Tennessee’s Role in the Civil War
The Civil War was largely fought in the cities and farms of Tennessee. The State was the last Southern State to secessede from the Union. Before declaring secession, the State was heavily divided. West Tennessee, led by Governor Harris, overwhelmingly supported joining the Confederacy. Residents of East Tennessee fervently remained loyal to the Union. In Middle Tennessee, the counties in the Central Basin leaned towards Confederacy while those at the lower end of the basin were ambivalent in their stance on Unionism and joining the Confederacy.
The States’ rivers including the Mississippi River were the main transportation routes to the South making control of the State a necessity for both the Union and the Confederates. The State was also endowed with mountain passes including the Cumberland Gap and major roads. Therefore, the State was valuable because of its strategic transportation routes.
Several battles were fought in Tennessee in the race for control over the State by both Unionists and Confederates. The Battle of Shiloh was the deadliest battle in the history of the country at the time. The Battle occurred on the 6th and 7th of April in 1862 in the Southwestern part of Tennessee. Two days of vicious fighting resulted in the deaths of 24000 men from both the Confederate and Union camps. The Confederate army commander, Albert Johnston also died in action. The Union emerged victorious at the Battle of Shiloh (Ash, 2006).
The Battle of Stones River was fought from December 1862 to January 1863 in Middle Tennessee. The battle had the highest number of casualties on both sides of the war. The Battle boosted the Union’s confidence and dashed any hopes of the Confederate taking over Middle Tennessee. More than 24000 men died in the battle with the Union suffering more casualties than the Confederates. Brigadier generals were also killed or mortally wounded. The generals included James Rains and Roger Hanson from the Confederate side and Edward Kirk and Joshua Sill from the Union side. Other large battles included Franklin, Chattanooga, and Nashville were also fought in Tennessee.
After the Civil War and defeat of the Confederates, the Reconstruction Era began. Tennessee was at the forefront of this era with both political and social changes occurring at an alarming rate in the State. Slavery was abolished in the State even before the War had ended. In 1866, the State became the first Confederate entity to return to the Union.
The Union failed miserably in reconstructing the South including Tennessee. Bankruptcy of the antebellum plantations was predominant in the State due to emancipation, war destruction, and a lack of capital to finance large-scale farming. Furthermore, the Reconstruction failed because it could not protect the rights of the emancipated slaves. The new civil rights accorded to black Tennesseans were stripped before they could be exercised (Ash, 2006).
The Tennessee legislature introduced a poll tax into the new constitution of 1870. Although the tax was repealed, it would later resurface in 1890. There was constant violence in the State between the blacks and whites. The infamous Ku Klux Klan, a vigilante organization against blacks, was formed in Pulaski, Tennessee. The terrorist organization intimidated blacks in the State by torching their houses, beating them, and more often than not, killing them and raping the female black folk. In 1866, race riots erupted in Memphis, lasting three days and resulting in the deaths of 46 black people and 2 white men. Thus, the Reconstruction had failed miserably in re-building the State and guaranteeing the civil rights of the emancipated slaves (Ash, 2006).
Ash, S.V. (2006). Middle Tennessee Society Transformed, 1860-1870: War and Peace in the Upper South. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press
Irvin, P.N. (2006). Crating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Wood, B. (2013). Slavery in Colonial America, 1619-1776 (The African American History Series). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.