Longstreet and the Knoxville Campaign.

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major bill

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So having just finished Judith Lee Hallock's book "General James Longstreet in the West: A Monumental Failure", I was wondering about the Knoxville Campaign. Hallock seems much harsher than most authors on Longstreet's performance in the West, however, many authors are not completely happy with Longstreet and the Knoxville Campaign.

Longstreet was ordered to try and capture Knoxville and he gave it a shot. Did the Knoxville Campaign have any real chance of success or was it doomed from the start? I am not sure what other use of Longstreet's men would have been better. Perhaps having Longstreet stay with Bragg would have been a better option.
 

major bill

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I have read other authors' works on the Knoxville Campaign and no author is overly kind to Longstreet. Once Burnside got to Knoxville he was in a fairly strong position. Still Longstreet might have been able to take the place. Taking Knoxville and holding it is two different things.
 

Sorah_45thVA

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As a Knoxville native and resident I've read more about this campaign than almost any other and I'll say that it had a very low chance of success. With Forts Sanders, Higley, Dickerson etc, Confederate artillery was vastly incapable of doing the job. Combined with Longstreets inflexibility, his blunders with his subordinates, and his attitude after Gettysburg and his bad experience with Bragg and The AOT all culminated in a half hearted attempt at Knoxville. Lastly, he thought his ability, his corps, and his command head and shoulders above a backwater campaign in East Tennessee. Would you agree? Or am I way off base?
 
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Sorah_45thVA

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One of the great "what ifs" what if something had happened to Lee and Longstreet had been tasked with command of the ANV? Would he have been up to the task or was he a better #2 than a#1?
Going off the Knoxville Campaign and the Jenkins/Law dispute, I'd wager to bet he couldn't handle The ANV. But I'm also biased, and dont care for Longstreet haha. His timeliness is a huge problem as well.. He could barely get a Corps in position in a timely manner, how could he coordinate several? Someone please correct me if I'm wrong haha.
 

lelliott19

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I believe the information I posted in a Jan 2019 thread will be of great interest to your question @major bill Since my brigade was one of those selected to make the assault on Fort Sanders (and lost significantly during same) it's actually one campaign I know a little something about.
I've re-posted the info from the previous thread below so you wont have to go looking for it. :D
 
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redbob

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Going off the Knoxville Campaign and the Jenkins/Law dispute, I'd wager to bet he couldn't handle The ANV. But I'm also biased, and dont care for Longstreet haha. His timeliness is a huge problem as well.. He could barely get a Corps in position in a timely manner, how could he coordinate several? Someone please correct me if I'm wrong haha.
I have to at least appreciate his eye for talent in Moxley Sorrel (anyone that shares my last name is all right with me).
 

redbob

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I believe his thread for Jan 2019 will be of great interest to your question @major bill Since my brigade was one of those selected to make the assault on Fort Sanders (and lost significantly during same) it's actually one campaign I know a little something about. I posted a number of replies in the thread, so wont repost them all here but encourage you to read through the thread and let me know what you think.
https://civilwartalk.com/threads/why-did-longstreet-do-poorly-in-independent-command.153312/#post-1960952
Knoxville is one of those campaigns that seem to get lost in the shuffle, and if you attempt to walk the ground in Knoxville, you wander through student housing, apartments, stores, a fire station and a large hospital and all of one monument to units that fought there. Then there is the problem of the Big Orange onslaught as the University of Tennessee sprawl covers the area.
 
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Sorah_45thVA

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Knoxville is one of those campaigns that seem to get lost in the shuffle, and if you attempt to walk the ground in Knoxville, you wander through student housing, apartments, stores, a fire station and a large hospital and all of one monument to units that fought there. Then there is the problem of the Big Orange onslaught as the University of Tennessee sprawl covers the area.
Tell me about it... They have preserved Forts Dickerson and Higley remarkably well though. Also, The Bleak House which was Longstreets HQ is remarkable.
 
