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View Full Version : The siege, and Battle of Knoxville, Tennessee



tankgeezer
01-20-2010, 08:59 PM
Living in Knoxville, (East Tennessee) I get to walk on the same ground trod by both sides during the war. Knoxville is not a large city, as are many in the U.S. but it was the scene of an important battle late in 1863.
Knoxville was a Union city, and the greater part of East Tn. was aligned with them, in part because they had little tolerance for slavery.The Union had taken control of the city in Sept. 1963, and fortified Knoxville with some 16 forts, and battery emplacements both within, and surrounding the town.These, along with significant trench networks provided more than adequate protection should the armies of the Confederacy attempt to take it. Knox also had the benefit of a heavy railroad to the north of town, and the Holston (now Tennessee) River to its south.
One General Braxton Bragg,(CSA)along with General James Longstreet (CSA) had mightily defeated, and driven the Union forces from Chicamauga,Georgia and they fled into the fortifications around Chattanooga Tn.
The original desire of Gen.Bragg's Army of Tennessee was to take Chattanooga,thence to take the rest of the State.Gen. Longstreet had attempted unsuccessfully to displace Gen. Bragg, and as a result, was "assigned" the job of laying siege to Knoxville in order to draw off manpower from the forces holding Chattanooga, (as there were plans to take that city at a later date.) And this Longstreet did. (for awhile)
General Longstreet moved towards Knoxville, tripping over the forward positions of Gen. Ambrose Burnside (U.S.) at Campbell's Station, south of Knoxville. Burnside decided to strengthen the forces at Knoxville rather than oppose Longstreet's advance in force. So leaving a rear guard to delay Longstreet, He moved into the city, and prepared it for what would come. (The suspense builds,....)
Gen. Longstreet sealed off the various routes to the city as best he could, even stringing an iron chain across the Holston River from his H.Q. at Bleak House, several miles west of the City.
He, and his chief engineer one General Danville Leadbetter (CSA) had planned to make an attack at Ft. Sanders, they two having judged it to be the most vulnerable point in the City's defenses.
A bit about Ft. Sanders. It was a fairly typical Earthwork fort, basically a square with Bastions at each corner. Now, stories differ on the origin of this fort, some say it was captured from the Confederacy, and some say the Union built it, perhaps the Union improved on an older fort. I cant find anything to absolutely support either argument. Anyway, it rose above the surrounding area to about 70 ft. Surrounding its perimeter was a ditch 12 ft wide, and varying in depth from 8 ft. to more than 12 ft. in some places.
Inside were placed 12 artillery pieces, and a garrison of 440 souls belonging to the 79th New York Infantry. It is said that Union Engineers commanded by Capt. Orlando M.Poe did the work of setting up the fort, and the defensive trench lines surrounding it this included a little trick of placing planks across the ditch to make it appear a shallow 3 to 4 ft deep. They also had strung telegraph wire along the stumps of trees cut for the fort, creating an entanglement much like those used in WW1 with barbed wire.(Barbed wire did not exist in the early 1860's) .
Information courtesy of "Tennessee encyclopedia of History", Wiki, Knoxville Civil War Round table. Photo of Mssrs Babcock (left)&Poe (right) The story continues...

