Chapter 28

 

This Site:

Civil War

Civil War Overview

Civil War 1861

Civil War 1862

Civil War 1863

Civil War 1864

Civil War 1865

Civil War Battles

Confederate Generals

Union Generals

Confederate History

Robert E. Lee

Civil War Medicine

Lincoln Assassination

Slavery

Site Search

Civil War Links

 

Civil War Art

Revolutionary War

Mexican War

Republic of Texas

Indians

Winslow Homer

Thomas Nast

Mathew Brady

Western Art

Civil War Gifts

Robert E. Lee Portrait

 Robert E. Lee | Chapter 27 | Chapter 28 | Chapter 29 | Chapter 30 | Chapter 31 | Chapter 32 | Chapter 33 | Chapter 34 | Chapter 35 | Chapter 36 | Chapter 37 | Chapter 38 | Chapter 39 | Chapter 40 | Chapter 41 | Chapter 42 | Chapter 43 | Chapter 44 | Chapter 45 | Chapter 46 | Chapter 47 | Chapter 48 | Chapter 49 | Chapter 50 | Chapter 51 | Appendix C | Index

MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR 

BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D. 

Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps_ 

VOLUME II 

NOVEMBER 1863-JUNE 1865 

CHAPTER XXVIII

SIEGE OF KNOXVILLE--END OF BURNSIDE'S CAMPAIGN 

 Departments not changed by Grant--Sherman assigned to that of the Tennessee--Burnside's situation and supplies--His communications--Building a railroad--Threatened from Virginia--His plans--Bragg sends Longstreet into East Tennessee--Their cross-purposes--Correspondence of Grant and Burnside--Dana and Wilson sent to consult--Grant approves Burnside's course--Latter slowly retires on Knoxville--The place prepared for a siege--Combat at Campbell's station--Within the lines at Knoxville--Topography of the place--Defences--Assignment of positions-The forts--General Sanders killed--His self-sacrifice--Longstreet's lines of investment--His assault of Fort Sanders--The combat--The repulse--The victory at Missionary Ridge and results--Division of Confederate forces a mistake--Grant sends Sherman to raise the siege of Knoxville--East Tennessee a "horror"--Longstreet retreats toward Virginia--Sherman rejoins Grant--Granger's unwillingness to remain--General Foster sent to relieve Burnside--Criticism of this act--Halleck's misunderstanding of the real situation--Grant's easy comprehension of it--His conduct in enlarged responsibility--General Hunter's inspection report. 

 One of the first questions which General Grant had to decide was that of the continuance of the three separate departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee. It was very undesirable to concentrate the ordinary administrative work of these departments at his own headquarters. It would overburden him with business routine which need not go beyond a department commander. He needed to be free to give his strength to the conduct of military affairs in the field. It was also convenient to have the active army under a triple division of principal parts. All these reasons led him to a prompt determination to preserve the department organizations if the War Department would consent. The very day of his arrival at Chattanooga (October 23) he recommended Sherman for the Department of the Tennessee and the continuance of the others. His wish was approved at Washington, and acted upon, so that from this time to the end of the war the organization in the West remained what he now made it. 

Before reaching Chattanooga, Grant had telegraphed to Burnside and had received from him a detailed statement of the numbers and positions of his troops. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. pp. 680, 681.] Burnside also laid before him the dearth of supplies and short stock of ammunition, with the great need of clothing. Unless the railroad to Chattanooga could be fully reopened, he suggested making a depot at McMinnville, where was the end of one of the branches of the railway, from which the road to Knoxville would be considerably shorter than from Kentucky. He also informed Grant that he had taken steps to repair the wagon road from Clinton in East Tennessee to the mouth of South Fork of the Cumberland, the head of steamboat navigation when the stream should be swollen by the winter rains. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iii. pp. 33, 34.] The problem of supplies for him was as difficult as for the Cumberland army, and was not so soon solved. It grew more serious still when the siege of Knoxville interrupted for a month all communication with a base in Kentucky, in middle Tennessee, or at Chattanooga. 

