By Dorothy E. Kelly
Civil War historians outside the East Tennessee area know little or nothing about the Federal general who gave his life at Knoxville. But how much do WE know about this man whose name adorns modern buildings, hospitals, and even a neighborhood?
Born under the Southern skies of Kentucky and raised in the humid Mississippi river town of Natchez, William Price Sanders was a young Federal officer on his way up when he died at Knoxville in 1863. He had been a general one month and one day.
Sanders was the sixth child of Margaret and Lewis Sanders, a prominent Mississippi attorney. According to his sister, Elizabeth J. Sanders Haggin, William Price was named for a physician uncle and was known as “Doc” to family and friends, a nickname which was later adopted by his fellow officers.
William Price Sanders
Sanders’ politically connected father secured his appointment to West Point in 1852. His career at West Point was somewhat rocky. A May, 1854 letter from West Point Commandant, Robert E. Lee, announced his impending dismissal for want of application, deficiency in academics and accumulation of numerous demerits. With the aid of a fellow Mississippian—Secretary of War Jefferson Davis— Sanders avoided dismissal and went on to graduate in 1856. In addition to Sanders, two of his West Point classmates played important roles in the Civil War in East Tennessee: Orlando M. Poe, Burnside’s Chief Engineer and designer of the Knoxville fortifications, and E. Porter Alexander, Longstreet’s Chief of Artillery.