Knoxville was the key city in the middle of a contentious area known for divided loyalties. Most of the area was anti-secession and tended to side with the Union cause, making Confederate military control tenuous at best. The East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad and the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad intersected in Knoxville, creating a vital supply and communication connection to all parts of the Confederacy. Union sympathizers continuously disrupted rail traffic in the area, however, burning bridges and destroying track. [See the Bridge-to-Bridge tour.] Union forces under Gen. Ambrose Burnside finally pushed the Confederates out of Knoxville in September 1863. Nearly three months later the Confederates tried to re-take the city but failed after a bloody fiasco at Fort Sanders.
Good book: Divided Loyalites: Fort Sanders and the Civil War in East Tennessee by Digby Gordon Seymour. Published by and available from the East Tennessee Historical Society.
Visiting Knoxville’s Civil War sites
Knoxville Visitor Center
301 Gay St, Knoxville TN 37902
Call or stop by the visitor center for a free copy of a very good Civil War driving tour brochure.
Knoxville: A Divided City
Trails sign located at 100 W Main St, Knoxville TN 37902
Simultaneous rallies supporting secession and the Union were held in this deeply divided city April 27, 1861, just days after the surrender of Fort Sumter in Charleston. Future President Andrew Johnson, then Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson delivered a speech favoring the Union at the corner of Church and Clay Streets while a Confederate band marched nearby.
1327 Circle Park Drive, on UT Campus, Knoxville TN 37916
The museum’s rich “Civil War in Knoxville” exhibit contains artifacts, photographs and much more on the city during the war. Much on the Battle of Fort Sanders here, fought just a few blocks away in November 1863.
Open Monday–Saturday 9 am–5 pm, Sunday 1–5 pm. Free.
Confederate Memorial Hall (Bleak House)
3148 Kingston Pike, Knoxville TN 37919
ConfederateHThis fine mansion, completed in 1858, was the headquarters for Confederate Gens. James Longstreet and Lafayette McLaws during the siege of Knoxville in November 1863. The tower was a good vantage point to view the Battle of Fort Sanders about a mile away. Sharpshooters stationed in the house tower traded shots with their Union counterparts during the fighting. Three Confederates died when a Union artillery shell hit the tower. Bloodstains and scars from the incident are still visible in the tower today. Guided tours of the house include museum areas and restored furnished rooms including the room Longstreet used. Site owned and operated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Open March–December on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 1–4 pm. Last tour begins at 3:15 pm. Also open by appointment. $5/adult.
Fort Sanders (site)
Trails sign located at Redeemer Church of Knoxville, 1642 Highland Ave, Knoxville TN 37916
Nothing remains of Fort Sanders, site of the crucial battle of the short Confederate siege of Knoxville in November 1863. Believing that Fort Sanders was the most vulnerable point of Knoxville’s Union defenses, Gen. James Longstreet ordered an early-morning attack there Nov. 29, 1863. The 20-minute battle proved a disaster for the Confederates as they plunged into a deep ditch in front of the earthwork and couldn’t get out. Union defenders shot into the ditch at the helpless attackers, almost at point-blank range. The unsuccessful attack here and the loss of Chattanooga just about sealed the Confederate fate in Eastern Tennessee. Longstreet withdrew from Knoxville and spent much of the winter miles away, east of the city.
Today a few monuments and historical markers on the edge of the University of Tennessee are all that remain of the Fort Stevens site. Monument to the 79th NY Highlanders is located at 16th Street and Clinch Avenue. A monument to Confederate veterans of the battle is located a block west at the top of the hill on 17th Street.
Fort Dickerson Road SW, Knoxville TN 37920
One of the Union forts built to protect the southern approaches to Knoxville, Fort Dickerson is now part of a city park. Confederates under Gen. Joseph Wheeler attacked the place Nov 15-16, 1864, but were turned back. Great views of Knoxville and the Tennessee River from here and good maps of the action around Knoxville during the war. Trails sign.
Trails sign located in Highground Park at 800 Cherokee Trail, Knoxville
This is the southwestern-most position on the ring of Union fortifications protecting Knoxville. After probing the Federal defenses in November 1863, Confederate Gen. James Longstreet decided to attack north of the river at Fort Sanders Nov. 29. Diversionary cannon fire kept Union defenders occupied in this area during the unsuccessful attack.
East Tennessee Historical Society Museum
601 S Gay St, Knoxville TN 37901
Some historical displays. Best known for its genealogical work with its “Civil War Families in Tennessee” project. Open 10 am–4 pm Monday–Saturday, 1–5 pm Sunday.
Mabry-Hazen House and Bethel Cemetery
1711 Dandridge Ave, Knoxville TN 37915
Located on the highest hill in downtown Knoxville, this house and grounds hosted soldiers from both sides during the war. Tours of the home feature more than 2,000 family artifacts and a nice Civil War display.
The nearby Bethel Cemetery, burial site of more than 1,600 Confederate and 50 Union soldiers. The burials include several hundred soldiers killed in the Battle of Fort Sanders. Cemetery is open daylight hours. A small museum is open 10 am-3 pm Saturdays.
House open Wednesday–Friday 11 am–5 pm, Saturday 10 am–3 pm. Bethel Cemetery open Saturdays 10 am–3 pm. $5/adult. Trails sign.
Ramsey House Plantation
Trails sign at 2614 Thorngrove Pike, Knoxville TN 37914
This was the home of James Ramsey, a state historian and head of a prominent Confederate family in Eastern Tennessee. His entire family supported the Southern cause, his five sons serving in the army. During the war his house was burned and he was left nearly penniless.
Farragut Folklife Museum/Battle of Campbell’s Station
Farragut Town Hall, 11408 Municipal Center Drive, Farragut TN 37934
Farragut Highlight here is a collection of items belonging to Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, who was born in the area. He’s probably most famous as the man who ordered, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,” at the Battle of Mobile Bay. The collection includes his personal china, letters, family photographs and uniform ornamentation. A map of the Battle of Campbell’s Station, fought nearby Nov. 16, 1863, is also found here. Union forces under Gen. Ambrose Burnside barely reached the Campbell’s Station intersection first in a race with Gen. James Longstreet for Knoxville. Burnside held off Confederate attacks and withdrew into the city. Open Monday-Friday 10 am-4:30 pm. Free. Trails sign.
Admiral Farragut’s Birthplace
Trails sign in Admiral Farragut Park, 9950 S Northside Drive, Knoxville TN
David Glasgow Farragut, Civil War navy hero, was born here July 5, 1801. Despite strong ties to the South, Farragut stayed with the Union navy and became famous for his action during the Battle of Mobile Bay. Warned of mines, he famously ordered: “Damn the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!” during the battle that closed the last major Gulf Confederate port.
Knoxville National Cemetery
939 Tyson St NW, Knoxville TN 37917
Union burials here include soldiers who died during the Battle of Fort Sanders and several United States Colored Troops. The Old Gray Cemetery is next door.
Old Gray Cemetery
543 N. Broadway, Knoxville TN 37917
Old Knoxville cemetery, dedicated in 1852, holds the remains of both Union and Confederate sympathizers, befitting of Knoxville’s divided loyalties.