In reply to an inquiry from General Grant, Burnside, on the 22d, [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. p. 702.] gave his opinion as to the relative importance of points in East Tennessee, pointing out that unless communication with Kentucky were to be wholly abandoned, the valley must be held nearly or quite to the Virginia line; Knoxville would be the central position, and Loudon would be the intermediate one between him and Chattanooga. In a dispatch to the President of the same date, Burnside said that his command had been on half rations of everything but fresh beef ever since his arrival in the valley. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 701.] He also explained that he was improving the wagon road along the line of projected railroad down the South Fork of the Cumberland, so that sections of it could be laid with rails and the wagoning gradually shortened. He had been able to make an arrangement with the railroad company in Kentucky to assume the cost of the extension of the line from the northward, and by using his military power to call out negro laborers and to provide the engineering supervision, was making considerable progress without any money appropriations from Congress for this specific purpose. The quartermaster's department had taken issue with the general as to his authority to do this; but the President and Secretary of War sanctioned his acts and would not allow him to be interfered with. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxx. pt iii, p. 787.] The work stopped when he was relieved of command; but so long as he was in power, his clear apprehension of the vital necessity of a railway line to feed and clothe his army kept him persistent and indomitable in his purpose. The withdrawal of the enemy southward from Chattanooga, and the conversion of that place into a great military depot in the spring superseded Burnside's plan, but he had been right in concluding that East Tennessee could not be held if the troops depended upon supply by wagon trains. 

Grant had hardly reached Chattanooga when Halleck informed him that it was pretty certain that Ewell's corps of 20,000 or 25,000 men had gone from Lee's army toward East Tennessee by way of southwestern Virginia. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxi. pt. i. p. 712.] There thus seemed to be strong confirmation of rumors which Burnside had before reported. Before the end of the month there were also signs of a concentration south of Loudon, and the question became a pressing one, what line of action should be prescribed for Burnside if the Confederates should thus attack him from both ends of the valley. He did not credit the rumor as to Ewell's corps, but began to think that a large detachment from Bragg's army would attack him from the south. It is curious to find the report rife that Longstreet would march against Burnside, even before Bragg had issued orders to that effect. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. p. 718. Oct. 24.] Burnside himself proposed to take up the pontoon bridge at Loudon, and move it to Knoxville, for both the Holston and the Little Tennessee were now unfordable and would protect his flank against small expeditions of the enemy. [Footnote: 2 _Id_., p. 756.] His plan was to hold all the country he could and to concentrate at Knoxville and stand a siege whenever the enemy should prove too strong for him in the open field. Grant was not yet persuaded that this was best, and wanted the line of the Hiwassee held for the present, so that Burnside should draw nearer to Thomas rather than increase the distance before the Cumberland army should be prepared for active work in the field. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 770.] 

Bragg's order to Longstreet to march against Burnside was issued on the 4th of November. [Footnote: _Id_. pt. iii. p. 634.] Railway transportation was provided for the first stages of the movement, but it was not efficiently used. Longstreet had no confidence in the result of the expedition, as his correspondence with Bragg very plainly shows. Stevenson's division of Hardee's corps was at Sweetwater, the end of the railway at that time, and about a day's march from the crossing of the Holston at Loudon. Ten days had been wasted in getting Longstreet's corps to Sweetwater, and Bragg and he each charged the other with the responsibility for it. Longstreet asserted that he had been given no control over the railway, and Bragg insisted that the control was ample. Then the former had urged that Stevenson's division should be attached to his command, saying this was his understanding at the start. Bragg replied that he never had any such intention and that Stevenson could not be spared. Longstreet retorted that with his present force it would be unreasonable to expect great results. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. pp. 635-637, 644, 670, 671, 680, 681, 687: Longstreet's Report, _Id_., pt. i. pp. 455, etc.] 

Meanwhile Sherman was hastening to Chattanooga, and the chances for making the diversion against Burnside profitable to the Confederate cause were rapidly diminishing. They soon vanished entirely, and Grant's great opportunity came instead. Longstreet's corps consisted of nine brigades of infantry in two strong divisions under Major-General McLaws and Brigadier-General Jenkins, two battalions of artillery aggregating nine batteries, and a cavalry corps of three divisions and three batteries of artillery under Major-General Wheeler. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 451, 454.] Besides these troops a force was collected in the upper Holston valley to operate from the northeast in conjunction with Longstreet and under his command. At its head was Major-General Ransom, and it consisted of three brigades of infantry and three of cavalry, with six batteries of artillery. The column with Longstreet numbered 14,000 infantry and artillery, and about 6000 cavalry. It was strengthened when before Knoxville by Buckner's division about 3300 strong. Ransom's forces numbered 7500. [Footnote: These numbers are taken from the official returns for October 31st, except Wheeler's cavalry, which was not then reported and is estimated. Longstreet's corps is given in the tables, Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. ii. p. 656. Ransom's, _Id_., pt. iii. p. 644.] On November 22d Bragg wrote to Longstreet that nearly 11,000 reinforcements were moving to his assistance, but of what these were made up (except Buckner's division) does not clearly appear. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 736.] 

