November 29, This day during the American Civil War

November 29, 1863 – The Battle of Fort Sanders was the decisive engagement of the Knoxville Campaign of the American Civil War, fought in Knoxville, Tennessee, on November 29, 1863. Assaults by Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet failed to break through the defensive lines of Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, resulting in lopsided casualties, and the Siege of Knoxville entered its final days. The assault, conducted on November 29, 1863, was poorly planned and executed. Longstreet discounted the difficulties of the physical obstacles his infantrymen would face. He had witnessed, through field glasses, a Union soldier walking across the ditch and, not realizing that the man had crossed on a plank, believed that the ditch was very shallow. He also believed that the steep walls could be negotiated by digging footholds, rather than requiring scaling ladders. The Confederates moved to within 120-150 yards of the salient during the night of freezing rain and snow and waited for the order to attack. Their attack at dawn has been described as “cruel and gruesome by 19th century standards. They were initially confronted by telegraph wire that had been strung between tree stumps at knee height, possibly the first use of such wire entanglements in the Civil War, and many men were shot as they tried to untangle themselves. When they reached the ditch, they found the vertical wall to be almost insurmountable, frozen and slippery. Union soldiers rained murderous fire into the masses of men, including musketry, canister, and artillery shells thrown as hand grenades. Unable to dig footholds, men climbed upon each other’s shoulders to attempt to reach the top. A succession of color bearers was shot down as they planted their flags on the fort. For a brief time, three flags reached the top, those of the 16th Georgia, 13th Mississippi, and 17th Mississippi.



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