U.S. Congress takes action against Southern Senators
After Abraham Lincoln is elected to the presidency, Southern states begin to secede from the United States. The U. S. Senate has to decide what to do with the seats that are left vacant by Southern senators. In March 1861 they decide that by leaving the Senate and making no notification of their status, the Southern members have resigned their positions. They mark the seats of six members as ‘vacant’ and strike their names from the Senate roll.
Senator Andrew Johnson exiles himself
James P. T. Carter of Carter County, Northeast Tennessee—brother of Gen. Samuel P. Carter and bridge-burner Wm. Blount Carter—is one of “three brave men” to escort Senator Andrew Johnson from Greeneville, Tennessee to Washington DC in June 1861.
Ten U.S. senators expelled
The debate continues about Southern members who have not returned to the Senate nor sent word that they are resigning and their terms have not expired. Ten senators are expelled in July 1861 for being engaged “in a conspiracy against the peace and union of the United States Government.” The resolution for expulsion cites that they have failed to appear in the Senate.
United States Senator Alfred O. P. Nicholson
11 JULY 1861
A. O. P. Nicholson expelled
The United States Senate expels Democrat Alfred O. P. Nicholson on 11 July 1861 for support of the rebellion. He was born in the Carter Creek area near Spring Hill [Middle] Tennessee in 1808. During the 1850s, he serves as chancellor of the Middle Tennessee Division, a delegate to the Nashville Convention, a presidential elector on the Franklin Pierce ticket, and as U.S. senator (1859 to 1861). He also resumes his editorial career, serving as the public printer for the U.S. House of Representatives from 1853 to 1855 and for the U.S. Senate from 1855 to 1857. Alfred Osborne Pope Nicholson is the only member from Tennessee to be expelled from the U.S. Congress in 1861.
8 AUGUST 1861
Tennesseans are to elect members for the new Confederate States Congress
The date is set for the election of Confederate States Congressmen. However, the names of the current members of the U.S. Congress are not removed from the ballot and several Unionists are re-elected.
Among those is U.S. Congressman Horace Maynard. On the day of the state election—8 August 1861—Maynard is in Scott County, Northeast Tennessee, not far from the Kentucky border.
In the afternoon he quietly climbs onto his horse and leisurely rides away; by the next morning he is safely beyond Confederate lines. Maynard continues to serve in the U.S. Congress, where he constantly prods President Abraham Lincoln to send aid to his countrymen in Northeast Tennessee.
In 1863 Andrew Johnson, military governor of Tennessee, appoints Maynard attorney general of the state. Two years later Maynard returns to Congress to represent Tennessee’s Second District until 1875, when President Ulysses S. Grant appoints him minister to Turkey.
In the summer of 1880 President Rutherford B. Hayes recalls Maynard and appoints him to the cabinet position of postmaster general, a post he held until March 5, 1881. Maynard dies at his home in Knoxville on May 3, 1882.
Congressman Horace Maynard
Painting by Lloyd Branson
George W. Bridges is elected to the U.S. Congress from Tennessee’s Third District. He too starts North after the August election, but he is enticed back on the pretense that his wife is dying and is arrested. A Southern Unionist, he is jailed by Confederate authorities for the first few months of the Civil War in 1861. Though he eventually escapes, he does not take his seat in Congress until 25 February 1863, a few days before his term expires.
Secessionist John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, still a U.S. Senator, flees into Tennessee. He will shortly emerge as a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army and in December will be expelled by resolution from the Senate for support of the rebellion.