The information Halleck collected at Washington indicated that Longstreet's column was a strong one, possibly numbering 40,000, but he urged that Burnside should not retreat. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 145.] The National forces in East Tennessee consisted, first, of the troops under General Willcox at Cumberland Gap and the vicinity, 4400; the Ninth Corps, Brigadier-General Potter commanding, 6350; and part of the Twenty-third Corps, 7800, with two bodies of cavalry numbering 7400. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. p. 811.] Willcox's troops and part of the cavalry were ordered to hold in check the Confederates under Ransom, one brigade of cavalry under Colonel Byrd was posted at Kingston to keep up communication with Chattanooga, and the rest was available to meet Longstreet, either in the field or behind intrenchments at Knoxville, as Grant should direct. 

Longstreet's army was considerably overrated in the information received from Washington, but not unnaturally. [Footnote: Halleck to Grant, _Id_., pt. iii. p. 145.] It was assumed that he had with him all three divisions of his corps, and it was not known that Walker's division was detached. It had also been known that Stevenson's division was at Sweetwater two or three weeks before Longstreet assembled his forces there, and it seemed certain that it was the advance-guard of his whole command. Indeed Longstreet himself supposed so, and complained because it was not allowed to remain with him. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 635.] Concluding, therefore, that Burnside could not safely meet Longstreet in the field, Grant proposed that he should hold the Confederates in check, retreating slowly. He believed that in a week from the time Longstreet showed himself at the Holston River, he could assume the aggressive against Bragg so vigorously as to bring Longstreet back at speed and relieve Burnside of the pressure. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 143; to Halleck, p. 154.] Bragg also expected this, and had ordered that the railway connection should be maintained as far as possible, looking for a crushing blow at Burnside and a quick reassembling of his forces. The delays between the 4th and 14th of November had been fatal to this plan, and it would have been the part of wisdom to abandon it frankly. 

Neither the authorities at Washington nor Grant gave Burnside credit, at first, for the cheerful courage with which he was ready to take the losing side of the game, if need be, and thus give a glorious opportunity to the co-operating army. His chivalrous self-forgetfulness in such matters was perfect, when it was likely to lead to the success of the larger cause he had at heart. To reach a more perfect understanding than could be had by correspondence Grant sent Colonel J. H. Wilson of his staff to Knoxville to consult personally with Burnside. This officer was accompanied by Mr. Dana, and their dispatches to Grant and to the Secretary of War give a clear and vivid picture of the situation. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. pp. 258, etc; pt. iii. pp. 146, 154.] Burnside clearly saw the importance of making his stand at Knoxville, and proposed to fortify that place so that he could stand a siege there. [Footnote: Burnside to Willcox, _Id_., p. 177. B.'s Report, _Id_., pt. i. p. 273.] He proposed to draw back slowly from the Holston at Loudon, tolling Longstreet on and getting him beyond supporting distance of Bragg. When Grant should have disposed of the weakened enemy in his front, he could easily drive Longstreet out of East Tennessee into Virginia. Grant approved without qualification the course taken by Burnside. [Footnote: Grant to Burnside, _Id_., pt. iii. p. 177.] During the siege which followed, there was a good deal of solicitude about Burnside, but it should be remembered in justice to him that his own confidence never faltered and was fully justified by the result. 

Prior to the visit of Wilson and Dana he had sent his engineer, Captain O. M. Poe, to Loudon to remove the pontoon bridge before the occupation of the south bank of the Holston by the enemy should make it impossible to save it. The bridge had been made of unusually large and heavy boats, and it was a difficult task to haul them out of the water and drag them half a mile to the railway. The south end of the bridge was loosened and the whole swung with the current against the right bank, where the dismantling and removal of the boats was successfully accomplished under the eyes of a cavalry force of the enemy which watched the performance from the opposite bank. The bridge was carried to Knoxville and laid across the Holston there. Its size and weight proved to be great points in its favor for the special use there, and it was of inestimable value during the partial investment of the town. [Footnote: Poe's Report, Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. p. 294. Century War Book, vol. iii.] 

On the 13th of November Longstreet brought up his own pontoons and laid a bridge near Loudon, and the next day began a vigorous advance upon Knoxville. Burnside had matured his plans, and opposed the advance of Longstreet with one division, Hartranft's of the Ninth Corps, and another, White's of the Twenty-third Corps. He was weak in cavalry, however, and could only meet Wheeler's corps with a single division under Brigadier-General Sanders. Burnside had secured Sanders's promotion from Mr. Stanton when the Secretary was at Louisville in October, in recognition of the ability and gallantry shown in the expedition to East Tennessee in June and his other services during the campaign. By giving Shackelford charge of the cavalry operating in the upper valley and putting Sanders in command of those resisting Wheeler, Burnside was sure of vigor and courage in the leadership of both divisions. Longstreet kept Wheeler on the left bank of the Holston, directing him to overwhelm Sanders and move directly opposite Knoxville, taking the city by a surprise if possible. But Sanders opposed a stubborn resistance, falling back deliberately, and held the hills south of Knoxville near the river. Wheeler was thus baffled, and returned to Longstreet on the 17th of November. The absence of his cavalry had been a mistake, as it turned out; for the Confederate infantry, after crossing at Loudon to the right bank, had not been able to push Burnside back as fast as Bragg's plans required, nor had they succeeded at all in getting in the rear of the National forces. 

