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Pivotal Battle of Campbell Station turns 140 Sunday

Artist Paul Long’s painting “Battle of Campbell Station,” was presented by Doug and Brenda Horne to the town for its Homecoming 1986 celebration and hangs in the Farragut Town Hall.
In early November 1863, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, with two divisions and about 5,000 cavalry, was detached from the Confederate Army of Tennessee near Chattanooga to engage Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside’s Union Department of the Ohio troops at Knoxville.

The advanced elements of Burnside’s command were stationed behind the Holston River at Loudon, 15 miles from Sweetwater. Longstreet planned to cross the river near Loudon at Huff’s Ferry to close in on the Union troops. Burnside, anticipating Longstreet’s plans, readied his men.

“On the night of Nov. 15, we were aroused at midnight and ordered to pack up and get ready to march immediately and burn our shanties,” wrote Pvt. Velorus W. Bruce of the 17th Michigan, “The late order made us very indignant for we thought we were comfortably settled for the winter. But Longstreet had withdrawn his corps from the Confederate army before Chattanooga and started for East Tennessee, and we went to the Tennessee River, near Loudon, on the 14th to prevent his crossing.”

In the predawn hours of Nov. 16, 1863, the Confederates slogged through the mud in a driving rainstorm on the road from Huff’s Ferry to Lenoir’s Station on the railroad. Both armies were now traveling on roughly parallel roads that joined at Campbell's Station, 10 miles ahead, where it then continued to Knoxville. Unable to drag their supply wagons over the sloppy roads, dismayed Union soldiers sometimes living on half-rations disabled and burned them.

“It had been raining for two days, and the roads were in dreadful condition,” reported Capt. William W. Buckley, Battery D, First Rhode Island Light Artillery. “It was almost an impossibility to move artillery. At 11.30 p.m. I had marched three miles and my horses were completely worn out. Lt. Benjamin. 2nd U.S. Artillery, and myself rode back to Gen. Burnside's headquarters and represented the state of things to the general. He ordered ten mule teams turned over to each of us, burning the wagons for that purpose, and also ordered us to abandon the rear part of our caissons if we could not get along with the help of the mule teams.”

“The road from Lenoir's Station to Campbell's Station was very muddy and interrupted with deep holes,” reported Capt. Jacob Roemer, Battery L, 2nd New York Light Artillery, “and we had to hitch on sufficient mule teams to bring the pieces and caissons along. One baggage wagon, disabled on the road, was burned by order of Gen. Burnside, with all its contents and 21 Enfield rifles.”

Although most of the Union supplies in the wagon train were destroyed, the Confederates managed to capture more than 100,000 rounds of rifle ammunition and several hundred artillery rounds.

Despite the difficult conditions, Longstreet and Burnside raced for Campbell’s Station, a settlement where Concord Road, from the south, intersected Kingston Pike to Knoxville. Burnside hoped to reach the crossroads first and continue on to safety. Longstreet planned to reach the crossroads and hold it, which would prevent Burnside from gaining Knoxville and force him to fight outside his fortifications.

By forced marching, Burnside’s army reached the vital intersection and deployed first. The main column arrived at noon with the baggage train just behind. Barely 15 minutes later, Longstreet’s Confederates approached finding the Yankees deployed in a “beautiful position” according to Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaw. Longstreet attempted a double envelopment: attacks timed to strike both Union flanks simultaneously.

Official reports state McLaw’s Confederate division struck with such force that the Union right had to redeploy, but held. Brig. Gen. Micah Jenkins’ Confederate division maneuvered ineffectively as it advanced and was unable to turn the Union left. Burnside ordered his two divisions astride Kingston Pike to withdraw three-quarters of a mile to a ridge in their rear. This was accomplished without incident. The Confederates suspended their attack while Burnside continued his rearward movement to Knoxville.

“Our fire was continued until nearly dark,” wrote Capt. Joseph A. Sims, 24th Indiana Battery, “and all our ammunition being exhausted and the enemy apparently checked, my command was ordered to move at once to Knoxville.”

After more than six hours of fighting, Confederate troops retreated into the woods and Union troops marched the 17 miles into Knoxville and comparative safety.

According to Michigan researcher and writer, Bill Christen, the total number of casualties from that bloody day in Campbell’s Station stands at 492. On the Union side of the ledger there were 31 killed and 202 wounded. The Confederates saw 22 killed and 152 wounded.

“The Union general had managed his retreat from Loudon with skill,” writes Jeffry A. Wert in his book “General James Longstreet.” “only abandoning Lenoir’s Station with some evidence of panic. Conversely, the Confederates battled poor weather, muddy roads, supply problems, and worn animals in their effort to overtake the enemy. The result was that by nightfall on Nov. 16, the Federals were on the march to Knoxville and the safety of the city’s defenses.”

Although 140 years have passed since the Battle of Campbell Station, it is remembered on many of the street signs in West Knoxville such as Battlefront Trail, Union Camp Lane, Federal Boulevard, Battery Hill Circle, Burnside Street and Longstreet Place. Battlefield relics and momentos are also on display at the Farragut Folklife Museum. The men in blue and gray are forever a part of Knoxville’s history.

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