tankgeezer
01-20-2010, 10:13 PM
Gen. Longstreet (CSA) planned the attack on Ft. Sanders Nov. 29th, assigning Major Gen. Lafayette McLaws to lead the assault. He commanded three Infantry Brigades lead by Brigadier Gen. Benjamin Humphreys, Br. Gen. Goode Bryan, and Col. Solon Z. Ruff Commanding Wofford's Brigade. (The accuracy of Col. Ruff's participation in this action is not verified)
Gen. Longstreet had anticipated the element of surprise for the assault, but this was lost when McLaw's forces sent skirmishers to take the outer trench line just prior to the attack. This alerted the fort to the coming action, and they were ready.
When the attackers came through the trench line, they became fowled in the wire entanglement, and while getting free of the wire, and being well raked with ball, shot, and canister from the fort ahead,were run over by their own following units. Upon reaching what they though to be a shallow ditch, they were chagrined at finding it to be 8 or more feet deep. into this ditch they jumped, and bunched and remained for the most part, as the defenders had watered the sides of the fort, and the ditch, which in the late November weather (an unusually cold winter it was) had iced over creating a hard unyielding surface too slippery to gain any manner of purchase upon.(for whatever reason, there were no scaling ladders with the attacking troops)
The men of the 79th N.Y. Infantry wasted no time in exploiting this advantage, and mercilessly decimated the attackers with canister, musket fire, and shortening the fuses on artillery shells, lit them and dropped them into the ditch, even burning timber, and whatever else they had to hand.
This confusion was compounded by the fact that the attackers had been totally disordered coming through the wire, and ended up concentrated in one area at the North West Bastion of the fort. They were piling in on one another, and unable to adapt to the conditions in which they found themselves. Some managed to climb on the shoulders of other's to make a human ladder,and by this means several men made it to the top, three planting standards there, only to be immediately killed, or captured. The flags were taken.The flags are said to be those of the 16th Georgia Inf., 13th Mississippi inf., and 14th Mississippi inf.
The Battle lasted about 20 minutes, called off by Longstreet. In those few minutes of eternity, the Confederacy lost 813 men, though some (about a quarter) were surrendering to avoid recrossing the killing ground, and wire. Union losses were five dead, and eight wounded.
After taking such a plain old whooping, General Longstreet was not amused to find that his former Commander, General Bragg had been soundly routed from Chattanooga, and adding all of this together,on December 4th. he decided to end the siege, and withdraw to winter quarters in North East Tennessee.The little matter of 25,000 Union troops coming to reinforce the area may also have played some role.
The first pic attached is a period image of the ditch. The others are of the bastion location as it is today,(Looking out from the bastion area, over the ditch, etc. nothing remains of Ft. sanders, the site is presently occupied by the Medical school of the University of Tennessee, and homes were built over the glassis, and other parts of the Battlefield. The only things to mark the location , or the events that took place there are a marker sign, and a stone monument from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. There were a couple other little fights during the siege, and I will post about them in the near future.

Uyraell
01-21-2010, 11:25 AM
Mighty informative posts, TG, Thank you. :)

Kind Regards, Uyraell.

tankgeezer
01-22-2010, 04:27 PM
The Headquarters (or hindquarters, depending on your point of view,,) of general Longstreet was called Bleak House by its owners, after the D i c kens novel. This was kind of a joke on their part as the place was never bleak in any sense of the word. It was a large brick mansion house, located four or five miles west of Knoxville, on the banks of the Holston River (now Tennessee) It was built with a "tower room" ,and this was used for observation, and sniping by the Confederates who were equipped with Whitworth Rifles, which while costing several times more than the standard infantry weapon, was so accurate at distance, that it was adopted for sniping. Indeed it was one of these rifles that took the life of Union general Wm. Sanders during an action south of the fort. (which was later named for him)
Bleak house also served as an Artillery emplacement, and the point from which the river bar chain was set.
Today, bleak house serves as a museum, and is maintained by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The Eastern side of the house is pocked by bullet strikes,that are clearly visible to this day.

tankgeezer
01-23-2010, 01:49 PM
THE BATTLE OF FT. D I CKERSON.
This wee bit of a scuffle was launched by Gen. Longstreet in order to take a tactically important position guarding the Southern approaches to Knoxville. Longstreet assigned his chief Cavalry officer General Joseph Wheeler (Gee they had an awful lot of Generals running around,,) to the assault.The attack was to begin on November 15th, 1863. This would be no easy task, as the Ft. was flanked East, and West by two other such forts, (Stanley, and Higley) which could, and did, provide Artillery, and Infantry support. As well as other strong points within Knoxville itself. Named for U.S. Army Captain Jonathan C. D ickerson of the 112 th. Illinois Volunteer Mounted Infantry. A 30-year-old carpenter, he played a significant role in Knoxville during the siege of the city in 1863.
Not much is published about this raid, but there is this much. As Wheeler's men began the attack, they found the hill sides too steep,and slippery to negotiate while being mauled by Artillery, and small arms fire.After a short while,Wheeler's men fired several volleys toward the top of the hill, and withdrew.(The Confederate equivalent of the Bird)
This is surprising as Gen. Wheeler had always been successful during his operations, having severely disrupted Union supply lines around Chattanooga, to weaken the Union forces for Gen. Bragg's eventual attack, and when that failed, Wheeler's forces covered Bragg's retreat from the area.
I have some images of Ft. D i c kerson,from ground level, Tn. HWY 441, which was once an Indian trail that passes between Forts Stanley, and D i c kerson. And some from the battery area. Lastly, one from across the river in Knoxville, showing the positions of both forts. Stanley on Left.