As soon as it was definitely known at Knoxville that Longstreet was over the Holston, Burnside went to the front at Lenoir's to take command in person. [Footnote: Burnside's Report, Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. p. 273.] He left General Parke as chief of staff in general charge of affairs at headquarters, with Captain Poe in charge of the engineer work of preparing lines of defence connecting the forts already planned and partly constructed. Wilson and Dana stayed in Knoxville till the 15th, and then rode rapidly to the westward, passing around Longstreet's columns and rejoining Grant at Chattanooga on the night of the 17th, with latest assurances from Burnside that he would hold Knoxville stubbornly. Longstreet's tactics were to move one of his infantry divisions directly at Burnside's position, while with the other he turned its flank and sought to get to the rear. Burnside met the plan by the analogous one of alternate withdrawals of a division, one holding the enemy at bay while the other took post in echelon in the rear and opposed the flanking column till a concentration could be made. 

At Campbell's Station Longstreet attacked with vigor, determined to finish matters with the force before him. Ferrero's division of the Ninth Corps had now joined. Hartranft repulsed an attack by McLaws, whilst the trains and the division of Ferrero passed on, and Ferrero took a strong position half a mile in rear covering the junction of roads. White then retired and came into line on Ferrero's left. When these were solidly in place Hartranft took an opportune moment to withdraw and came into line on the left of White. The manoeuvres were perfectly performed, and the fighting of our troops had been everything that could be desired, meeting and matching Longstreet's veterans in a way to establish the soldierly reputation of all. The comparatively new organization of the Twenty-third Corps proved itself equal to the best, and Burnside declared that he could desire no better soldiers. The same tactics were continued through the day, and Burnside followed the hard labor and the fighting of the day with a night march which brought him to Knoxville on the morning of the 17th. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. pp. 274, 275, 296.] He had personally handled his little army through the day with coolness and success, and had raised to enthusiasm the confidence and devotion of his men. Each side had a casualty list of about 300. 

Wheeler had marched back along the left bank of the Holston half-way to Lenoir's and crossed at Louisville, joining Longstreet again near Knoxville on the 17th, as has been already stated. He now took the advance and pressed sharply in upon the town. General Sanders had been recalled by Burnside from the south, and entering Knoxville by the pontoon bridge, passed out to the westward on the Loudon road, meeting the enemy as he advanced, and gradually falling back to a position a mile beyond the lines, where he made a stubborn stand and held Wheeler at bay till night closed the combat. From the fortified points about the city the cavalry engagement had been in full view, and the heroism of Sanders and his men was in the presence of a cloud of witnesses. They made little barricades of rail piles, and though these were frequently sent flying by the cannon balls and shells with which Alexander's artillery pounded them all day, they held at nightfall the line Sanders had been directed to hold in the morning, and had not given back an inch. [Footnote: Colonel O. M. Poe, in "Century War Book," vol. iii. p. 737.] 

Knoxville was so situated that its outline was a sort of parallelogram of high ground, averaging a hundred and fifty feet or more above the river which ran along the town on the south. Two creeks ran through the town in little valleys, and in the northern suburbs where the land was much lower than the town it had been practicable, by damming these streams to make inundations which covered a considerable part of the northern front and added very materially to the defences. At the four corners of the parallelogram, enclosed works had been planned for use by a small garrison, and these had been partly constructed. Captain Poe, the chief engineer, had staked out infantry lines connecting these forts, with epaulements for artillery at intervals, and work had been hastened during the days from the 13th of November, as soon as Burnside's plan of holding the city had been approved. When the troops approached the city on the morning of the 17th, the position for every brigade and every battery had been assigned, and officers were in waiting to lead each to its place. All the infantry was put in line except Reilly's brigade of the Twenty-third Corps, which was placed in reserve in the streets of the town. [Footnote: Poe's Report, Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. p. 295.] 

