When Simon Buckner’s Army of Eastern Tennessee was ordered to join Braxton Bragg’s forces at Chattanooga, Tennessee, Buckner left only token forces to defend the Cumberland Gap through the mountains and a brigade to defend the city of Knoxville.
On Wednesday, September 2, 1863 a cavalry unit under the command of Union General Ambrose Burnside exploited the Confederates’ weaknesses and entered Knoxville, largely unopposed. The next day Burnside and his main force entered the city, warmly welcomed by the city’s Unionist population.
The fall of Knoxville cut a direct rail route from Chattanooga and Virginia, forcing Confederates to use a roundabout route from Virginia down the Atlantic coast, then to Atlanta, and finally northward to Chattanooga. Burnside’s strategic move greatly aided William Rosecrans efforts against Chattanooga and Bragg’s army.