General Burnside’s federal army was retreating to Knoxville. Pursuing them, after crossing the Tennessee River on Nov. 15, General Longstreet divided his two divisions.
He accompanied Hood’s Division along the Hotchkiss Valley Road to Lenoir City and sent McLaws’ Division farther north along the Kingston Pike to Eaton Crossroads. The going was hard because repeated rains had turned the soil to syrup and the weather had turned cold for the lightly-clad Confederate troops.
In the curious manner of Civil War armies, neither side liked to fight at night, so they camped at dusk with orders to keep fires to a minimum to avoid alerting the enemy to the size of their forces—the Union near Lenoir City and the Confederates not far from Eaton Crossroads. That night, a heavy rain fell for several hours followed by a cold north wind.
On Nov. 16, a Monday, Burnside’s infantry retreated from Lenoir City, striking north on the Loudon Road to the Kingston Pike, accompanied by their wagon trains and artillery.
Longstreet intended to use Hood’s Division to push the federals into McLaws’ guns at Campbell’s Station, farther east on the pike. Both Union and Confederate forces dispatched advance troops to Campbell’s Station to try to hold it before the other side got there. McLaws apparently was unaware of any need for haste and the federals got there first, around noon.
Independent historian Digby Gordon Seymour: “When McLaws’ men reached the west side of Campbell’s Station, they found their way to the junction with the Loudon Road blocked by a battle line of federal troops deployed across the Kingston Road.”
Straddling the pike was the second division of Burnside’s Ninth Corps, but the line included troops from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Michigan and New York. Their twenty-six artillery pieces included a battery of U.S. Army regulars and one from Rhode Island. There were about half as many Federals as there were Confederates.
Behind the Union line, Burnside’s wagons and remaining artillery were streaming north on the Loudon Road and turning right onto the pike toward Knoxville. McLaws deployed his South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi troops from their long, strung-out marching columns into a cohesive line of battle, in a wooded area, with the 13th Regiment of Humphreys’ Mississippi Brigade on the heights on the extreme left.
When McLaws’ Division finally attacked, the last Union wagons were completing the turn onto the pike and the Union battle lines fell back. Colonel Sumner Carruth, historian of the 35th Massachusetts wrote after the war: “It was a grand sight. The Confederates came out in line with colors flying, fully expecting, apparently, that as soon as they got close to us we would retreat…but they were mistaken, for no sooner were they in sight than our batteries poured shell and shrapnel into their ranks…”
“The enemy’s artillery (one or two batteries) fired upon my line when advancing,” McLaws later wrote of the engagement, “and upon General Humphreys Brigade, but no engagement resulted
with small-arms, excepting that the skirmishers of General Humphreys exchanged shots with those of the enemy. The loss was but trifling, 4 or 5 men having been wounded by shells. The plain intent of the enemy was to retreat only.”
The artillery fire and approaching darkness delayed things. It was full dark before Longstreet could mount a better attack. By then the Union troops had entirely withdrawn and were marching the remaining fifteen miles or so to Knoxville.
Longstreet would later blame delays by McLaws’ Division and the Hood’s Division Generals E. McIver Law and his brigade of Alabamans and J. B. Robertson and his brigade of Texans and Arkansans for the Rebel failure at Campbell’s Station.
The 13th Mississippi Regiment suffered three wounded in the fighting, according to official records gathered by independent historian Jess McLean. One of the men was captured; the other two were mortally wounded.
The captured man was Private John Edward Halfacre of the Winston Guards, who was wounded in the leg. Mortally wounded were Private W.H.H. Suttle of the Winston Guards and Private John R. Madders of the Spartan Band.