Thursday, August 19, 2010

General Burnside Asserts Himself Unexpectedly

"Portrait of Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnsid...Image via Wikipedia
General Burnside from the American Civil War is most known outside of Knoxville for his famous sideburns. Inside Knoxville he was better known for taking over the town during the war and holding off the confederate attempts to reclaim it. I'd never given him much thought, myself, until recently when he virtually confronted me on the street.

I found myself at the French Market on a recent delightful morning when the sun was shielded enough by cloud cover to make sitting outside in the shade bearable early in the day. I'd gotten interested in trying their Italian coffee and I'd just started and become entirely hooked reading Jack Neely's book Market Square: A History of the Most Democratic Place on Earth. (Follow the link and buy it if you haven't. You won't regret it.) I'd worked my way up to the 1860's and the siege of Knoxville. On page 24 I'd just read the paragraph that starts with the sentence, "In the early Autumn of 1863, blue-uniformed troops under Union General Ambrose Burnside occupied Knoxville." Looking up to rest my eyes, I nearly fell out of my chair. Directly in front of where I sat was the historical marker pictured below:

If I had been anywhere else in in Knoxville I would not have seen it. If I had been inside or at another outside table, I would not have noticed it. Even at my table, if I had chosen the other chair, my back would have been to it and I would have never known. It was almost as if the old guy was saying, "Hey, before you sat there with your fancy coffee, I hung out in this spot." It was beyond creepy. What made me look up at that moment or be in that spot when I read that portion? I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

It makes you wonder how many markers we walk past without ever considering the lives and important moments that centered on that very spot where we carry on our little lives. And further, who will notice that we once walked this road? Will we make enough difference that someone will remember?
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At August 20, 2010 at 9:14 AM , Anonymous Cathy Tyner said...

Your post makes me want to buy that book!

At August 20, 2010 at 9:38 AM , Anonymous KnoxvilleUrbanGuy said...

Hey Cathy,
So buy!!! I don't know why it took me so long to get around to it, myself, but I'm glad I finally did. It can be purchased from Amazon at the link above, or you can get an autographed copy at Carpe Librum Glad you enjoyed the post.

At August 21, 2010 at 10:13 AM , Anonymous Yvette said...

Another bit of interesting timing: On August 11 I found out that someone I know is a direct descendant of General Burnside. She didn't know anything about him other than he had a reputation for sideburns and losing.

I'm a huge fan of the history of the Fort Sanders battle and in the past week have been collecting interesting tidbits for her so she can have an alternate view of her genetic line. Your blog qualifies and I'll make sure she gets a link to it. :)

I've lived in the Knoxville area for three years and only recently took an interest in its Civil War history. I took a driving tour of Knoxville's historic markers less than a month ago and only just over a week ago found out about my acquaintance's connection to the general. And now your blog...

At August 21, 2010 at 12:13 PM , Anonymous KnoxvilleUrbanGuy said...

Hey Yvette,
It is interesting how these things come together. When I have more than a couple of these coincidences, I start wondering if something more is really going on . . . kind of spooky! On another front, how did you get the information you needed to take that Civil War driving tour? I think we could do so much more to promote history around this place - I just wish we would.

At August 23, 2010 at 6:09 AM , Anonymous Yvette said...

After having been on an awesome guided walking tour of historical sites in Charleston, S.C., I returned to Knoxville hoping to find something similar and did a search on the Internet.

Sadly, I came up with nothing like it, though I did (thankfully) happen upon this site:, which gives site-to-site driving directions of significant Civil War locations in Knoxville.

If you haven't been there and don't want to go on the full driving tour, I HIGHLY recommend visiting Fort Dickerson, where the locations of gun turrets and the location where munitions were stored are still visible - even after all these years!

At August 23, 2010 at 10:25 AM , Anonymous KnoxvilleUrbanGuy said...

I had no idea there was anything left to see. I'll definitely check out the website. I do remember reading recently that some groups were interested in preserving the area that was Fort Dickerson and possibly attempting to tap into the (apparently) eternal interest southerners especially have in the Civil War with something more to promote that sort of tourism in our area. I'd love to see that happen.


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