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Before Fort Sanders was a densely populated neighborhood and restaurant and retail hub, it was known for the bitter clash between Confederate and Union soldiers with the South unsuccessfully trying to siege Knoxville.

Captain Orlando Poe's 1864 map.
Captain Orlando Poe’s 1864 map: Topographical Map of the Approaches and Defenses of Knoxville, Tennessee. Secretary of War, Office of Chief of Engineers, United States Army. Library of Congress, American Memory Collection.

An effort by researchers at UT Knoxville will make sure this important piece of history does not forever fade into the metropolis. UT’s Archaeological Research Laboratory has received a $45,130 American Battlefield Protection Program grant from the National Park Service to document the battle using geographic information systems and remote sensing with the aim of better understanding what resources remain, how they can be preserved, and how they can be shared with the public.

“This Civil War battle is important as it ended the siege of Knoxville in November 1863 and secured the city under Union control,” said Kandace Hollenbach, interim director of the ARL. “Because the fort itself and most above-ground resources are gone, most Knoxvillians know very little about this battle and its importance to the history of East Tennessee, or about the role of the UT campus in the war.”

Archaeological Research Laboratory fieldwork
The Archaeological Research Laboratory’s 2009 fieldwork excavating the Confederate trench at what is now Sorority Village. Photo credit: Michael Angst

Beginning this fall, ARL researchers will consult Civil War-era maps of earthworks around Knoxville, as well as various other documents, to determine the historic landscape of the battle. They will then compare these with current maps and aerial photographs, and record the locations of known resources such as the Bleak House and the Confederate trench at Morgan Hill—now home to Sorority Village. Using these maps, the researchers will use remote sensing, such as ground-penetrating radar, to search for possible remnants of features that may be present below grassy or paved areas, particularly on the UT campus.

The resulting maps will be used to inform preservation efforts, develop a research design for further archeological investigations, and enhance public interpretation of the site.

There will be several public information meetings related to the project and a final report available around the fall of 2015 on the ARL website.

The researchers hope the project serves as a springboard for others in the region and state.

“We are very excited, not only to do this research but also about the possibilities that it opens for future research and outreach on the Civil War in East Tennessee and maybe other historical sites in the state,” said Hollenbach.

The American Battlefield Protection Program promotes the preservation of significant historic battlefields associated with wars on American soil. To learn more, visit the National Parks Service.

C O N T A C T: 

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460,