Blue and Gray Trail
Civil War Encyclopedia
Civil War in Georgia
On the Blue and Gray Trail
Civil War by state
Today in the Civil War
This year in the Civil War
Battle of Fort Sanders
Early on a rainy day, Union soldiers waited in Fort Sanders for the arrival of Confederate troops, not far away. In between were barriers of telegraph wire, wrapped around trees to slow the Rebel assault and a ditch surrounding the fort.
Knoxville was a vital location for both armies. It was the shortest route from Richmond to Chattanooga via railroad. If the Confederates lost the East Tennessee city, supplies and information would have to travel a much more circuitous route through Georgia. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside [US] was determined to hold the city.
Lincoln had ordered the Union commander to liberate the pro-Union city in September, 1863 partly because it would provide a good route to Rosecrans Army of the Cumberland, then approaching North Georgia. With some 5,000 men, Burnside marched into Knoxville. Opposing Burnside was Lieutenant General James Longstreet and 20,000 Confederates recently detached from Bragg's Army of Tennessee. Union troops prepared for the approaching Confederate Army by building a string of earthen-walled forts around Knoxville.
The west side of Fort Sanders was built parallel to 17th St. (near the old Kingston Road). The front stretched almost 300 feet between Laurel and Clinch Avenue. Burnside wrote, "We have a reasonable supply of ammunition, and the command is in good spirits. The officers and men have been indefatigable in their labors to make this place impregnable."
Union sharpshooters inside the fort were protected by bales of cotton placed in the top of the ramparts. Engineering officer Captain Orlando Poe used stumps to string the barrier of telegraph wire.
The first name given to these fortifications was Fort Loudon, but Poe suggested it be named for Brigadier General William Sanders, killed Nov. 19, 1863 on Kingston Pike near the Cherokee Bridge while performing rear guard duty.
A day before Longstreet ordered Lafayette McLaws to make the assualt ".. at the time appointed, and ...with a determination which will insure success." Confident of a victory in Knoxville, Rebel hopes were dashed in the early morning hours of Nov. 29. As the Confederate soldiers charged the fort, they slowed at the telegraph wire and were killed by shots from the Union Army or found themselves trapped in the ditch around the fort.
After 20 minutes Longstreet ordered McLaws to withdraw, but many of his dead and wounded remained near the fort. Burnside gave Longstreet time to pick up his dead and wounded. In all, the Confederates suffered 813 casualities. On Dec. 4 Longstreet withdrew. Knoxville remained in Union hands for the rest of the war.
Links appearing on this page:
Battle of Fort Sanders was added in 2005
Battles | Places | Events by year | Events by date | Feature Stories |
Bookstore | Links | Who We Are |