The Bleak House, also know as the Confederate Memorial Hall, is an antebellum Classical Revival style mansion of fifteen spacious rooms and wide halls in Knoxville, TN. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
The house was first occupied by Robert Houston Armstrong and his wife, Louisa Franklin. It was built for the couple as a wedding gift by the bride’s father, Major L.D. Franklin. Robert Armstrong’s father, Drury Armstrong, gave them the land. The Armstrong’s named the house after Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House” novel of the same name.
During the siege of Knoxville by the Confederates under General James Longstreet, November 17 to December 4, 1863, Bleak House was the headquarters of General Longstreet and his staff. A sharpshooters unit, “The Elite Twenty”, occupied the house’s second-floor east-facing windows, as well as the tower.
On November 18 ,when the Federal line was 750 yards east of the house, Union Gen. William P. Sanders ordered Lt. Samuel Benjamin in Fort Loudon to put a cannon shot through the Bleak House tower to dislodge the sharpshooters. Called the “Prettiest Shot of the War” by the Federals, it hit the second floor of the house at its southeast corner. Portraits of three unnamed Confederates, drawn on one wall by an unknown soldier artist, are mute evidence today that soldiers were killed or wounded in the tower. The artist wrote under his pictures the line, “Men that were shot up here.”
Later that afternoon, Union General William P. Sanders was mortally wounded by a Confederate sharpshooter using a British Whitworth rifle. The Whitworth rifle cost 12 – 15 hundred dollars each at the time. The rifles were known to be used with telescopic sights; and, with their hexagonal bores, were accurate at over 1,000 yards.
During the fighting, Mrs. Armstrong and her daughters were confined to an upstairs bedroom for their safety. A sentry was instructed not to allow them downstairs without permission. Mrs. Armstrong once defied the sentry, and when she refused to return upstairs, he fired a warning shot into the stairway, where the .58 caliber minie ball remains today.
Photo Gallery: Bleak House