Fort Sanders, and Knoxville History


Today, Nov. 29 , marks the 150th Anniversary of the Attack on Fort Sanders in Knoxville.  On a cold, dark morning 150 years ago, Confederate General James Longstreet launched his ill-fated attack on the northwest bastion of the fort in an attempt to push Union General Ambrose Burnside out of the city. Unfortunately, as we all know now, the attack ended in disaster for the Southerners, as they lost approximately 800 men to a Federal loss of less than 20.  Innacurate Confederate information stated that the fort’s protective ditch was only a few feet deep, but as the attacking troops found out,  it had been significantly deepened and the fort strenghtened. Inside the fort was the 79th New York Infantry and other Union forces and artillery. Fort Sanders, unfortunately, is little known as a battle outside this area or except in Civil War historical circles. When many  people in this area hear Fort Sanders they usually think of either the hospital or the houses and apartments occupied by UT students. Many people drive past the historical marker for the fort ( or many of the other markers in the city ) and don’t read them, or they just glance at the words without thinking of what they really mean. Many people don’t realize that there were gun emplacements, fortifications, rifle pits, etc, all over Knoxville, or that the city was even under siege. Burnside’s headquarters is marked by a plaque on the wall of a French restaurant downtown, and Longstreet’s headquarters, Confederate Memorial Hall ( known to locals as Bleak House ) is known sometimes only as a place to get married. As you make your way around Knoxville on your daily errands, please take a moment to read a marker, look at the terrain and try to picture the men of both sides struggling here in the winter of 1863. Go across the river to Fort Dickerson park, or visit the McClung Museum on UT campus or the East Tennessee History Center on Gay Street. The next time you go to a concert at the Bijou Theater, think about Fort Sanders’ namesake,  William Sanders, the Union officer killed in the siege who died in the Lamar House, which became the Bijou. Knoxville is rich in history and it is up to us to keep the memory of those who fought and died here alive.