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1863 December 12: The Battle of Fort Sanders and Other War News

December 12, 2013

Following is the summary of the week’s news from both The Polk County Press and The Prescott Journal of December 12, 1863.  Both mention what became known as the Battle of Fort Sanders, which took place on November 29, 1863. While it was the decisive battle of the Knoxville Campaign, it did not get much press in northwest Wisconsin, probably because it followed close on the heels of General Ulysses S. Grant’s victories at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.

On November 29, Confederate General James Longstreet’s forces massed for a pre-dawn attack on the Union earthwork known as Fort Sanders, just west of Knoxville.  The assault, however, was poorly planned and executed.  Incomplete or inaccurate Confederate reconnaissance failed to find the deep ditch in front of the parapet or the telegraph wire that had been strung at knee height (see illustration below).  The Confederate soldiers became entangled in wire and were shot as they tried to untangle themselves, and those who made it past the wire floundered in the ditch, failing to scale the steep wall.  Longstreet called off the disastrous attack after 20 minutes.  As the Confederates retreated, Union soldiers—under the command of General Ambrose E. Burnside—captured over 200 Rebels in the ditch.  It was one of the most lopsided defeats of the war, with the Confederates suffering around 800 casualties compared to the Union’s approximately 100.

The combination of Longstreet’s defeat at Knoxville and General Braxton Bragg’s defeat at Chattanooga meant the effective end of the Siege of Knoxville.  East Tennessee remained under Union control for the remainder of the War.

From The Polk County Press:

The News.

The news of the week we are unable to give our readers on account of non-reception of our late St. Paul papers.

The latest dates we have are only up to the 4th inst.  The Army of the Potomac has ended its campaign in Virginia, and fallen back to Brandy Station.  it accomplished but little, found LEE [Robert E. Lee] intrenched near Orange Court House, too strong to attack.—The army will probably go into winter quarters.

It is again rumored that Meade [George G. Meade] will be removed, and Gen. Warren [Gouverneur K. Warren] is said to be his successor.

Gold, under the influence of Meade’s retreat, went up 4 cents in New York.  It has since fell down to 49 cents.

It is said that the rebels are concentrating for an attack on Fort Smith and Little Rock, Arkansas.

Longstreet has been defeated by Burnside, and is said to be retreating towards Bristol, Tennessee.

Gen. Sherman [William T. Sherman] is marching to Knoxville.  Grant is active, and pushing on his victorious army.

Cincinnati, Dec. 3.—A Chattanooga dispatch of the 2d, says the movements of the army are contraband.—The hospitals are full of the wounded of both armies.

Refugees and deserters report Bragg re-inforced near Dalton by Joe. Johnston [Joseph E. Johnston].

Nothing later from Knoxville.

The Latest.

We stop the press to insert the following

From the Hudson City Times.

The news of the week is not very important.  The Army of the Potomac is back upon its old ground agan [sic], and there are no indications of active operations in that direction for some time.

Bragg has been removed from his command and his army is still retreating from before the victorious columns of Grant.

Longstreet has been severely repulsed at Knoxville and has withdrawn his forces towards Virginia.¹

Assault on Fort Sanders" by Kurz & Allison

Assault on Fort Sanders” by Kurz & Allison¹

From The Prescott Journal:


— The siege of Knoxville terminated last Friday, on which day Longstreet started in full retreat for Virginia.

— Jeff Davis [Jefferson Davis] has removed Bragg from command.  It is supposed that Joe Johnston will take his place.

— Up to noon of Saturday, Dec. 5th, the sum paid for exemptions in this District amounted to sixty thousand dollars, which exempts two hundred drafted men.

— There is no war news of importance.

— Congress assembled at noon on Monday last, and was promptly organized.—COLFAX [Schuyler Colfax], of Indiana, was elected Speaker of the House on the first ballot, receiving 101 out of 181 votes.  McPHERSON, of Pennsylvania, was elected Clerk.  ARNOLD, of Chicago, has given notice that he will introduce a bill to repeal the $300 clause in the conscription law.

— Pro. Mar. Gen. FRY [Provost Marshal General James B. Fry] has telegraphed to Col. LOVEL [sic: Charles S. Lovell], Pro. Mar. of this State, as follows :  You may publish that such sub districts as furnish their quotas by volunteering will receive credit and thus avoid the next draft.

1.   “Assault on Fort Sanders; November 29′ 1863, Union (Gen. Burnside) loss: 8 Kd, 5 Wd, 30 Capt.—Conf. (Gen. Longstreet) loss: over 500 Kd & Wd.” This digital images is from an original 1891 Kurz & Allison print, available at the Library of Congress. The UWRF University Archives & Area Research Center has in its Special Collections a copy of Battles of the Civil War: The Complete Kurz & Allison Prints, 1861-1865, Birmingham, Ala.: Oxmoor House, 1976 (Oversized E 468.7 .B3 1976).

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