Secession Crisis in Northeast Tennessee

1858 – 1865
Grand Divisions of 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.

A view of Knoxville in 1859
Knoxville looking southeast towards the Old Courthouse.
McClung Historical Collection.


20 JANUARY 1860: Is secession the answer?
The Rev. Dr. Robert J. Breckinridge writes an open letter to his relative—Vice President John C. Breckinridge—calling for moderation in resolving the differences between North and South. This is an excerpt:

Wholly unable to comprehend how it can be to the interest of any State to secede from the Union—or how the right to secede can be considered anything else but purely revolutionary; and sees nothing in the past conduct of the Federal Government to justify secession if it were a constitutional remedy; nothing in the aspect of the times promising anything but disaster to the country, to every seceding State, and most especially to herself, from the application of any such remedy, whether by war, by revolution, by the formation of new confederacies, or by the secession of individual States.

~ Rev. Dr. Robert J. Breckinridge

William Brickly Stokes

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. 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.

~ William Brickly Stokes

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.

Tennessee 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


The South secedes
South Carolina seceded in December 1860. During the months of January and February 1861, six more states secede: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Leaders in these states believe that, despite his promises, Abraham Lincoln will abolish slavery.
After a long pause, four more states leave the Union in April and May 1861: Virginia, Arkansas, and North Carolina, with Tennessee being the last to secede on 8 June 1861. These eleven states form the Confederate States of America.

Isham Harris, Governor of Tennessee


Governor calls for a secession convention
Tennessee Governor Isham Harris, a secessionist from West Tennessee, convenes a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly on 7 January 1861.
Harris asks the lawmakers to approve a convention to consider the state’s position on secession.
The legislators do not believe they have the authority to call a State Convention without a vote of the people. They call for a referendum in which all Tennessee voters will decide whether or not a secession convention should be held, setting the date for 9 February 1861.

An introduction to Parson Brownlow
Pro-Union newspapers in Tennessee accuse Governor Harris of treason for suggesting a secession convention. William G. ‘Parson’ Brownlow, editor of the Knoxville Whig, attacks Harris almost daily in the pages of his newspaper.
As a minister in a previous life, Brownlow acquired the nickname ‘Parson.’
He became well known in the late 1830s and early 1840s as editor and publisher of the Knoxville Whig and several other short-lived newspapers.
Brownlow believes strongly in his principles and personally attacks his political opponents, sometimes to the point of bodily harm. He also staunchly opposes secession.
By 1861, the Knoxville Whig has 14,000 loyal subscribers, and some secessionists accuse Brownlow of being the root cause of the stubborn Unionist sentiment in East Tennessee.
Knoxville Democrats try to counter Brownlow’s editorials by supporting the Knoxville Register, East Tennessee’s dominant newspaper. Radical secessionist Jacob Austin Sperry edits the Register, but he flees when USA General Ambrose Burnside takes possession of Knoxville in September 1863.

Shall Tennessee submit?
In the House of Representatives yesterday, Mr. [William H.] Wisener of Bedford [County], presented a series of resolutions declaring against the policy of holding a State Convention, as proposed by Governor Harris …
We must confess that we were not prepared to expect such broad indications towards submission, from any member of the Tennessee Legislature. But for charity sake we take it for granted Mr. Wisener has not lately paid much attention to the political events of the day, and is especially ignorant as to what has been lately transpiring in Congress.
For we cannot see how any Southern man, who is at all familiar with the history of the times, can in his capacity as the Representative of a Southern constituency, in a Southern Legislature solemnly declare it inexpedient for the people of his State to hold a convention and determine whether they will resist or submit to the Abolition rule now about to be inaugurated [Abraham Lincoln]. … No event of the future can be put down as more certain than that Tennessee will resist … [Tennessee will resist the actions of the Federal government.]
~ Nashville Daily Gazette

On the 19th of January a bill was passed calling for an election to be held on the 9th of February to determine whether or not the convention should be held and to select the necessary delegates.

