Here’s a look at events in the Civil War 150 years ago this week.
I couldn’t find much online detail about the events in Eastern Tennessee and so am including more description of those each day from source 18. It’s a little difficult to pin down exact dates in this book; however, it is extremely valuable for all the details given.
What is most remarkable to me about this stage of the campaign is that it was ongoing so late in the year. Some US troops were actually called out of their winter quarters! The weather in East Tennessee was extremely cold and rainy, too, and at least one night soldiers had to wait for a battle (that never came) in a “perfect hurricane.”
Military events: Eastern Tennessee operations/Knoxville campaign: CS General Wheeler reports to General Longstreet at Sweetwater with parts of four brigades of cavalry. He’s told that a large US cavalry force guards the southern approach to Knoxville, and since he doesn’t carry pontoons, his cavalry will have to seize a US bridge intact in order to cross the Tennessee River and enter the city. (18)
Pacific Ocean operations: The CSS Alabama captures and destroys the clipper Contest, with a cargo of Japanese goods bound for New York, off Gaspar Strait. The raider then heads northward. (12, 19)
Battles: Siege of Charleston: Heavy shelling of Fort Sumter resumes. (6)
Military events: Chattanooga Campaign: General Sherman and advance elements of his force arrive in Bridgeport, Tennessee. (7)
Eastern Tennessee operations/Knoxville campaign: Longstreet’s men and cavalry move out. The Confederate general has decided to act as boldly as if he had a larger force (indeed, US General Burnside, now in conference with messengers sent to Knoxville by General Grant, thinks he is facing 20,000-30,000 Confederate soldiers). Meanwhile, the last elements of his artillery reach Sweetwater by rail. After dusk, sharpshooters establish a bridgehead at Hough’s (Huff’s) Ferry and work all night to set up a pontoon bridge, while Colonel Alexander sets up an artillery battalion on the south bank of the Tennessee to overlook the crossing site. In the meantime, Wheeler and the Confederate cavalry have reached the west bank of the Little Tennessee and are crossing at Motley’s Ford. (18)
Military events: Eastern Tennessee operations/Knoxville campaign: Around 1 a.m., Burnside receives word that Longstreet is crossing the Tennessee. After much discussion, Burnside decides to meet the Confederates at Lenoir’s Station. Meanwhile, the pontoon bridge at Hough’s (Huff’s) Station is rickety and this slows down troop crossing. Federals conduct a reconnaissance in force against those who have already crossed but the nightfall stops this attack before it reaches the bridge. Overnight, telegrams arrive from Grant, informing Burnside of an attack planned against Bragg on the 19th which will isolate Longstreet (this attack ultimately will be delayed). Burnside decides to withdraw rather than stop Longstreet at the Tennessee, which might force him to turn back toward Chattanooga. (18)
Northern Mississippi operations: General Sherman, on his way to Chattanooga, is told that CS General Nathan Bedford Forrest, with at least six artillery pieces, is organizing a force to operate on the Mississippi River below Memphis. (11) CS General Joseph Johnson, after meeting with Forrest in Meridian, declares Forrest the commander of Federal-held West Tennessee. (10)
Battles: Siege of Charleston: “The bombardment of Ft. Sumter had been going on for a few days now, and 2328 shells had been thrown at the dilapidated pile of masonry since Thursday. This evening the defenders responded, and the guns at Confederate Ft. Moultrie commenced their own bombardment of Cummings Point on Morris Island elsewhere in Charleston Harbor. Concerned that this might presage an amphibious attack, US. Gen. Gilmore asked his Navy counterpart, Admiral Dahlgren, to send some ships to screen the point. Dahlgren promptly sent the requested vessels, some tugs and the USS Lehigh, but it was after dark before they reached station. The Lehigh promptly ran aground. It proved impossible to free her till the tide turned at dawn, and she attracted heavy fire before getting out of range.” (9, including quote)
Military events: Chattanooga Campaign: Chattanooga campaign: Generals Grant and Sherman confer in Chattanooga. General Sherman’s army begins arriving in Bridgeport around this time and soon four divisions will be camped there. (7, 10)
Eastern Tennessee operations/Knoxville campaign: Longstreet moves out against Burnside. Heavy rains have turned the roads to mud, and federal gun carriages get stuck frequently, with up to 30 men at a time required to move each one. The Federal withdrawal from the river to Lenoir’s Station (six miles) takes nine hours. Burnside sets up a solid infantry and artillery defensive line around Lenoir’s Station while moving some units toward Knoxville. However, the mud slows things down. Upon hearing that Confederate cavalry may be approaching Knoxville from the south, Burnside orders the city to prepare for a siege. In the meantime, Longstreet knows he has to block the roads and railroad leading northeast from Lenoir’s Station to cut Burnside off from Knoxville but hasn’t got good maps and it is too dark to do effective reconnaissance. Throughout the night, he has his men probe toward the station through Chestnut Gap. Although it’s bitter cold, US commanders forbid their troops to light fires. Again, dates are unclear, but it may be on the night of the 15th that US forces evacuated Lenoir’s Station with the idea of securing the vital road junction at Campbell’s Station on the way to Knoxville. During the night, they destroy provisions and other supplies to prevent them from falling into enemy hands and by dawn they have pulled out of their positions north and west of the station. Because of his unfamiliarity with the land, Longstreet has been unable to deploy forces to cut off their escape. (18)
