“A pretty little repulse”
—Knoxville Campaign —
On November 4, 1863, to divert Federal forces from Chattanooga, Confederate General James Longstreet led two reinforced divisions from the city to attack Union Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's garrison in Knoxville. Burnside confronted Longstreet outside Knoxville then withdrew to his fortifications on November 17, and Longstreet besieged the city. In Chattanooga, after Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's army defeated Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg's forces at the end of the month, Grant ordered Gen. William T. Sherman to reinforce Burnside. As Sherman marched toward Knoxville, Longstreet withdrew on December 4. Sherman soon rejoined Grant.
Walker's Ford, about three miles northeast of here, was of strategic importance during the Civil War, and Union and Confederate forces clashed there late in 1863.
As Union Gen. William T. Sherman and his army approached Knoxville from Chattanooga, Gen. Orlando B. Willcox ordered his cavalry to pressure Confederate Gen. James Longstreet's forces from the north to support Sherman. Willcox sent a mounted brigade under Col. Felix W. Graham south of Clinch River to Maynardville. Longstreet countered by ordering Gen. William T. Martin's cavalry up from south of Maynardville to stop the Federal advance.
Realizing that he could be surrounded
in Maynardville, Graham marched northeast and camped a few miles south of Walker's Ford. Early on December 2, Martin surprised the Federals there and began pushing the outnumbered troopers back toward the Clinch River. Willcox arrived with two regiments of Indiana infantrymen to beat back the Confederate attack and cover the cavalry's retreat.
Early in the fight, Martin attempted to flank the Federals by seizing the next ford, but Graham had observed a gray-clad column ride to the east and correctly deduced its destination. He sent Col. Horace Capron and his 14th Illinois Cavalry to defend the crossing, and armed with 16-shot Henry rifles and four mountain howitzers, the regiment held its ground. The Confederates returned to Knoxville the following day and prepared to go into winter quarters at Russellville when Longstreet abandoned the siege on December 4.
"On the whole it was a pretty little repulse."
—Gen. Orlando B. Wilcox