Saturday, January 12, 2019

Book News: Rediscovering Fort Sanders

It's common knowledge that the city of Knoxville, Tennessee was a point of special interest to both governments on numerous occasions during the war. Under intense political pressure from the opening moments of the conflict, the Union high command struggled to come up with a good plan to occupy East Tennessee and render aid to the region's beleaguered Unionists. The federal military operation that finally did succeed in securing Knoxville and large parts of the surrounding countryside—Ambrose Burnside's 1863 campaign—still has no book-length study (or really any good treatment at all). With no major battles involved in taking Knoxville, it's likely that the absence of those and other kinds of dramatic events have turned away potential authors.

The Confederate attempt to retake Knoxville, however, has received some good attention over the years. Not too long ago, Earl Hess's The Knoxville Campaign: Burnside and Longstreet in East Tennessee (2012) provided interested readers with the most useful general account of that ultimately unsuccessful operation.

Though General Longstreet attempted to force a surrender of the city through quasi-siege operations, a major event that convinced the Confederates that the defenses were too strong to overcome was the spectacularly failed storming of Fort Sanders. Terry and Charles Faulkner will explore this key component of the Knoxville network of fortifications in their upcoming book Rediscovering Fort Sanders: The American Civil War and Its Impact on Knoxville's Cultural Landscape (UT Press, April 2019). From the description: their study "is a unique book that combines a narrative history of pre-Civil War Knoxville, the war years and continuing construction of Fort Sanders, the failed attempts to preserve the postwar fort, and the events which led to its almost total destruction. Research by Terry and Charles Faulkner resulted in two major discoveries: the fort was actually located a block farther to the west then previously recognized, and there are still identifiable remnants of the fortification where none were believed to exist."

The authors employ a multi-disciplinary approach in their investigation. "Methodologically, the Faulkners rely on historical ecology, focusing on extended human interaction with the environment and the resulting changes wrought in the landscape. Thus, they show how the enormous fortification that had thwarted Confederate attackers in 1863 further challenged developers into the next century."

With innovative series titles and standalone works now coming out in steady numbers, University of Tennessee Press has really stepped up their Civil War output over recent catalogs, and I'm looking forward to this one.

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