1860: Anti-Secession in Northeast Tennessee

1858—1865: Sub-Divisions in East Tennessee

The State of Tennessee comprises three Grand Divisions: West Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and East Tennessee. There are even further divisions within East Tennessee—Southeast Tennessee, Knox County, and Northeast Tennessee—demonstrating how strongly each subdivision is attached to either the Union or the Confederacy. With new markets provided by the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad—completed in 1858—Southeast Tennessee sells increased quantities of cash crops to the South and identifies more with the Confederacy. Knox County, once strongly Unionist, relates more with the Confederacy after Southern troops occupy Knoxville in July 1861. Northeast Tennessee remains primarily Unionist from the entrance of the railroad in 1858 until the close of the Civil War in 1865.

1 MARCH 1860: A Unionist speaks out

More than nine months before South Carolina secedes from the Union, a U.S. congressman speaks his mind at a political convention. William Brickly Stokes is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from DeKalb County, Tennessee (4 March 1859—4 March 1861). On 1 March 1860, Stokes expresses his opinion of secession at the Opposition Party’s State Convention:

It may be mischievous to lull the people into security by proclaiming that the Union cannot be dissolved; … that the ties of kindred blood, of a common lineage and language will prevent it; … and that, if nothing else should avail, the magnitude of material interest dependent upon the preservation of the Union will prevent its dismemberment. The Union cannot be saved by such teaching. It should be remembered that the ties of blood and natural affection are often broken by repeated wrongs; that a family quarrel, of all others, when entered upon, is the most bitter and relentless … No! The safety of the Union depends upon the united action and energies of all good men, North and South, and with the blessing of the God of our fathers upon their efforts, the Union can and will be preserved.

JUNE—DECEMBER 1860: Anti-secession campaign

Leaders in East Tennessee begin an anti-secession campaign and spend much of the latter part of 1860 holding meetings and speaking at rallies in counties throughout the region. Men such as Senator Andrew Johnson, Congressman Emerson Etheridge, Congressman Thomas A.R. Nelson, newspaper editor Parson Brownlow, and Horace Maynard, one of the few Southern congressmen to maintain his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives during the Civil War. This strong Unionist leadership early in the secession crisis is essential in keeping East Tennesseans loyal to the Union.

AUTUMN 1860: Governor Harris is working behind the scenes

During the presidential campaign of 1860,Tennessee Governor Isham Harris, a secessionist from West Tennessee, warns that the state must be ready to consider secession if the “reckless fanatics of the north” should gain control of the federal government. After Abraham Lincoln is elected President of the United States on 6 November 1860, Harris begins his own campaign to sever Tennessee’s ties with the United States. Southern Democrats, convinced that Lincoln would abolish slavery, begin calling for secession.

20 DECEMBER 1860: Why can’t everyone live free?

When Abraham Lincoln, a known opponent of slavery, is elected president in November 1860, the South Carolina legislature call a state convention. On 20 December 1860 the delegates vote 169 to 0 to leave the United States of America. This is the culmination of decades of debate between the North and the South about slavery and extending slavery into new Federal territories.

25 DECEMBER 1860: Is the Union lost?

During the secession crisis in Tennessee, most people in the state are not much interested in leaving the Union. However, as secession fever reaches the Unionist counties in Northeast Tennessee, more and more people sense impending conflict. As far away as the state capital of Nashville, a lawyer writes on Christmas Day 1860:

I am of the opinion that our beloved Union is drawing to an ignominious end. Lincoln has been elected President & the whole South is shaken from center to circumference—God grant that we may be preserved from civil war & a servile insurrection.

William L. B. Lawrence Diary


“Civil War Sourcebook,” Thousands of articles chronicling the Civil War in Tennessee, accessed 9 February 2021, https://www.tnsos.net/TSLA/cwsourcebook/index.php    

“East Tennessee Convention of 1861,” Civil War Wiki, accessed 10 February 2021, https://civilwar.wikia.org/wiki/East_Tennessee_Convention_of_1861

“Historical Markers and War Memorials in Tennessee,” Historical Marker Database, accessed 10 February 2021, https://www.hmdb.org/results.asp?State=Tennessee                  

Meredith Anne Grant, “Internal Dissent: East Tennessee’s Civil War, 1849-1865,”2008,Electronic Theses and Dissertations, East Tennessee State University, accessed 24 March 2021, https://dc.etsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3314&context=etd

“Timeline 1861,” Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints, Articles and Essays, Library of Congress, accessed 10 February 2021, https://www.loc.gov/collections/civil-war-glass-negatives/articles-and-essays/time-line-of-the-civil-war/1861/

“William Brickly Stokes,” Wikipedia, accessed 18 January 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Brickly_Stokes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s