When looking back at all the wars and armed conflicts that are a part of the history of the United States, none can compare to the bloodiest war of them all: The Civil War. During this violent war between the North and the South, there were many battles fought where both sides suffered immense causalities. Also, both sides accomplished their victories while also suffering defeats. One such historic defeat had to do with a plan by the Confederates to secure eastern Tennessee.
Confederate General James Longstreet laid siege to the city of Knoxville, Tennessee on November 17th, 1863. The next two weeks saw a failed attack executed by Longstreet and finally retreating from the area to head to Northern Virginia in order to meet up with General Robert E. Lee’s Army.
The campaign to lay siege to Knoxville started in early November when Longstreet left Chattanooga with 17,000 soldiers and journeyed to take control of eastern Tennessee in the name of the Confederacy. Normally, the corps belonging to Longstreet was usually a part of Robert E. Lee’s Northern Virginia’s Army; however, the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July resulted in Longstreet deciding to go to the West with two of his divisions in an attempt to secure the West for the Confederates. Longstreet and his soldiers were part of the success in September at Chickamauga as well as in October and November in the attack at Chattanooga. Despite Longstreet having an argument with the Confederate leader in the West, Braxton Bragg, the general was allowed to have sole leadership of the Department of East Tennessee.
General Longstreet accompanied his troops as they headed toward Knoxville where he would face 5,000 Yankees under the command of General Ambrose Burnside. It was on November 16th that General Ambrose fought at Campbell Station in delaying the enemy and finally heading back to the defenses at Knoxville. The following day, Longstreet had his troops position around the city on its’ north side but failed to cut off the Union troops from receiving supplies. Longstreet waited to attack until November 28th when supplies had finally reached the Union troops although his soldiers were turned back suffering terrible losses. Hoping to have troops leave Chattanooga to help fortify Knoxville, Longstreet continued with his assault. His plan did succeed as Union troops totaling 25,000 were sent from Chattanooga in order to repeal Longstreet’s attack.
Even though his ruse had worked, the ultimate result was Longstreet being forced to retreat back towards Virginia. Needless to say, failing to take control of Knoxville was a disappointment for the Confederates and Longstreet was surely upset over his failed campaign to secure eastern Tennessee. Eventually, General Lee would be rejoined by Longstreet after his upsetting loss the following spring as well as failing in his solo command of troops.