November 17

This Day in History

Civil War

Nov 17, 1863:

The Siege of Knoxville begins

On this day in 1863, Confederate General James Longstreet places the city of Knoxville, Tennessee, under siege. After two weeks and one failed attack, he abandoned the siege and rejoined General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

The Knoxville campaign began in November when Longstreet took 17,000 troops from Chattanooga and moved to secure eastern Tennessee for the Confederates. Longstreet's corps was normally part of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, but after the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in July 1863, Longstreet took two of his divisions to shore up the Confederate effort in the West. He and his troops participated in the victory at Chickamauga in September and the siege of Chattanooga in October and November. Longstreet quarreled with Braxton Bragg, the Confederate commander in the West, and was given independent command of the Department of East Tennessee.

Longstreet took his troops and moved toward Knoxville. Facing him was General Ambrose Burnside and 5,000 Yankees. Burnside fought a delaying action at Campbell Station on November 16 before retreating into the Knoxville defenses. The next day, Longstreet pulled into position around the north side of the city, but could not cut off supplies to the Union troops. Longstreet waited for reinforcements to arrive, which they did on November 28. He attacked, but was repulsed with heavy loses. Longstreet continued the siege in order to draw troops away from Chattanooga. The ruse worked, and 25,000 Union troops were dispatched from Chattanooga to chase Longstreet's force away.

Ultimately, Longstreet retreated back to Virginia. His Knoxville campaign was disappointing for the Confederates, who had hoped to secure eastern Tennessee. Longstreet rejoined Lee in the spring after his disappointing turn as head of an independent command.

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