The United States Civil War Senate
<FROM EAST TENNESSEE AND THE CIVIL WAR BY OLIVER P. TEMPLE>
FIRST THURSDAY OF AUGUST 1861
Gradually the fact became apparent to the Union men that they were under the dominion of a power hostile to their opinions. They were denounced as ‘tories,” as “Lincolnites” and as cowards. Their situation was becoming unbearable. So, they began at last to cast their eyes in the direction of Kentucky, as an asylum of safety. On the first Thursday of August 1861, the real flight of Union men from East Tennessee commenced. On that day Felix A. Reeve, then a young man, started North …
Very soon after the flight of Mr. Reeve, Robert K. Byrd, and others from Roane county, also left their homes as exiles. Gradually the disposition to leave spread through all the counties of East Tennessee. So, there came to be a constant stream of refugees silently working their way by night, through the wide expanse of mountains separating East Tennessee from the thickly settled parts of Kentucky. Many of these left without any settled purpose as to what they were to do when they reached their destination. They fled from what they regarded as a present and terrible danger. Anything that could befall them was better than their condition at home. …
The condition of the Union men remaining in East Tennessee was day by day becoming more disagreeable. Arrests and imprisonments had commenced. Dr. John W. Thornburgh and H. C. Jarvis, for no crime, except being Union men, were arrested and carried to Nashville for trial and imprisonment on a charge of treason.
Perhaps … it might have been better for the Union men of East Tennessee to have submitted to the will of the majority of the state after the June election, as a majority of them would have done if they had been treated with clemency and toleration. But unfortunately, they were not thus treated. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of these men … were driven into exile and the army solely from a sense of insecurity. …
It must be kept in mind that the Union people were perfectly quiet and peaceable until after the bridges were burned. Let it be kept in mind, also, that the system of arrests and imprisonments had been commenced before that event. … Let it be kept in mind also, that the system of arrests and imprisonments had been commenced before that event.
In October 1861, there was not an exile in Kentucky who did not expect to be back in East Tennessee in a few days or a few weeks, … The [Union Army invasion of] East Tennessee on which their hopes rested was suddenly abandoned, and all they could do was to wait. When the advance movement was countermanded, and the exiles, now in the Union army, were ordered to turn toward Ohio, their hearts were crushed within them. They shed bitter tears of anguish. This was not childish weakness. It was the sad condition of their families at home that filled their minds with trouble. …
The proposed movement [invasion of East Tennessee by Union troops] sent five men [bridge burners] to the gallows, fifteen hundred or two thousand to long confinements in prisons, where many died, and drove from five to ten thousand men from their homes into exile. It filled the minds of all loyal people with fear and anxiety and put them in constant and extreme peril for nearly two years.
The feeling among their enemies at home was that these men [Unionists] should be coerced to fight for the South, or driven out of the country. Under this policy nearly three-fourths of the male population became exposed to arrest or imprisonment, or to be forced to fight for a cause they disliked. Desperation at last drove them into the hills, or into exile. They were told by their own people … that neither they nor their families should remain on the soil of Tennessee … Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of these men … were driven into exile and the army solely from a sense of insecurity. …
By the spring and early summer of 1862, when it became evident that the [Confederate] conscript act would be enforced, nearly every male inhabitant, liable to military duty, who was able to endure the hardships of the journey and could leave his family, had determined to seek safety in flight. …
In April 1862, between four and five hundred young men and boys from New Market and its vicinity, [in] Jefferson county, started as refugees to Kentucky. … In crossing Powell’s Valley, when in sight of the Cumberland Mountains, where there was safety, nearly forty miles from home, … they were intercepted and captured … by a regiment of East Tennessee Confederate cavalry.
As soon as these unfortunate men were captured, though already exhausted by their journey, they were placed in line for an immediate march to Knoxville, distant more than forty miles. They were hurried forward as rapidly as they could be forced to go. It was a hot, sultry afternoon when they arrived at Knoxville. They were driven to the already crowded jail or small jail-yard, into which they were huddled, making their condition almost intolerable. Soon afterwards, they were marched under a strong guard to the railroad and sent off to Tuscaloosa, or some other prison, to be held during the war as political prisoners. …
They were the tender and gentle sons of the intelligent and independent farmers around New Market and of the beautiful and rich valley of the same name, celebrated all over the state and beyond it as one of the fairest and wealthiest regions in all the land. …
The imprisonment of these young men was done under the order of Gen. E. Kirby Smith, who had recently taken command of this department [in March 1862]. General Smith … had the reputation, both before and since the war, of being a fair and a just, indeed a good man, and that was true of him in his normal condition. But he had caught the spirit then prevailing in East Tennessee and was no longer himself.
