War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869 / Edition 1

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Overview

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. Drawing on extensive research in government documents, military records, and personal accounts of soldiers and residents of the region, 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 by 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. By placing the conflict between Unionists and secessionists in East Tennessee within the context of the whole war, Fisher explores the significance of the struggle for both sides.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
[Fisher's] presentation is balanced in a topic area where it is easy to become a partisan of one side to the controversy. His writing is clear, and his account is succinct and to the point. (American Historical Review)

An important contribution to our understanding of the Civil War in a border area of the upper South. (Journal of American History)

Fisher is to be commended for bringing the war in east Tennessee to light. His text is well written and very well researched. (Civil War News)

Ample reference material and statistics complement the text in a superb effort to integrate war and society from which we can learn much more about our Civil War—not necessarily the Civil War of 'Gettysburg' or even 'Gone with the Wind,' but perhaps a 'real civil war' within our traditionally understood conflict. (Civil War Courier)

Well researched and clearly written, this book will become the standard history of partisan warfare in east Tennessee. (Choice)

American Historical Review
[Fisher's] presentation is balanced in a topic area where it is easy to become a partisan of one side to the controversy. His writing is clear, and his account is succinct and to the point.
Journal of American History
An important contribution to our understanding of the Civil War in a border area of the upper South.
Civil War News
Fisher is to be commended for bringing the war in east Tennessee to light. His text is well written and very well researched.
Civil War Courier
Ample reference material and statistics complement the text in a superb effort to integrate war and society from which we can learn much more about our Civil War—not necessarily the Civil War of 'Gettysburg' or even 'Gone with the Wind, ' but perhaps a 'real civil war' within our traditionally understood conflict.
Choice
Well researched and clearly written, this book will become the standard history of partisan warfare in east Tennessee.
Civil War News
Fisher is to be commended for bringing the war in east Tennessee to light. His text is well written and very well researched.
Journal of American History
An important contribution to our understanding of the Civil War in a border area of the upper South.
American Historical Review
[Fisher's] presentation is balanced in a topic area where it is easy to become a partisan of one side to the controversy. His writing is clear, and his account is succinct and to the point.
Civil War Courier
Ample reference material and statistics complement the text in a superb effort to integrate war and society from which we can learn much more about our Civil War--not necessarily the Civil War of Gettysburg or even Gone with the Wind, but perhaps a 'real civil war' within our traditionally understood conflict.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807849880
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 9/3/2001
  • Series: Civil War America Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Noel C. Fisher, who received his Ph.D. in history from The Ohio State University, is a freelance writer who lives in Columbus, Ohio.
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Read an Excerpt

War at Every Door
Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869


By Noel C. Fisher

University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 1997 The University of North Carolina Press.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0807823678



Chapter One


The Switzerland of America


East Tennessee's position in the antebellum South was ambivalent. The mountain ranges that enclose this area on all sides cut East Tennessee off from ready communication with other regions, created a sense of isolation, and produced a set of distinct economic and cultural characteristics. East Tennessee was relatively poor in comparison with other parts of the Confederacy, and staple crop agriculture was largely absent. It relied little on slavery, and there are indications that by 1860 a free labor ideology had begun to take hold. At the same time, East Tennessee's rural structure was similar to that of other regions of the state, its manufacturing sector was still small, and its transportation systems provided links not with the North but rather with its Southern neighbors. Further, East Tennessee's political leaders, both Whig and Democrat, proudly identified themselves as Southerners, defended the institution of slavery, and supported Southern interests in Congress. East Tennessee's location in the Appalachians did not in itself separate it from the rest of the South. As John S. Inscoe and Kenneth Noe amply demonstrated, western North Carolina and southwest Virginia, Appalachian regions with economic structures similar to East Tennessee's, fully supported secession and supplied thousands of recruits to the Confederate army.[1]

