This & That

Story published: 04-23-2014 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

East Tennessee was against secession in Civil War

By Jack Swift

Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And while nobody living today experienced first hand the horrors of the American Civil War and in reality remember it, we can from time to time look back to it through various books and other writings that were written from persons who lived during that unfortunate era and remember it vicariously through them.

East Tennessee was, according to a number of books and writings, for the most part loyal to the Union during that time. Considering how controversial that conflict was at the time, some of the writings seem to me to be biased. There are what I consider good accounts from folks who wrote shortly following the War.

Goodspeed’s General History of Tennessee is a great book relating to the history of Tennessee. There is a good deal of history in the book on East Tennessee’s stance and actions during the Civil War. I found some interesting statistics regarding an election that was held prior to the start-up of that war to gauge the sentiment of the people of the state. It was interesting to note that in that election of June 8, 1861, out of 29 East Tennessee counties, all but six voted overwhelmingly to remain in the Union.

Johnson County voted 787-111against separation from the Union. That is just a smidgen more than 14 percent. The total vote from the 29 counties of East Tennessee was 14,780 for separation and 32,923 against separation. That is almost 45 percent — not a good showing in East Tennessee for separation sentiment.

Two more good books that show the hardship and punishment many Johnson County citizens experienced due to their loyalty to the Union. The books are History of the 13th Regiment, Tennessee Voluntary Cavalry by Samuel W. Scott and Samuel P. Angle and Thrilling Adventures of Daniel Ellis, Union Guide written by Ellis himself. Each of those books tend to show what Johnson County citizens went through during that terrible time in East Tennessee. It has been noted by some historians that East Tennessee’s feelings against separation was so strong that leaders tried to form a separate state. Kentucky, a border state, chose to stay in the Union but some battles took place there anyway. Following the Wheeling Convention, which was composed of 50 northwestern counties of Virginia, West Virginia became a new state adhering to the Union. It was the only state that was formed by seceding from a Confederate state and was one of two states formed during the American Civil War. Nevada was the other one which separated from Utah Territory.

Another book on the history of Tennessee and East Tennessee in general is Tennessee, The history of an American State, by Terry Weeks and Bob Womack.

There are several reasons why East Tennesseans were adamantly against separating from the Union but it has been recognized that East Tennesseans had great pride in their country sense it had been hard-won in the Revolutionary War and subsequent wars. It had already earned the title of Volunteer State. Tennessee provided 30,000 men to fight for the Union.

A document signed by several East Tennessee citizens in a convention in Knoxville reads in part as follows: “The undersigned, a portion of the people of East Tennessee, disapproving the hasty and inconsiderate action of our General Assembly, and sincerely desirous to do, in the midst of the trouble which surrounds us, what will be best for our country, and for all classes of our citizens, respectfully appoint a convention to be held in Knoxville on Thursday the 20th of May inst.; and we urge every county in East Tennessee to send delegates to this convention, that the conservative element of our whole section may be represented and that wise and judicious counsels looking to peace and harmony among ourselves.”

As can be seen from this statement and others, leaders in East Tennessee tried hard to prevent that most uncivil Civil War, but to no avail.