Historic Markers Across Tennessee

Pushing Toward Knoxville

Marker ID:  
Location: at the McMinn County Rest Area, Athens, TN
County: McMinn
Coordinates: N 35° 25.595    W 084° 41.261
  35.42658333    -84.68768333
Waymark: None


Pushing Toward Knoxville
Union Armies on the Move

This interstate highway parallels the historic line of the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroads. In September 1863, Union Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside led his army toward Knoxville along the line to take control of the strategically vital city.

At Niota (Exit 56), his men converted the brick depot (the state's oldest, constructed 1854) into a temporary fort. They removed bricks at shoulder height to fashion gun ports and scribbled their names—still visible—on the walls in the baggage area.

They also guarded Sweetwater (Exit 60). The nearby Great Craighead Cave, now called Lost Sea Cave, served as a saltpeter mine for the Confederate gunpowder industry from 1861 until the Federals arrived in 1863. Charles W. Hicks later wrote that he and others "camped there and worked faithfully for two years and a half until the Federal soldier came to Sweetwater...when he tore down our works and scattered to our homes."

Union Col. Frank L. Wolford commanded a garrison at Philadephia (Exit 68) to protect the tracks there. On October 20, 1863, Confederate forces under Gen. George G. Dibrell and Col. J. J. Morrison overran the position, captured six mountain howitzers, and achieved the first Confederate victory of the Knoxville Campaign.

Tennessee Civil War Trails - 2014.

A photo of this marker can be found on HMDB.org