The state of New York offers men and money to the Federal Government “to be used in coercing certain sovereign States of the South into obedience to the Federal Government.” The Tennessee House responds by saying:

It is the opinion of this General Assembly, that whenever the authorities of that State shall send armed forces to the South for the purpose indicated in said resolutions, the people of Tennessee, uniting with their brethren of the South, will welcome them with bloody hands to hospitable graves.

Map of the United States 1859-1860

From a letter written by W.W. Fergusson of Riddleton, Tennessee:
Yes, we are all for fighting. Everybody is willing—even the ladies. … I think there is enough patriotism & bravery in this state to sustain the Southern confederacy against the United States troops and all the Yankees who dare accompany them. … The South will never unite with the North again—never.”
~ January 24, 1861


We can never live in a Southern Confederacy and be made hewers of wood and drawers of water for a set of aristocrats, and over-bearing tyrants. We are candid in urging East Tennessee to withdraw from Middle and West Tennessee, if they shall be so reckless as to consent to go out of the Union.

The people of East Tennessee are with us in this, and will demand it, sooner than be oppressed with direct taxes and forced loans. We have no interests in common with the Cotton States. We are a grain-growing and stock-raising people, and we can conduct a cheap Government …

The vile and wicked leaders who have precipitated the revolution, will do none of the fighting, but will manage to hold civil and military offices, with large salaries, to pay for which, money will be wrung from the masses by a system of direct taxes. And these common people will themselves have to shoulder their knapsacks and muskets, and do the fighting.

~ Parson Brownlow, editor of the Knoxville Whig newspaper


The Seceded States Create a Government
At a convention in Montgomery, Alabama, delegates from the seven seceded states meet in Montgomery, Alabama, to establish a government, which they name the Confederate States of America. They also adopt a document similar to the United States Constitution, but with greater emphasis on the rights of each state. On 8 February, those states elect Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as the Confederacy’s first president.

Newspaper article urging a pro-secession vote
On Saturday next Tennesseans are to decide at the ballot-box the destiny of the State—to say whether they will go with their friends of the South or their enemies of the North. If you would have your State continue her connection with her Southern sisters—a connection of political equality, of interests, of sympathy, of affection—have upon your ticket the word “Convention” and the names of the Southern Rights candidate.
~ Nashville Daily Gazette

The voting tomorrow, although not at all decisive of the fate of this State, is of such importance to it, that the native Tennessean will do well to permit nothing but his own knowledge of the situation of the State, its requirements, and its honor to influence his vote. Sit down, Tennessean, to-night, reflect coolly and calmly on the lessons and teachings of your life; forget parties, sects and everything but your wife and little ones. Consider their needs and those of the business by [which] you feed, clothe and lodge them; be guided wholly and solely by your own judgment.
~ Memphis Daily Argus

Convention or no Convention.
To-day the people of Tennessee are deciding whether the State convention shall be held, and who are their choices for delegates to that body. Although at this time nothing definite is known regarding the voice of the State, we have no doubt that the majority in favor of the convention will be very large. The next question which will come up is, whether or not the action of that convention shall be submitted to the people for ratification or rejection; whether the convention, composed as it will be of delegates of every shade of opinion, will be allowed the final disposition of a question involving the destiny of Tennessee, or whether the people after having been furnished with the action of that body, shall be permitted to either approve or disapprove those actions at the ballot box.
~ Memphis Daily Argus

The vote against secession
In the election on February 9, old Vox Populi [the opinion of the majority] spoke emphatically. In regard to the calling of a Convention, the movement is rejected by a vote of 69,675 to 57,798—not a wide margin. The decision by the people is a significant one, in that the action of both Governor Harris and the General Assembly are rebuked. West Tennessee supports the convention; Middle Tennessee is almost equally divided; East Tennessee rejects it overwhelmingly.
~ Messages of the Governors of Tennessee

In the weeks following the February 9 vote against holding a secession convention, both secessionists and Unionists launch intensive public speaking campaigns in East Tennessee. The threat of violence underscored many of the rallies, and both sides were warned not to enter certain areas where their opponents held a strong majority.

