Civil War Daily Gazette

A Day-By-Day Accounting of the Conflict, 150 Years Later

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‘Shall Hold this Position to the Last’ – Burnside’s New Determination

Kershaw's gettin' at him.

November 17, 1863 (Tuesday) It was a morning of apprehension. The day previous, Ambrose Burnside had held off James Longstreet’s Corps long enough to make his slip back into Knoxville. With the dawn, there was now only cavalry before the Confederates. “The enemy seems to have gone into Knoxville,” reported Longstreet to Braxton Bragg, who was still trying to hold on outside of Chattanooga. “We have not been able to bring him to battle yet.” He dismissed the previous day’s delaying action as a “severe skirmish and artillery duel.” Upon Longstreet’s arrival near Knoxville, Burnside had wanted to retreat into the Cumberland Mountains. General Grant, however, urged him to stay. Reinforcements from William Tecumseh Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee were close at hand, and Grant believed that if they were thrown between Bragg’s command and Longstreet’s they would force the latter to fall back, leaving Knoxville to Burnside. On this day, Sherman’s troops were gathered at Bridgeport, forty miles downriver from Chattanooga. They would start their march via the Lookout Valley at once. Grant, too,… Read More

Opportunities Lost Before Knoxville – Burnside Makes Good His Escape

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November 16, 1863 (Monday) Though Ambrose Burnside’s Federal Army of the Ohio was based out of Knoxville, Tennessee, a division augmented by a brigade actually held tight to the Tennessee River near Lenoir’s Station. Burnside had grown nervous and seriously contemplated abandoning the city and thus East Tennessee completely. But the urgings of General Grant, commanding Union forces at Chattanooga, convinced him otherwise. And so on the 14th, Burnside rode from his Knoxville headquarters to Lenoir’s. Nearby, Confederates under James Longstreet were crossing a rickety pontoon bridge in an attempt to besiege the Federals, or even drive them back across the Cumberland Mountains. It took Longstreet until the 15th to begin his move. When it became clear to Burnside that he could not hold Lenoir’s, he ordered his forces to fall back to Knoxville. This was a fortuitous move, as the Rebels had begun a movement that may well have bagged a good chunk of Burnside’s forces. From the Tennessee River, two roads led northeast to Knoxville. Longstreet understood that he had to quickly march… Read More

Meade: This Has the Appearance of an Advance

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November 15, 1863 (Sunday) It had grown to a relative quiet along the Rapidan River, with the silence punctuated only by Confederate artillery, sporadically, almost randomly, hurling a shot or shell toward the camps of General George Meade. And also, there was stirring. Slaves who had escaped bondage from General Lee’s Army spoke the words of their former masters, indicating that the entire force was falling back farther south – perhaps to Orange Court House, perhaps to Spotsylvania. Deserters, too, brought likewise. On this day, General Meade had traveled to Washington to meet with General-in-Chief Henry Halleck and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. While away, his chief of staff, General Andrew Humphreys, kept the commander informed by telegraph of every development. Union Cavalry patrolled the fords throughout the morning, trying to learn something definite. If the Rebels were withdrawing, their presence along the river had not changed. The Federal horse soldiers drew fire at both Rapidan Station, and downriver at Raccoon Ford. It was at this latter place that a brigade of enemy infantry was… Read More

Grant Tries to Avoid Burnside’s ‘Terrible Misfortune’

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November 14, 1863 (Saturday) General Ambrose Burnside’s dread over being attacked and routed by Confederates under James Longstreet had not yet abated. Through the night, the Confederates had built a bridge and put at least a regiment across the Tennessee River. Rather than fight, Burnside pulled his troops back to Knoxville. Through the day, light skirmishes erupted here and there. Burnside’s first notion was to risk a battle, but when he learned for certain that it was Longstreet’s men attempting to cross the river, he thought better, and made preparations to retreat back towards the gaps in the Cumberland Mountains. But for General Grant, commanding at Chattanooga, this was all happening too quickly. After hearing from Burnside that Knoxville was soon to be abandoned, he replied with another option. Confederate General Braxton Bragg, leading the Army of Tennessee, which was before Grant’s troops at Chattanooga, had divided his small army, sending Longstreet against Burnside, while he held Grant at bay. Almost everyone was certain that Burnside couldn’t hold against Longstreet (except, perhaps, Longstreet). Bragg knew… Read More

Burnside Wants to ‘Risk a Battle,’ but Promptly Decides to Retreat from Knoxville Instead

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November 13, 1863 (Friday) Union General Ambrose Burnside’s career thus far in the war wasn’t exactly one that might be fondly recalled. His mistep as a corps commander at Antietam, plus the Battle of Fredericksburg – not to mention the Mud March – told many all they needed to know about this bewhiskered officer. Now, he was in Knoxville, Tennessee with a force numbering around 20,000. To the south and across the Tennessee River, was James Longstreet’s Corps, detached from General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and detached again from Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Longstreet had arrived near the south bank a few days prior, but was now clearly planning to assault the Federals at Knoxville. Burnside received word that the Rebels were “placing guns in positions this evening in the works on the south side of the river” near Loudon. He deduced that Longstreet was about to cross, but wasn’t exactly sure where. While he had fumbled in the past, he wanted to make certain that he did not do it again. “I… Read More

Rebels from Canada ‘To Invade the United States and Destroy the City of Buffalo!’

