Historic Markers Across Tennessee

The 1863 Siege of Knoxville

Marker ID:  
Location: can be reached from Fort Dickerson Road west of Chapman Highway SW, Knoxville, TN
County: Knox
Coordinates: N 35° 56.919    W 083° 54.977
  35.94865    -83.91628333
Waymark: None


The 1863 Siege of Knoxville
Fortifications and Battle Sites

After defeating the Union Army of the Cumberland in the bloody battle of Chickamauga (Sep 18-20, 1863) and besieging the Federal provisions in the city of Chattanooga, Confederate Army of Tennessee Commander Gen. Braxton Bragg turned his attention to driving Gen. Ambrose F. Burnside’s Army of the Ohio out of East Tennessee. Burnside had moved his army from Kentucky into Knoxville on Sept 3, 1863 following the Confederates’ abandonment of the city on Aug. 25-26.

Initial Confederate movements from the south and northeast overwhelmed the Union cavalry outposts at Philadelphia on Oct. 22 and Rogersville on Nov. 5 with a combined Union loss of more than 1,100 men.

On November 5 a powerful command under General James Longstreet began moving north from Chattanooga combining both the power and experience necessary to rid East Tennessee of its Union occupiers. Two veteran infantry divisions (Hood’s & McLaws') from the Army of Northern Virginia, numbering more than 12,000 men, bolstered by 4,500 cavalry under Gen. Joe Wheeler (Army of Tennessee), and the artillery battalions of Col. Edward Porter Alexander (23 guns) and Major Austin Leyden (12 guns) began a slow, inexorable drive on the city. Three weeks later this force would be further reinforced by two infantry brigades from Simon B. Buckner’s Division (2,625 men under Bushrod Johnson) of the Army of Tennessee and nearly 2,000 additional cavalry (2 brigades) from the Dept. of SW Virginia. About the same time a drive by the 7000-man division of Gen. Robert L. Ransom began moving towards Knoxville from southwestern Virginia.

Eight days later, on November 13, Longstreet divided his command at Sweetwater—sending Wheeler’s cavalry across the Little Tennessee River, through Rockford to engage Gen. William E. Sanders’ Union cavalry at Maryville. Driving Sanders’ cavalry before it, Wheeler’s cavalry was ordered to attack Knoxville’s southern heights. Meanwhile, to complete the envelopment of Burnside’s army, Longstreet’s Rebel infantry and artillery force assembled a pontoon bridge west of Loudon, crossed the Tennessee River at Huff’s Ferry on the right of the 14th, and began a three-day drive that would bring it to the outskirts of Knoxville and the waiting gins of her 15,000 Union defenders. The Confederate siege of Knoxville and the battles to determine its fate were thus begun.

Battle Action Around Knoxville, November 14-29, 1863.

Within hours of the failed assault on Ft. Sanders Longstreet was notified by couriers from both Chattanooga and Virginia that Bragg’s Army of Tennessee had been defeated by Ulysses S. Grant in the Battle of Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga. With the Confederate army in full retreat between Dalton, Georgia, Grant dispatched three Federal columns totaling 25,000 men under the command of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to march on Knoxville in relief of Burnside. Longstreet held his position until December 4th, then moved his army northeast to Russellville. The Confederates would over winter there, conducting occasional military operations against the Federals, then rejoin Robert E. Lee in the spring in Virginia. The tenacious defense of Knoxville by Burnside’s troops had saved the city for the Union. Knoxville would never be seriously threatened by the Confederates again., and would remain in Union hands through the end of the war.


More information:
Wikipedia: Knoxville Campaign
History: The Siege of Knoxville begins