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lelliott19

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Knoxville is one of those campaigns that seem to get lost in the shuffle,
You're right @redbob and since the discussion of Knoxville in that previous thread kind of got lost in the shuffle and mixed in with stuff about Suffolk and Chancellorsville, I decided to repost it here, since this thread is entitled "Longstreet & the Knoxville Campaign" - just so anyone interested doesn't have to wade through to find it. So here goes...

The Assault on Fort Sanders
Speaking strictly of the Assault on Fort Sanders (and not of the entire Knoxville/East TN campaign) I believe that Longstreet had a "dangerous confidence" -- ironically, something he accused Lee of in this 1893 interview https://civilwartalk.com/threads/interview-longstreet-says-lee-had-a-dangerous-confidence.151641/

Before you rebut, let me explain. When Confederates controlled Knoxville, they had initiated construction of the earthworks they called "Fort Loudon." The CS Army left Knoxville and Burnside occupied it Sept 3, 1863. The fortification was later renamed "Fort Sanders" in honor of Col. William Price Sanders (5th KY US; born in KY; raised in MS; Sanders was mortally wounded November 18, 1863 by a bullet fired by a Confederate sharpshooter from the tower of the Bleak House.) This was 11 days prior to the CS assault on the fortifications at Knoxville, known as the Battle of Fort Sanders. Fort Loudon was renamed in his honor.

On November 24, a detail of 169 men from the 2nd Michigan made an attack on the Confederate rifle pit west of the fort. About 50-60 of the 2nd MI were killed and a number captured. Afterwards, a flag of truce was observed to retrieve the wounded. So L likely knew the approximate size of Burnside's garrison force (375 +/- infantry 2nd MI, 20th MI, 29th MA, 79th NY; 120+/- artillery Roemer's, Benjamin's, & Buckley's; about 500+/- TOTAL)

L lacked a large enough force to make an effective assault along the entire length of the fortifications, but certainly had a much larger force (than the garrison force.) The siege had been mostly successful in preventing supplies from reaching Burnside inside the Fort. From the prisoners, L also knew that Burnside had been without provisions for days. Danville Leadbetter, Bragg's engineer, had been sent to Knoxville. He claimed to know about the construct of Fort Loudon (now Fort Sanders.)

On Nov 27th, while scouting, L watched through field glasses as a Union picket walked out to the line. Longstreet commented that the ditch struck him about the waist, so he presumed it was shallow. Through the field glasses and across the distance, L could not see the plank the man walked on, stretched over the deep ditch. Based on the estimated strength of Burnside's force, the mile of open ground in front, and his reconnaissance, L eventually determined that the NW bastion was the best place to attack Fort Sanders.

Humphrey's Mississippians (Barksdale's old brigade) and Wofford's Georgians were selected as the brigades to make the assault, supported by Bryan's brigade (previously Paul J Semmes' brigade.) Morale was high in these brigades; their last major engagement had been at Gettysburg, where they met with some success in the Peach Orchard and Wheatfield on July 2, 1863. Because of the superiority of his own force, the small size of Burnside's garrison force, the speed with which he intended the assault to occur, and the morale, courage, and devotion of the men in the selected brigades,
I honestly don't think L or McLaws thought there was any way they would fail. Will be interested to read the opinions of others in response to this theory.

...Not a cannon of the enemy had been fired from midnight up to this moment. When the command was given to charge, we rushed across the railroad up the hill, giving the rebel yell. Now the battle is on and up the hill we go, over brush and tree laps – for all the timber had been cut and felled down the hill, amidst shot and shell, grapes and canister. We have now reached the ditch at the foot of the fort. This was five feet deep and six feet wide, and along the edge the enemy had stretched telegraph wires to trip us and throw us in the ditch. We went up to it and saw that it was full of our men and that the enemy were throwing ten-second shells into the ditch killing the men who were in there. Now the top of this fort was about 15 feet above the bottom of the ditch, and the wall of the fort was covered with a sheet of ice, water having been thrown on it the previous night to freeze, that we might not be able to scale it. Finding that we were unable to take the fort, for everything was in such great confusion that we would not hear a single command for the roar of musketry and cannon, as the cannons in the fort were belching their contents of death through the port holes, mowing down our men, as we fell back leaving a number of dead and dying on the field.... ~Pvt. James W Lord (C/18GA) Wofford's Brigade