The territory that became known as East Tennessee was not penetrated by Europeans until the late colonial period. Many of these early settlers came west from Virginia and North Carolina, while others drifted down the valleys from Pennsylvania. They gathered in four settlements on the Watauga, Nolichucky, and Holston Rivers and engaged in hunting, farming, trade with Native Americans, and land speculation. Their first years were chaotic and their future uncertain, for this land belonged to the Cherokee and by British regulations was closed to settlement. The white communities evaded British orders to withdraw behind the dividing line established by the Proclamation of 1763; they then attempted first to lease this area and then to purchase it outright. Many Cherokee resented the trespassers, however, and in 1776 tensions between the two groups erupted into war. The white settlers suffered considerable losses, but in 1777, aided by troops from North Carolina, they defeated the Cherokee and forced them to cede thousands of acres.[2]


The early settlements were also threatened by political disorder. Because surveys lagged behind settlement, it was unclear whether this territory belonged to Virginia or North Carolina. As a consequence, East Tennesseans lacked both legal and political institutions. To fill this political vacuum, in 1772 delegates established a new government, the Watauga Association, which consisted of a court of five members with both legislative and executive powers, a clerk, and a sheriff. It governed the settlements until 1776, when North Carolina formally annexed this region. The Watauga Association had many flaws, but it provided a measure of law and order, and East Tennessee's early historians proudly pointed to it as the first written constitution west of the Appalachian Mountains.[3]

The East Tennessee settlements were largely untouched by the first years of the Revolutionary War. But in 1780, after British forces had occupied much of North Carolina, the loyalist commander Major Patrick Ferguson demanded that the settlers on the frontier acknowledge British authority and threatened to raze their homes if they refused. In response, about one thousand volunteers from East Tennessee, North Carolina, and western Virginia marched across the mountains, overtook a loyalist force at King's Mountain, and nearly annihilated it. This victory, in conjunction with numerous American triumphs in the South in 1780 and 1781, ended the British threat. King's Mountain also established a powerful tradition of patriotism and national loyalty in East Tennessee.[4]

The conclusion of the Revolutionary War did not bring stability to East Tennessee. Despite its annexation of this region, North Carolina had been slow to incorporate the new settlements. The North Carolina legislature had established three counties, Washington, Greene, and Sullivan, with rudimentary governments, but the settlers still lacked effective representation in the state legislature, legal institutions, and security from Native American raids. This situation worsened in early 1784, when North Carolina ceded its western lands to the Confederation government, leaving the frontier settlements in a political limbo and depriving East Tennessee of government. Angry at their position, in late 1784 East Tennessee delegates again met in a convention, proclaimed their region the state of Franklin, organized a government, and applied to Congress for admission.

The premature bid for statehood proved disastrous. In response to North Carolina's opposition, Congress rejected petitions from Franklin for admission in both 1785 and 1786. North Carolina's governor then threatened to arrest the leaders of the Franklin movement and try them for treason. East Tennessee settlers split into pro- and anti-Franklin factions, the former headed by John Sevier and the latter by John Tipton, both wealthy land speculators and ambitious politicians. The two groups formed armed bands and struggled for control of political and judicial offices. The crisis peaked in 1788, when Tipton and his supporters arrested Sevier and took him to North Carolina for trial. The position of the Franklin government was further damaged by renewed war with the Cherokee in 1786-88. At the same time, the statehood movement spurred North Carolina to remedy its neglect of the frontier. In late 1784 North Carolina repealed the cession of its frontier lands, appointed a superior court judge and an Indian commissioner for the region, and established a militia. It also dropped its charges against Sevier and allowed him to return to East Tennessee. This combination of threats and improved government proved effective, and in 1789 the Franklin government collapsed. Nevertheless, the experience of Franklin and the desire for a separate East Tennessee state were not forgotten.[5]

From this point on, the fortunes of the East Tennessee settlers improved dramatically. In 1789 North Carolina again ceded its public lands to the new Federal government, opening huge tracts for sale and reviving hopes of self-government. In 1790 Congress organized East Tennessee and other frontier areas into the Southwest Territory, and President George Washington appointed William Blount, a wealthy land speculator and an early settler in East Tennessee, as governor. By 1795 the settlements in what would become East and Middle Tennessee had reached a sufficient population to apply for statehood, and in 1796 Congress, over Federalist objections, admitted the state of Tennessee. Rapid expansion followed political stability, and throughout the 1790s and early 1800s the Cherokee were repeatedly forced to cede land and move south to accommodate the region's rapidly growing white population. In 1817 and 1819 most Cherokee signed treaties giving up their remaining land in East Tennessee in exchange for territory across the Mississippi River, and in 1835 the few remaining families in the southeastern corner of East Tennessee were forcibly removed.[6]