The most important of the forts was at the northwest angle of the works, upon a commanding hill. It was afterward called Fort Sanders in honor of the cavalry commander who lost his life in front of its western face. This work was planned as approximately a square with sides of about a hundred yards and bastions at the corners. The eastern front had not been completed, and was now left entirely open, as the northern face connected with the infantry trench. The ditch was twelve feet wide and about eight deep, and the parapet was about twelve feet high, making its crest about twenty feet above the bottom of the ditch. The berme usually left between the bottom of the parapet slope and the ditch was cut away so as to leave no level standing-place at the top of the scarp. This was the work which Longstreet afterward assaulted. Its chief defect was due to the situation and the contour of the ground around, which made its position so prominent a salient in the lines that the flanking fire was necessarily imperfect, leaving a considerable sector without fire beyond the angle of the northwest bastion. The point of the bastion was truncated, and a single gun put in the _pan coupe_. The three other forts were less elaborate but of similar profile. 

As soon as the infantry took position, the men were set industriously to work to strengthen the defences. The first infantry trench between the forts had been a mere rifle-pit two and one half feet deep with the earth heaped in front as it was thrown out, to raise a parapet. Every hour made the line stronger, and work on it was continued till nearly every part of it was a good cover against artillery fire. The critical time was during the 18th of November, when as yet there was practically no cover between the forts. The cavalry was ordered to oppose the most determined resistance to the establishment of close investing lines by the enemy, and Sanders set his men a most inspiring example. He was a classmate of Captain Poe at West Point, and on the night of the 17th he shared Poe's blanket. Before dawn he went to the front, and passed from one to another of the little barricades held by his dismounted troopers. The Confederates increased the vigor of their attacks, and if any of our men were driven back by the hot fire, Sanders would walk deliberately up to the rail-pile and stand erect and exposed till his men rallied to him. For hours he did this, and his life seemed to be charmed, but about the middle of the afternoon he was mortally wounded, and the screen he had so resolutely interposed between the enemy and our infantry digging in the trenches was rolled aside. [Footnote: Paper by General Poe in "Century War Book," vol. iii. p. 737.] The time thus gained had been precious, though it was bought at so high a price. The lines were already safe against a _coup de main_. [Footnote: Poe's Report, Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. p. 296.] 

Longstreet's principal lines were north of Knoxville beyond the railway and the station buildings. He also occupied a line of hills, but pushed forward strong skirmish lines and detachments to cover the making of intrenchments closer to the town. There were frequent bickering combats, but no general engagement. The enemy made efforts to destroy the pontoon bridge by sending down logs and rafts from above. These were met by an iron cable boom stretched across the river above the bridge, borne on wooden floats to keep it at the surface. [Footnote: Century War Book, vol. iii. p. 739.] Several efforts were made to drive Burnside's men from the hills covering the town on the south side of the river, but they were defeated, and communication was kept up with the valley of the French Broad River, and supplies enough were brought in to make it certain that Burnside could not be starved out, although the rations were reduced to the smallest quantity and the fewest elements which would support life. 

A week passed thus, Burnside being shut off from all communication with the outer world. The 25th of November came with the almost miraculous storming of Missionary Ridge by the army under Grant at Chattanooga. Bragg retreated southward and Longstreet had no longer a possibility of rejoining him. Yet Burnside knew nothing of it, and did not dream of the more than complete justification his slow defensive campaign was having, in the tout and demoralization of the Confederate army in Georgia in Longstreet's absence. The latter was now forced to attack the fortifications or to raise the siege of Knoxville. He knew, at least by rumor, what Burnside was ignorant of,--not only the defeat of Bragg, but that a force was already moving from Grant's army to the relief of Knoxville. Bragg had also sent to him a staff officer with exhortations to prompt action. For a day or two Longstreet tried to attract Burnside's attention to the south of the river and to other parts of the lines, and then on the 28th prepared a desperate assault upon the great salient of Fort Sanders. 

The artillery in the fort was under the command of Lieutenant Samuel N. Benjamin, Second U. S. Artillery, whose battery of twenty-pounder Parrotts had done good service at South Mountain and Antietam. The infantry was of Ferrero's division of the Ninth Corps. There was a slight abatis in front of the fort, and on the suggestion of Mr. Hoxie, an officer of the railway, some old telegraph wire left at the depot was used by Captain Poe to make an entanglement by fastening it between small stumps of a grove which had been felled along the slope northwest of the bastion at the salient. Longstreet's plan of assault was to attack the northwest angle of the fort with two columns of regiments, consisting of Wofford's and Humphrey's brigades of McLaws's division. Anderson's brigade was to attack the infantry trench a little east of the fort. Longstreet's instructions were to make the assault at break of day on the 29th. The columns were to move silently and swiftly without firing and endeavor to carry the parapet by the bayonet. [Footnote: Longstreet's Report, Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. p. 461.] The determined advance of the enemy's rifle pits by his skirmishers in the night of the 28th gave warning of what was to be expected. The morning of the 29th was damp and foggy, but the watchful pickets detected the formation of the enemy's columns. About six o'clock the Confederate batteries opened a heavy fire on the fort, which did not reply, ammunition being too precious to be wasted. In about twenty minutes the cannonade ceased and the columns moved to the assault. The fire of our lines was concentrated upon them, and they lost heavily; but they kept on, somewhat disordered by the entanglement as well as by their losses, and came to the ditch. No doubt its depth and the high face of the parapet surprised them, for they had no scaling ladders. They jumped into the ditch and tried to scramble up the slope of the earthwork. Some got to the top, only to be shot down or captured. The guns flanking the ditch raked it with double charges of canister. Shells were lighted and thrown as hand-grenades into the practically helpless crowd below. Those who had not entered the ditch soon wavered and fell back, at first sullenly and slowly, then in despair running for life to cover. Those who remained and could walk surrendered and were marched to the southwest angle of the fort, where they were brought within the lines. 

