Sunday, December 1, 2013

The 48th/150th: The East Tennessee Campaign & Fort Sanders: October-November 1863

Overview/Setting The Stage. . . . 
Area of Operations, East Tennessee: 1863 

In early September 1863, Major General Ambrose Burnside conducted a successful campaign in East Tennessee, during which time he secured the important city of Knoxville for the United States. The people of the twenty-two counties of East Tennessee were primarily Unionist in their sympathies and for the first two-and-a-half years of the war had suffered at the hands of Confederates posted in this region—a region Richmond had deemed hostile. Sending soldiers to the relief of these people from East Tennessee had long been on President Lincoln’s mind but it was not until the late summer of 1863 before this finally came to fruition. Burnside was tabbed for this important assignment and after spending much of the summer preparing he, in late August, led his force southward from Kentucky and into the heart of East Tennessee, arriving unopposed in Knoxville on September 3. The people there greeted Burnside and his men as liberators. Burnside proudly reported the occupation of Knoxville to Lincoln and the War Department in Washington, but any elation over his success was overshadowed by a growing concern for General William Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland further to the south.

Harpers Weekly Depicts Burnside's Arrival in Knoxville, 9/3/1863

In mid-September, Rosecrans’s army was defeated by Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Chickamauga, which proved to be the largest Confederate victory in the war’s Western Theatre. Following his defeat, Rosecrans led his army back to Chattanooga, with Bragg’s forces on his heels. Soon, Bragg settled in for a siege. 

Harper's Weekly Depictions of Union Troops at Chickamauga 

In Washington, word of Rosecrans’s defeat prompted calls for Burnside to march his command south, to the relief of the Army of the Cumberland. With some hesitation, Burnside set out with elements of his 23rd and 9th Army Corps, leaving behind Captain Orlando Poe—his chief engineer—with instructions to turn Knoxville into a fortress.

Captain Orlando Poe Transformed Knoxville Into A Fortress

Burnside made it halfway to Chattanooga when he received word to stop—other Union troops in the form of the 11th & 12th Corps Army of the Potomac and a large, 20,000-man column were also heading to Rosecrans’s relief. Burnside was told to simply stay where he was in East Tennessee, to help protect Rosecrans’s right flank.

By the end of October, the first Union reinforcements arrived at Chattanooga and on October 29 had punched a hole through the Confederate line at the Battle of Wauhatchie, thereby opening a supply line and alleviating the suffering and starving Union soldiers in Chattanooga. Bragg was furious and placed most of the blame for the defeat at Wauhatchie on James Longstreet, who had joined Bragg’s army with two of his divisions from the Army of Northern Virginia. Bragg and Longstreet simply did not get along and, thus, in the aftermath of Wauhatchie, Bragg decided to send Longstreet into East Tennessee to crush Burnside. Many then and now could not help but scratch their heads in wonder as to why Bragg would decide to divide his army in the face of a larger one, and with more and more Union reinforcements heading to Rosecrans’s relief. But for Bragg, sending Longstreet into East Tennessee would, for the moment at least, remove a troublemaking subordinate and, if successful, would also secure control of East Tennessee once more for the Confederacy. Longstreet was told to go north, locate Burnside’s command and crush it, then return to Chattanooga to help Bragg deal with the growing blue-coated force there. It seemed simple enough, but Burnside was not about to let this happen.

Lieutenant General James Longstreet--
Defeated By Burnside in East Tennessee 

Authorities in Washington panicked when they learned that Longstreet’s column was heading north into East Tennessee; even General U.S. Grant advised Burnside to withdraw all the way back to Kentucky if necessary. Burnside, however, sensed an opportunity. He was well-aware of what Bragg and Longstreet were up to and believed he could help the situation in Chattanooga by moving south to initiate contact with Longstreet and then engage in a fighting withdrawal, all the way back to Knoxville, thereby drawing Longstreet’s command further and further away from Bragg and allowing Grant a better chance at victory at Chattanooga. Grant liked the idea and in mid-November 1863, the East Tennessee Campaign commenced.