Uyraell
01-23-2010, 08:20 PM
Great pics and info, TG. :)
In My youth I had little if any interest in the US Civil War, believing it not much different to the Napoleonic wars that preceeded it, and thus not much removed from the mediaeval era, in general effect.
Age has it's compensations, however: and I've come to realise I'm slowly developing an interest mainly due to the tecnological matters of which I was previously unaware.

The movie "Hunley", while perhaps not pedantically accurate, encouraged me, because when it came out I had not long finished reading Clive Cussler's work, "Treasures" which details the discovery of the Hunley wreck, and the plans to recover it. This book was a non-fiction work by Cussler, and a damn good read, containing also info on the Merrimac and various other ironclads.

Many Thanks for your great posts, TG. :)

Kindest Regards TG, Uyraell.

tankgeezer
01-23-2010, 09:29 PM
Great pics and info, TG. :)
In My youth I had little if any interest in the US Civil War, believing it not much different to the Napoleonic wars that preceeded it, and thus not much removed from the mediaeval era, in general effect.
Age has it's compensations, however: and I've come to realise I'm slowly developing an interest mainly due to the tecnological matters of which I was previously unaware.

The movie "Hunley", while perhaps not pedantically accurate, encouraged me, because when it came out I had not long finished reading Clive Cussler's work, "Treasures" which details the discovery of the Hunley wreck, and the plans to recover it. This book was a non-fiction work by Cussler, and a damn good read, containing also info on the Merrimac and various other ironclads.

Many Thanks for your great posts, TG. :)



Kindest Regards TG, Uyraell.

You are welcome ! good someone is paying attention,,,:) For the U.S. anyway, it was our first modern war. Iron ships, submarine, large Artillery, and modern style transport, and communications.Land mines, and water mines, torpedos, and aerial Balloon reconnaissance. Sadly all of the casualties (well, most any way, were Americans.) Although I cant remember the inventor's name, a Southern gentleman designed a 48 shot repeating rifle which had it been adopted, and produced in quantity, would have made a mess back then. The South did not have the means to produce the rifle which used 2 fluted rollers which when indexed by a hand lever would close around a cartridge forming the chamber for firing, then as they rotated again, the spent case dropped from the bottom of the receiver while the fresh one came down into the next chamber created. scary thing it was.

Rising Sun*
01-24-2010, 02:11 AM
For the U.S. anyway, it was our first modern war.

It is generally regarded by historians as the first modern war in the series of major wars leading to WWII and beyond, for the reasons you mention and others.

But a terrible first for America and its people at the time.

flamethrowerguy
01-25-2010, 03:51 PM
Thanks for posting, TG, this reminds me that I always tended to recklessly neglect the occurences in the western theater...

tankgeezer
01-27-2010, 10:40 PM
MORE ABOUT FT. D I C KERSON:
The hill on which the Ft. is built is mostly rock, with shallow soil covering it in some places. This position gave the Union pretty much full coverage of the Southern approaches to Knoxville, as well the ability to range to most of the City itself. This made it a very desirable asset to have. Having such steep rocky sides, and being supported from 3 sides by other forts, and the city gun batteries made it near impossible to assault from ground level. It is said that Gen Wheeler had four thousand troops for his attempted assault, though this seems wrong, as its tough to move that many men and not attract lethal attention. The Battery uses about 40% of the hill top, with the rest being clear for observation posts, quarters, etc.
The attached pics will show the steep inclines the attackers would face, the two high spots at each end, with the lower area (saddle) between. The trees in these pics were not present in the 1860's, so the view of surrounding areas was excellent.

Uyraell
01-28-2010, 02:14 PM
You're right TG, the pics show how crucial a position Ft ****erson was.
As you say, the commanding view is exceptional.
Again my friend, many many Thanks for these very informative posts. :)

Kindest Regards, Uyraell.

tankgeezer
01-28-2010, 10:14 PM
You are very welcome Uyraell, Although the Civil War is a common enough subject here, its not very well known or researched by some outside the U.S. It is something to have it right under your feet everyday the way it is here in the South.

