The covered wooden bridge of the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad here on the Tennessee River was a strategically significant crossing for rail traffic between Richmond and Chattanooga. The Confederacy especially relied on the railroad for troop movements, to transport salt and lead from Southwest Virginia, and to move copper and food from East Tennessee.
Confederate guards protected the bridge during the famous bridge burner attacks of November 8, 1861.
Two years later, on September 1, 1863, as Union Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's army approached Knoxville, retreating Confederates burned the bridge to block Union cavalry. Federal troops, however, soon dismantled and moved an engine, tender and three rail cars across the river on a pontoon bridge and then reassembled the train on the Loudon side. At the approach of the Confederates on October 28, 1863, the Union troops ran the train off the Loudon side of the track into the river. The Confederates again took control of the bridge site and established a rail base at Loudon with four engines and between 75 and 100 cars. In December, as Union Gen. William T. Sherman's army approached Knoxville, the Confederates ran the train equipment in the river, abandoning the bridge sit to the Federals.
The Union army controlled the site for the remainder of the war. Engineers completed a temporary bridge by April 1864 and a more permanent bridge by November. In February 1865, Confederated naval Lt. Arthur D. Wharton and 19 others boated down the river to destroy the bridge, but they were captured near Kingston. Federal officials returned the railroad to private control in 1867.
The hill in front of you includes one of the Confederate redans (earthworks for cannons and troops with an open rear) on this side of the Tennessee River that protected the Loudon Railroad Bridge. Both Confederates and Union troops camped and built huts on the surrounding hills. At the time, this land was part of the John Blair farm. Blair's summer house still stands—the white dwelling with columns facing Highway 11.
Sweetwater to Knoxville, 1864 Courtesy Library of Congress
Loudon Railroad Bridge 1864 - Courtesy National Archives
Loudon Temporary Bridge, Harper's Weekly
, Apr. 9, 1864
Redan, Official Military Atlas of the Civil War