In its early years Tennessee was a Republican state, for most inhabitants despised the Federalist Party for its perceived advocacy of Eastern interests at the expense of the frontier. Politics were based on faction rather than party, and for three decades two Republican contingents competed with each other for office. The first, based in Middle Tennessee, was led by William Blount, the former governor of the Southwest Territory and the state's first senator. The second faction was headed by John Sevier, a land speculator who rose to prominence as a militia leader in the wars against the Cherokee. This group found most of its support in East Tennessee, and initially it dominated state politics. Sevier skillfully parlayed military fame into votes, and he served as governor from 1795 through 1801 and 1805 through 1809. But Middle Tennessee's population rapidly overtook East Tennessee's, and by 1815 the Blount faction had ousted Sevier. Blount was aided not only by demographics but also by superior talent, particularly Willie Blount, Felix Grundy, Sam Houston, and most importantly Andrew Jackson. By contrast, Sevier was followed by less prominent and less politically shrewd figures such as William Carroll and John Williams.[7]

In the 1830s party replaced faction, however. Influenced by Andrew Jackson's great popularity and his advocacy of Western interests, large numbers of Tennessee voters initially embraced the new Democratic Party that formed around him. But Jackson's assertion of broad presidential powers, his opposition to Federal aid for transportation improvements, and his political appointments angered many voters, even in Tennessee. An opposition movement coalesced around John Bell of Nashville and Judge Hugh Lawson White of Knoxville and took shape as the Whig Party of Tennessee. By 1836 both Whigs and Democrats were fully organized, and for the next decade and a half the two parties fiercely competed for national, state, and local offices. Until 1852 Whigs won the majority of national and state elections, but the two parties were remarkably well matched. The breakup of the national Whig Party in the early 1850s shifted the advantage to the Democrats, but throughout the rest of the decade Whigs, sometimes under the guise of other parties such as the Know-Nothings, continued to compete effectively for office.[8]

Political loyalties in antebellum Tennessee were tenacious, and between 1836 and 1852 the vote of most counties could be predicted with great accuracy. But the reasons for party preference are less clear. The most thorough studies of voter behavior in antebellum Tennessee have found no correlation between party affiliation and either slaveholding or wealth. Rather, they have concluded that the most significant factors influencing voting were residence and occupation. Town-based groups, such as merchants and lawyers, and residents of more economically developed rural areas tended to support the Whig Party. Democrats, conversely, controlled rural areas not experiencing significant economic change. This pattern changed somewhat in the late antebellum period. After 1854 merchants, lawyers, and other urban professionals tended to drift out of Whig ranks in West Tennessee, while making up an increasingly large percentage of the Whig Party in East Tennessee. During this same period new voters in West Tennessee tended to join the Democratic Party, but in East Tennessee favored the Whigs. These trends reflected the increasing influence of the sectional crisis on voting in Tennessee. All these connections were tenuous, however, and local factors may have been more influential.[9]

Both the Whig and Democratic Parties were well represented in East Tennessee. Until the early 1850s twelve counties tended to vote for Whig candidates, eleven typically favored the Democracy, and six were unpredictable. Central East Tennessee had a particularly strong Whig following, while the northeastern counties were the home of Andrew Johnson and the Democrats. The dissolution of the national Whig Party did not alter this pattern substantially. The majority of East Tennessee Whigs moved into the American, the Opposition, and the Constitutional Union Parties and continued to win many elections.[10]

Politics in East Tennessee were intensely personalized and frequently marred by violence. Party institutions were not sufficiently developed to transform political contests into objective, impersonal contests, and elections were characterized by slander and abuse. Further, the leadership circle in East Tennessee was small, and grievances and feuds were perpetuated in election after election. Political contests, thus, tended to generate considerable personal hostilities and resentments.

