Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Paul H. Bergeron

Committee Members

John R. Finger, LeRoy P. Graff, Ralph W. Haskins, John Muldowney, Leonard W. Breaslaw


By the mid-nineteenth century, East Tennessee had evolved into an unique Southern region. Divergent patterns of growth, society, politics, and economics marked the eastern counties as distinct from Tennessee's other sections, a situation greatly influenced by the region's geographic isolation. By the eve of the Civil War, the region's people perceived themselves as different from their fellow Tennesseans; and in many ways a deep-seated distrust of the rest of the state was commonplace. Therefore when Governor Isham Harris, backed by overwhelming popular support in Middle and West Tennessee, made moves to withdraw the state from the Union in the spring of 1861, Unionist leaders in East Tennessee organized a powerful movement to prevent secession. Although these leaders failed, Unionism never died in East Tennessee despite intense Confederate efforts to snuff it out. Because the majority of its people remained loyal to the Federal Government, the region had unusual war experiences. This study attempts to describe the Civil War in East Tennessee and to analyze the impact of the conflict upon the region, especially institutions such as local government, education, the church, and slavery.

Confederate and Federal authorities alternately attempted to assert and then maintain control of East Tennessee; yet neither was entirely successful. Initially the Confederates tried a conciliatory policy in hopes that the Unionists could be persuaded to join the Southern cause eventually. When this failed, harsh measures, including mass arrests, a declaration of martial law, and strict enforcement of conscription, were employed to break the grip of East Tennessee "Toryism." But these only resulted in further alienation of the populace. Thousands either fled to the relative safety of Kentucky or else launched a campaign of sabotage and guerrilla warfare to subvert the Confederates. When United States forces occupied the region in the fall of 1863, Federal authorities were little more successful in gaining effective mastery of the eastern counties. While the Provost Marshal attempted to maintain law and order, revenge-minded Unionists, prodded by editor William G. Brownlow, sought harsh retribution from their former oppressors. At the same time, Confederate guerrillas mounted a campaign of counter-terror, and from early 1864 until the end of the war, East Tennessee was torn by a bitter struggle. Not until the closing weeks of the conflict, did the Federals finally exert effective control over the region. The struggle in East Tennessee however, did not end with the surrender of armies elsewhere, for Unionists continued to seek revenge. Ex-Rebels were either driven from the region or were forced to live in fear of reprisals. Not until the end of the decade, did much of the violence and bitterness subside.

Because of the intensity of the struggle in East Tennessee, crucial institutions were deeply affected. Local government was forced to take on unprecedented responsibilities which further strained budgets already weakened by the disruptions of war. Ironically Unionists maintained considerable political influence on the local level during Confederate occupation and then used the state courts as one means of seeking revenge on ex-Rebels. Education on all levels was seriously disrupted by the war but recovered gradually once peace was restored. East Tennessee churches were fragmented as a result of the conflicting loyalties frequently found within congregations.

One institution, slavery, did not survive the war. Although blacks were only a small percentage of the East Tennessee population, at times all whites felt threatened by the freedom of the slaves. Initially all Unionists pledged loyalty to the Federal Government, but still maintained that slavery must be preserved. The disruptions of war and certain Federal policies such as the conscription of Negroes caused the de facto death of slavery by 1864. The slave issue, nevertheless, split the Unionist coalition, as Radicals sought the institution's end as a means of weakening the Confederacy and punishing Rebels. Because most whites had little interest in uplifting the freedman, agencies such as the Freedmen's Bureau and Northern Benevolent aid societies met with a hostile reception; and a policy of segregation was instituted soon after the war as in the rest of the South.

In the final analysis, it is evident, that with the exception of the slave experience, the Civil War in East Tennessee confirmed an uniqueness that the region had possessed for decades before the conflict and would maintain well into the twentieth century.


Large File - 42MB

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

History Commons