Soon after the accession of Gen. Smith, the celebrated orders directing Mrs. Andrew Johnson, Mrs. W. G. Brownlow, Mrs. Horace Maynard and Mrs. William B, Carter, with their families, to leave the state and go north, were issued at his command … These families were ordered to leave in thirty-six hours … harmless, innocent ladies, … all of whom were verging on old age, and two of them well advanced in life.
It is no justification of such a policy to say that General S. P. Carter afterwards sent out of Knoxville women and children, nor that Andrew Johnson did the same at Nashville and General Sherman at Atlanta. It is enough to say that the practice, except in cases of actual danger to the general cause, is one to be discountenanced rather than encouraged. … And after the bridges were burned, and it was found that no Federal army was coming, the Union men again became perfectly quiet, and remained so for twenty-two months following. During all these long, gloomy months, arrests and imprisonments numbering thousands were made, so that at last most of the male population were driven into exile. …
The condition of the Union men of East Tennessee during the latter part of the year 1861 and during the year 1862, and until September of the year 1863 [when Union Gen. Ambrose Burnside occupied Northeast Tennessee], was gloomy beyond description. … It was hard, very hard to leave home and family as an exile, not knowing when, nor whether at all, they should ever return. … Many persons who could not go, did not dare to remain at home. So, they hid themselves in the hills or the mountains, coming in when no danger seemed to be near. …
In April 1865, the exiles and wanderers nearly all returned to their homes. Some of them had been absent two, some three, and some nearly four years. They returned wiser and generally better men. War and time had to some extent mellowed their fierce spirits. Hardships and absence had chastened them.
9 APRIL 1865
The end was long delayed. At length it came. Spring had once more come. The events of the 9th of April, 1865, had made Appomattox immortal. Peace was soon to smile once more on the land. The imprisoned soldiers all over the country would be released and sent home.
Whatever the world may think of the conduct of the Union men of East Tennessee in refusing to join their Southern brethren, there can be no difference of opinion as to the honesty of the intentions of the Union soldiers. What possible selfish motive could have induced them to expatriate themselves, and become exiles and wanderers for two, three, or even four years? What evil motive could have induced them to quit their families and homes, and undergo the perils and sufferings of a long journey through the mountains in search of the Federal army?
Men do not do such things without powerful impelling incentives. … it was love of the Union which made them refugees and exiles. They fled from a government they disliked. They sought protection under one they loved as dearly as life itself. … In all the land … was there so conspicuous an example of suffering and sacrifices for the sake of principle as was manifested by these refugees of East Tennessee.
14 AUGUST 1861
Nashville’s Vigilance Committee expels Justice John C. Catron of the U.S. Supreme Court because he refuses to resign his judgeship. He is forced to leave his ailing wife behind.
9 SEPTEMBER 1861
East Tennessee Refugees in Ohio
“Several families of Tennessee exiles arrived at Cincinnati, Ohio in farm wagons today. They were driven from Jefferson County, Tennessee, on account of their Union sentiments, some weeks since.”
~ Louisville Journal.
23 SEPTEMBER 1861
Pseudo Tennessee Emigres.
Some sharpers are making a good thing in Cincinnati and other Western cities, playing the role of Tennessee exiles. The costume is an antiquated wagon, a venerable horse, with great development of hip and rib, and an ordinary stock of sun-burnt children clad in dilapidated costume. The caravan parades the streets, and a crowd of curious spectators is soon assembled; when the doleful tale of exile is told. Driven from home with barely enough time to get aboard of their carts, they have traveled, so the story goes, through “thick and thin,” and reached their destination penniless of course. Then contributions are solicited, the hat goes around—and $40 or $50 is subscribed at once.
~ Charleston Mercury.
12 OCTOBER 1861 – New York Times
Andy Johnson and the Tennessee Exiles
Hon. ANDREW JOHNSON of Tennessee,
In his speech at Columbus KY last week, referring to a visit to Camp Dick Robinson:
The other day, when I stood in the presence of TWO THOUSAND Tennesseeans, exiled like myself from their homes of comfort and the families of their love, I found that my manhood and sternness of mind were all nothing, and that I was only a child. There they were, my friends and fellow-citizens of my beloved State, gathered upon the friendly soil of Kentucky, from the tender stripling of sixteen to the gray-haired fathers of sixty, all mourning the evil that has befallen our land and our homes, but all seeking for arms wherewith to go back and drive the invader from our fields and hearthstones. [Applause.]