At the center of many of these conflicts was William G. Brownlow, an editor of legendary ferocity who would become the chief spokesman of the East Tennessee Unionists. Brownlow was born to a poor family in Virginia and was apprenticed to a carpenter at age fourteen. After his conversion at a Methodist camp meeting, however, Brownlow became a minister and spent several years riding circuits in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. Brownlow apparently carried out his duties faithfully, but his true calling was politics, as he demonstrated in battles with his Presbyterian and Baptist rivals and in debates over slavery. Brownlow did not simply argue with his opponents; he sought to intimidate and humiliate them so severely that they would never cross him again. He possessed a vicious wit, and he employed insults, caricatures, insinuations, half-truths, and lies to devastating effect.[11]

In 1839 Brownlow resigned his pastorship, moved to Elizabethton, Tennessee, and founded the Elizabethton Whig. There he made his first prominent enemy, Landon Carter Haynes, the son of wealthy parents in northeastern East Tennessee and a future Confederate senator. Brownlow and Haynes first encountered one another when they supported opposing candidates for the First District U.S. House seat, a nasty campaign that left many wounds. The following year Brownlow moved his sheet to Jonesborough, while Haynes became editor of the rival Democratic paper, the Jonesborough Sentinel. Brownlow immediately declared war. He portrayed Haynes as an untalented hack who had stolen other students' speeches at Washington College and passed them off as his own and taunted Haynes for living off his family's wealth. Haynes in turn charged that Brownlow was illegitimate. After several exchanges of slander the conflict took a new turn. On the evening of March 2 an assailant fired at Brownlow while he was seated in his house. Brownlow rushed out and fired back, and the next week he publicly accused Haynes of attempting to kill him. Two months later Brownlow accosted Haynes on the streets of Jonesborough and began beating him with his cane. Haynes in turn pulled out his pistol and shot Brownlow in the leg. Shortly thereafter Haynes, unwilling or unable to sustain the conflict, gave up his editorship.[12]

In 1849 Brownlow moved his paper to Knoxville and acquired several new enemies. Brownlow had announced in advance his intention to supplant Knoxville's two existing papers, the Whig Register and the Democratic Sentinel. His reputation for combativeness preceded him, and both papers made plans to destroy the new enterprise. The Register's funders, who included John Crozier, William G. Swan, William H. Sneed, and Thomas W. Humes, pooled $6,000 to fight off Brownlow's challenge. Their first opportunity to damage the Whig came soon. Brownlow, apparently unaware of Crozier's enmity, shipped his press in Crozier's care. The press was purposely left on the docks, and, though one of Brownlow's friends discovered and rescued the shipment, this incident alerted Brownlow to his danger. In one of his first editions Brownlow accused the Register's supporters of secretly planning to burn his office, and he and a number of friends stood guard for several nights. It is not clear whether the accusations were based on real evidence or were simply a publicity stunt, but they further heightened the conflict. Tensions soon became so high that Knoxville's leaders called a town meeting to plead for an end to the feuding.[13]

Brownlow eventually triumphed in Knoxville. In 1851 the Sentinel folded, and soon thereafter the Register converted to a Democratic press. Not content with his victory, Brownlow continued to ridicule the Register's editor, James Sperry, as "a man of bad morals, bad associations, and the tool of the worst class of men in Knoxville" and to dismiss his paper as a sheet with "but a limited circulation, and no character for anything but lying." A final challenge came in the early 1850s, when William G. Swan attempted to establish a second Democratic sheet in Knoxville, the Southern Citizen. After some written sparring Brownlow came to Swan's house one night, brandished a pistol, and challenged him to a duel. Swan declined, and Brownlow publicly accused his rival of cowardice. In 1856 Swan's enterprise collapsed. By the late 1850s Brownlow's Whig had become the most influential paper in East Tennessee and one of the largest in the South. Brownlow's victory resulted partly from his combativeness, but partly also from his shrewd political instincts and his keen understanding of the East Tennessee population.[14]

