Today, November 17, 1863: Confederate General Launches Siege of Knoxville

On September 9, 1863, Union General William Rosecrans and his Army of the Cumberland drove Confederate General Braxton Bragg and his Confederate Army of Tennessee out of Chattanooga. Bragg and the Confederates retreated south into Georgia and Rosecrans decided to pursue them.

On September 18, 1863 Rosecrans and Bragg’s troops began to fight once more.

On September 19, 1863, near the town and creek named Chickamauga, the Union and Confederates began to fight in earnest. With Rosecrans were Union Generals Gordon Granger and George Thomas. With Bragg were Confederate Generals James Longstreet and John Bell Hood.

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On September 20, 1863, Bragg and his fellow Confederates scored a major victory over the Union troops at Chickamauga, Georgia. Longstreet arrived about mid-day with eight fresh brigades and they plowed through a gap in the Union line. Rosecrans, and nearly a third of his Union forces, ending up fleeing off the battlefield forever branding Rosecrans as a coward. Thomas and his troops continued to hold off repeated attacks by the Confederates at Horseshoe Ridge. His efforts earned him the nickname ‘The Rock of Chickamauga.’ Thomas’s efforts to hold off the Confederate attacks allowed the remaining Union troops to withdraw that night and head back to Chattanooga.

The 2 days of fighting at Chickamauga was costly for both sides with the Union losing around 16,000 dead, wounded or missing and the Confederates losing about 18,500 dead, wounded or missing. It turned out to be two of the bloodiest days of the Civil War. However, the outcome was a stunning victory for the Confederates.

In September 1863, Confederate General Longstreet attempted a power play to undermine the position of General Bragg, but the move failed. Bragg found out about what Longstreet tried to do and was anxious to get rid of him and his men, so he ordered Longstreet and his men to re-capture Knoxville from the Union forces that had been captured earlier in September. The Union forces that captured Knoxville were led by General Ambrose Burnside (of whom the term sideburns was named after.)

After capturing Knoxville, Burnside led a large portion of his force southward down the Tennessee Valley.

On November 5, 1863, Longstreet and his Confederate force moved north through the Tennessee Valley and ended up chasing Burnside and the Union forces back to Knoxville.

Burnside first stopped at Fort Louden, later renamed Fort Sanders in honor of Union General William Sanders. then Burnside moved back into Knoxville where the fortifications were stronger and set up his defenses against Longstreet’s Confederate forces.

On this day, November 17, 1863, Longstreet and his Confederate forces laid siege to the city of Knoxville. He blocked off all avenues in and out of Knoxville in hopes that the Burnside’s forces would run out of food and supplies.

On November 29, 1863, under Longstreet’s orders, Confederate General Lafayette McLaws led an attack against Fort Louden, believing it to be the weakest part of the Union stronghold at Knoxville. However, the Union forces were ready for the attack after the Confederates had taken a Union picket line. Then early on this morning, McLaw’s forces tried to advance in the pre-dawn darkness on Fort Louden only to become entangled in a mesh of telegraph wire that the Union had strung up as a defensive barrier. Once the Confederates made it past the telegraph wire, they encountered a ditch that turned out to deeper than they had anticipated. When the Confederates did manage to reach the outer walls of the fort, they found that they were covered with an icy layer due to the Union soldiers pouring water over the walls in the cold pre-dawn morning.

Due to a number of obstacles, the Confederates were forced into a narrow area, making them easy targets for Union defenses. The Union used artillery, muskets, lighted shells, burning wood and even axes to repel the Confederates. Only a very few Confederate soldiers made it into the fort and those that did were quickly killed or captured.

In a matter of only 20 minutes, the Confederate attack on Fort Louden resulted in 813 Confederate casualties. The Union forces defending the fort suffered only 5 killed and 8 wounded.

On December 4, 1863, Longstreet ended his failed siege of Knoxville after learning about Bragg being routed from Chattanooga and the approach of Union General William Sherman and his huge army.


Sources for the above includes: The U.S. Civil War 1861-1865; Civil War Timeline; Battle of Knoxville; Battle of Knoxville, 29 November 1863; Siege of Knoxville, Tennessee, Begins; American Civil War: Knoxville Campaign; Tennessee Civil War Battles – Page 7; Today, September 20, 1863: Confederate Victory at Battle of Chickamauga


Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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