Francis M. Poore and his comrades in the 13th Mississippi Infantry and the men of the 17th Mississippi led the rebel attack on Fort Sanders at Knoxville on Nov. 29, 1863. The above Library of Congress photo of the fort shows why the attack was doomed to failure.
- Fort Sanders, an earthen redoubt, sat on a rise nearly 200 feet high.
- A ditch, 12-feet wide and 8-feet deep in places, ran along the front of the fort.
- The 12 cannon in corner bastions atop the fort’s thick, steep dirt walls could rake every part of the ditch below.
- More than 400 Union soldiers manned its 8-foot-high walls.
- The Yankees poured buckets of water over the walls to make them and the ground icy and slippery.
- On the cleared tree stand around the fort, clearly seen in this photo, the federals had strung wire from tree stump to stump to trip attackers.
In his official report, General Humphreys described how Francis and his fellow Mississippians bravely faced “the enemy firing artillery and musketry from all points of their works, throwing hand grenades, billets of wood, axes, &c., over the parapet into the ditch, killing and mangling our men.”
The rebels fell killed or wounded by the dozens. Some of the Mississippians managed to climb on the shoulders of their comrades in order to reach the top of the wall.
By this means, the 13th Mississippi’s color bearer planted the regimental flag atop the fort’s walls. The defenders killed him and captured the flag.
The attack turned into a disaster. The slaughter at the fort’s walls lasted but about 20 minutes before rebel commanders called their men back.
John was not with his brother Francis and the rest of the 13th Mississippi for the assault. He had fallen ill, perhaps because he had been out in the rain and cold for days. John stayed in his sickbed on the day of the attack.
Click on the above photo to enlarge it and see even more clearly how the rebels walked into a killing field.