Tag Archives: Knoxville Campaign

The Fall of Knoxville

September 2, 1863 – Leading elements of the Federal Army of the Ohio entered Knoxville, the key city of eastern Tennessee. This cut Virginia’s direct railroad line to the west.

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

Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s 24,000 Federals had been moving through the rugged country of eastern Tennessee since late August. Their mission was to drive the Confederates out and secure Knoxville; this would protect the right flank of Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland as it tried to capture Chattanooga, about 100 miles southwest.

The 5,000-man Confederate Army of East Tennessee, led by Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, defended the region. Most of Buckner’s troops were stationed at Knoxville, while another force of 2,500 Confederates under Brigadier General John W. Frazier guarded Cumberland Gap. Eastern Tennessee was predominantly Unionist, with voters having opposed secession in 1861 by a margin of two-to-one. As such, many saw Burnside’s approaching Federals as liberators.

The Federals used pack mules to traverse the mountains west of Cumberland Gap, and they arrived at Kingston unopposed on the 1st. Hopelessly outnumbered and without hope of reinforcement, Buckner abandoned Knoxville and fell back to Loudon. This isolated Frazier’s Confederates at Cumberland Gap, but Frazier “boasted that he could hold the gap for at least a month under siege.”

A Federal cavalry brigade moved through Winter’s Gap and entered Knoxville on the 2nd. Residents lined the streets and cheered the Federals’ arrival. Burnside triumphantly led two divisions into the city the next day. The people hailed the Federal heroes and celebrated their freedom from Confederate occupation. This was Burnside’s first military victory since his capture of Roanoke Island in February 1862.

The fall of Knoxville cut the last direct railroad connection between Virginia and Tennessee. The only link between them now involved a roundabout path through the Carolinas and Georgia. Buckner withdrew with all the supplies his men could take, leaving the Federals to control everything east of Loudon and west of Morrisville.

Burnside sent detachments to secure the region all the way to the Virginia and North Carolina borders. He also directed a force to capture the Confederates clinging to Cumberland Gap. This Federal detachment covered 60 miles in just two days, as Brigadier General James M. Shackelford’s Federal cavalry closed the Gap from the south.

Frazier, confident he could withstand any attack, refused Shackelford’s demand to surrender on the 7th. Another Federal force under Colonel John F. DeCourcy approached the northern end of the Gap the next day, and Frazier refused DeCourcy’s demand to surrender as well.

The situation changed on the 9th, when Frazier either considered his force abandoned by Buckner or he realized the Federals were too strong to resist. He surrendered unconditionally and gave the Federals control of Cumberland Gap once again. Frazier was shipped to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor as a prisoner of war. Confederate politicians condemned him for surrendering, and the Confederate Senate rejected his officer’s commission.

As Burnside continued securing the area around Knoxville, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck urged him to “move down your infantry as rapidly as possible toward Chattanooga to connect with Rosecrans.” Halleck then sent a second message: “It is believed that the enemy will concentrate to give him (Rosecrans) battle. You must be there to help him.” Rosecrans asked Halleck to “At least, push Burnside down” toward Chattanooga.

Burnside replied that Halleck’s orders “will be obeyed as soon as possible.” However, he continued clearing Confederates out of the region, with Federals skirmishing near the Virginia-Tennessee border at Calhoun, Cleveland, Kingsport, and Bristol. Halleck again pleaded, “You must give him (Rosecrans) all the aid in your power.” But to the administration’s dismay, Burnside decided to stay in eastern Tennessee.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18794-802; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 322, 326; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 683-85; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 346, 348, 350; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 43, 101-04; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 403-04; 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. 670; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 287

The Knoxville Campaign Begins

August 20, 1863 – Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio finally began moving to occupy eastern Tennessee and protect the left flank of the Federals advancing on Chattanooga.

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

The Lincoln administration had urged Burnside to advance out of Kentucky in coordination with Major General William S. Rosecrans’s Chattanooga campaign. But Burnside’s cavalry had been busy dealing with Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate raid, and Burnside awaited the return of his prized IX Corps from Vicksburg to join his newly formed XXIII Corps.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant had released IX Corps in late July, along with his thanks for their effort in taking Vicksburg: “The endurance, valor, and general good conduct of the Ninth Corps are admired by all, and its valuable co-operation in achieving the final triumph of the campaign is gratefully acknowledged by the Army of the Tennessee.” However, due to limited transportation, it would take a while for the corps to return to Burnside.

In early August, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck directed Burnside to report his progress to Washington. Burnside stated that his cavalry was too scattered from contesting Morgan’s raid to advance. Moreover, until IX Corps returned, Burnside could not move without pulling troops from the various garrisons in Kentucky, which would leave that state vulnerable to another Confederate invasion. Burnside asserted that had he stripped these garrisons before Morgan’s raid, Morgan “would have broken them.”

Halleck ordered on the 5th: “You will immediately move with a column of 12,000 men by the most practicable roads on East Tennessee, making Knoxville or its vicinity your objective point.” Halleck informed Burnside that when IX Corps arrived, it would act as a reserve to this advancing force. Halleck further ordered him to “connect with the forces of General Rosecrans, who has peremptory orders to move forward.”

Under this order, Burnside was to leave his Cincinnati headquarters and personally command the troops in the field. Burnside, believing the administration implied that he disobeyed orders by not leading the army forward yet, defensively reiterated his reasons for not moving. He added, “I have never willfully disobeyed an order, but have given the Government an honest and unselfish support.” He had not questioned the “uniform refusal of my requests,” but he would not “let the imputation that I have disobeyed orders go unnoticed.” Halleck, dealing with a similar personal issue with Rosecrans, did not respond.

Another week passed, and Burnside still had not begun moving yet. One of IX Corps’ two divisions finally began arriving at Covington, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, on the 12th. Burnside then began arranging for trains to convey his army to eastern Tennessee. Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner had just 5,000 Confederates at Knoxville to defend the region against Burnside, who was believed to have 30,000 men.

Burnside’s army advanced to Camp Nelson, south of Lexington, where he waited for the second division of IX Corps to arrive. Burnside issued General Field Orders No. 2, which announced that the offensive would soon begin and, noting that most eastern Tennesseans were Unionists, reminded the troops “that the present campaign takes them through a friendly territory, and that humanity and the best interests of the service require that the peaceable inhabitants be treated with kindness, and that every protection be given by the soldiers to them and to their property.”

By the 19th, Burnside’s army was still at Camp Nelson awaiting the rest of IX Corps. Burnside notified Rosecrans, who thought he was moving already, “We have had a serious delay in mounting the cavalry and accumulating forage and subsistence, but all the columns are in motion.” However, Burnside did not receive word that the rest of IX Corps was ready to join him until the 20th, and only then did he begin his advance on Knoxville in earnest.

Buckner scrambled to defend against Burnside’s approach. He requested reinforcements from General Braxton Bragg, but Bragg could not spare any men because he was being confronted by Rosecrans at Chattanooga. Bragg instead ordered Buckner to withdraw toward Chattanooga. Buckner endured heavy criticism because he fell back so fast that he left enormous amounts of supplies behind.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 316; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 677; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 340-41; Korn, Jerry, The Fight for Chattanooga: Chickamauga to Missionary Ridge (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 31-34, 101; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 397-98; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 170