CIVIL WAR HISTORY, SITES AND ATTRACTIONS IN KNOXVILLE
Knoxville was a city torn apart by the bitter divisions of the Civil War. While fighting raged between North and South, East Tennesseans were in a civil war amongst themselves. Recruiting rallies for both the Union and the Confederacy were held simultaneously on Gay Street, while the majority of East Tennessee was predominately in favor of remaining with the Union. Tennessee officially left the Union on June 8, 1861 due to the pro-secession sentiments of Middle and West Tennessee. As a result, the city is a treasure trove of battle sites, museums, historic homes, and so much more. Many of the sites below are within walking distance starting in Market Square, the heart of downtown. Or hop in your car for an enjoyable drive throughout the county to find all the places that cement Knoxville’s place in this chapter of American history.
The Knoxville Campaign
The Knoxville campaign was a series of American Civil War battles and maneuvers in East Tennessee during the fall of 1863 designed to secure control of the city of Knoxville and with it the railroad that linked the Confederacy east and west, and position the First Corps under Longstreet for return to the Army of Northern Virginia. Union Army forces under Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside occupied Knoxville, and Confederate States Army forces under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet were detached from Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga to prevent Burnside's reinforcement of the besieged Federal forces there. Ultimately, Longstreet's own siege of Knoxville ended when Union Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman led elements of the Army of the Tennessee and other troops to Burnside's relief after Union troops had broken the Confederate siege of Chattanooga. Although Longstreet was one of Gen. Robert E. Lee's best corps commanders in the East in the Army of Northern Virginia, he was unsuccessful in his attempt to penetrate the Knoxville defenses and take the city.
The pro-Union counties of eastern Tennessee had offered little resistance to the occupation of Knoxville by forces under Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside in 1863. As a Confederate army besieged Union forces at Chattanooga, Tennessee later that year, a force under the command of Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was sent to Knoxville to prevent Burnside's Army of the Ohio from moving in support of Chattanooga. To capture Knoxville, Longstreet decided that Fort Sanders, located northwest of the city, was the only vulnerable place where his men could penetrate Burnside’s fortifications. On November 17, 1863, Confederate General James Longstreet places the city of Knoxville, Tennessee, under siege with 17,000 troops from Chattanooga. On November 27, Captain Orlando Poe, chief engineer to Burnside, ordered the construction of Fort Higley, Fort Dickerson, and Fort Stanley. (Today, Fort Dickerson and Fort Higley are public parks in South Knoxville that are open to the public.) The Battle of Fort Sanders begins on November 29, and Longstreet’s Confederate troops faced heavy losses. Union troops were dispatched from Chattanooga and forced Longstreet’s retreat, ultimately to Virginia. The Confederate defeat at Knoxville, plus the loss of Chattanooga four days earlier, put most of eastern Tennessee in Union control for the rest of the war.
Civil War exhibits can be seen at the East Tennessee History Center and the McClung Museum of History & Culture in addition to several sites across the city below.
Knoxville has three tours to introduce visitors to these Civil War sites. Two are self-guided driving tours: Divided Loyalties, which is Knoxville-centric and features 15 sites downtown and across the county; and the Civil War Trails, which is a multi-state initiative connecting several campaigns through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Tennessee and it has 10 sites that generally overlap with the Divided Loyalties tour. There is also a guided Civil War experience offered through Knoxville Walking Tours which visits the downtown sites.