The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee

The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee

by Earl J. Hess
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The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
demtrain More than 1 year ago
Earl J. Hess has written a deeply researched, profusely illustrated and mapped account of the struggle between James G. Longstreet and his Army of Northern Virginia's First Corps(detached to the west in late 1863) and Ambrose E. Burnside's Union Ninth Corps for control of the East Tennessee community of Knoxville. East Tennessee Unionism was a siren song to Washington authorities that Lincoln and his War Department leaders had endeavored to persuade army leaders in the middle departments to heed, unsuccessfully, since the beginning of the war. Burnside was the first to attempt lifting Confederate domination of the region, which he skillfully accomplished with superior numbers. Burnside quickly found, however, that his reluctant predecessors had been correct; keeping an army supplied without rail lines & with undependable water transportation placed impossible logistical demands on the troops, as they also did on Longstreet's army after his arrival. Longstreet tried to surprise elements of  Burnside's army outside Knoxville, but failed due to Burnside's adroit maneuvering of his detachments, withdrawing into the Knoxville fortifications (designed by his chief engineer, Orlando M. Poe) without serious losses. Longstreet dithered for almost a week, before settling into a semi-siege (he simply lacked the manpower to cut the city off from all outside connection, which allowed Burnside to receive limited local food and forage from Loyalists outside the lines.) Longstreet then ordered a frontal attack on a key position, Fort Sanders, which was a costly failure, either because inadequate scouting did not uncover the depth of a ditch at the base of the fort, or because the attack's commander, Lafayette McLaws, failed to provide adequate scaling ladders. Believing the latter, and unwilling to accept responsibility for the former, Longstreet preferred court-martial charges against McLaws; McLaws was subsequently found not guilty of all the charges.The failure of the Fort Sanders assault & the concurrent confirmation of Braxton Bragg's overwhelming defeat at Chattanooga, gave Longstreet two choices: either turn immediately and move south to sustain Bragg or retreat into western Virginia, go into winter quarters with a view to returning to Lee's Army of Northern Virginia for the spring, 1864, campaign. Longstreet chose the latter course, thus effectively giving up Confederate control of East Tennessee. Despite the cover blurb's that the Knoxville campaign has been "understudied," Hess' work invites comparison with Alexander Mendoza's 2008 "Confederate Struggle for Command: General James Longstreet and the First Corps in the West." The two books do not simply cover the same ground. however. Mendoza's work covers the entire sojourn of Longstreet and his men in the West, so much attention is focused on Longstreet's role in the Union defeat at Chickamauga; the first half of his book is devoted to that battle. Mendoza's focus is on the Confederates, while Hess focuses on the Knoxville campaign & gives equal time to, and evaluation of, both commanders. Hess devotes an entire chapter to Longstreet's attack and repulse at Fort Sanders, Mendoza, little more than a page. Yet on a number of things the two authors are agreed: Bragg's detachment of Longstreet to Knoxville when Grant was increasing his forces was clearly a disaster, caused more by personal friction than by any strategic vision. Both authors find Longstreet abysmal as an independent commander; apparently "Lee's war horse"  needed his rider to be successful.  Hess's study is a fine campaign study, giving due attention to some of the minor characters that are missing or only touched on fleetingly in other accounts. Burnside's rehabilitation as an army commander, following the disaster of Fredericksburg in 1862, was strongly enhanced by his performance in a largely defensive role at Knoxville. Hess' work, like Mendoza's, is a welcome addition to the literature of the Civil War in the West, and well worth the cost for both buffs and serious scholars alike.