The Result
The people of Tennessee yesterday had an opportunity of saying through the ballot-box whether or not they desired the assembling of a State Convention… The indications are that a large majority voted for “No Convention.”
However much we might have desired a different result, we feel fully satisfied that the proposition to hold a Convention has been defeated. The people have spoken, and we have naught to say against their decree. It may bring no harm, or it may remit evil only—which of the two will be known before the expiration of many days.
~ Nashville Daily Gazette

Jefferson Davis inaugurated
Jefferson Davis is inaugurated President of the Southern Confederacy during a ceremony in Montgomery, Alabama. In his address he quotes from the U.S. Constitution and makes many references to armed conflict, primarily in regard to defense of Southern lands.

The U.S. House of Representatives passes a measure supported by President-elect Abraham Lincoln, which prohibits the federal government from interfering with slavery in states where it exists.

MARCH 1861

Lincoln’s inauguration
At his inauguration, the new president says he has no plans to end slavery in those states where it already exists. He also says that secession is illegal and he hopes to resolve the national crisis without warfare.

President Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration in Washington DC, 4 March 1861

Confederate States adopt a Constitution
The Confederate States of America—at this time consisting of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas—adopt a Constitution. Most of those states do not submit the acceptance of the Constitution to a popular vote; in every state where secession has been submitted to a popular vote, it has been voted down. The Confederate Congress quickly passes a military bill establishing and organizing its army: 50,000 men will soon be ready to take the field.

Canvassing East Tennessee
Throughout the Spring of 1861, Parson Brownlow and other Unionist leaders—including Oliver Perry Temple, Thomas A. R. Nelson, and Horace Maynard—canvass Northeast Tennessee, giving speeches in support of the Union.

Parson Brownlow giving a speech for the Union.
Sevierville, Tennessee.

Thomas A. R. Nelson meets with President Abraham Lincoln.
U.S. Congressman from East Tennessee, Thomas A. R. Nelson, reports on a meeting with Lincoln: “[I] had it from his own lips … that he was for peace, and would use every exertion in his power to maintain it. … He expressed a strong hope that, after a little time is allowed for reflection, [the Confederate states] will secede from the position they have taken. … [I was] well pleased with the President’s frankness.”

APRIL 1861

Attack on Fort Sumter.
Before President Lincoln sends supplies to Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, he alerts the state of South Carolina, in an attempt to avoid hostilities. However, state authorities think it is a trick. The Confederates ask the commander of the fort, Major Robert Anderson, to surrender immediately.
Anderson offers to surrender, but only after he has exhausted his supplies. His offer is rejected. Just before sunrise on 12 April 1861, a Confederate shell explodes over Fort Sumter, the first shot fired in the American Civil War.

Fort Sumter Bombarded by Confederate artillery.
Lithograph by Currier and Ives.
Library of Congress.

President Lincoln calls for a 75,000-man militia.
Lincoln orders Tennessee Governor Isham Harris and governors of the other Southern states to furnish a total of 75,000 soldiers for the suppression of the rebellion. Lincoln’s declaration reads:

WHEREAS the laws of the United States have been, for some time past, and now are opposed, and the execution thereof obstructed, in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by law.
Now, therefore, I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed.

Lincoln’s Confederates
After President Abraham Lincoln’s April 15 call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion in the seceded states, public sentiment turned dramatically against the Union.
Unionists of all descriptions, both those who became Confederates and those who did not, consider the proclamation calling for seventy-five thousand troops disastrous.
Having consulted personally with Lincoln in March, Tennessee Congressman Horace Maynard, the unconditional Unionist, felt assured that the administration would pursue a peaceful policy.
Soon after April 15, a dismayed Maynard reports that the President’s extraordinary proclamation has unleashed a tornado of excitement that seems likely to sweep us all away.
Men who had heretofore been cool, firm and Union loving had become perfectly wild and were aroused to a frenzy of passion.
For what purpose, they asked, could such an army be wanted but to invade, overrun and subjugate the Southern states.
The growing war spirit in the North further convinced southerners that they would have to fight for their hearthstones and the security of home. 
~ Daniel W. Crofts, Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis (1989).

