Civil War Book Review: The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee

The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee
by Earl J. Hess

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Tennessee Press; 1 edition (October 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1572339160
  • ISBN-13: 978-1572339163

The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee by Earl J. HessBurnside and Longstreet, two Civil War generals that can generate strong feelings do battle in East Tennessee.  After Fredericksburg, Burnside is no longer a rising star.  For becoming involved in the Army of Tennessee’s internal politics, Bragg exiles Longstreet there.  Saving the loyal population of East Tennessee from the Confederacy is a political not a military goal.  This is something that Lincoln has pursued since Buell.    Militarily, East Tennessee has little to recommend it.  Most of the roads are poor, the terrain is rough and weather unstable.  The only major objective is the direct railroad line from Chattanooga to Virginia but alternate routes exist.  The “gaps”, mountain passes, are easy to defend.  The South can use them to invade Kentucky, a dismal prospect after 1862.  The North can only use them to invade East Tennessee, which no commander wants to do.

Burnside and two divisions of the IX Corps change the equation.  Transferred west, after Fredericksburg, they are the army of invasion the area needed.  As Rosecrans and Bragg fight it out, Burnside liberates East Tennessee.  After the victory at Chickamauga, Bragg and Longstreet find they cannot “play well together”.  Bragg can find no useful role for Longstreet at Chattanooga.  In a questionable decision, Bragg sends Longstreet to reestablish control of East Tennessee.  Both sides find themselves involved in a campaign that neither really wants, is prepared to fight or has the resources to fully support.  While Knoxville might be a sideshow, the battles are real, wounds as painful and death as finial.

We know Longstreet’s Corps but Burnside’s command is unfamiliar to most of us.  Rather than tie the reader up with tactical details, the author presents operational details as required.  Much of the story is told from a brigade or division perspective.  This allows us to understand the important issues as we follow the course of the campaign.  Additionally, this allows for maps that are more general.  The result is an easy to follow narrative that never bogs down in details but stays focused on the major issues and personalities.   Readers looking for a detailed, brigade regiment level detailed study will not find it here.  This is an excellent look at the whole campaign with emphases on cause, actions and effect.  Each operation builds the foundation for the next one in a logical understandable series of events.

Some use Knoxville to disparage one or both commanders.  The author takes a close look at this in a well-reasoned section on what each did right and wrong.  Longstreet receives most of the coverage here.  Both for what he did do, what he didn’t do and what was possible for him to do.  The court martial and bitterness from Knoxville colored stories and still cause problems for historians.  Again, the author presents this in a fair balance way without an agenda.

This book is an example of why I always read a Hess book.  It is intelligent, informative, covers the subject and fair to all sides.


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