...The path in which the brigade charged over was obstructed by every impediment that could be thought of, by piles of brush, ditches, and a perfect network of wire, which was fastened to the stumps of trees in front of the fort. But inspite[sic] of all these impediments and a terrible fire both from the right and left as well as the fort, the brigade passed on until it came up to the fort, when the gallant band found that they could do no more. It was impossible for mortal man to get into it. It was surrounded by a ditch eight feet wide and ten feet deep. Our men got in this ditch and tried to climb up the sides, but as I said before, this was impossible. A few gallant men managed to reach the top of the fort, but they were shot dead instantly by the enemy from the inside. After remaining there for the space of fifteen minutes exposed to a most terrible fire, and finding it impossible to scale the fort, the brigade was ordered to fall back to its original position before the charge. Never did men act more gallantly, but the task was too great... ~ Pvt. Andrew Jackson Bell (C/18GA) Wofford's Brigade

....I thought during the fight, & still think, that my men suffered more from the Enemies line of breastworks on the right & left of the Fort, than from the Fort, I mean from the small arms, the greatest loss being from hand grenades. ~ Goode Bryan to Lafayette McLaws, January 16, 1864.

….The assault lasted about 15 minutes, and was one of the most disastrous in its results in the history of the war. The Confederate loss was 129 killed, 458 wounded, and 225 prisoners. Total 813. The Union loss in the fort was seven killed and eight wounded.….~ S. A. Ranlett, Adjutant, 36th Massachusetts
 
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lelliott19

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Prior to the Assault on Fort Sanders
Maybe at another time, I'll write more about what happened between Nov. 12 at Sweetwater and Nov. 18, when Longstreet's forces arrived outside of Knoxville. Prior to Nov 12, there were train and supply troubles. For now, regarding Nov 12-18, I'll just say that Longstreet was not completely idle for those 6 days.:D

And it should be noted that Burnside's force of 5000 was engaging and continually retreating back to Knoxville. Their purpose was more to figure out exactly where Longstreet was headed, "draw" him to Knoxville, and prevent him from returning to Chattanooga to reinforce Bragg - not to seriously engage. So the fact that Longstreet wasn't able to seriously engage before they reached Knoxville, is more due to continual movement, than tactical errors. There were tactical and command errors - don't get me wrong. Hood had been wounded at Chickamauga and L had to deal with Jenkins and Law who were both vying for command of Hood's old division. If you dont know about that, Ill be happy to address it, but it seriously compromised L's success in those engagements prior to arrival at Knoxville and probably had a lot to do with why he selected brigades from McLaws' division for the assault on Fort Sanders.

Was Burnside's Performance "Particularly" Competent?
I don't think I'd call it particularly competent. Maybe a more accurate assessment would be "adequate." He accomplished what he saw as the major strategic objectives. He was able to occupy Knoxville, but the rebels had already left when he arrived, so it was basically uncontested. Nothing remarkable there. He was unable to relieve Rosecrans at Chickamauga, but he received orders late and the distance was too great. So you can't really hold that against him. He was able to "draw" Longstreet to Knoxville, and prevent him from returning to Chattanooga. But Longstreet was headed to Knoxville anyway. Burnside's garrison force was able to repulse the assault on Fort Sanders November 29, 1863, resulting in a large number of Confederate casualties.

I'd say Burnside's victory at Fort Sanders resulted more from luck and Longstreet's shortcomings, than from remarkable leadership on Burnside's part. Had Longstreet pushed forward on November 18th when he arrived in Knoxville, a direct assault on the fortifications might have been successful. If Bragg had not sent his engineer, Danville Leadbetter, who claimed to know about the construct of the Fort, Longstreet might have been compelled to do more thorough reconnaissance. Better reconnaissance might have revealed the significance of the ditch. Had another point been selected for the Nov 29 assault, Longstreet might have been successful. I don't think Burnside was as inept as history has painted him. I believe he was doing what he was capable of, as the situation presented. He was intelligent, charismatic, humble, and he was "competent"-- but he was not remarkable. Had he never been placed in command of the Army of the Potomac, I believe that, today, he would just be viewed as another "adequate" corps or division commander.
 
