On this day in 1863, Confederates under General James Longstreet fail to defeat a Union force under General Ambrose Burnside at the Battle of Campbell Station near Knoxville, Tennessee.
After the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,in early July 1863, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia,allowed Longstreet to take two divisions to reinforce General Braxton Bragg’s army around Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Confederate leadership realized that they were losing the war in the West, and relief was needed. Longstreet arrived just in time to execute a crucial attack in the Confederate victory at Chickamauga in northern Georgia. He stayed to help Bragg in the siege of Chattanooga, but the two men quarreled frequently. In late October, Union troops drove Longstreet’s force away from Brown’s Ferry, allowing the beleaguered Union troops in Chattanooga to resume shipping supplies via the Tennessee River. This led to a permanent split between the Confederate generals, and Bragg allowed Longstreet to head for eastern Tennessee in an attempt to secure that area for the Confederates. Campbell Station was the first engagement of his attempt to capture Knoxville, an area of intense anti-Confederate sentiment.
Burnside had only about 5,000 men in his command, but he hoped to keep Longstreet moving away from Chattanooga, where Union forces were pinned inside of a Confederate semicircle. Burnside allowed the Rebels to cross the Tennessee River but then realized that Longstreet could trap him along the river. He began a mad race to the strategic crossroads at Campbell Station, even abandoning many of his supply wagons in order to move more quickly. The Yankees reached the intersection first, and Burnside planned to fight a delaying action. Longstreet caught up with him by the late afternoon, and a short battle ensued. A poorly coordinated attack by the Confederates failed to turn Burnside’s flank, and the Union repulsed them with ease. The fighting ended at nightfall, and Burnside escaped into the defenses around Knoxville.
The Union lost 318 men killed and wounded; the Confederates lost 174.