and using both hands. This shot struck one of the wheel horses in the chest, ranged through the length of his body a little downward, wrecked the splinter bar of the limber, and passed just under the axle and struck this poor fellow’s left leg above the knee, his left arm above the elbow, and his right arm at or below it leaving all three only hanging by shreds.”

By nightfall, the Federal line held and Longstreet disengaged, expecting the fight to continue the next day. The Federals sustained 318 casualties (31 killed and 211 wounded, and 76 missing), while the Confederates lost 174 (22 killed and 152 wounded). Having won the race, Burnside had no intention of fighting again the next day; he began falling back into the Knoxville fortifications.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 341; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 838; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 371-72; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 106-07, 109; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 434; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 108-09, 420-21

Longstreet’s Knoxville Campaign Begins

November 4, 1863 – Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s Confederate corps left the Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga to confront Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio at Knoxville.

Confederate Lt Gen James Longstreet | Image Credit: BlogSpot.com

Longstreet moved out with two divisions under Brigadier General Micah Jenkins and Major General Lafayette McLaws, Colonel E. Porter Alexander’s two artillery batteries, and Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry. The force totaled 15,000 men. Their mission was “to destroy or capture Burnside’s army” and restore the Confederate supply line between Virginia and the west.

Another unstated objective was to ease tensions between Longstreet and General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Army of Tennessee. In fact, Bragg was so eager to get rid of Longstreet that he sent him to try to destroy a force numbering 25,00 men while Bragg’s army tried starving a force twice its size into submission at Chattanooga. This was a desperate gamble that many high-ranking Confederates–including Longstreet–believed would end in disaster.

Longstreet consulted with Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, former head of the now-dissolved Confederate Army of East Tennessee, on how best to handle the rough terrain of the region he was about to enter. Longstreet concluded that “it was to be the fate of our army to wait until all good opportunities had passed, and then, in desperation, seize upon the least favorable movement.”

The Confederates headed out and immediately had trouble advancing along the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad. In six days, some of Longstreet’s forces were still at Tyner’s Station, just 15 miles from Chattanooga. Alexander later wrote, “My recollections of the place are only those of the struggles we had to get enough to eat, for no preparations had been made for any such delay.”

Some troops boarded trains at Tyner’s and traveled to Sweetwater, 60 miles northeast of Chattanooga. Others had to march farther down the line to catch trains. The artillery was finally loaded onto railcars at Tyner’s on the 10th. Alexander recalled:

“Before we had gone very far the engine got out of wood. We stopped and cut up fence rails enough to go on, and we had this to do several times. As night came on it was quite cool, riding out on the flat cars, but we wrapped up in blankets and laid in under and among the guns, and managed to sleep with some comfort, arriving at Sweetwater about midnight and disembarking in the morning.”

Longstreet later wrote, “Thus we found ourselves in a strange country, not as much as a day’s rations on hand, with hardly enough land transportation for ordinary camp equipage, the enemy in front to be captured, and our friends in the rear putting in their paper bullets.” From Sweetwater, Longstreet planned to continue advancing to Loudon, where he would set up a supply base and then launch his assault on Knoxville from the south. He stated:

“Anticipating proper land transportation, plans were laid for march across the Little Tennessee above its confluence with the greater river, through Maryville to the heights above Knoxville on the east bank, by forced march. This would have brought the city close under fire of our field batteries and forced the enemy into open grounds.”

Longstreet had no wagons to carry pontoons for building bridges, so the troops were delayed until suitable crossing points could be found on the rivers. Also, rations had not yet arrived at Sweetwater as promised, causing further delays. Longstreet telegraphed Bragg on the 11th, “The delay that occurs is one that might have been prevented, but not by myself… As soon as I find a probability of moving without almost certain starvation, I shall move, provided the troops are up.” Bragg responded the next day:

“Transportation in abundance was on the road and subject to your orders. I regret it has not been energetically used. The means being furnished, you were expected to handle your own troops, and I cannot understand your constant applications for me to furnish them.”

Meanwhile, Longstreet gathered his forces at Loudon in foul weather that impeded their progress. He dispatched three of Wheeler’s cavalry brigades to advance on Knoxville ahead of the struggling army. Wheeler moved east to Maryville, south of Knoxville, and then rode north to probe the city’s southern approaches. Longstreet ordered Wheeler to take the heights across from Knoxville on the south bank of the Holston River.

On the 13th, Burnside was informed that enemy forces were “placing guns in positions this evening in the works on the south side of the river.” Burnside wrote Major General Ulysses S. Grant, his superior at Chattanooga, “I think it would be advisable to concentrate the forces in East Tennessee and risk a battle.”

However, Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, observing Federal operations at Knoxville on behalf of the War Department, disagreed. He wrote Grant, “It is certain that Longstreet is approaching from Chattanooga with from 20,000 to 40,000 troops,” and “with Burnside’s present forces he is unable to resist such an attack.” Dana believed that Burnside should consider “what is the most advantageous line of retreat.”

Dana suggested that Grant send a force between Longstreet and Bragg, which could “compel Longstreet to return and allow Burnside not only to hold his present positions, but to advance and occupy the line of the Hiwassee (closer to supporting Grant at Chattanooga).”

The next morning, Dana reported that the Confederates had built two bridges across the Tennessee River at Loudon, and “Burnside has determined to retreat toward the gaps” to the north. The Federals were “destroying cotton factory at Lenoir’s and delaying the enemy as much as possible. All workshops and mills will be destroyed here and elsewhere on the line of retreat.”

Falling back toward Cumberland Gap would give Burnside more time to gather supplies and avoid the supposedly larger Confederate force approaching Knoxville. It would also enable the Federals to “not entirely abandon East Tennessee.”

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 338; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 833, 837-38; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 368, 371; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 99-117, 154-55; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 430; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 676-77; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 108-09, 133-35, 420-21