The remnants of the broken columns were rallied behind their outer lines, but no effort was made to renew the assault. They had done all that was possible for flesh and blood. The casualties in the assault had been about 1000, whilst within the fortifications only 13 killed and wounded were reported. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. pp. 277, 278, 344, 461, 487, 490, 519, 520.] Buckner's division had joined Longstreet a day or two before the assault, but took no active part in it. Their absence from Missionary Ridge still further reduced Bragg's army, whilst it did not give to Longstreet any practical benefit. The division of the Confederate forces had thus proved to be a great military mistake. Its only chance had been in a swift attack upon Burnside and a prompt return, and this chance had vanished with the delays in the railroad transportation of Longstreet's men to Sweetwater. Prudence dictated that the expedition should be abandoned on the 13th of November; but the fear of seeming vacillating, a weakness of second-rate minds as great as vacillation itself, had made Bragg order the column forward. Burnside's well-conducted retreat, on the other hand, had lured Longstreet forward, and the patient endurance of a siege had kept the enemy in front of Knoxville, and even led to the further depletion of Bragg by the detachment of Buckner, giving to Grant the very opportunity he desired. The good fortune of the National commander culminated at Missionary Ridge. Soldiers believe in good luck quite as much as in genius, and follow a leader whose star is in the ascendant with a confidence which is the guaranty of victory. Great opportunities, however, come to all. The difference between a great soldier and an inferior one is that the great man uses his opportunities to the full, and so fortune seems to be in league with him. When Grant had driven Bragg back on Dalton, the latter could realize what he had lost by his errors. It was now impossible for Longstreet to rejoin him. It was even doubtful if Wheeler's cavalry could do so. The whole National army was between the widely separated Confederate wings, and nothing was left to Longstreet but a humiliating march back to Lee by way of the upper Holston and the headwaters of the James River. Pride delayed it, and the depth of winter favored the delay; but it was a foregone conclusion from the hour that Wood's and Sheridan's divisions crowned Missionary Ridge. 

For two weeks there had been no communication between Burnside and the outer world. Lincoln had been full of anxiety, but had found some comfort in the reports from Cumberland Gap that cannonading was still heard in the direction of Knoxville. It proved that Burnside held out, and gave additional earnestness to the President's exhortation to hurry a column to his relief immediately after Grant's victory. Grant needed no urging. A report had reached him that Burnside still was confident on the 23d, and had supplies for ten or twelve days on the scale of short rations he was issuing. On the very evening of his success he wrote to Sherman, "The next thing now will be to relieve Burnside." He directed Thomas to detach Granger's Corps, and this with part of the Army of the Tennessee would make a column of 20,000 men to march at once for Knoxville under Granger's command. Three days passed, and Grant, being dissatisfied that the relieving column was not already far on its way, directed Sherman on the 29th to take command in person and push it energetically toward Burnside. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. ii. pp. 45, 49; Sherman's Memoirs, vol. i. pp. 366, 368.] Sherman immediately went forward, and on the 1st of December he was over the Hiwassee River, approaching Loudon. He telegraphed Grant that he would let Burnside hear his guns on the 3d or 4th at farthest; but he added what throws much light on the feeling of military men in regard to campaigning in East Tennessee. In his frank and familiar style he said, "Recollect that East Tennessee is my horror. That any military man should send a force into East Tennessee puzzles me. Burnside is there and must be relieved; but when relieved, I want to get out and he should come out too." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 297.] From a strictly military point of view this was sound; but Burnside had been sent there more from political than from military reasons, and it was now too late to think of letting the loyal mountaineers return under Confederate rule. 

