By: Jack Swift
Johnson County Historian
Johnson County in northeast Tennessee has been home to me since my birth March 22, 1938. The only time I have been away from this beautiful and friendly area is when I was in the Army.
While the history of Johnson County was always very interesting to me, I found it even more so after accepting the post of Johnson County Historian several years ago. After studying Tennessee and Johnson County history at Johnson County High School under the very able guidance of Mrs. Blanche Osborne, I added to my knowledge by reading books, magazines and articles and by talking to older members of the county. There is a well of knowledge about Johnson County, Mountain City and east Tennessee that seemingly never runs dry. I will continue to seek out the distinctive treasure of Johnson County history because there is much, much more that I would like to know about. Of most interest to me is Johnson County’s reaction to and sympathies in the Civil War.
I can imagine that one of the most awful periods of time concerning our county was the four years of Civil War that reared its ugly head in 1861 and ended in 1865. Johnson County and several other East Tennessee counties were against secession and at one time their leaders tried to organize the section as a separate state. Of course Governor Isham G. Harris, a staunch supporter of the Confederate cause, and his administration quashed that effort. In the referendum of June 8, 1861, West Tennessee and Middle Tennessee voted to secede while East Tennessee voted 2 to 1 to remain in the Union. By the time the War ended, Tennessee had furnished 30,000 soldiers to the Union Army while 100,000 had fought for the Confederacy.
Living in East Tennessee and Johnson County during the Civil War was no doubt a nightmare. Distrust was rampant. Bad things happened. Soldiers fought with valor on both sides but the Union prevailed. The war began April 12, 1861 when Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter, South Carolina; it ended with the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox, Virginia Courthouse April 9, 1865.
An interesting note: Kentucky attempted to remain neutral in the War but some major battles took place there anyway. Virginia seceded from the Union, thereby leaving 40 counties, which formed their own government and was granted statehood as West Virginia in 1863.