16 November: Failed Offensives

Two different conflicts, two failed offensives in 1863 and 1944, both involving American forces trying to stay ahead of the winter weather.

In east Tennessee in 1863, James Longstreet with about 15,000 men detached from Braxton Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee was trying to make the best of his orders to attack the Federal stronghold at Knoxville, encountered a Federal column near the old haunt of Andrew Jackson at Campbell’s Station on 16 November.  Ambrose Burnside’s 16,000+ men from his Department of the Ohio arrived at the junction of the Concord and Kingston roads southwest of Knoxville.  Burnside’s men were on their way to reinforce the tiny garrison at Knoxville, and fought of an attempted double-envelopment with relative ease, especially since they had been forced-marching for three days were just coming out of march order.  Scholars disagree with the meaning of Campbell’s Station, with some holding that Longstreet could have taken Knoxville with a single rush had Burnside not made an appearance in time.  Others maintain that with Burnside so close behind it seems unlikely that Longstreet would have been able to simply walk unimpeded the next thirty miles (essentially three days march).  Total casualties for both sides was about a thousand men.

On 16 November 1944, Operation Queen, aimed at capturing the Rur (or Roer) River dams in Germany and penetrating the Siegfried line, began.  Despite heavy bombing the offensive was slowed by heavy German resistance, especially in the Hurtgen Forest.  For more than a month the American 12th Army Group under Omar Bradley slogged forward in miserable weather, fighting for every hamlet and patch of trees that reminded some veterans of the Great War.  While the Americans were making steady progress, it was slow.  Still, nothing that the Allies did against the West Wall was easy, and yet Walther Model’s Army Group B was not about to commit their best troops, then being husbanded for the Ardennes Offensive being planned for mid-December.  The result was the steady deterioration of the German’s position and the equally steady decline of American energy and patience.  When the offensive was called off on 15 December when the German counterattack began in the Ardennes, they had not quite reached the dams.   Casualties were about 38,000 for the Americans and probably equal for the Germans.  The most important takeaway for Operation Queen was that the Americans were still making complex plans against sagging but still stolid German defenses.  Further, Allied failure to detect the withdrawal of some of the German’s best mobile formations somehow failed to reach the right ears at the right time.

Today, like Campbell’s Station, the Rur campaign leaves scholars discussing possibilities against realities.  East Tennessee was a thorn in the Confederacy’s side, and after the loss of Chattanooga it became a logistical base for the Union invasion of the Confederate heartland   The Rur dams were important not because they crossed the Rur but because they kept the upper Rhine valley from flooding, potentially blocking and Allied moves into the Ruhr.  Both were defended by pickup units.  Neither fight achieved what was intended.