Brownlow's enemies were not confined to journalistic rivals. In 1856, in response to worsening economic conditions, the Knoxville branch of the Bank of Tennessee suspended specie payments. Two Democratic businessmen, J. G. M. Ramsey and Major Thomas C. Lyon, were appointed to examine the bank's accounts and repay depositors. The examiners moved slowly, and Brownlow, along with Whig businessman George W. Ross, filed suit in Knox County Chancery Court against the bank's former president, William W. Churchwell, to recover depositors' funds. Churchwell hired John Crozier to defend him. Brownlow and Ross won their suit, and the state supreme court upheld that ruling, though the onset of secession prevented Brownlow and Ross from collecting any of the judgment. Brownlow also used the Whig to accuse the examiners of incompetence, favoritism in making repayments, and fraud. Thus, by 1860 Brownlow had acquired the enmity of the future secessionist leaders Ramsey, Lyon, Crozier, and Churchwell as well as Sneed, Swan, and Haynes.[15]

Brownlow's most enduring and formidable enemy was Andrew Johnson, the leader of the East Tennessee Democrats. Brownlow and Johnson shared many characteristics. Both had risen from obscurity, both resented the influence of large slaveholders over Southern politics, and both were passionately devoted to the interests of East Tennessee. But where Brownlow saw East Tennessee's salvation in the developmental policies of the Whig Party, Johnson favored limited government, the restriction of business privileges, and the protection of the common people from economic exploitation. Johnson attacked bank and railroad charters, introduced a homestead bill that would open land to poorer white families, and advocated the determination of representation on the basis of white population alone.

Brownlow encountered Johnson directly in politics only once, when both were candidates for the First District congressional seat. Brownlow lost that contest decisively, and he developed a certain respect for Johnson's political skills. But Brownlow never gave up attempts to damage the Democratic leader. He not only attacked Johnson's political views but also portrayed him as morally unfit to hold office. Brownlow accused Johnson of being an atheist, an infidel, and a Catholic. He further claimed that Johnson beat his wife, regularly visited prostitutes, and drank heavily. Finally, in a favorite charge, Brownlow exploited Johnson's obscure past and accused him of being illegitimate. Johnson in turn depicted Brownlow as a tool of the of the East Tennessee elite, accused him of favoring government interference in private morality, and condemned him for promoting hatred and intolerance. The two men despised one another, but they remained impervious to each other's assaults. Brownlow proved unable to block Johnson's political ascension, but he retained his considerable influence over Whig voters.[16]

Party loyalties were not the only dividing factor in antebellum Tennessee. The separation of Tennessee into three regions, West, Middle, and East, is central to the state's history. East and Middle Tennessee had originated as separate enterprises and had functioned independently for two decades. West Tennessee was not settled until the 1820s, and its frontier heritage was still evident in 1860. Following geography and history, the constitution of 1834 established three "grand divisions" for purposes of taxation, appropriations, and some political appointments. Many religious denominations organized three separate conferences in Tennessee, one for each division. Even the state's railroad lines did not link its divisions together, but instead tied each section to markets and transportation centers in neighboring states.[17]

Tennessee's three sections competed with each other for political dominance, revenues, and funding for internal improvements. From the state's founding to the first decade of the nineteenth century East Tennessee supplied most of the state's governors, controlled the state legislature, and monopolized at least one Senate seat. But in 1812 rapid population growth and congressional redistricting threw the advantage to Middle Tennessee. The subsequent political decline of East Tennessee, symbolized by the removal of the state capital from Knoxville to Nashville, was deep and painful. Between 1819 and 1860 only a single candidate from the eastern counties, Andrew Johnson, reached the governor's chair, and after 1840 East Tennessee lost its claim to one Senate seat. Three defeats late in the antebellum period particularly embittered East Tennessee Whig leaders. In both 1851 and 1853 T. A. R. Nelson, one of East Tennessee's most respected Whig leaders, was a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat, but both times the state legislature instead selected a Middle Tennessee candidate. Then, in 1857, John Netherland lost badly to Isham G. Harris in the governor's race, a defeat that further emphasized East Tennessee's political weakness. Whigs in East and West Tennessee frequently allied against Democratic Middle Tennessee, but representatives from the middle counties nonetheless tended to dominate the state legislature.[18]