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November 12, 1863 (Thursday) Since the start of the war, the Federal government caste a leery eye toward the porous Canadian border. State secrets could very well travel overland through Pennsylvania and New York, and pass through the all-too-willing hands of custom agents who may or may not have Secessionist leanings. In 1861, there was a great purge, and all Federal agents were now “proven” to be loyal, but that was more wishful thinking than anything. Still, as the war progressed, a number of Confederates found refuge in the provinces of Canada. The more that gathered to the north, the more brazen their machinations became, until in this early November, an extensive plot to free captured Confederate soldiers was formulated. Johnson’s Island was a prisoner of war camp in Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio. It held roughly 2,500 soldiers, including Generals James Archer and Isaac Trimble, both captured at Gettysburg. In fact, it’s fairly possible that the plot started with Archer – or at least, one particular plot. Shortly after arriving, Archer wrote to Richmond… Read More

‘Opprobrious and Threatening Language’ Banned by Butler

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November 11, 1863 (Wednesday) Over the course of 1863, matters in North Carolina had deteriorated, devolving into a bloody Missouri-like existence for everyone. As if it had a perchant to be some kind of border state, Unionist sentiment ran strong in North Carolina. The occupation by Federal troops was a continual struggle for the citizens, who were subjected to raid upon raid, especially in the eastern counties. And as with any society based upon the institution of slavery, the fear of “negro uprisings” was a constant worry. The raids by Yankee soldiers were more in the line of pillaging and luting than anything the Confiscation Acts had in mind. Since the state had already sent most of their men to fight and die for General Lee, there was little anyone could do to check them. Bands of partisan rangers roved about, to be sure, but they were of little help. Things grew more difficult when the Unionists took it upon themselves to form bands and terrorize their secessionist neighbors. To make matters worse, Washington had… Read More

‘Thus We Found Ourselves in a Strange Country’ – Longstreet Almost Arrives Near Knoxville

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November 10, 1863 (Tuesday) General Grant feared that James Longstreet’s Corps, sent forth from Chattanooga to attack Ambrose Burnside’s Federals at Knoxville, would arrive before he was able to stop it or even draw it back. But on the morning of this date, some of Longstreet’s Corps was still waiting at Tyner’s Station, no more than fifteen miles outside of Chattanooga. They had been there since November 4th. The move was to be one of quick secrecy, but word had already leaked out, and Longstreet was making horrible time. “My recollections of the place,” wrote Porter Alexander, Longstreet’s artillery chief, “are only those of the struggled we had to get enough to eat, for no preparations had been made for any such delay.” Most of Longstreet’s Corps had already moved, arriving by train at Sweetwater, sixty miles northeast, as early as the 6th. Some units were forced to march to Cleveland, about thirty miles down the line from Chattanooga, and weren’t picked up by the trains until the 8th and 9th. Still at Tyner Station,… Read More

Grant Plans and Replans – ‘Thomas Will Attack Vigorously’

Very approximate map, please.

November 9, 1863 (Monday) Since last we checked in with General Grant at Chattanooga, several things had transpired worth a closer look. On the 6th, a Confederate deserter named Lt. A.C.A. Huntington from the 8th Georgia Infantry, came into the Federal camp. He was from James Longstreet’s Corps and had quite the tale to tell. His claim was that he was born in the north, but moved to Georgia prior to the war. After being caught up in the net of conscription, he found himself in the Army of Northern Virginia. For some reason or another, he picked November of 1863 to finally desert. With him, he carried the news that Longstreet’s Corps had been ordered by Braxton Bragg to East Tennessee to attack Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Ohio at Knoxville. The news, thus far, was correct. But camp rumor being what it was, the additional post script about General Lee sending more troops from Virginia to join with Longstreet was simply wishful rebel thinking. Lee had problems of his own and could spare… Read More

‘I Certainly Expected He Would Fight’ – Lee Retreats Across the Rapidan

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November 8, 1863 (Sunday) “The loss of this position made it necessary to abandon the design of attacking the force that had crossed at Kelly’s Ford, and the army was withdrawn to the only tenable line between Culpeper Court House and the Rappahannock, where it remained during the succeeding day.” – General Robert E. Lee. Lee had been taken by surprise the previous day. Meade’s Army came up quickly, overwhelmed the pickets on the north side of the Rappahannock, and, after a bloody struggle in the early dark, forced the Confederates back across the river. At Kelly’s Ford, however, three entire corps had crossed, and the rest of the Union Army was sure to follow. A fog had settled thickly in the small valley, allowing Lee to slip away with little notice. He established a new line of battle a mile and a half beyond Brandy Station, guarding the town of Culpeper. Unable to see across the river, Federals near the railroad crossing could not tell whether the enemy that had been in their front… Read More

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