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redbob

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You're right @redbob and since the discussion of Knoxville in that previous thread kind of got lost in the shuffle and mixed in with stuff about Suffolk and Chancellorsville, I decided to repost it here, since this thread is entitled "Longstreet & the Knoxville Campaign" - just so anyone interested doesn't have to wade through to find it. So here goes...

The Assault on Fort Sanders
Speaking strictly of the Assault on Fort Sanders (and not of the entire Knoxville/East TN campaign) I believe that Longstreet had a "dangerous confidence" -- ironically, something he accused Lee of in this 1893 interview https://civilwartalk.com/threads/interview-longstreet-says-lee-had-a-dangerous-confidence.151641/

Before you rebut, let me explain. When Confederates controlled Knoxville, they had initiated construction of the earthworks they called "Fort Loudon." The CS Army left Knoxville and Burnside occupied it Sept 3, 1863. The fortification was later renamed "Fort Sanders" in honor of Col. William Price Sanders (5th KY US; born in KY; raised in MS; Sanders was mortally wounded November 18, 1863 by a bullet fired by a Confederate sharpshooter from the tower of the Bleak House.) This was 11 days prior to the CS assault on the fortifications at Knoxville, known as the Battle of Fort Sanders. Fort Loudon was renamed in his honor.

On November 24, a detail of 169 men from the 2nd Michigan made an attack on the Confederate rifle pit west of the fort. About 50-60 of the 2nd MI were killed and a number captured. Afterwards, a flag of truce was observed to retrieve the wounded. So L likely knew the approximate size of Burnside's garrison force (375 +/- infantry 2nd MI, 20th MI, 29th MA, 79th NY; 120+/- artillery Roemer's, Benjamin's, & Buckley's; about 500+/- TOTAL)

L lacked a large enough force to make an effective assault along the entire length of the fortifications, but certainly had a much larger force (than the garrison force.) The siege had been mostly successful in preventing supplies from reaching Burnside inside the Fort. From the prisoners, L also knew that Burnside had been without provisions for days. Danville Leadbetter, Bragg's engineer, had been sent to Knoxville. He claimed to know about the construct of Fort Loudon (now Fort Sanders.)

On Nov 27th, while scouting, L watched through field glasses as a Union picket walked out to the line. Longstreet commented that the ditch struck him about the waist, so he presumed it was shallow. Through the field glasses and across the distance, L could not see the plank the man walked on, stretched over the deep ditch. Based on the estimated strength of Burnside's force, the mile of open ground in front, and his reconnaissance, L eventually determined that the NW bastion was the best place to attack Fort Sanders.

Humphrey's Mississippians and Wofford's Georgians were selected as the brigades to make the assault, supported by Bryan's brigade. Morale was high in these brigades; their last major engagement had been at Gettysburg, where they met with some success in the Peach Orchard and Wheatfield on July 2, 1863. Because of the superiority of his own force, the small size of Burnside's garrison force, the speed with which he intended the assault to occur, and the morale, courage, and devotion of the men in the selected brigades,
I honestly don't think L or McLaws thought there was any way they would fail. Will be interested to read the opinions of others in response to this theory.