Occasionally sectional disputes threatened to split the state. In the late 1830s Middle Tennessee legislators blocked several bills funding railroad and road projects in the other two sections. In turn, representatives from East and West Tennessee accused Middle Tennessee of monopolizing state funds to build its own road network. Their dispute became so divisive that in 1841 East Tennessee congressmen introduced bills in the Tennessee House and Senate authorizing the eastern counties to form a new state. These bills received the support of both Whigs and Democrats, including William G. Brownlow and Andrew Johnson. The Senate actually approved the statehood measure in 1842, but the House added an amendment requiring a referendum on the issue of separation. The Senate refused to accept this amendment, and the measure died. East Tennessee legislators introduced a similar statehood bill in 1843, but it again failed. Nevertheless, the desire for an East Tennessee state, a desire fueled partly by history and partly by resentment of Middle Tennessee, remained.[19]

The antislavery movement came to East Tennessee in the early nineteenth century, and in some locations lingered until the Civil War. Several manumission societies were founded in the 1810s and 1820s, and three antislavery papers, the Manumission Intelligencer, the Emancipator, and the Genius of Universal Emancipation, were published briefly in Jonesborough and Greeneville during this period. The movement flagged in the late 1820s, and all three papers moved north. But the issue of slavery emerged again in the early 1830s when Tennessee delegates debating proposed revisions of the Tennessee constitution also considered a measure for the gradual abolition of slavery. Thirteen of twenty delegates who supported this move represented East Tennessee, and East Tennessee voters sent the majority of petitions in favor of this measure. East Tennessee thus gained a reputation as a haven for antislavery sentiment, and in locations such as Maryville antislavery views may have continued to circulate and shape political leanings. But on the whole the antislavery movement was neither influential nor enduring. Early manumission societies in East Tennessee were small and attracted few major figures, and the antislavery publications had only limited circulation. While many East Tennesseans despised large slaveholders and resented their political influence, they firmly believed in black inferiority and had little interest in the fate of slaves.[20]

East Tennessee comprises three distinct geographical sections and exhibits great variations in terrain, climate, and soil quality, not only from section to section but also within each geographic division. The counties bordering North Carolina lie within the Unaka Mountain Range and are characterized by high, steep slopes and a rugged, heavily wooded terrain. In most of this area the soil is poor and agricultural potential limited, but the resources of timber and ores are rich. The western counties, which are situated on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, are also mountainous, though slightly less rugged. While parts of this region are level and productive, much of the land is cut with ridges that limit agricultural production. In this section were found some of the most isolated and undeveloped counties in antebellum East Tennessee, particularly Scott, Morgan, and Cumberland. The final section, the Greater Valley of East Tennessee, separates the two mountain sections and comprises about half the territory of the region. Here level fields alternate with rolling hills, and this region contains extensive areas of good soil that allows a variety of agricultural pursuits. This mixed terrain of slopes, pastures, and cultivated fields gave East Tennessee its nineteenth-century designation as "the Switzerland of America." Thus, while antebellum East Tennessee lacked the rich soil and agricultural productivity of other areas of the South, it did not fit the simple nineteenth- and twentieth-century stereotype of a Southern "mountain" region.[21]

Agriculture in East Tennessee was highly diversified. East Tennessee farmers raised considerable quantities of wheat, corn, oats, hay, and fruit, grazed large herds of cattle and hogs, and kept honeybees and silkworms. Farms ranged in size from small subsistence plots to large market enterprises, and agricultural practices varied widely. Holdings in the river valleys were intensively cultivated, and some farmers employed advanced agricultural methods and bred high-quality livestock. Conversely, most of the land in the mountain counties remained in pasture and timber, and unfenced grazing was common. In 1860 57 percent of East Tennessee families owned land, and the majority of farms were in the range of fifty to two hundred acres.[22]

