The year was 1861 and a great nation began its divide. Each state voted to either stay in the union or secede from the once United States. Much like the rest of the country, Tennessee was also in a division. Being the largest state, territorially, in the union, it wasn’t easy for every Tennessean to see eye to eye. Many in the west had large farms and a great amount of money while those in the middle to eastern part of the state were quite poor and worked small farms simply to feed their families. Such a wide gap in standards of living is what created one of the greatest divides of a state in the history of the United States.
The secession fever that had gripped the Deep South began sneaking its way into West Tennessee but in the rest of the state, that grip was much more muted. This discrepancy caused vicious neighbor against neighbor warfare and even tore families apart. After the Union firing on Fort Sumter in April, many Tennesseans reevaluated their stance and stood with the confederacy. East Tennesseans however voted more than two-to-one to stay with the Union causing an anti-confederacy area tucked east of the Cumberland Plateau.
Many of the war’s important battles were fought in Tennessee, especially in the mountains of the Appalachians. The Tennessee and Cumberland rivers were main supply routes for Union troops and were quickly under plan of attack by Confederate Generals. As the battles began to move closer to East Tennessee, they began getting less bloody and more decisive. In September of 1863 the battle of Blountsville, a four-hour battle that almost destroyed the town, was vital to win control of the Virginia and Tennessee railroad. A fierce Union attack initiated a flanking movement and caused the Confederates to withdraw. This battle was the initial step in the Union forcing the Confederates to leave East Tennessee. It wouldn’t be an easy feat however, about 15 miles up the road in Bristol was an important Confederate medical center. Today a cemetery of more than 300 Confederate soldiers remains divided by the state line.
General Williams was so angry after he was forced to retreat from Blountville that he returned to attack Bull’s Gap two months later. Union General Carter attacked with such force that the battle began at 10 am and was over by nightfall. This battle of Blue Springs in Bull’s Gap also helped extinguish Confederate influence in the area. That did not stop the Confederacy, it was two short months later in December of 1863 when Confederate General Longstreet decided to go back and capture Bean’s Station. Heavy artillery approached the Union soldiers and they held out for as long as they could. Lasting all day and even after nightfall, by the next morning the Union soldiers were retreating. Their successes meant little to the Confederacy though.
The battle of Bean’s Station ended a very important Confederate campaign known as the Knoxville Campaign. Put in place to overtake the city and surrounding towns, after losing big in Knoxville and also in the smaller towns of Northeast Tennessee the Confederacy quit the campaign all together. After smaller battles in Kingsport and Johnson City went the way of the Union, it was easy to see that Northeast Tennessee was not going to become Confederate Territory.
The traces of the American Civil War can be found all over Northeast Tennessee. The entire region is marked with trail markers telling the history of the exact location. These markers also tell the route many soldiers took during the war. Many of the old buildings still stand and markers in the cemeteries are still visible. Walking and driving the exact paths the soldiers used so many years ago is an almost eerie feeling but an amazing one at that. Touring these cities, battle sites and trail signs is one great way to insert yourself into history and learn about the country’s past.