East Tennessee Civil War History

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Tennessee and the Civil War

Tennessee and the Three Grand Divisions

East Tennessee Civil War History Map
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East Tennessee Railroads and the Civil War Map

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Civil War History

East Tennessee is the name applied to approximately the eastern third of the state of Tennessee. Unlike the names bestowed to regions or portions of many U.S. states, the term East Tennessee can be precisely defined. It is the portion of the state located within the Eastern Time Zone and four counties in the Central Time Zone, namely Bledsoe, Cumberland, Marion, and Sequatchie counties. East Tennessee is noted for its mountains, particularly the Great Smoky Mountains portion of the Appalachian Mountains. The East Tennessee Region is also known for being the birthplace of country music and the State of Franklin.

Contrary to most geographic regions within the United States, the term East Tennessee has legal as well as socioeconomic status. East Tennessee, with Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee, comprises one of the state's three Grand Divisions. According to the Tennessee State Constitution, no more than two of the Tennessee Supreme Court's five justices can come from any one Grand Division. A similar rule applies to certain commissions and boards, to prevent them from reflecting a geographic bias.

The major cities of East Tennessee are Knoxville and Chattanooga. Other important cities include the "Tri-Cities" of Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport located in the extreme northeastern area of the state. It is an area previously and traditionally referred to by residents as Upper East Tennessee, although today the term Northeast Tennessee is preferred by non-residents.

Greeneville, Tennessee
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Location of Greeneville, TN, Map

During Secession, Andrew Johnson was the only Southern United States Senator who refused to resign.

During the secession crisis, Andrew Johnson remained in the United States Senate even when Tennessee seceded, which made him a hero in the North and a traitor in the eyes of most Southerners. In 1862, President Lincoln appointed him Military Governor of Tennessee, and Johnson used the state as a laboratory for Reconstruction. In 1864 the Republicans, contending that their National Union Party was for all loyal men, nominated Johnson, a Southerner and a Democrat, for Vice President. (Right) Greeneville, located in East Tennessee, was the hometown of President Andrew Johnson and it was also known for its pro-Unionism.
During the Civil War, East Tennessee was the poorest of the State's three Regions. Within Tennessee, East Tennessee had the least amount of slaves based on a percentage and numerical basis. Consequently, the Region witnessed divided loyalties, and bushwhackers, outlaws and lawlessness reigned. Many East Tennesseans served in Western North Carolina Civil War regiments. Bordered with Western North Carolina, the two Regions reflected many similarities: Western North Carolina was the poorest of North Carolina's three Regions; both were rugged mountainous Regions; within North Carolina, Western North Carolina possessed the least amount of slaves; both Regions experienced lawlessness and anarchy during the Civil War; and they experienced many battles and skirmishes against the same Union commands.

Andrew Johnson residence in Greeneville
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Library of Congress

It "was a running fight for ten miles. Two Federals were killed in the yard of Senator Patterson, the son-in-law of President Johnson. Twelve or fifteen others were killed. General Williams, while slowly retreating before [Union General] Burnside, heard our artillery open upon the enemy. Dashing forward at a gallop, he materially aided us in the achievement of one of the most brilliant retreats of the war." Lt. Col. William W. Stringfield while fighting Burnside's army at the Battle at Henderson's Mill on October 11, 1863

East Tennessee proved invaluable in the defense of the vital and strategic Saltworks and railroads. For example, while guarding the Strawberry Plains Bridge, the Thomas Legion's Private James Keelan was posthumously awarded the rare Confederate Medal of Honor. The East Tennessee and Western North Carolina mountains were also in striking distance of several major Civil War battles. See also Tennessee Civil War History.

According to John L. Ransom, Andersonville Diary (1881), pp. 20-21, Madame Collier  was a federal soldier from East Tennessee who enjoyed army life until her capture and subsequent imprisonment at Belle Isle, Virginia. She decided to make the most of the difficult situation and continued concealing her gender, hoping for exchange. Another prisoner learned her secret and reported it to Confederate authorities, who sent her North under a flag of truce.

The East Tennessee area has four seasons with mild Springs and Falls. Summers can be hot and humid with highs in the 80s and 90s. Winters are usually mild with daily averages in the 30s, but temperatures can drop to the 20s on occasion.

Recommended Reading: East Tennessee and the Civil War (Hardcover) (588 pages). Description: A solid social, political, and military history, this work gives light to the rise of the pro-Union and pro-Confederacy factions. It explores the political developments and recounts in fine detail the military maneuvering and conflicts that occurred. Beginning with a history of the state's first settlers, the author lays a strong foundation for understanding the values and beliefs of East Tennesseans. He examines the rise of abolition and secession, and then advances into the Civil War. Continued below...

Early in the conflict, Union sympathizers burned a number of railroad bridges, resulting in occupation by Confederate troops and abuses upon the Unionists and their families. The author also documents in detail the ‘siege and relief’ of Knoxville. Although authored by a Unionist, the work is objective in nature and fair in its treatment of the South and the Confederate cause, and, complete with a comprehensive index, this work should be in every Civil War library.