President Abraham Lincoln [His parents did not give him a middle name.]

U. S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron sends this message to the governors of unseceded states:
Sir: … I have the honor to request your Excellency to cause to be immediately detached from the militia of your state, the quota designated in the table below to serve as infantry or riflemen for three months, or sooner …
Your Excellency will please communicate to me the time about which your quota will be expected at its rendezvous, as it will be met as soon as possible by an officer or officers to muster it into the service and pay of the United States; at the same time the oath of fidelity to the United States will be administrated to every officer and man. …
The quota of each state is as follows:
1 regiment each:
Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Arkansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota.
2 regiments each:
Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
4 regiments each:
New Jersey, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri.
6 regiments each:
Illinois and Indiana.
13 regiments:
15 regiments:
17 regiments:
New York.

Governor Harris replies to President Lincoln’s request for Tennessee militia to support the Union:

Sir: Your dispatch of the 15th Inst. informing me that Tennessee is called upon for two Regiments of Militia for immediate service is received. Tennessee will not furnish a single man for purposes of coercion, but 50,000 if necessary for the defense of our rights and those of our southern brothers.
Isham G. Harris,
Governor of Tennessee

Unionists become Rebels
With the situation at Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s request for troops to put down the rebellion, many Northeast Tennessee Unionists change their minds and support the Confederacy. Many of those who had been staunch Unionists in February could not abide the use of force against fellow Southerners.

A letter to a newspaper editor from “Ladies of Memphis” vows:

Though we cannot bear arms, yet our hearts are with you, and our hands are at your service to make clothing, flags, or anything that a patriotic woman can do for the Southern men & Southern independence.


The war has begun. Argument has been exhausted. It is now man to man, and steel to steel. Let no true man talk of neutrality. Either he must support LINCOLN in his usurpation and war upon the South, or he must resist him with arms. The Southern man that declares himself neutral, when LINCOLN is invading the South and desecrating its soil with hostile tread, intends to betray the South, the Black Republican power. He that is not for us is against us. He that declares for neutrality now is our worst foe. In the language of PATRICK HENRY, “we must fight, I repeat it, sir, we must fight.

~ Nashville Union and American

Tennessee pro-secession representative sent to Montgomery, Alabama, to discuss the Volunteer State abandoning the Union.
Hon. L. P. WALKER:
SIR: My friend Hon. W. C. Whitthorne, whom you remember as the speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, visits Montgomery at my instance, for the purpose of conferring with President Davis and yourself. He is fully advised and will make known to you the state of parties in our State, as well as our prospects, hopes, and apprehensions. … and we confidently hope to stand with you under the Confederate flag very soon. …
Very respectfully,
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 52, pt. II, p. 57.

The Richmond Dispatch reports on the rude treatment of Andrew Johnson by a large crowd in Lynchburg, Virginia, as he passes through on his way from Washington to Tennessee:
A large crowd assembled and groaned him [let out annoying moans at him], and offered every indignity he deserved, including pulling his nose. The conductor and others intervene, and Johnson is eventually able to continue on his way.

Harris addresses another special session of the state legislature.
He states that the Union has been destroyed by the “bloody and tyrannical policies of the Presidential usurper,” and calls for an end to the state’s ties to the United States. 

MAY 1861

Legislature authorizes Governor Harris to appoint commissioners to enter into an alliance with the Confederacy:
Joint Resolution of Tennessee General Assembly
Resolution of Tennessee General Assembly resolve to explore joining the Confederate States in a military league.
JOINT RESOLUTION to appoint commissioners from the State of Tennessee to confer with the authorities of the Confederate States in regard to entering into a military league. Resolved by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, That the Governor be, and he is hereby, authorized and requested to appoint three commissioners on the part of Tennessee to enter into a military league with the authorities of the Confederate States and with the authorities of such other slaveholding States as may wish to enter into it, having in view the protection and defense of the entire South against the war that is now being carried on against it.
Adopted May 1, 1861.
Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 52, pt. II, pp. 83-84.

Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Thoughts on the secession crisis from the diary of Amanda McDowell.
Little though have I had that I should ever live to see civil war in this, our goodly land, but so it is!
The Southerners are so hot they can stand it no longer, and have already made the break.
There will be many a divided family in this once happy Union.
There are thousand who will rush into the fury with blind enthusiasm, never stopping to question whether it be right or wrong, who, if they only understood it properly, would stay at home with their families and let those who started it fight it out. …
But the ignorant mass are so easily excited than an enthusiast who can make mountains out of mole-hills and raise a bussie about nothing can so stir them up and excite that they will run headlong into almost anything that is proposed to them. …
Why Christian men who live here in peace and plenty with nothing to interrupt their happiness should prefer to leave their peaceful home and all the ties which bind them to their families …
and rush into a fight in which they cannot possibly gain anything and in which they may lose their lives, is more than I can see. …
I know they will not go into it until they are convinced that it is their duty, and when they are convinced that it is their duty to fight for their country,
… it becomes me not to interfere with them about it or grieve at their so doing, for I love my country … as well as any who live in it could love it.

Andrew Johnson threatened.
In a speech at Cleveland, TN, Andrew Johnson claims to be ready for a fight. He is threatened by members of the audience after telling them, among other things, that Jefferson Davis ought to be hanged.

The Great Seal of Tennessee

Dissolving relations between the State of Tennessee and the United States of America. 
First. We, the people of the State of Tennessee, waiving any expression of opinion as to the abstract doctrine of secession, but asserting the right, as a free and independent people, to alter, reform, or abolish our form of government in such manner as we think proper, do ordain and declare that all the laws and ordinances by which the State of Tennessee became a member of the Federal Union of the United States of America are hereby abrogated and annulled, and that all the rights, functions, and powers which by any of said laws and ordinances were conveyed to the Government of the United States, and to absolve ourselves from all the obligations, restraints, and duties incurred thereto; and do hereby henceforth become a free, sovereign, and independent State. 
Second. We furthermore declare and ordain that article 10, sections 1 and 2, of the constitution of the State of Tennessee, which requires members of the General Assembly and all officers, civil and military, to take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States be, and the same are hereby, abrogated and annulled, and all parts of the constitution of the State of Tennessee making citizenship of the United States a qualification for office and recognizing the Constitution of the United States as the supreme law of this State are in like manner abrogated and annulled. 
Third. We furthermore ordain and declare that all rights acquired and vested under the Constitution of the United States, or under any act of Congress passed in pursuance thereof, or under any laws of this State, and not incompatible with this ordinance, shall remain in force and have the same effect as if this ordinance had not been passed.
Sent to referendum 6 May 1861 by the legislature. 

Tennessee Commissioners enter into a Military League with the Confederacy, which is ratified by the Tennessee General Assembly.
Thereby, Tennessee becomes a part of the Confederate States of America—without the consent of the voters.

An Ordinance for the Adoption of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America.

We, the people of Tennessee, solemnly impressed by the perils which surround us, do hereby adopt and ratify the Constitution of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America, ordained and established at Montgomery, Alabama, on the eighth day of February, 1861 …

The governor soon begins recruiting soldiers for the Provisional Army of Tennessee, which will become the Army of Tennessee, CSA.

Tennessee has been taken out of the Union.
No voice of the people could have changed the result.
These events make little impression on the firm stand taken by a large majority of the people of Northeast Tennessee, except to strengthen their devotion to the Union.
Leaders of the Union element have not been idle. 
They are wise enough to see that they will not be able to stem the tide of secession and disloyalty … unless they should receive aid from the Federal Government, which is not probable at this time.
They openly defy what they conceive to be the unlawful procedure of the State Government.
Most prominent Union leaders of Northeast Tennessee:
Andrew Johnson
Thomas A. R. Nelson
William B. Carter
Connally F. Trigg
Nathaniel G. Taylor
Oliver P. Temple
R. R. Butler
William G. Brownlow
John Baxter
Andrew J. Fletcher

Home of R. R. Butler, aka Roderick R. Butler
In Mountain City, Northeast Tennessee
Union leader in Johnson County

East Tennesseans complain that the General Assembly does not represent the will of the people and threatens to secede from the state.