...Not a cannon of the enemy had been fired from midnight up to this moment. When the command was given to charge, we rushed across the railroad up the hill, giving the rebel yell. Now the battle is on and up the hill we go, over brush and tree laps – for all the timber had been cut and felled down the hill, amidst shot and shell, grapes and canister. We have now reached the ditch at the foot of the fort. This was five feet deep and six feet wide, and along the edge the enemy had stretched telegraph wires to trip us and throw us in the ditch. We went up to it and saw that it was full of our men and that the enemy were throwing ten-second shells into the ditch killing the men who were in there. Now the top of this fort was about 15 feet above the bottom of the ditch, and the wall of the fort was covered with a sheet of ice, water having been thrown on it the previous night to freeze, that we might not be able to scale it. Finding that we were unable to take the fort, for everything was in such great confusion that we would not hear a single command for the roar of musketry and cannon, as the cannons in the fort were belching their contents of death through the port holes, mowing down our men, as we fell back leaving a number of dead and dying on the field.... ~Pvt. James W Lord (C/18GA) Wofford's Brigade

...The path in which the brigade charged over was obstructed by every impediment that could be thought of, by piles of brush, ditches, and a perfect network of wire, which was fastened to the stumps of trees in front of the fort. But inspite[sic] of all these impediments and a terrible fire both from the right and left as well as the fort, the brigade passed on until it came up to the fort, when the gallant band found that they could do no more. It was impossible for mortal man to get into it. It was surrounded by a ditch eight feet wide and ten feet deep. Our men got in this ditch and tried to climb up the sides, but as I said before, this was impossible. A few gallant men managed to reach the top of the fort, but they were shot dead instantly by the enemy from the inside. After remaining there for the space of fifteen minutes exposed to a most terrible fire, and finding it impossible to scale the fort, the brigade was ordered to fall back to its original position before the charge. Never did men act more gallantly, but the task was too great... ~ Pvt. Andrew Jackson Bell (C/18GA) Wofford's Brigade

....I thought during the fight, & still think, that my men suffered more from the Enemies line of breastworks on the right & left of the Fort, than from the Fort, I mean from the small arms, the greatest loss being from hand grenades. ~ Goode Bryan to Lafayette McLaws, January 16, 1864.

….The assault lasted about 15 minutes, and was one of the most disastrous in its results in the history of the war. The Confederate loss was 129 killed, 458 wounded, and 225 prisoners. Total 813. The Union loss in the fort was seven killed and eight wounded.….~ S. A. Ranlett, Adjutant, 36th Massachusetts
Now, the trip wires were a nice touch and the first time that I had ever seen it mentioned in discussions about obstructions was at Fort Sanders.
 
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lelliott19

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Supplies & Logistics: How did Burnside Overcome Challenges Other Union Commanders had Encountered at Knoxville?

Confederate railroads already existed in Knoxville. The ET&Ga RR went from Chattanooga to Knoxville. From there, the ET, VA & Ga RR ran to Bristol and the Va&TN RR ran from Bristol to Lynchburg, VA. So the Chattanooga/Knoxville area railroads were a key link between the E & W for the Confederacy.

Col. Wm P Sanders (the same one killed Nov 18 in front of Knoxville) had previously destroyed the section of the RR from Lenoir to Knoxville and burned some of the bridges during his June 1863 raid. When the rebels abandoned the city on Sept 3, they left behind some stores and supplies and the railroad in Knoxville fell under Union control. A small CS rearguard of about 2500 had been left at the Cumberland Gap. They surrendered, so Burnside quickly opened a route to Kentucky, but these routes were over really bad, mountainous roads.

By November 23, Burnside telegraphed Grant that he only had 10-12 days food and, unless relief was forthcoming, he would hold Longstreet until that ran out and then surrender. But, throughout the siege, local Unionists foraged (even inside CS lines) and floated food down the river on rafts which were "caught" by a cable strung across the river. So the perceived logistical complexity may have resulted from under-estimating the Unionist support that would be forthcoming?

Orlando Poe: Burnside's Engineer
Speaking of the cable, I think it was really Orlando Poe (Burnside's engineer) who I would consider particularly competent - if not remarkable? Poe gathered information and drew detailed maps including mills, loyal citizens, tanneries, waterways, etc. These detailed maps provided Burnside with invaluable intelligence. Poe also brought pontoons from Loudon by rail car to facilitate artillery placements. It was Poe who reinforced the Fort; raised the height of the parapets; increased the size of the ditch; had the timber felled in front; created furrowing which funneled assaulting troops toward areas where cannon fire could reach; and arranged for the wire entanglements. He was relentless in his efforts to fortify the earthworks and the fort.

