Battle of Campbell's Station (November 16, 1863)

The engagement at Campbell’s Station occurred as a result of Union General Ambrose Burnside’s decision to fight a delaying action against the Confederate forces of Lieut. Gen. James Longstreet moving to invest Knoxville. Longstreet’s First Corps was detached from the Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga following the Battle of Chickamauga to retake Knoxville from Burnside’s Army of the Ohio.

Following delays due to logistical difficulties, Longstreet’s army of roughly twenty thousand men crossed the Tennessee River at Huff’s Ferry on the night of November 13, 1863. Burnside began retreating along the line of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad back towards Knoxville. Longstreet, sensing an opportunity to bring his adversary to battle outside Knoxville’s fortifications, attempted to catch Burnside and force him into a pitched battle. Aggressive Confederate cavalry wreaked havoc among Burnside’s supply wagons and reserve artillery trains, and owing to a shortage of mules, the Federals abandoned several wagons for enough mules to pull the artillery. Burnside determined to give battle long enough to allow his wagons some respite, and he deployed his forces on November 16 at Campbell’s Station to meet the oncoming Confederates. The road to Knoxville ran through a valley at this point, and Burnside placed his artillery on each flanking ridge. A series of farmsteads provided terrain suitable for maneuver around the knolls and ridges.

The Confederate army debouched from the timber into the clearing at about noon, advancing toward the Union positions in two lines. Federal soldiers opened up their firing at long range, but the Confederates pressed on until they were close enough to charge the Union lines, forcing the bluecoats to give way. At this point, Federal artillery opened up to check the Confederate advance. Longstreet ordered Brig. Gen. Micah Jenkins’s division to attack the Federal left while Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws’s division attempted to outflank the Union right once Jenkins’s attack got underway. Jenkins’s attack stalled when his brigades had trouble keeping up with the Federals as they recoiled from a Confederate artillery barrage; a stand of oaks also impeded his troops as they attempted to deploy. The resulting confusion halted the attack as the Federals continued their retrograde movement. Longstreet halted McLaws’s advance on the left as the Union army fell back about three-quarters of a mile to a stronger defensive position. Nightfall ended the engagement.

McLaws subsequently maintained that the Confederates could have reached a crossroads near Campbell’s Station before the Federals on the night of November 15, and that he had sent a letter informing General Longstreet of a road leading in that direction. Longstreet supposedly never replied, and it must be remembered that McLaws’s claims were made during a subsequent court-martial over his performance during the assault on Fort Sanders at Knoxville on November 29. It seems clear that poor timing and the intent of the Federal army to retreat once its supply trains were safely away foiled Longstreet’s double-envelopment strategy. Burnside retreated into Knoxville, and the siege was on. Federal casualties were about 400; the Confederates lost about 570 men during the engagement at Campbell’s Station.

Tennessee Historical Marker at U.S. 11 and 70, 0.6 miles west of Concord Road.

Suggested Reading

Frank J. Welcher, The Union Army, 1861-1865, Vol. 2.

Published » December 30, 2009