Meanwhile at Knoxville Burnside was closely watching the evidences of Longstreet's purposes and eagerly listening for news from Chattanooga. On the 1st of December wagon trains began to move eastward from the besiegers' camp, and on the 3d and 4th more of them, so that it became probable that Longstreet was about to raise the siege. In the night of the 3d Captain Audenried, Sherman's aide-de-camp, came into Knoxville from the south, having made a long circuit with a small body of cavalry, from Sherman's camp, which on the night of the 2d was forty miles from the city by the direct road. Colonel Long, commanding Sherman's cavalry, had selected part of his best mounted men for the expedition, and Audenried had accompanied him. The good news of Sherman's approach was thus made certain, and it was evident that Longstreet's information was earlier than Burnside's. The Confederate camps were evacuated on the night of the 4th, and on the 5th Burnside, sending a detachment to follow up Longstreet's retreat toward the east, sent one of his staff with an escort in the other direction to meet Sherman. The messenger from Burnside met the head of the relieving column at Marysville, a day's march for infantry. Sherman halted his little army, and wrote Burnside that he felt disposed to stop, "for a stern chase is a long one," since Longstreet had retreated. He rode in to Knoxville the next day and consulted with Burnside. He was evidently dubious of any advantage from a pursuit of Longstreet, and Burnside's disposition was to avoid urging any comrade to undertake an unpleasant task for his sake. He therefore cordially assisted Sherman in solving his doubts in favor of taking back all his troops except Granger's Fourth Corps, and wrote a letter of warm thanks for the prompt march to his relief, adding his opinion that the Fourth Corps would make him strong enough to meet Longstreet, and that it was advisable for Sherman to rejoin Grant with the rest. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. ii. p. 36.] This was accordingly done, and Sherman was free to give his attention to a winter campaign toward the Gulf, from which he hoped important results. 

Granger did not relish the prospect of a protracted absence from the Army of the Cumberland, and protested in vigorous and long dispatches to Thomas, to Grant, to Burnside, to Sherman, and later to Foster, [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iii. pp. 358, 365, 391-393; Sherman's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 368.] but with no effect, except that Grant was displeased with his original reluctance to march to Burnside's relief as well as with these protests. The result showed itself in the spring, when Granger was relieved from the command of the corps, which was conferred upon Howard

The raising of the siege brought Burnside into communication with Cumberland Gap, and he learned that Major-General John G. Foster was at Tazewell, under orders to relieve him of the command of the department. This was in apparent accord with the wish which Burnside had expressed, [Footnote: _Ante_, vol. i. pp. 527, 528.] but as action had been postponed it was reasonable to expect that further consultation would be had before he should be relieved, and that Grant's judgment would be asked in regard to it. After the controversies which followed the battle of Fredericksburg, Halleck was habitually unfriendly to Burnside, and we have seen how uniformly a wrong interpretation was given to the events of the current campaign. Foster's appointment to succeed Burnside was dated the 16th of November, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 166.] and he had been in Kentucky or near Cumberland Gap during the siege of Knoxville. The day the order was made relieving Burnside was that on which he was battling with Longstreet at Campbell's Station, holding him at bay in the slow retreat upon Knoxville, where he arrived on the 17th. On this morning Grant was writing him, "So far you are doing exactly what appears to me right," [Footnote: _Id_., p. 177.] and this was written after the receipt of Dana and Wilson's full dispatches of the 13th and 14th, as well as Burnside's of the 13th. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 138.] Yet so strangely was the same information misread by Halleck, that on the 16th he was telegraphing Grant that Burnside was hesitating whether to fight or retreat out of East Tennessee. "I fear he will not fight," he added, "although strongly urged to do so. Unless you can give him immediate assistance, he will surrender his position to the enemy." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 163. This dispatch of Halleck seems to have been called out by one of Dana to Stanton on the 14th in which he said, "Burnside has determined to retreat toward the Gaps." (Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. p. 259.) Halleck failed to interpret this in connection with one of the 13th in which Dana had stated alternate lines of retreat, "if finally compelled," and Burnside's judgment in favor of the line of Cumberland Gap in such last resort rather than toward Kingston. (_Ibid_.) Dana had fully conveyed, however, Burnside's determination to hold Knoxville "as long as possible," and his reasons for making a stubborn fight there. By failing to keep this in mind, the Secretary and General-in-Chief became unnecessarily agitated, and forgot in their conduct what was due to Grant almost as much as what was due to Burnside.] On the next day Burnside entered Knoxville, where fortifications had been hurriedly built, and the siege began. The heroic defence of Knoxville lasted three weeks, and when Longstreet withdrew toward Virginia, the successful general learned that he had been removed from command at the very moment he was completing, with Grant's unqualified approval, the preparation for that stubborn resistance which saved East Tennessee and averted the "terrible misfortune" which Halleck feared. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iii. p. 145.] The importance of holding East Tennessee, now that it had been liberated, was urged upon the War Department by Burnside from the beginning. He had pointed it out when ordered to abandon it and march to Rosecrans's assistance. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxx. pt. iii. p. 904.] So far from hesitating to fight Longstreet, Dana found him determined to "expose his whole force to capture rather than withdraw from the country." [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxi. pt. i. p. 260.] It was not till Mr. Dana's later dispatches were received that the misapprehensions were corrected at Washington. Then the story of the occupation and defence of East Tennessee was explained, and justice was done the wisdom of the general's course as well as his patriotic and unselfish spirit. A part of the trouble had been due to the fact that after Grant reached Nashville Burnside's correspondence was with him, and, in accord with military usage, he dropped direct correspondence with Washington, except when addressed from there. 