I essayed to speak to them words of counsel and encouragement, but speech was denied me. I stood before them as one who is dumb. If it be true that out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh, it is also true that the heart may be too full for the utterance of speech. And such were ours – two thousand of us exiled.
Tennesseeans, and all silent! Silent as a city of the dead! But there was no torpor there. There were the bounding heart and throbbing brain, there were the burning cheek and the blazing eve, all more eloquent than ever were the utterings of human speech. [Cheers.]
Each of that throng of exiles, who had wandered among the mountains and hid in their caverns, who had slept in the forest, and squeezed themselves, one by one, through the pickets of the invader, each was now offering comfort and pledging fidelity to the other. Youth and age were banding together in a holy alliance that will never yield till our country and our flag, our Government and our institutions are bathed in the sunlight peace, and consecrated by the baptism of patriotic blood. [Vociferous applause.]
There were their homes, and there too is mine – right over there. And yet we were homeless – exiled! And why? Was it for crime? Had we violated any law? Had we offended the majesty of our Government, or done wrong to any human being? Nay, none of these. Our fault, and our only fault, was loving our country too well to permit its betrayal. And for this the remorseless agents of that “sum of all villainies” secession, drove us from our families and firesides, and made us exiles and wanderers. But the time shall soon come when we wanderers will go home! [Cheers.] …
~ New York Times
26 OCTOBER 1861
Departure editorial of William G. Brownlow, the very excitable editor of the Knoxville Whig.
This issue of the Whig must necessarily be the last for some time to come; I am unable to say how long. The Confederate authorities have determined upon my arrest and I am to be indicted before the grand jury of the Confederate court which commenced its session in Nashville on Monday last. I would have awaited the indictment and arrest before announcing the remarkable event to the word but as I only publish a weekly paper my hurried removal to Nashville would deprive me of the privilege of saying to my subscribers what is alike due to myself and them.
I have the fact of my indictment and consequent arrest having been agreed upon for this week from distinguished citizens, legislators and lawyers at Nashville of both parties. Gentlemen of high positions and members of the secession party say that the indictment will be made because of “some treasonable articles in late numbers of the Whig.” …
I presume I could go free by taking the oath these authorities are administering to other Union men; but my settled purpose is not to do any such thing. I can doubtless be allowed my personal liberty by entering into bonds to keep the peace and to demean myself toward the leaders of secession in Knoxville, who have been seeking to have me assassinated all summer and fall, as they desire me to do …
I expect to go to jail and I am ready to start upon one moment’s warning. … there I am prepared to lie in solitary confinement until I waste away because of imprisonment or die from old age. … I will submit to imprisonment for life or die at the end of a rope before I will make any humiliating concession to any power on earth. I have committed no offense. I have not shouldered arms against the Confederate Government or the State or encouraged others to do so. I have discouraged rebellion publicly and privately. I have not assumed a hostile attitude toward the civil or military authorities of this new government.
But I have committed grave and I really fear unpardonable offenses. I have refused to make war upon the Government of the United States; I have refused to publish … false and exaggerated accounts of the several engagements had between the contending armies; I have refused to write out and publish false versions of the origin of this war and of the breaking up of the best government the world ever knew; and all this I will continue to do if it cost me my life; nay, when I agree to do such things may a righteous God palsy my right arm and may the earth open and close in upon me forever.
The real object of my arrest and contemplated imprisonment is to dry up, break down, silence and destroy the last and only Union paper left in the eleven seceded States and thereby to keep from the people of East Tennessee the facts which are daily transpiring in the country. … I did expect the utmost liberty to be allowed to one small sheet whose errors could be combatted by the entire Southern press. …
I shall in no degree feel humbled by being cast into prison whenever it is the will and pleasure of this august Government to put me there; but on the contrary I shall feel proud of my confinement. … I shall go … because I have refused to laud to the skies the acts of tyranny, usurpation and oppression inflicted upon the people of East Tennessee for their devotion to the Constitution and laws of the Government handed down to them by their fathers …
I feel that I can with confidence rely upon the magnanimity and forbearance of my patrons under this state of things. They will bear me witness that I have held out as long as I am allowed to and that I have yielded to a military despotism that I could not avert the horrors of or successfully oppose.
