The Battle of Fort Sanders a part of the Knoxville Campaign was fought November 29th 1863, hastening the end of the Siege of Knoxville.
When a Union force occupied Knoxville, Tennessee, engineer Captain Orlando M Poe built several earthwork fortifications around the city, including Fort Sanders to the west of Knoxville. The Fort was 70 feet higher than the surrounding plateau, and included a ditch 12 feet wide and 4 to 10 feet deep. The fort was held by 440 men of the 79th New York Infantry with 12 cannon.
Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet was ordered to the area of Knoxville to prevent Union Major General Ambrose E Burnside from moving his troops to support Union troops at Chattanooga, Tennessee. Longstreet decided that Fort Sanders was the best place to attempt a break in the Union line.
On November 29th 1863 the assault began, which quickly went wrong due to poor planning and unknown obstacles the Confederate soldier would run into. In the very early morning hours Longstreet’s men moved to within 130 yards of the Fort, and then waited for dawn in a freezing rain. The men first encountered telegraph wire which had been strung about knee high, then reaching the ditch they found the ground to steep, frozen and slippery to get up. The Union soldiers defending the Fort shot into the massed Confederates below them with deadly fire. As the Confederates attempt to reach the top, they climbed up each other. For a short time the flags of the 13th Mississippi, 16th Georgia, and 17th Mississippi Infantry were planted at the top of the ditch, but color bearers were quickly shot down.
Twenty minutes into the attack Longstreet had it called off. Union soldiers captured over 200 Confederates, stuck in the ditch. The casualties were quite lopsided, with the Confederates loosing 813 to the Union’s 13 looses.