Major General Ambrose Burnside_
Victor of the East Tennessee Campaign 

In the end, it was a complete success for Burnside and a complete failure for Longstreet, who fell for the ploy and who was unable to trap Burnside in the open. There were engagements at Loudoun, Lenoir’s Station, and at Campbell’s Station but the campaign culminated at the Battle of Fort Sanders, a strongly fortified bastion northwest of the city of Knoxville. There, on November 29, Longstreet launched a frontal assault on the fort. From start to finish, it lasted perhaps half-an-hour and, in the end, Longstreet lost 829 men, while Burnside’s casualties in the fort amounted to five men killed and eight wounded. It was one of the most lopsided battles of the war and for Burnside and his men, an unqualified victory.

The 48th Pennsylvania & The East Tennessee Campaign. . . 

Civil War Knoxville 

The 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, which formed part of the 9th Corps, participated in this long-overlooked but very important campaign in East Tennessee. Previous posts documented the regiment’s long 220-mile trek from central Kentucky to Knoxville and their experiences along the way. The post that follows documents their trials and triumphs from the middle of October to the end of November 1863, including their battles with Longstreet’s forces in Tennessee and at Fort Sanders.

Arriving in Knoxville in late September after a nineteen-day journey from Kentucky, the weary soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania were given a few days’ rest, which was very much needed and well-earned. The Schuylkill County men ventured into Knoxville and, said regimental historian Joseph Gould, “found everything up to our taste.” On September 29, the men were cheered by Generals Ambrose Burnside and John Parke who visited the men in their camps. But, alas, the regiment’s “breathing spell” came to an end on October 4 when orders arrived for the men to be in readiness to move. A Confederate force was operating northeast of the city and Burnside wanted them gone.

On October 4, the 48th took the rails to Morristown and the next day marched to Lick Creek, where they remained until October 10. Along the way, Captain Oliver Bosbyshell of Company G could not help but be struck by the outpouring of support the regiment encountered as well as the Unionist sympathies: “As the train [from Knoxville] sped on, the most cheering evidences of the loyalty of the men of East Tennessee to the Union cause were apparent. At Strawberry Plains, Mossy Creek, Morristown and other stations, large numbers of the good, loyal men of East Tennessee were congregating, organizing regiments. Many were already armed. It was a motley but earned crowd—gray-haired, gray-bearded men of sixty jostled striplings of sixteen, all eager to do what they could to uphold the Union cause.”

At 9:00 a.m. on the morning of October 10 and preceded by a long column of cavalry and infantry, the regiment set out for Blue Springs where the Confederate force, “estimated from four to ten thousand strong” was found. Under orders from General Robert Potter, the 48th Pennsylvania and 21st Massachusetts regiments advanced into the fight. “As soon as we got near the woods,” said Gould, “a charge was made and we drove the enemy back, killing and wounding quite a number and taking a number of prisoners.” Night fell on the battlefield and the next morning—October 11—it was clear that the Confederates had fled. A pursuit was ordered and the 48th covered some twenty miles. “It was probably the hottest marching day the regiment ever experienced,” said Gould and again, the regiment was impressed by the encouragement of the people. Said Bosbyshell of this march: “Greenville, the old home of President Andrew Johnson, was hurried through—at many of the houses little knots of ladies were gathered, who showed their sympathy with the Union cause, by vigorously waving their handkerchiefs as the troops passed. . . .” On October 12, the pursuit was called off—“We could not catch up to the rebel army,” recounted Gould, smugly, “they ran too fast for us.” Soon, orders arrived to return to Knoxville, and on October 13, the seasoned campaigners of the 48th began to retrace their steps, back toward Greenville and Morristown before taking up the rails once more for Knoxville.

Wayside Marker Describing the Battle of Blue Springs (From 

Returning to Greenville—once home to Andrew Johnson—on October 13, the 48th took up a straw vote for the Governorship of Pennsylvania, and although the vote did not count in the election, it was taken only “to get the sentiment.” And there was no doubt where the sentiment of the soldiers lay. From within the ranks of the 48th, the incumbent governor—Andrew Curtin, “The Soldiers’ Friend”—secured 264 votes; his opponent, the Democratic Party contender George Washington Woodward, received zero votes. “Andrew G. Curtin was a very popular man among the soldiers,” said Gould, the results of the regimental straw vote made this quite obvious. But the results in Pennsylvania were a lot closer. Curtin did triumph, receiving 269,506 votes to Woodward’s 254,171, the margin of victory being 2.9%.

Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin--"The Soldiers' Friend" 

Gould did his best to express the sympathies of Pennsylvania’s soldiers in the field and the meaning of this election, explaining that Curtin had “not only won the personal affection of Pennsylvania soldiers by his practical devotion to their interests, but he was known to be in earnest sympathy with their cause, and even Democratic soldiers, of whom there were many, believed that the issue directly affected their attitude as soldiers and the care of the State for themselves and their families, and their party prejudices largely perished.”

Harper's Weekly Scene Depicting Soldiers Voting 

Understandably, it rankled the men that their votes did not count in the general election; indeed, their votes would not be counted until 1864. Instead, all they could do was plead via letter with their families back home in the Keystone State to cast their support behind the “Soldiers’ Friend.” “[A]round the campfire, the question was discussed by the Pennsylvania soldiers,” said Gould, “and, certainly, three-fourths of them sent home the most urgent appeals to their fathers, brothers and friends to vote to sustain the patriotic philanthropic Governor of the State as a matter of duty in support of the soldiers’ cause. Not only did the soldiers appeal to the members of their immediate families, but to their many personal friends whom they knew at home, and the result was mute, but omnipotent, expression from our soldiers in the field to their relatives and friends at home. .  . .” Their efforts, contended Gould, is what helped Curtin secure reelection. In a letter to the Miners’ Journal dated October 17, 1863, Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Sigfried, commanding the regiment, made known the regimental results and expressed the anger of the regiment that their votes would not count: “The soldier has cast party aside,” said Sigfried. “The only question he asks is, who is our friend and the friend of the cause we are fighting for?” The answer was obvious; it was Curtin. What was more, “The soldier justly believes and contends that if any one is entitled to a vote it is he who is willing to leave family, friends, and all the comforts of home, and if need be, die in sustaining and in carrying out the laws.” It was a shame, said Sigfried; a disgrace. Still, the men were elated when word arrived that Curtin did, in fact, prevail and, as Sigfried stated with perhaps just a little overstatement, the result “has given new life to the soldier and given him more encouragement than any victory that has been achieved since the commencement of this war.”  Bosbyshell echoed Sigfried’s thoughts in his regiment history, written thirty years later. The announcement of Curtin’s reelection, which was made at dress parade on October 17, “was greeted with tumultuous cheers, making the old woods ring. . . the boys had a right to yell.”

~Colonel Joshua Sigfriend~
Commanded 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 9th Corps in East Tennessee

Having arrived back at their old campsites at Knoxville, the soldiers of the 48th—when not engaged in political discussion—kept themselves busy in camp. Some days passed quietly; others in anticipation. Finally, late on October 22, the regiment received orders: they were to move south to Loudoun. Boarding train cars at 10:00 o’clock that night, the regiment arrived at Loudoun—some thirty miles south—around 1:00 a.m. on the morning of October 23. “The command bivouacked along the railway tracks,” said Bosbyshell, “most of the men and officers occupying the ties for a bed, with the rail for a pillow.” The soldiers were awoken by a downpour of rain a few hours later; and that rain continued to pelt the men for most of that wet, miserable day. It wasn’t until the following afternoon when the regiment at last secured a comfortable camping ground on the north side of the Holston River. There, at Loudoun, the men remained encamped for the next several days while Burnside contemplated his strategy in dealing with Longstreet.

Campaign Map 

On October 27, the 48th received orders to fall back to Lenoir’s Station, where the regiment remained for more than two weeks, awaiting developments and establishing what many thought would be their winter camps. But during this time, Burnside was busy preparing to set a trap for Longstreet. He sent units south to engage Longstreet and lure him toward Knoxville. Longstreet, detached from Bragg’s army, had been hoping to quickly catch Burnside in the open and destroy him, but Burnside was always one step ahead of his foe and executed a successful retreating action, each time bringing new forces to front—to deal with the advance of Longstreet—while also sending other forces along the roads leading north, to Knoxville.