How Could Longstreet Not Have Known the Ditch was so Deep?
In defense of Old Pete, he was relying on the information provided by Danville Leadbetter (Bragg's engineer.) I don't know if you read the previous post, but in case others did not.....when Confederates controlled Knoxville, they had initiated construction of the earthworks they called "Fort Loudon." The CS Army left Knoxville and Burnside occupied it Sept 3, 1863. Fort Loudon was renamed Fort Sanders. Leadbetter claimed to know the construct of the fort. Leadbetters information was wrong. The fort had been seriously improved under direction of Orlando Poe (Burnside's engineer.) Longstreet either didnt consider this possibility OR he relied on Leadbetter to assess and inform. Either way, he quickly learned that he had underestimated. Longstreet definitely put all his eggs in one basket in taking the advice of Danville Leadbetter. It's hard for me to believe that he thought the Fort was still the same it had been.
 
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Sorah_45thVA

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Supplies & Logistics: How did Burnside Overcome Challenges Other Union Commanders had Encountered at Knoxville?

Confederate railroads already existed in Knoxville. The ET&Ga RR went from Chattanooga to Knoxville. From there, the ET, VA & Ga RR ran to Bristol and the Va&TN RR ran from Bristol to Lynchburg, VA. So the Chattanooga/Knoxville area railroads were a key link between the E & W for the Confederacy.

Col. Wm P Sanders (the same one killed Nov 18 in front of Knoxville) had previously destroyed the section of the RR from Lenoir to Knoxville and burned some of the bridges during his June 1863 raid. When the rebels abandoned the city on Sept 3, they left behind some stores and supplies and the railroad in Knoxville fell under Union control. A small CS rearguard of about 2500 had been left at the Cumberland Gap. They surrendered, so Burnside quickly opened a route to Kentucky, but these routes were over really bad, mountainous roads.

By November 23, Burnside telegraphed Grant that he only had 10-12 days food and, unless relief was forthcoming, he would hold Longstreet until that ran out and then surrender. But, throughout the siege, local Unionists foraged (even inside CS lines) and floated food down the river on rafts which were "caught" by a cable strung across the river. So the perceived logistical complexity may have resulted from under-estimating the Unionist support that would be forthcoming?

Orlando Poe: Burnside's Engineer
Speaking of the cable, I think it was really Orlando Poe (Burnside's engineer) who I would consider particularly competent - if not remarkable? Poe gathered information and drew detailed maps including mills, loyal citizens, tanneries, waterways, etc. These detailed maps provided Burnside with invaluable intelligence. Poe also brought pontoons from Loudon by rail car to facilitate artillery placements. It was Poe who reinforced the Fort; raised the height of the parapets; increased the size of the ditch; had the timber felled in front; created furrowing which funneled assaulting troops toward areas where cannon fire could reach; and arranged for the wire entanglements. He was relentless in his efforts to fortify the earthworks and the fort.

How Could Longstreet Not Have Known the Ditch was so Deep?
In defense of Old Pete, he was relying on the information provided by Danville Leadbetter (Bragg's engineer.) I don't know if you read the previous post, but in case others did not.....when Confederates controlled Knoxville, they had initiated construction of the earthworks they called "Fort Loudon." The CS Army left Knoxville and Burnside occupied it Sept 3, 1863. Fort Loudon was renamed Fort Sanders. Leadbetter claimed to know the construct of the fort. Leadbetters information was wrong. The fort had been seriously improved under direction of Orlando Poe (Burnside's engineer.) Longstreet either didnt consider this possibility OR he relied on Leadbetter to assess and inform. Either way, he quickly learned that he had underestimated. Longstreet definitely put all his eggs in one basket in taking the advice of Danville Leadbetter. It's hard for me to believe that he thought the Fort was still the same it had been.
So The City of Knoxville just bought the land to Fort Higley, which was manned by USCT. At the top of the Ramparts they've built a lounging area with a quote from Orlando Poe. Very interesting character he was
 
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