Northern Mississippi operations: CS General Forrest joins his small force at Okolona, Mississippi. At this time, there are only three small Confederate cavalry brigades in all of North Mississippi, lined up from Panola along the south bank of the Tallahatchie River eastward to the Mobile & Ohio Railroad around Saltills or Baldwin. Federal presence is strong in Corinth, as well as Memphis, Tennessee, with a cordon of posts along the Memphis & Charleston Railroad (with Collierville having been raided on the 3rd). Forrest plans to augment his own small force of less than a thousand men by driving into West Tennessee and bringing together the scattered fighting units there. To do this, however, he will have to find a way through the heavily fortified M&O Railroad. (4, 11)
Military events: Eastern Tennessee operations/Knoxville Campaign: Skirmishing is ongoing between the rear elements of the US units withdrawing toward Knoxville from Lenoir’s Station and the leading edge of Longstreet’s men. The Lenoir Road is a quagmire, described by one South Carolinian as “marked with burning wagons, dead horses, [and] dead Yankees.” However, Burnside has dispatched a force to hold the junction of the Lenoir and Kingston roads, one mile west of Campbell Station, and it arrives one hour before Confederates can get there. Battle ensues (see above) there at Little Turkey Creek, Smith’s Hill, the road junction, Turkey Creek and Loveville (see source 18 for details). “Both sides probably suffered about 300 casualties, but as Burnside’s artillery and supply trains had been able to return to Knoxville, Campbell’s Station can be counted as a Union victory. If Longstreet had managed to win a victory at Campbell’s Station, the siege of Knoxville may well have followed a very different course, if it had happened at all.” (Source)
As for the Confederate cavalry south of Knoxville, the dates are unclear in source 18; some of this may have happened on the 15th. General Wheeler and his cavalry move toward Maryville in the afternoon, sending one division to the left to get between the town and Knoxville and advancing directly with his remaining division. The only Federal force in Maryville is the 11th Kentucky Mounted Infantry, and they attack Wheeler’s force outside of town. The Confederates drive them off but most of the Yankees escape in a driving rainstorm. Other US units move on Wheeler and his horse artillery, but are forced to withdraw back towards Knoxville, where their cavalry re-forms with infantry support on the heights south of the city. The next morning, Wheeler’s skirmishers meet heavy fire. Longstreet also asks that the cavalry rejoin him if nothing more can be done. Wheeler and his men withdraw, crossing the Tennessee at Louisville, about 12 miles southwest of Knoxville. (18, including quote below)
The first phase of the Knoxville campaign was the key to the entire operation. Longstreet’s best chance of capturing the city and dealing Burnside a grievous blow was in catching his outnumbered force in open country. He failed to do that at both Lenoir’s Station and Campbell’s Station. By keeping his small force readily in hand, preparing well for the retreat, and keeping ahead of the pursuing Confederates, Burnside saved his command and retained control of Knoxville, drawing Longstreet farther away from Bragg and Chattanooga as Grant continued to prepare for his showdown with the Army of Tennessee. Thus far Federal strategy was working beautifully. Longstreet would find his chances of success diminishing as he approached the city on November 17.
Lincoln to Burnside: “What is the news?” (5)
Military events: Eastern Tennessee operations/Knoxville Campaign: General Wheeler reports back to Longstreet. US cavalry under General William Sanders positions itself at Tank Creek, about four miles west of Knoxville, to delay Confederate advance. Meanwhile, the city is fortified with several hand-dug bastioned earthworks, the most prominent of which is Confederate fort formerly known as Fort Buckner and Fort Loudon. With a flurry of construction ongoing, four 20-pounder and four 12-pounder cannon, as well as two 3-inch guns, are brought into the fort along with a garrison of 125 New Yorkers and a nearby reserve of four Michigan companies. Other battery commanders station their guns on high ground. At a meeting, the army’s chief engineer tells Burnside the defenses will be in good shape by noon on the 18th. General Sanders assures Burnside that his cavalry can hold off Longstreet until then. (18)
Burnside to Lincoln: “Longstreet crossed the Tennessee River on Saturday at Huff’s Ferry six miles below Loudon with about 15,000 men. We have resisted the advance steadily repulsing every attack, holding on, till our position was turned by superior numbers, and then retiring in good order.
“He attacked us yesterday about eleven o’clock at Campbell’s Station and heavy fighting has been going on all day, in which we have held our own and inflicted serious loss on the enemy.
“No fighting since dark. We commenced retiring, and the most of the command is now within the lines of Knoxville … .” (5)
(2) Morgan’s Raiders.
(3) Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (2003 – see side bar for link).
(4) The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N.B. Forrest, and of Forrest’s Cavalry by Thomas Jordan, J. P. Pryor (1868).
(5) The Lincoln Log timeline.
(7) Grant Chronology, Mississippi State University.
(8) The Western Gulf Blockade. BrownWaterNavy.org.
(11) Life of Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest, by John A. Wyeth (1908/2011).
(12) Captain Raphael Semmes and the CSS Alabama, US Naval Historical Center.
(14) The Siege of Charleston, “The State.” (South Carolina)
(15) Friends of the Hunley.
(18) The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee, Earl J. Hess (2012) [Note: The dating is difficult to follow in this source, though it’s excellent for details…Barb]
(19) The CSS Alabama’s Indian Ocean Expeditionary Raid (Wikipedia).
Categories: American Civil War