15 MAY
Secession Meeting at Elizabethton
A platform is erected in the southwest corner of the court house yard.
Thousands of people are present from Carter and adjoining counties.
When the speakers arrive they are driven through the town in carriages and welcomed with cheers.
Hon. Joseph B. Heiskell of Rogersville and Hon. William Cocke of Knoxville are billed to speak in support of secession.
A committee is appointed consisting of D. P. Wilcox and Daniel Stover [bridge burner] to ask these men to divide time with two Unionist citizens in the discussion.
They refuse at first, but being informed that no speeches would be allowed unless both sides of the question are represented, they agree.
Rev. Wm. B. Carter and Rev. N. G. Taylor are selected as champions of the Union cause, and accepted, though they had been given very short notice and had no time for preparation.
They meet in the Court House and in arranging the preliminaries one of the secessionists makes some reflection upon Mr. Carter’s color (he is said to have descended from the Indian chief Powhatan), and said he did not care to debate with him.
This insult is promptly resented by Carter in a scathing rebuke.

Carter County Court House, built 1852
Elizabethton, Northeast Tennessee

15 MAY
The Tennessee General Assembly passes a Military law;
which authorizes the Governor to call up 25,000 men into immediate service, with a reserve corps of 30,000, and to issue $5,000,000 in state bonds.
The Nashville Union says:

We understand that the Banks of the State will take all of the bonds … However, if we go into the Southern Confederacy, of which there is no doubt, the Confederate States assume and pay all the indebtedness of the war.

16 MAY
Tennessee is formally admitted into the Confederacy.
To justify their actions, the Tennessee General Assembly calls for another vote by the people on 8 June 1861.

20 MAY
The Memphis Military Board authorizes monthly subsistence payments to the families of volunteer soldiers.
This aid to suffering families will be sporadic and inconsistent.

22 MAY
Mrs. McEwin’s Old Glory
In Nashville, while secession banners wave from every other building, both public and private, one heroic lady (Mrs. McEwin) has placed the National Flag on her house, and says she will shoot whoever attempts to tear down the glorious old Stars and Stripes.
Let her name be engraved on the hearts of all loyal Americans.
~ Louisville Journal, May 22, 1861.

25 MAY
Congressman Thomas A. R. Nelson reports on a meeting with Lincoln:
I had it from his own lips … that he was for peace, and would use every exertion in his power to maintain it …
He expressed a strong hope that, after a little time is allowed for reflection, [the Confederate states] will secede from the position they have taken …
I was well pleased with the President’s frankness.
~ New York Times

27 MAY
Union supporters cheer anti-Confederate speeches.
At an assembly in Elizabethton, Northeast Tennessee, ardent Union supporters enthusiastically cheer anti-Confederate speeches by Senator Andrew Johnson and Congressman Thomas A. R. Nelson.
~ Louisville Journal

Congressman T. A. R. Nelson, President of the East Tennessee Convention.