It was too late, however, to undo what had been done. Foster was in Kentucky, carrying forward into East Tennessee such detachments as could be picked up. He reached Knoxville on the 10th of December, and the next day Burnside turned over the command to him, and started for Cincinnati by way of Jacksboro and Williamsburg. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. pp. 372, 384.] The President was most hearty in his approval of Burnside's conduct when once he understood it, and insisted that after a brief rest he should again enter into active service. Congress passed strong resolutions of thanks to him and to his troops, [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. p. 281.] and it began to be understood that the campaign had been a creditable one. 

It was in such a command that Burnside appeared at his best. The independence of his campaign gave full play to his active energy, whilst the bodies of troops were not so large as to prevent his personal leadership in their combats. In a great army he was at a disadvantage from lack of true system in handling great and complicated affairs when he was in chief command; and if his position was a subordinate one he lacked the sort of responsibility which called out his best qualities, and he was therefore liable to become the formal intermediary for the transmission of orders. In such cases, too, he was in danger of suffering from faults of subordinates whom his kind heart had permitted to retain important positions for which they were not fit. When acting immediately under his eye, he could give them energy and courage which they would lack when left to themselves. The sore spot in his experience in 1864 was the failure to make full use of the explosion of the mine at Petersburg, and the Court of Inquiry made it clear that the fault lay with inefficient subordinates. One of the most prominent of these was said to have stayed in a bomb-proof instead of leading his command. But the same officer had done the same thing in Fort Sanders at Knoxville, as had been officially reported by Captain Benjamin, the Chief of Artillery; [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. i. p. 344.] and Benjamin was an officer of such military and personal standing that a court-martial should certainly have investigated the case. A mistaken leniency brought bitter fruit. 

The campaign had been a new test for General Grant also, and it is instructive to follow him in grasping the details of his enlarged responsibility. When communication with Burnside became difficult and infrequent, he gave orders to Willcox at Cumberland Gap and to subordinates of Burnside in Kentucky and Ohio. He provided for starting supplies to Knoxville by all practicable routes as soon as the siege should be raised. He cut trenchantly through pretences where he thought a lack of vigorous performance was covered up by verbosity of reports. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. iii. p. 233.] He was quietly but easily master, and showed no symptom of being overweighted by his task or flurried by the excitements of a critical juncture in affairs. He does not impress one as brilliant in genius, but as eminently sound and sensible. His quality of greatness was that he handled great affairs as he would little ones, without betraying any consciousness that this was a great thing to do. He reminds one of Wellington in the combination of lucid and practical common-sense with aggressive bull-dog courage. Some telling lines, developing his traits as he appeared to a critical observer, are found in a dispatch of General David Hunter to the Secretary of War, giving a report of his visit to Chattanooga where he was sent to inspect the army. Hunter was one of the oldest of the regular officers in service, knew thoroughly Grant's history and early army reputation, and his words have peculiar significance. Grant had received him with a sort of filial kindness, making him at home in his quarters, and opening his mind and his purposes to him with his characteristic modesty and simplicity of manner. Hunter says: "I saw him almost every moment, except when sleeping, of the three weeks I spent in Chattanooga.... He is a hard worker, writes his own dispatches and orders, and does his own thinking. He is modest, quiet, never swears, and seldom drinks, as he took only two drinks during the three weeks I was with him. He listens quietly to the opinions of others and then judges promptly for himself; and he is very prompt to avail himself in the field of all the errors of his enemy. He is certainly a good judge of men, and has called around him valuable counsellors." He naively adds: "Prominent as General Grant is before the country, these remarks of mine may appear trite and uncalled for, but having been ordered to inspect his command, I thought it not improper for me to add my testimony with regard to the commander." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxi. pt. iii. p. 402.] 

 

 

site stats

 

Site Copyright 2003-2014 Son of the South. For Questions or comments about this collection,

contact: paul@sonofthesouth.net

privacy policy

Are you Scared and Confused? Read My Snake Story, a story of hope and encouragement, to help you face your fears.