Lost Fort Not Quite Lost

REVIEW: Rediscovering Fort Sanders by Terry Faulkner and Charles H. Faulkner


- The subtitle of this volume - The American Civil War and its Impact on Knoxville's Cultural Landscape - accurately describes the mission/focus of the book. More specifically, its primary focus is Fort Sanders and its effect on the growing postwar Knoxville - and its eventual obliteration by urban development. The story starts with the teaser that, very recently, the authors' research corrected the actual location of Fort Sanders to a city block further west that it had long supposed to have been located. (Additionally, they located a small amount of visible fort remnants.) Then follows a general basic history of the war and a narrower focus on the Knoxville campaign, for 64 pages. A further 98 cover the fortification and siege of the city, and the battle of Fort Sanders. The balance of the book's 344 pages of text examines the post war period, the gradual loss of Fort Sanders to surrounding development, archaeological/geological investigation, and then a conclusion.

Rediscovering Fort Sanders is strongest when dealing with its title subject. Details on the construction of the fort - its beginnings under Confederate occupation, hurried (but solid) improvements under the direction of Union engineer Captain Orlando Poe, and post-battle finishing overseen by Brigadier General Davis Tillson - include a welcome clarification of fortification terms such as scarp, ditch, glacis, and pan coupe. The historical exposition concerning the fortification, battle, and aftermath is bolstered by plenty of primary source accounts, with voices from both sides included. Primary sources (especially newspaper accounts) are also heavily evident in the story of postwar progress, including the obstacles that the earthwork presented to neighborhood development, and the eventual disappearance of almost every trace of the fort over time. Attention is also paid to postwar reunions of veterans, monuments placed in the neighborhood, and recent developments. The volume is well-illustrated, particularly with postwar photos showing the gradual changes in topography and construction in and around the fort. Most of these photos have letters identifying key features; most of the features are reasonably easy to make out, though a few photos are "muddier" and thus more difficult for the reader to discern the details. The identified point-by-point items are used as evidence for the proper location of Fort Sanders as compared to modern roads; while I found this highly interesting, to get a full understanding would require a detailed knowledge of the neighborhood, or a map of the modern neighborhood, or perhaps bringing the book on a tour of the neighborhood. Regardless, the historical/archaeological record - buttressed by the photographs - is an impressive documentation. Early in the semifinal chapter, the authors warn that "Readers unfamiliar with scientific archaeology may well find some of the expository prose confusing and even boring," but I am apparently not one of those readers. Overall, however, the organization of the book could be better. The photos are spread throughout, following the chronology of the narrative. In general, this works okay but sometimes requires jumping back or forward to illustrations several chapters away. Additionally, sometimes the lettered details are included in the photo caption, sometimes in the text but not the caption, and sometimes both. A more consistent approach would have been welcome. Chronology within the narrative jumps around at times as well, which brings with it a secondary effect of some repetition of details and even quotes. And the historical exposition gets weaker the further it gets from Fort Sanders and Knoxville, with numerous factual errors (one example: stating that Sheridan's cavalry was key to Grant winning the battle of Chattanooga.) One other stylistic note: Rather than using footnotes or endnotes, the notes are included in parentheses, within the text. Example: (Huddart 1863, letter) at the end of a sentence. This I find odd - I've never seen it done anywhere else - but it's not a deal-breaker. Overall, Rediscovering Fort Sanders is primarily of use to those with particular interest in the history of the fort itself, or of Knoxville history in general. It succeeds in its primary mission but could have used a good editor.


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