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Recommended Reading: Mountain Rebels: East Tennessee Confederates and the Civil War, 1860-1870 (240 pages) (University of Tennessee Press). Description: In this fine study, Groce points out that the Confederates in East Tennessee suffered more for the ‘Southern Cause’ than did most other southerners. From the first rumblings of secession to the redemption of Tennessee in 1870, Groce introduces his readers to numerous men and women from this region who gave their all for Southern Independence. Continued below...

He also points out that East Tennesseans were divided in their loyalties and that slavery played only a small role. Groce goes to great lengths to expose the vile treatment of the Region’s defeated Confederates during the Reconstruction. Numerous maps, pictures, and tables underscore the research.

Recommended Reading: War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869. Description: One of the most divided regions of the Confederacy, East Tennessee was the site of fierce Unionist resistance to secession, Confederate rule, and the Southern war effort. It was also the scene of unrelenting 'irregular,' or guerrilla, warfare between Union and Confederate supporters, a conflict that permanently altered the region's political, economic, and social landscape. In this study, Noel Fisher examines the military and political struggle for control of East Tennessee from the secession crisis through the early years of Reconstruction, focusing particularly on the military and political significance of the region's irregular activity. Continued below...

Fisher portrays in grim detail the brutality and ruthlessness employed not only by partisan bands but also by Confederate and Union troops under constant threat of guerrilla attack and government officials frustrated by unstinting dissent. He demonstrates that, generally, guerrillas were neither the romantic, daring figures of Civil War legend nor mere thieves and murderers, but rather were ordinary men and women who fought to live under a government of their choice and to drive out those who did not share their views.

Recommended Reading: The Last Confederate General: John C. Vaughn and His East Tennessee Cavalry (Hardcover). Description: John Crawford Vaughn was one of the most famous men in Tennessee in the mid-nineteenth century. He was the first man to raise an infantry regiment in the state--and one of the very last Confederate generals to surrender.  History has not been kind to Vaughn, who finally emerges from the shadows in this absorbing assessment of his life and military career.  Making use of recent research and new information, Larry Gordon’s biography follows Vaughn to Manassas, Vicksburg and other crucial battles; it shows him as a close friend of Jefferson Davis, and Davis’s escort during the final month of the war. Continued below…
And it considers his importance as one of the few Confederate generals to return to Tennessee after Reconstruction, where he became President of the State Senate.  Gordon examines Vaughn’s (hitherto unknown) location on the field of crucial battles; his multiple wounds; the fact that his wife and family, captured by Union soldiers, were the only family members of a Confederate general incarcerated as hostages during the Civil War; and the effect of this knowledge on his performance as a military commander.  Finally, the book is as valuable for its view of this little understood figure as it is for the light it casts on the culture of his day. Reviews: Modern reappraisals of maligned Civil War figures like Confederate General John Crawford Vaughn often attempt to even the score by either going too far in the other direction or attacking the subject's critics. Fortunately, Charles Larry Gordon's The Last Confederate General avoids such tactics, and instead attempts a balanced, 'warts and all' portrait of the man…The Last Confederate General is a largely sympathetic, yet even handed, appraisal of the checkered military career of John C. Vaughn. In addition to the narrative account of the general's military service, the lengthy biographical sketch is useful, both as a portrait of a neglected Civil War figure and a personalized example of the deep divisions within East Tennessee politics and society.--Civil War Books & Authors. The Last Confederate General is a fine read for anyone: Action, adventure, love, drama, war and perseverance. What more can you ask for in a book. Five stars for Larry Gordon for a job well done…Larry Gordon seemed to have nailed both recreational reading and historically accurate statistics in one read….a fascinating story of courage, determination and self worth.--Our History Project


Recommended Reading: Touring the East Tennessee Backroads (Touring the Backroads) (380 pages) (John F Blair Pub; 2 edition) (October 1, 2007). Description: The historical facts in the first edition of Touring the East Tennessee Backroads have not changed much since the book was first published in 1993, but highway construction and development has altered the routes of the 13 tours. Continued below...

For this second edition, the author drove over 3,000 miles to update the tours where people such as Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson, Sequoyah, Nancy Ward, and Clarence Darrow once traveled the same backroads.


Recommended Reading: The Loyal Mountaineers Of Tennessee (1888) (Hardcover: 426 pages) (Kessinger Publishing, LLC) (June 2, 2008). Description: This book defines the importance of East Tennessee and its residents to the Union cause during the Civil War. The author begins with early history of East Tennessee and the events which led to the War Between the States. He continues by describing local people and events that contributed to the decision to remain loyal to the United States. Continued below...

The events of the War as they involve East Tennessee are detailed, including important meetings and battles such as Carter's Raid and the siege of Knoxville. The text is enhanced with illustrated portraits of East Tennessee individuals who contributed to the Civil War effort. Originally written and published in 1888, this reprinted edition is accompanied by a complete index. This book is a valuable addition to both the Tennessee historian and the Civil War buff.

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