On the morning of November 15, the 48th was sent back to Loudoun, where they saw some action. “During the morning the 23rd Army Corps commenced skirmishing with the rebels,” recounted Gould, “Our brigade. . .soon relieved these new troops, with orders to hold the enemy in check long enough to enable the artillery and wagon-trains time to fall back, on account of the bad conditions of the roads, the result of heavy and continued rains. This being accomplished, we fell back slowly about 4 p.m., and was relieved by the 2nd Brigade of our Division. About 6 p.m. we again reached Lenoir. Then commenced our constant movement towards Knoxville, marching by night and fighting by day, the object being two-fold: to retard the advance of the enemy to Knoxville, and to save our trains and artillery, the roads being so bad that the latter was only saved through the aid of the infantry.”
From Lenoir’s Station, the next stop on the way back to Knoxville was Campbell’s Station—a crucial road intersection that Longstreet hoped to reach before Burnside, but Burnside beat him to the punch, with elements of his 9th Corps arriving there first. 

Battle of Campbell's Station--November 16, 1863 

The weary, cold and wet soldiers of the 48th—having marched since 2:00 a.m. that dreary morning—arrived at Campbell’s Station around 6:00 a.m., when they halted and turned to confront Longstreet’s pursuing columns. “Between 8 and 9 o’clock a.m.,” said Bosbyshell, “matters assumed a serious look—the rebels closed in on both roads, directly at Campbell’s Station, and the fighting became the fiercest at this point.” Longstreet would later dismiss the battle at Campbell’s Station as solely an artillery affair, but Bosbyshell summarized Burnside’s intentions: “It was not Burnside’s wish to engage the enemy at close quarters at this point; he was maneuvering for time, intending to retire to Knoxville where fortifications were being erected. So the battle of Campbell’s Station was a fight to hinder the rebels’ approach and delay it as long as possible.” Gould remembered that the “engagement continued during the entire day, beginning early, and ending only when darkness rendered it impossible to distinguish friend from foe.” Slowly, Burnside’s lines gave way under the weight of superior Confederate numbers, falling back from one position to the next, slowing Longstreet and luring him closer to Knoxville and further away from Bragg at Chattanooga. “The maneuvering was perfect,” summarized Bosbyshell as Longstreet continued to fall for the trap. When darkness descended on the battlefield that night, Burnside once more ordered his men to fall back and, once more, the tired soldiers of the 48th marched through the night. . .arriving worn out and bone tired in the outer defenses of Knoxville early on the morning of November 17.

Defenses of Knoxville--Fort Sanders, top left

Captain Orlando Poe—Burnside’s chief engineer—had been hard at work in establishing an impressive defenses surrounding Knoxville. Even so, when Burnside’s men arrived back at the city and with Longstreet’s men closing in, they, too, picked up the spade and axe to further strengthen the line. “The pick and shovel were used to great advantage,” recounted Gould, “and the city was soon encircled with a strong line of earthworks extending from the Holston River below the city, clean around it to a point on the same river above.” Bosbyshell told a similar story in his work: “Shovels, picks and axes were in demand, and hard work fell upon the men, day and night. Formidable entrenchments were erected running from the Holston River on the southwest side of the town, all around to the same river on the northeast side, with Fort Sanders, an earthwork of strength, occupying the most commanding elevation in the whole line.” Indeed, Knoxville was rendered thoroughly defensible, especially on the Ninth Corps’ front.” For nearly two weeks, the two sides stared at one another, while Longstreet considered his options. By this point, Bragg was pleading with Longstreet to attack at once and then return to Chattanooga, since Grant was marshalling his forces for an all-out assault on Bragg’s now thinned ranks. Longstreet, on the other hand, considered and initially adopted a plan to lay siege to Knoxville and to Burnside’s men, but with so few troops and unable to completely encircle the city and with food and provisions trickling in daily to Union camps from south of the river, it was never a true siege.

