At least one reviewer of the novel has complained about Gen. Longstreet’s apparent mistake in insufficiently reconnoitering Fort Sanders before his Mississippians and Georgians attacked.
Indeed, after the battle, Longstreet tried to pin the blame for the mistake on his division commander Gen. Lafayette McLaws.
But blaming McLaws was just an excuse. Neither man really was at fault. As several of the novel’s historical and fictional characters discuss in the book, the terrain hindered the Confederates from making an accurate inspection of the fort and its defenses.
Fort Sanders sat upon the “military crest” of a ridge above the surrounding ground. The Confederates simply couldn’t see much below its parapet and open-top artillery embrasures, except from the distant Cherokee Heights where they posted Parker’s “Boy Battery” for artillery support.
But the heights were a mile away, the angle was wrong, and the Union defenders soon covered the parapet with cotton bales to further impede the battery’s view.
The only way Longstreet could have done a better job of recon was to employ a spy as he famously did at Gettysburg. He apparently couldn’t find one around Knoxville. Or he didn’t consider one necessary. Neither his memoirs nor any of those of his staff officers mention their use of a spy at Knoxville.