The manufacturing sector in East Tennessee grew rapidly in the late antebellum period and was just beginning to transform the region's economy. Most production was limited to basic processing of the region's resources, and grain mills, iron and copper works, lumber mills, and alcohol distilleries were common. But in towns such as Knoxville, Chattanooga, Greeneville, and Jonesborough a number of more specialized establishments also existed, including foundries, wagon and carriage shops, and boot and shoe manufacturers. East Tennessee's per capita investment in manufacturing and production exceeded that of Middle and West Tennessee, and by 1860 the region's resources in coal, ores, and timber made the potential for rapid industrialization clear. Even so, East Tennessee's urban population was small. Knoxville, East Tennessee's political and economic center, had about 3,000 inhabitants in 1860, while Chattanooga had only 1,500. Other important towns, such as Athens, Cleveland, Greeneville, and Kingston, had fewer than 1,000 residents. These villages served largely as commercial and government centers for the surrounding rural areas.[23]

The economy of East Tennessee was hampered by the poor soil in many regions and by a climate that precluded the production of valuable staple crops, particularly cotton. But the greatest barrier to economic development was the lack of transportation. The Tennessee, French Broad, Holston, and Watauga Rivers provided local movement of goods, but numerous obstructions on the Tennessee River impeded extensive shipping and blocked access to the South's major river systems and ports. Further, unlike Middle Tennessee, the eastern counties lacked the private capital to construct a network of hard-surface roads. Until the 1850s goods moved into East Tennessee from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Richmond, and Nashville on large wagon trains, and East Tennesseans drove herds of cattle and hogs to market in neighboring states.[24]

The potential of the railroad for overcoming these transportation barriers was quickly recognized. In the 1830s a group of East Tennessee businessmen led by Dr. J. G. M. Ramsey organized the Hiwassee Railroad, which was projected to run from Knoxville to the Georgia border and to link up with the proposed Louisville, Cincinnati and Charleston Railroad. This project, unfortunately, soon collapsed for lack of funds. The railroad movement revived in the late 1840s, however, when the Western and Atlantic was completed from Atlanta to Chattanooga. Taking advantage of extensive state aid, East Tennessee companies had completed by 1855 two lines, the East Tennessee and Georgia and the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroads. Running from Bristol to Chattanooga, these lines provided service to the entire East Tennessee Valley and linked the region with the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf coast. The railroads left many counties without service, and in the mountain areas transportation remained a serious problem. But they also spurred increased trade, manufacturing, and tourism, allowed farmers to market more grain, and accounted for a boom in wheat production in the 1850s.[25]

By greatly increasing contacts between East Tennessee and the rest of the South, the railroads had unexpected effects on the region's economic and political development. Wheat merchants established business contacts and friendships with Southern merchants in Georgia and other states. Increasing numbers of Southern travelers visited East Tennessee's mountain resorts, and East Tennesseans made more frequent visits to friends and relatives in Southern states. The result, at least among certain groups in East Tennessee, was an increasing identification with the South. Merchants and lawyers involved in Southern trade linked their own prosperity with the South's, while increased personal contacts led to a greater awareness of, and sympathy with, Southern grievances against the North.[26]

By many measures the economic structure of rural East Tennessee differed little from that of the rest of the state. The percentage of East Tennessee families who owned land was only slightly smaller than in Middle and West Tennessee, and farm sizes were similar. Land values in East Tennessee were somewhat lower, farms tended to be less intensively cultivated, and East Tennessee had fewer large enterprises. But the differences between the eastern counties and the rest of the state were only moderate. For example, the average percent of improved acres on East Tennessee farms was 28.3 percent, only slightly behind Middle Tennessee's 33.6 percent. Similarly, in both East and Middle Tennessee only 1 percent of farms exceeded 500 acres, while in West Tennessee the figure was 2 percent. Equally important, in all three regions land values, land holdings, and agricultural development varied widely. For example, land prices in East Tennessee ranged from less than $2 per acre in the mountain counties of Cumberland, Morgan, and Scott to more than $13 per acre in the valley. In Middle Tennessee land values varied from $5 to $33 per acre, and in West Tennessee they ranged from $4 to $19.[27]