Meanwhile, as Longstreet contemplated his move, the soldiers in the ranks thought of their loved ones at home as the Thanksgiving Holiday came and went, recalling past celebrations during happier times. The soldiers of the 48th occupied a position in the earthworks north of the city. The regiment at this time was commanded by Major Joseph Gilmour since Lt. Col. Sigfried has been elevated to temporary command of the First Brigade, Second Division, Ninth Corps. 

~Major Joseph Gilmour~
Commander, 48th PA, in East Tennessee 

Nearby the 48th stood Fort Sanders, an impressive earthen fortification named for the lamented Colonel William Sanders, who had been mortally wounded west of the city on November 18 and who passed away the following morning. Fort Sanders was, at once, the strongest and most vulnerable point in the Union defenses at Knoxville; its walls rose nearly 18 feet in height and the recent rains and ice had made them nearly impossible to climb; the fort was surrounded by a ditch, and to the front, trees had been felled and telegraph wire strung between the stumps. But it was also a salient jutting out like the proverbial sore thumb and because of this, Longstreet decided the attack would be made there. Lafayette McLaws tried to dissuade Longstreet from attacking once rumors began circulating through Confederate camps that Bragg had been defeated at Chattanooga, but “Old Pete” Longstreet would not be deterred: the attack would continue.

Post-Battle Image of Fort Sanders 

Early on the morning of November 29, the ground west of Knoxville trembled as Confederate gunner E.P. Alexander unloosed a steady barrage of artillery toward Fort Sanders. After this twenty minute cannonade, McLaws’s infantry attacked. . . .and they would soon be bloodily repulsed. The attack on Fort Sanders lasted less than half-an-hour; during this time, Longstreet’s columns were butchered and barely a dent was made on the strong Union lines.

Kurz & Allison Depiction of the Attack on Fort Sanders 

Although not stationed in Fort Sanders, the 48th Pennsylvania was subjected to the exploding shot and shell of Alexander’s artillery and they did witness the slaughter that ensued. As Bosbyshell remembered, “Before daylight, he [Longstreet] hurled a column of sixteen regiments deep against Fort Sanders, with lamentable results to the attacking party. [Captain Poe and the engineers] had taken the precaution to clear away the forest in the front of the fort, leaving the stumps sticking well up. Stretching from stump to stump, [they] crossed and recrossed telegraph wire. When this column of regimental front, and sixteen regiments deep, moving to the attack in the darkness before dawn, came upon the entangled mass of wire, the troops were thrown into inextricable confusion, their organizations helplessly broken, and the whole command no better than an unorganized mob. So impetuous, however, was the mad rush for the fort, that the flags of the 13th and 17th Mississippi and the 16th Georgia were actually planted on the corner thereof—but only for a moment, as the Union troops captured them. [Lieutenant Samuel] Benjamin [a 9th Corps artillery commander] was coolly lighting shells, with shortened fuses, and tossing them with his hands over the parapet into the ditch surrounding the earthwork—causing death and confusion to the crowded mass of disorganized troops. . . . .The strife did not last long, and the enemy fled dismayed. An armistice, lasting from daylight until 7 p.m. marked this Sunday. Four stands of rebel colors were captured, 300 rebel dead laid around Fort Sanders, as many more were wounded, and the same number made prisoners. The corner of Fort Sanders, and the ditch before it, was filled with dead and dying men—the sight was horrible.”

MOLLUS Sketch, "The Attack on Knoxville" 

Joseph Gould, in his regimental history, was equally descriptive of this doomed Confederate attack: “Just before daybreak on Sunday, the 29th of November, the rebels made a fierce charge upon this work. . . .When they reached the wires. . .they were tripped up and fell over one another in the dim light of daybreak, the lines became terribly broken up and in confusion. Some adventurous spirits reached the ramparts, only to be bayonetted by the troops. Others rolled headlong into the ditch. The line to right and left of Sanders enfiladed them. . . .The enemy pressed up; they cut away the abates; they filled the ditch, and a few made their way to the top of the parapet. There a terrible hand-to-hand contest ensued; clubbed muskets, bayonets, sabers, even spades and axes were employed in the dreadful work, and not a score of the brave storming party escaped. . . .The engagement was altogether in favor of the Union side, and was soon terminated. The field in front of the fort was thickly strewn with the misguided men in gray, and a great many were made prisoners.”