Panzerknacker
01-29-2010, 05:13 PM
The almost bucolic landscape posted in the photos of Tank G made me forget for a moment how bloody this war was. Good narration "beardo". ;)

tankgeezer
01-29-2010, 05:57 PM
Ha-Haaa, thank you my friend!

Panzerknacker
02-07-2010, 12:27 PM
By the way Tank G, I think I ve found you lost twin brother.....:mrgreen:

http://www.gunblast.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAucyypL_Ks

tankgeezer
02-07-2010, 12:51 PM
By the way Tank G, I think I ve found you lost twin brother.....:mrgreen:

http://www.gunblast.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAucyypL_Ks
Wow he does look like me, except he has more hair, (and more belly...)Another lost brother would be Zola Levitt, (RIP) he had shorter hair, and was some years older.

Panzerknacker
02-07-2010, 01:13 PM
Yup, my "find" was closer :mrgreen:, I am sure the guy has a Harley Too.

tankgeezer
02-07-2010, 02:13 PM
I would bet on that,, several people have come up to me commenting on my resemblance to Zola Levitt, I guess he was popular in my area. I had even considered getting a shirt made saying "I'm not Zola". I do agree that the fellow in the clip does look alot like me.

Cojimar 1945
02-07-2010, 11:00 PM
How would the American Civil War count as the first modern war as opposed to say the Crimean war?

tankgeezer
02-08-2010, 12:16 AM
I had said that it was for us the first modern war, for the reasons I mentioned in my post.The United States had no material part in the hostilities of the Crimean war, having sent only a small number of medical doctors to assist the Russians. (as far as I know) So that war really wouldn't count for us.

flamethrowerguy
02-08-2010, 04:31 AM
I don't know too much about the Crimean War but the US Civil War is oftenly described as a war of "firsts", like:
- railroad artillery
- a successful submarine
- landmine fields
- flamethrowers
- naval torpedoes
- field trenches on a grand scale
- military telegraph
- aerial reconnaisance
- repeating rifles
- anti aircraft fire
- revolving gun turrets
- organized medical and nursing corps
- workable machine guns
- hospital ships
etc.

(source: "The Civil War - Strange & fascinating facts" by Burke Davis)

Panzerknacker
02-08-2010, 04:33 PM
Are sure about succesful submarine ? The only submarine I know of the period was the CSA Hunley....and it went to the bottom in its first sortie.

flamethrowerguy
02-08-2010, 05:22 PM
Are sure about succesful submarine ? The only submarine I know of the period was the CSA Hunley....and it went to the bottom in its first sortie.

Right, but on that sortie the Hunley sank the "Housatonic" with her torpedo.

Panzerknacker
02-08-2010, 06:33 PM
Oh...i didnt knew that, danke.

tankgeezer
02-08-2010, 06:36 PM
The Union also had a submarine, the Alligator, after trials, and redesigns it was approved for use, and was to have helped in capturing Charleston. Alligator was under tow when a storm in the Cape Hatteras area forced the towing ship to cut her loose, after which it was lost at sea without completing its mission. This is the same region in which USS Monitor was lost.

Panzerknacker
02-09-2010, 05:29 PM
That went to the bottom without any sortie, I suppose it was "man powered" just as the Hunley.

tankgeezer
02-09-2010, 07:11 PM
That went to the bottom without any sortie, I suppose it was "man powered" just as the Hunley.
Yes it was my friend, Originally, (and perhaps laughably) it was built with paired oars for propulsion. This was quickly discarded. It was converted to a handcrank system like the Hunley, then approved for service. Alligator was 30ft long, with a beam of 6 to 8 ft. It was of a better design in that it had separate compartments, one at least, an air lock to allow for divers to exit and place the explosives, then re-enter and withdraw from the area. it had a top speed of 7 knots.It was equipped with float snorkels that supplied air to an onboard pump which circulated it to the 12 man crew. It carried two Limpet type munitions.( I cant confirm that as fact though) It may have been a contributor to the war effort had it not been lost at sea.

