Richard J. LeFevre (1931 - 2000)
watercolor and mixed media on paper
Relieved as head of all Union troops after Fredericksburg, General Ambrose Burnside (shown at right), was back at the head of his IX Corps. Burnside was known for his distinctive facial hair—an extravagantly bushy beard without hair on his chin. In a nod to Burnside, facial hair on the side of a man’s face became known as “sideburns”. Upper East Tennessee, with its principal city of Knoxville, was a generally pro-Union area, and Burnside was tasked with the job of freeing it from Southern forces. When the troops under Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner were withdrawn from Knoxville to support General Braxton Bragg at Chattanooga, Burnside had little opposition as he entered Knoxville on September 3, 1863. General James Longstreet (shown on left) had reinforced General Braxton Bragg during the Battle of Chickamauga, and the two generals were not getting along. Confederate President Jefferson Davis decided to resolve the issue by suggesting that Longstreet lead an attack to regain Knoxville, a key railroad city. After a few skirmishes outside Knoxville, the bulk of Burnside’s forces returned to the city on November 17, where he increased his defenses on a hill west of the city near a former Confederate fortification called Fort Sanders. Headquartered at a house nearby called Bleak House, Longstreet began his siege of Fort Sanders on November 19, but waited for reinforcements that included the chief engineer who had been posted to Knoxville when it was in Confederate hands. Burnside’s forces had increased their defensive posture by placing wire entanglements around tree stumps near the fort. In front of Fort Sanders was a huge ditch, 4-1/2 to 10-feet deep. The ramparts behind the ditch rose at a 45-degree angle and would have normally been covered with planks to help hold up the fort’s walls. On the morning of November 29, 1863, when Longstreet attacked Burnside with three brigades, they found that the Federals had removed the planks over the ditch. With no firm foothold on the icy ground, Confederates who made it to the ditch ended up in the bottom of it, raked by canister and grape shot. The battle lasted only 22 minutes and was an embarrassment for the South with Confederate losses at 129 killed, 458 wounded, 226 captured compared to the Union’s losses of around 20.
Bequest of the Artist
Richard J. LeFevre (1931 - 2000), “Knoxville,” Ewing Gallery Permanent Collection, accessed March 31, 2023, https://ewinggallery.omeka.net/items/show/203.