My Turn

Story published: 05-15-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Swift recounts East Tennessee's Civil War history

By Jack Swift

The American Civil War began with shots fired on Fort Sumter, a federal fort located in Charleston, South Carolina. President Lincoln had sent supplies to the fort but the ships were intersected and forced to sail back to New York. Soon after that Fort Sumter’s commander, Robert Anderson, was ordered to surrender. He didn’t at first but later surrendered and evacuated the fort and South Carolina forces took it.

Who knew then that those first volleys would begin the devastating conflict known as the American Civil War? Who knew that the United States of America that had been formed through blood, sweat and tears in a hard fought victory over Great Britain would soon see their country divided in loyalty: countrymen against countrymen and at times family members against family members?

I am not an expert on the Civil War, but I have tried to seek out information on Johnson County’s and East Tennessee’s involvement in that history defining conflict. I have a few books on the Civil War but two of the most informative ones are History of the 13th Regiment Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry by Samuel W. Scott and Samuel P. Angel and Adventures of Daniel Ellis the Union Guide written by Daniel Ellis.

Both books describe the horrors and suffering of both those who fought the battles and those who were left behind on the home front. While it is evident that both the Confederacy and the Federal States suffered in the war, East Tennessee and Johnson County had its share and more of atrocities inflicted on it due to its loyalty to the Union cause. In a vote taken in Johnson County prior to the War, the count was 787 to 111 against secession. In the first vote statewide the anti-secession folks prevailed by 68,000 votes.

Folks who were for secession began to talk it up and bolster as much support for secession as they could. Another vote was taken and the result was for secession. Some believe there was much intimation of voters because Tennessee’s Governor Isham Harris was bound and determined to take Tennessee from the Union. Eleven states subsequently seceded: South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee. Kentucky claimed neutrality but battles were fought in that state. The folks of western Virginia held loyalty to the Union and formed a separate state: West Virginia.

Prior to the war representatives of the counties of East Tennessee held a convention in Knoxville. A number of grievances against plunging Tennessee into a war they did not want were outlined in that meeting.

Representatives from East Tennessee again held a convention (this time in Greeneville). Among the resolutions in that convention, was a request that the counties of East Tennessee and any other counties that so desired could form a separate state. Obviously, that never happened.

It is interesting to note that Scott County, Tennessee, was so solid against secession that the folks of that county on June 8, 1861 voted overwhelmingly against secession. The county was so anti-secession it voted against secession by the largest percentage margin of any county in Tennessee. Later, the County Court voted to approve a resolution announcing Scott County’s decision to secede from Tennessee and form the Independent State of Scott. That resolution remained on Scott County’s books until the past few years.