Cojimar 1945
02-10-2010, 12:32 AM
I have only heard of one submarine used in the Civil War, the Hunley, and I believe that a submarine was also used in the American Revolutionary war. I also thought that torpedoes predated the Civil War and I know that the telegraph was around by the time of the U.S. war with Mexico.

Additionally, I thought aerial reconnaisance was first used during the French Revolutionary Wars.

tankgeezer
02-10-2010, 01:15 AM
The Hunley was the only one to accomplish its mission during the civil war,Though the Alligator had made a few lesser sorties before it sank. I'm not sure I get your point. Both the Hunley, and the Alligator were crew served systems, as are present day subs. The 18th Century Turtle was operated by a single man, and was barely functional even in the best conditions.Although it was deployed, it was unable to fasten its torpedo to the English ship.The term Torpedo was applied to any underwater charge delivered to its target.
Even though the American Civil War used some devices already extant, it was the first time these technologies were used in a purposely combined effort, as organic equipment. You might as well stand that argument on the fact that we used people, and guns.:)

flamethrowerguy
02-12-2010, 10:32 AM
I have only heard of one submarine used in the Civil War, the Hunley, and I believe that a submarine was also used in the American Revolutionary war. I also thought that torpedoes predated the Civil War and I know that the telegraph was around by the time of the U.S. war with Mexico.

Additionally, I thought aerial reconnaisance was first used during the French Revolutionary Wars.

Fine, but allow me to trust on Burke Davis, a guy who published about two dozen books about this war.

tankgeezer
02-12-2010, 06:18 PM
Here Here!!

Uyraell
02-13-2010, 11:13 AM
The way the US Civil War was defined to me in highschool was:
"It was the first war where death was dealt on a mechanised scale, and where medical facilities (primitive though they were) were almost able to keep up, and where the naval aspects introduced things not seen in previous centuries, such as submersibles, and torpedoes/ attached charges."

Yes, one could pick fault with that definition, however, I regard it as the first "modern" war, whereas Napoleon versus Wellington circa 60 years earlier was but little removed from the mediaeval era that spawned it.
Similarly, the Crimean war carried more overtones of the Napoleonic era than ever it did of the modernised warfare seen in the American conflict.

TG, I have found this a most informative and interesting Thread, for which, My Thanks, my friend.

Kind Regards, Uyraell.

tankgeezer
02-13-2010, 11:55 AM
You are graciously welcome Uyraell, I'll find some other tidbits to post as time goes by.

tankgeezer
02-13-2010, 09:27 PM
Knoxville in the 1860's was located mostly on the North side of the Tennessee River The majority of the hill forts were located on the South bank, and given the lack of bridges there a pontoon bridge was constructed by the Union. This provided for the movement of troops, and supplies to and from the Hill forts. The location was between the mouth of First Creek, and Gay Street which now has a bridge. Presently the old bridge's location is occupied by a tourist river boat. The image of the pontoon bridge is not that of the Knoxville site,(none are available to post) but illustrates the construction well enough.
During the futile attack on Ft. D i c kerson by Wheeler's forces, troops from the smaller and less defensible forts were withdrawn into the City on this bridge.

Uyraell
02-14-2010, 02:25 AM
Knoxville in the 1860's was located mostly on the North side of the Tennessee River The majority of the hill forts were located on the South bank, and given the lack of bridges there a pontoon bridge was constructed by the Union. This provided for the movement of troops, and supplies to and from the Hill forts. The location was between the mouth of First Creek, and Gay Street which now has a bridge. Presently the old bridge's location is occupied by a tourist river boat. The image of the pontoon bridge is not that of the Knoxville site,(none are available to post) but illustrates the construction well enough.
During the futile attack on Ft. ****erson by Wheeler's forces, troops from the smaller and less defensible forts were withdrawn into the City on this bridge.


TG, a question here. Were such pontoon bridges able to be withdrawn from the far bank, i.e. swung back to the defended bank, as in Roman times? Or, where they permanently anchored?

I've never quite understood which way they were employed or anchored during the Civil War era.

Kind Regards, Uyraell.

Nickdfresh
02-14-2010, 08:00 AM
I'm wondering perhaps if it would make a fine thread to split the discussion of the technological advancements during the American Civil War out into a different topic?

