East TN during the Civil War, was a main source of basic food supplies for the Confederacy. Since many
of the farmers in our region were not slave owners, and many supported the Union flags, a lot of the
food supply may well have been available to Union Forces. But mainly, if you look at the flow of the
rivers to the south and west, and the railroad connections from Virginia to Chattanooga. A farmer’s
livelihood depended on distribution centers like Knoxville to distribute their goods. i.e green beans,
tomatoes, and corn, and beef. Slavery was not a good economic option for these farmers, located in the
narrow hilly country valleys in East TN . There were some, but not a lot. You might have found a bigger
concentration of slaves in the area of Knoxville, but mostly of the domestic servant variety.
Hanging in one of my interview rooms is an original copy of the New York Times dated 9/10/1863 and in
the center of the front page is a report about Union Forces occupying Knoxville, Tn.
This was early September, less than 10 weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Fall of Vicksburg.
The Gettysburg Address had not yet been delivered or even written. Commanding Confederate forces in
the West, General Braxton Bragg was withdrawing his forces in Central Tennessee, in order to mass
forces for a battle brewing in and around Chattanooga, called Chickamauga.
General Bragg felt he needed the forces guarding Knoxville, for the upcoming battle. The withdrawal
left a void of military presence in Knoxville, with a token force guarding East Tennessee based primarily
at Cumberland Gap. Approaching from Ohio, Union forces outnumbered and surrounded the garrison at
Cumberland Gap and forced it’s surrender.
The Union forces occupied Knoxville virtually unopposed. A major breadbasket of the South had been
closed for business for the Confederate military. Train use was stymied with Sweetwater becoming a
major point of interest for the Confederate Army. From Sweetwater, northeast to Abington the railway
was denied to the Confederacy.
Generals Bragg and Longstreet were not the best of friends. Mutual contempt may have been a better
description. Longstreet was ordered to help Bragg at Chickamauga. He was relieved after Chickamauga,
to be ordered to recapture Knoxville. He wanted to get back to Virginia away from General Bragg. His
men’s shoes had deteriorated from the journey from Virginia to Chattanooga. They needed supplies
and winter clothing were supposed to be waiting on him in Sweetwater, they did not arrive. The Union
forces had almost 3 months to prepare Knoxville for the upcoming battle. The hill we now travel called
17 th Street, was chosen as an anchor defense position. General Longstreet was suffering from depression
not only from the deaths of his children due to illness, but, the losses his army had suffered and the
hunger due to lack of supplies. About 900 casualties suffered in the short battle at Fort Sanders. Mostly
Confederate men ordered to attack up the hill, and then ordered to retreat back down the killing
grounds of that same hill. All on both sides were later recognized as American Veterans. You should visit
the local grave yards. To learn of the cost and sacrifice on both sides.