Nonetheless, in four areas—staple crop production, levels of wealth, and percentages of slaveholding families and of slaves in the population—East Tennessee sharply diverged from other regions of Tennessee and the South. Seventeen of East Tennessee's thirty-one counties grew no cotton at all in 1860, and only one, Monroe, exceeded the state's production mean. By contrast, only three counties in the rest of state planted no cotton. Production of tobacco was only moderately higher. Every county in East Tennessee planted at least a small amount of this crop, but on average East Tennessee farms produced only one-twentieth as much as Middle Tennessee and one-fortieth as much as West Tennessee. Many East Tennessee farmers turned to wheat as a substitute market crop, but that commodity could not compete with cotton or tobacco as a moneymaker.[28]


The lack of a high-value money crop in East Tennessee not only kept wealth and income levels relatively low, it also took away much of the incentive and ability to acquire slaves. In only three East Tennessee counties did slaveholding families make up 15 percent or more of the population, and in none did they constitute more than 20 percent. By contrast, twenty of thirty-five counties in Middle Tennessee and fourteen of eighteen in West Tennessee had slaveholder populations above 20 percent, while four counties in each section exceeded 40 percent. Overall, in East Tennessee slaveholders made up only one-tenth of the population, compared with about a quarter in Middle Tennessee and one-third in West Tennessee. The percentages of planters and slaves in the population followed a similar pattern. Most slaves in East Tennessee were found on the commercial farms along the Holston and French Broad River valleys and in the larger towns.[28]

Finally, East Tennessee lagged significantly behind the rest of the state in wealth. In 1860 the aggregate wealth (real plus personal property) per capita was only $454. By contrast, the per capita aggregate wealth in Middle and West Tennessee was $934 and $1,243, respectively. The highest per capita wealth in East Tennessee was $730, in Jefferson County, while the top figures for Middle and West Tennessee were $2,600 and $3,300.[30]

These figures must be used with caution. Land values, for example, reflected a wide range of factors, including agricultural potential, demand, capital availability, population density, transportation facilities, and the market for commodities produced. Likewise, levels of wealth in the antebellum South were closely linked to both slaveholding and land values, and they may reveal very little about actual income levels or standard of living. Nonetheless, these figures suggest sharp economic and social differences between East Tennessee and the rest of the state.

Antebellum East Tennessee was a region for which the economic and political future was uncertain. Many East Tennesseans craved development that would improve the region's economic position, but while some promoted industrial expansion and exploitation of the region's resources, others feared the effects of manufacturing on the region's social and racial structure and favored continued reliance on agriculture and trade. The promise of favorable industrial and trade policies drew Whigs to the national government, as did their memories of King's Mountain and their reverence for the American Union. But other East Tennesseans identified strongly with the South and shared Southern fears of the North. Most East Tennesseans participated only peripherally in economic institutions fundamental to other parts of the South, yet the fortunes of a minority were increasingly dependent on slavery and Southern trade. Antislavery agitation in the North continued to repel almost all East Tennesseans, but at the same time many also resented the influence of large slaveholders over political affairs. Sadly, East Tennessee fit comfortably with neither the North nor the South, and whether it could find a home anywhere was a question with no easy answer.[31]


Excerpted from War at Every Door by Noel C. Fisher. Copyright © 1997 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue 1
Introduction 3
Ch. 1 The Switzerland of America 6
Ch. 2 Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water 22
Ch. 3 A State of Rebellion 41
Ch. 4 Hanging, Shooting, and Robbing 62
Ch. 5 An Enemy's Country 102
Ch. 6 Real or Supposed Danger 122
Ch. 7 Separation Is Best 154
Conclusion 172
App. A Interpretations of East Tennessee Unionism 179
App. B Unionist Informants and the Death of John Hunt Morgan 186
App. C Vote on Secession in Tennessee, June 1861 188
Note 191
Bibliography 225
Index 241
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