Incidentally, it is my understanding that the U.S. Civil War not only spawned new tactics and technologies that would resonate for decades, but also advancements were made postwar with entire new medical fields created and techniques advanced such as plastic surgery and in the modernization of prosthetics...

tankgeezer
02-14-2010, 09:11 AM
I'm wondering perhaps if it would make a fine thread to split the discussion of the technological advancements during the American Civil War out into a different topic?

Incidentally, it is my understanding that the U.S. Civil War not only spawned new tactics and technologies that would resonate for decades, but also advancements were made postwar with entire new medical fields created and techniques advanced such as plastic surgery and in the modernization of prosthetics...
Fine by me Nick,go ahead.

tankgeezer
03-25-2010, 09:53 PM
TG, a question here. Were such pontoon bridges able to be withdrawn from the far bank, i.e. swung back to the defended bank, as in Roman times? Or, where they permanently anchored?

I've never quite understood which way they were employed or anchored during the Civil War era.

Kind Regards, Uyraell.

I looked for information regarding that question, but couldn't find anything. So my guess would be that they may have foreseen the need of such a feature, or maybe they figured several sticks of dynamite would solve the problem were it to arise.
I agree Nick, I have seen info about that subject, as well as treatment for neurological disorders resulting from shell shock. In hindsight these advances would save many peoples lives during WW1, and would allow many to lead a better life after it was over.

Rising Sun*
03-27-2010, 06:41 AM
I'm wondering perhaps if it would make a fine thread to split the discussion of the technological advancements during the American Civil War out into a different topic?

It might be a slow thread but I think there is a useful line of development to be drawn from there. Although some of it might also be drawn from the Crimean War which some say was the first modern war, and which to some degree informed the participants in the American Civil War and which to some degree they failed to learn from. http://www.americancivilwar.org.uk/news_%E2%80%9C-ridiculous-failure%E2%80%9D-george-mcclellan-and-the-delafield-commission_119.htm


Incidentally, it is my understanding that the U.S. Civil War not only spawned new tactics and technologies that would resonate for decades, but also advancements were made postwar with entire new medical fields created and techniques advanced such as plastic surgery and in the modernization of prosthetics...

Also treatment of POWS. I remember as a kid being horrified by descriptions of Civil War POW camps, I think on both sides but from distant memory I think it might have been worse for Northern prisoners held by the South (or maybe that just reflects the victor's version?). I had read about the way the way Allied prisoners were treated in WWI and WWII but, in my childish ignorance, I had assumed that the Americans would not have treated their own people quite badly, even allowing for an earlier time being less gentle.

tankgeezer
03-27-2010, 08:31 AM
I know little of the POW situation of that time, I know only about Andersonville prison in Georgia, a Confederate operation where many thousands died of Mal-nutrition & related diseases, as well as foul water due to poor sanitation practices, and sadly, through predation by other prisoners. Capt. Henry Wirz ran the place, and was executed for his role in that mess. It was said that he was not an American, but German, or Austrian, but I cant be certain of that at all. I am planning to visit Andersonville this year, I'll post what I find there.
The Union had a notorious prison as well,( I personally think they were all notorious, but these are the worst of them) Camp Douglas in Chicago Ill. I have no details, but it was said to be at least as bad there as at Andersonville.

Rising Sun*
03-27-2010, 08:51 AM
I know little of the POW situation of that time, I know only about Andersonville prison in Georgia, a Confederate operation where many thousands died of Mal-nutrition & related diseases, as well as foul water due to poor sanitation practices, and sadly, through predation by other prisoners. Capt. Henry Wirz ran the place, and was executed for his role in that mess. It was said that he was not an American, but German, or Austrian, but I cant be certain of that at all. I am planning to visit Andersonville this year, I'll post what I find there.
The Union had a notorious prison as well,( I personally think they were all notorious, but these are the worst of them) Camp Douglas in Chicago Ill. I have no details, but it was said to be at least as bad there as at Andersonville.

Andersonville, which rings a distant bell, is probably the prison I had in mind.

I have some recollection that Wirz, like others executed after wars by victors, might not have deserved his fate, but I can't recall why.

tankgeezer
03-27-2010, 12:10 PM
I have heard that as well, scapegoats are all too common in Human warfare. Wirz being the commandant, particularly if he were foreign would make the choice easy. Brutal stuff, but I'm looking through eyes of today, and not those of that time and level of consciousness.