30 MAY
East Tennessee Convention meets at Knoxville.
A large number of delegates, representing nearly every county in East Tennessee, meet at Temperance Hall in Knoxville and appoint a committee from each county to draft resolutions and report to the convention.
Resolutions of the East Tennessee Unionist Convention.
On May 30th the committee submitted the following report to the convention:
We, therefore, the delegates here assembled, … as we verily believe, the opinions and wishes of a large majority of the people of East Tennessee do resolve and declare:
That the evils which now afflict our beloved country in our opinion is the legitimate result of the ruinous and heretical doctrine of secession; that the people of East Tennessee have ever been, and we believe are still opposed to it by a very large majority.
That while the country is upon the threshold of a most ruinous and desolating civil war, it may with truth be said, and we protest before God that the people (so far as we can see) have done nothing to produce it.
That the people of Tennessee, when the question was submitted to them in February last, decided by an overwhelming majority that the relations of the State toward the Federal Government should not be changed; thereby expressing their preference for the Union and Constitution …
That in view of so decided an expression of the will of the people in whom “all power is inherent and, on whose authority, all free governments are founded,” and in the honest conviction that nothing has transpired since that time which should change that deliberate judgment of the people …
That the Legislative Assembly is but the creature of the constitution of the State and has no power to pass any law … believing as we do that in their recent legislation the Gen. Assembly have disregarded the rights of the people … and we invoke the people throughout the State to visit that … unconstitutional legislation with a decided rebuke by voting on the 8th day of next month against both the act of secession and of union with the Confederate States.
That the Legislature of the State … had no authority to enter into a military league with the Confederate States … and by so doing put the State of Tennessee in hostile array against the government of which it then was, and still is, a member. Such legislation … was an act of usurpation, and should be visited with the severest condemnation of the people.
That the forming of such military league … has afforded the pretext for raising, arming and equipping a large military force, the expense of which must be enormous, and will have to be paid by the people. …
That the General Assembly by passing a law authorizing the volunteers [soldiers] to vote wherever they may be on the day of the election … together with other acts, have exercised powers and stretched their authority to an extent not within their constitutional limits. …
That the government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.
That the position which the people of our sister State of Kentucky have assumed in this momentous crisis commands our highest admiration. Their interests are our interests. Their policy is the true policy, as we believe, of Tennessee and all the border States.
And in the spirit of freemen … we appeal to the people of Tennessee, while it is yet in their power, to come up in the majesty of their strength and restore Tennessee to her true position.
We shall await with the utmost anxiety the decision of the people of Tennessee on the 8th day of June, and sincerely trust that wiser councils will pervade the great fountain of freedom (the people).
For the promotion of the peace and harmony of the people of East Tennessee it is deemed expedient that this convention should again assemble, therefore,
Resolved, That when this convention adjourns, it adjourns to meet again at such time and place as the president … may determine and publish.
T. A. R. NELSON, President.
JNO. M. FLEMING, Secretary.
East Tennessee Convention
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 52, pt. I, pp. 153-156.

JUNE 1861

Four Slave States Remain in the Union.
Despite their acceptance of slavery, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri did not join the Confederacy.


East Tennessee Secession Vote.
Map showing votes for or against the 1861 Ordinance of Secession in East Tennessee.
Counties shaded in maroon: Scott, Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne, Blount, Sevier, Carter, Hawkins, and Johnson in Northeast Tennessee—voted against secession by an 80% or greater margin; as did Morgan County.

Counties in red:
Knox, Hancock, Cocke, Jefferson, Greene, Washington, and Grainger counties in Northeast Tennessee—voted against secession by a margin falling between 51% and 79%.
Hamilton, McMinn, Roane, Bledsoe, and Marion Counties—voted against secession by a margin falling between 51% and 79%.
Counties in gray:
Sullivan County in Northeast Tennessee voted for secession; as did
Monroe, Polk, Meigs, Rhea, and Sequatchie Counties.
Counties in white:
Three of the five counties in white—Unicoi, Hamblen, and Loudon—were not established until after the American Civil War.
There is insufficient data to categorize results from two of the five counties in white—Union and Cumberland.
Public domain map courtesy of The General Libraries

The Tennessee Secession Vote
All Tennesseans vote in favor of secession—104,913 to 47,238.
East Tennessee votes against secession—32,923 to 14,780.

Tennessee secedes from the Union
Despite the great efforts of the Unionists, the state secedes, taking East Tennessee with them.

Brownlow aids Unionists
In the following weeks, Parson Brownlow uses his newspaper, the Knoxville Whig, to defend Unionists who are accused of treasonous acts by Confederate authorities.

Scott County secedes from Tennessee
This remote county is located on the Cumberland Plateau, part of the Appalachian Mountains. On 8 June, Scott County votes against secession—521 to 19 (96%). After the state joins the Confederacy, Scott County secedes from Tennessee.

Unionists and Secessionists continue to struggle
Tennessee’s secession does not end the struggle between Unionists and Secessionists.

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