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East Tennessee, Johnson County and the Civil War

A study of the American Civil War wouldn’t be complete without discussing the position taken by East Tennessee and Johnson County in regard to that terrible conflict.

Tennessee has the distinction of being last to secede from the Union and first to rejoin the Union.
A decisive amount of East Tennessee folks were opposed to secession. Johnson County was no exception. In fact in a vote on whether to secede or not, Johnson County voted 787 to 111 against secession. East Tennesseans looked back with pride to their ancestors’ performance during the Revolutionary War and how those ancestors won independence from Great Britain. And they just weren’t ready to renounce their allegiance to the Union. In the referendum of June 8, 1861, West Tennessee and Tennessee voted to secede while East Tennessee voted two to one to remain in the Union.
Loyalty to the Union was so great that East Tennessee leaders tried to organize East Tennessee as a separate state but were foiled in their attempt by then Governor Isham Harris and his administration. Governor Harris seemed to be determined to bring Tennessee out of the Union and into the Confederacy. As opposition to secession grew, the governor sent troops into East Tennessee to curtail the uprising.
After a call by leading Union men 500 delegates representing nearly every county in East Tennessee met in Knoxville, Tennessee and appointed a committee of representative men from each county to draft resolutions and report to the convention. On May 30th the committee submitted its report. In its report, the committee outlined a series of twelve resolutions explaining why in their view secession was a bad idea.

The Knoxville Convention was reconvened in Greeneville, Tennessee on June 17, 1861. Representatives of all the East Tennessee counties were reportedly on hand. A declaration of grievances was made. One such grievance reads in part, “We, the people of East Tennessee, again assembled in a convention of our delegates make the following declaration:

‘So far as we can learn the election held in this State on the 8th day of the present month was free, with few exceptions, in no other part of the State than East Tennessee. In the larger part of Middle and West Tennessee no speeches or discussion in favor of the Union were permitted. Union papers were not allowed to circulate. Measures were taken in some parts of West Tennessee in defiance of the constitution and laws that allow folded tickets, to have the ballots numbered in such a manner as to mark and expose the Union voter. ‘”

The resolutions named other activities in the election they felt were wrong.

Due to those considerations and the fact that the people of East Tennessee voted to support the Union by a margin of 20,000 votes, the following declarations were presented.
“We do earnestly desire the restoration of peace to our whole country, and most especially that our own section of the State of Tennessee should not be involved in civil war.”

“This convention further resolved that to avert a conflict with their brethren in other parts of the State that certain distinguished members of the body should act as commissioners to memorialize the legislature then in session to give its consent that the counties comprising East Tennessee and such counties in Middle Tennessee as desire to cooperate may form and erect a separate state.”

Of course the bid for statehood for East Tennessee was to no avail but during the War people of East Tennessee including Johnson County suffered much due to their loyalty to the Union.