The Attack on Fort Sanders, from Harper's Weekly 

Indeed, it was an engagement “altogether in favor of the Union.” Inside Fort Sanders, Burnside lost just five men killed and eight wounded (although additional casualties were sustained by regiments outside the fort, including several members of the 48th). Longstreet’s casualties, on the other hand, equaled 829, in one of the most lopsided battles of the war. After the attack and as his men were retreating, Longstreet discovered that the rumors were, indeed, true. . .Bragg had been soundly defeated and routed from Chattanooga at the hands of U.S. Grant. It was a gloomy, dismal day for Confederate fortunes. Afterwards, Longstreet considered his next move. He decided against returning to Bragg’s defeated army in Georgia and simply stayed where he was, outside of Knoxville and facing the formidable Union works to his front. But when he learned that Union General William T. Sherman had been sent north from Grant’s army to “rescue” Burnside’s men “trapped” in Knoxville, Longstreet wisely decided to side-step Knoxville and he moved his ragged gray-and-butternut column to the northeast when they would spend a miserably cold and snowy winter in the mountains of East Tennessee.

The soldiers of the 48th were very proud of their involvement in the successful campaign for East Tennessee. They kept a steady watch on Longstreet’s men to their front, but on December 4, Captain Joseph Hoskings, commanding Company F and in charge of the picket line, noticed that the Confederates had “disappeared” and the nineteen-day siege of Knoxville was over. The following day—December 5— a proud Ambrose Burnside dictated General Field Orders No. 34 to the men of his command: “The Commanding General congratulates the troops on the raising of the siege. With unsurpassed fortitude and patient watchfulness they have sustained the wearing duties of the defense, and, with unyielding courage, they have repulsed the most desperate assaults. [The men of this command have] nobly guarded the loyal region it redeemed from its oppressors, and has rendered the heroic defense of Knoxville memorable in the annals of the war.”

Although the men rejoiced, there was still some mourning for those of the regiment who had fallen either killed or wounded. In all, from November 15 to December 5, the 48th lost 5 men killed or mortally wounded, an additional 7 men wounded, and 6 captured or missing. The casualties of the 48th during the East Tennessee Campaign and as reported  by Major Gilmour on December 6, 1863, are as follows:

Killed/Mortally Wounded:
-Sergeant Joseph Reed, Company H: mortally wounded at Cambell’s Station, 11/16/1863; died the same day
-Corporal John Sponslor, Company H: mortally wounded at Knoxville, 11/29/1863; died the same day
-Private Jonas Haldeman, Company I: killed at Knoxville, 11/29/1863; died the same day
-Private Joseph Weise, Company H: mortally wounded at Knoxville, 11/24/1863; died 11/28/1863
-Private Charles Weaver, Company I: mortally wounded at Knoxville, 12/3/1863; died 12/5/1863

-1st Lieutenant Jacob Douty, Company K: wounded at Knoxville, 11/24/1863
-2nd Lieutenant Henry Clay Jackson, Company G: wounded at Knoxville, 11/29/1863
-Private Martin Tobin, Company C: severely wounded at Knoxville, 11/24/1863
-Private J.F. Wildermuth, Company H: wounded at Knoxville, 11/22/1863
-Private James Heiser, Company I: wounded at Knoxville, 11/29/1863
-Private John Murphy, Company K: wounded at Knoxville, 11/23/1863
-Private Austin Farrow, Company F: wounded at Knoxville, 11/28/1863

Captured/Missing In Action:
-Private George Livingston, Company A: Missing in Action at Campbell’s Station, 11/16/1863
-Private Daniel Root, Company B: Missing in Action at Knoxville, 11/29/1963
-Private Robert McElrath, Company C: Missing in Action at Knoxville, 11/24/1863
-Private James Brennan, Company E: Missing in Action at Knoxville, 11/29/1863
-Private Issac Arndt, Company I: Wounded Severely and Left Behind on the Field of Campbell’s Station, 11/16/1863
-Private J.K. Sherman, Company K: Missing in Action at Knoxville, 11/29/1863

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