I will say in conclusion … that they of this country have been unaccustomed to such wrongs; they can yet scarcely realize them. They are astounded … with the quick succession of outrages that have come upon them and they stand horror-stricken …
Exchanging with proud satisfaction the editorial chair and the sweet endearments of home [for] a cell in the prison or the lot of an exile,
I have the honor to be,
WILLIAM G. BROWNLOW,
Editor of the Knoxville Whig.
OR, Ser. II, Vol. 1, pp. 912-914.
Parson William G. Brownlow as he appears on the frontispiece of his 1856 book, The Great Iron Wheel Examined
26 NOVEMBER 1861
THE UNIONISTS IN EAST TENNESSEE.
We have very late and perfectly trustworthy information direct from East Tennessee. … The union men of East Tennessee were never more loyal and hopeful than now. They stand dauntless and incorruptible, and if there is any chance, they are becoming more ardent and confident in the good and great cause of National unity and free Government, which they regard as one and inseparable, now and forever. The Secessionists whisper that their attempted revolution must end in a failure.
It is true, as rumored for a few days, that there are camps of Union men in Tennessee — 1,200 in one and 700 in another — each man with his rifle and a pound of powder, and a corresponding quantity of balls, and regarding his powder as far more precious than gold. …
[After the bridge burnings] the loyal East Tennesseans were hourly expecting a Federal army to force its way through Cumberland Gap, and if a vigorous advance had been made there, the capture of [Gen. Felix] ZOLLICOFFER’s army would have been absolutely certain. Not a man could have escaped. ZOLLICOFFER’s effective force in Kentucky has not at any time exceeded 7,000 men, and he cannot now muster 6,000. The number of secesh troops guarding the East Tennessee Railroad when the bridges were burned was less than 800. …
The sturdy loyalty of the East Tennesseeans appears in the returns of the recent Confederate election for President and Vice-President and Members of Congress [8 AUGUST 1861]. In Roane County, where two thousand votes are usually given, less than three hundred and fifty were polled. JOHN BAXTER, a Submission Union man, (that is, one who is in favor of the Union, but looks upon the rebellion as an accomplished fact,) run for the Confederate Congress in [Horace] MAYNARD’s District, thinking the Unionists would support and elect him, rather than permit the election of an ultra-Secessionist.
The Union men had about 8,000 majority in the District, but refused to vote, and the Secessionist had a very small, but nearly unanimous vote. In Knox County, where the Union men had 3,200 votes, BAXTER, the submissionist, received but 80 votes. The Union men would have nothing to do with the election, but treated it with contempt. In many places the polls were not opened, and in some whole counties not a vote was cast.
The destitution of the rebel troops is extreme. It is not unusual to see the cavalry wearing spurs on their naked heels. They suffer terribly for want of blankets, and search the houses … for blankets, quilts and thick clothing. …
Much dissatisfaction with the Richmond Government is felt. It is denounced on every side as distinguished by imbecility and favoritism, in a style with which the criticisms on the legitimate Government by the Northern journals is moderate. With good management, the war may be closed before the first anniversary of the bombardment of Sumter.
~ New York Times
CSA Maj. Gen. E. Kirby Smith commands Department of East Tennessee
Appointed commander of the Department of East Tennessee in March 1862, Smith enforced martial law, suspended habeas corpus, jailed and deported suspected Unionists, and vigorously enforced the April 1862 Confederate Conscription Act, sending hundreds of Unionists into headlong flight to Kentucky.
He wrote to Adjutant General Samuel Cooper on 2 April 1862:
“The arrest of the leading men in every county and their incarceration South, may bring these people right. They are an ignorant, primitive people, completely in the hands of, and under the guidance of, their leaders. … Remove these men, and a draft might soon be made, to which a portion of the population would respond.”
These heavy-handed measures only succeeded in further provoking Unionists and spreading discontent by turning previously neutral East Tennesseans into enemies.
CSA Maj. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith
17 APRIL 1862
Capture of Union refugees near Woodson’s Gap
Report of Major General E. Kirby Smith,
C. S. Army, with instructions in reference to enlistment of Union refugees.
SIR: On the 17th instant 475 Union men of East Tennessee were captured en route for Kentucky [at Woodson’s Gap], and sent, by Maj. Gen. [E. Kirby] Smith’s order, on the 20th instant, to Milledgeville, Ga. Some of them expressed a wish before leaving to enlist in the Confederate States Army. They were not permitted to do so, because of the apprehension that they might [not] be faithful here to their oath of allegiance. Elsewhere they may make good soldiers. Remembering your request, the major-general commanding directs me to say that you have whatever authority he can give you to proceed to Milledgeville, Ga., and enlist as many of them as consent for service in South Carolina, or elsewhere except in East Tennessee.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. L. CLAY, Assistant Adjutant-Gen.
OR, Ser. I, Vol. 10, pt. I, p. 649
Map of Woodson’s Gap and other nearby locations
Woodson Gap is located in Campbell County, Northeast Tennessee.
The elevation above sea level is 742 meters.
28 APRIL 1862
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF EAST TENNESSEE.
Knoxville, April 28, 1862.
General S. COOPER,
Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.
GENERAL: I have the honor to report that a portion of the Fourth Regiment Tennessee Volunteers (Colonel Morgan) will leave to-day for Milledgeville, Ga., in charge of Union prisoners. The officer of the detachment is directed to report afterward with his command to the military authorities at Savannah, Ga. In more than one communication Brigadier-General Stevenson has reported many desertions from this regiment to the enemy and urged its removal from Cumberland Gap. Because of this and the general character of the regiment for disloyalty I have thought it best to send it beyond the limits of this department. Being thus removed beyond the influence of friends in the ranks of the enemy it is thought these men may make loyal and good soldiers. I trust my action in this matter will meet the approval of the Department.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
E. KIRBY SMITH,
23 APRIL 1862
Confederate Proclamation to the Disaffected People of East Tennessee; holding women and children hostage to induce loyalty to the Confederacy.
E. KIRBY SMITH,
Department of East Tennessee:
23 APRIL 1862
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF EAST TENNESSEE,
The undersigned, in executing martial law in this department, assures those interested, who have fled to the enemy’s [Union] lines and who are actually in their army, that he will welcome their return to their homes and their families. They are offered amnesty and protection if they come to lay down their arms and act as loyal citizens within thirty days given them by Maj.-Gen. E. Kirby Smith to do so.
At the end of that time those failing to return to their homes and accept the amnesty thus offered, and provide for and protect their wives and children in East Tennessee, will have them sent to their care in Kentucky or beyond the Confederate States lines at their own expense.
All that leaves after this date with knowledge of the above facts, will have their families sent immediately after them.
The women and children must be taken care of by husbands and fathers either in East Tennessee or in the Lincoln Government.
W. M. CHURCHWELL,
Col. and Provost-Marshal. OR, Ser. I, Vol. 1, p. 886.
TO THE PUBLIC:
The militia draft under the State laws having been suspended by the proclamation of Maj. Gen. E. Kirby Smith. He also suspends the operation of the conscript bill in this department. It is expected all good citizens will return from Kentucky. They will not be molested if they come to remain and cultivate their farms and take care of their families.
W. M. CHURCHWELL, Col. and Provost-Marshal.
Nashville has become a surprisingly dynamic city: it provides medical care, maintenance, and supplies for the war effort and the railroads; it attracts refugees, both black and white (including multitudes fleeing Confederate occupation in East Tennessee, and a huge number of contraband workers and their families); and it supplies food, rest, and recreation for military personnel, including “a licensed and medically regulated prostitution district.” [Hunt]
One thought on “Unionists of Northeast Tennessee Exiled in the Civil War”
Hi Maggie, I just saw that you had cited my undergrad thesis (congrats on being the seventh person to look at it!), and I thought that you might find some of my research materials useful. I have several collections of transcribed letters and census/military records for about 300 Hamilton county soldiers. Just let me know if you’d like any of it, and I’ll be happy to make it available to you.