Monday, October 2, 2006

Fisher: "War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869"

Noel C. Fisher's well-balanced and deeply researched War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869 long occupied a spot on my Civil War bookshelf, asking to be read but continually passed over. Well, I finally got around to reading this award winner and I wasn't disappointed.

Dividing Tennessee into three regions (west, middle, and east), Fisher begins by discussing the political, social, religious, and economic divisions within the state from its origins through the secession crisis. The author's own statistical analysis (Appendix A) is presented along with a summary of the work of previous historians on the subject of East Tennessee unionism. There isn't total agreement across the board but issues like Whig party affiliation, relative scarcity of slaveholding, and a unique geographical & political identity seem to have a broader acceptance than the others. Overall, it's a southern Unionism whose uniqueness was only equalled by that nurtured in West(ern) Virginia.

Fisher examines in detail the contrasting policies of Confederate garrison forces, which began as highly conciliatory under Felix Zollicoffer before predictably transforming into repression under later commanders, and the later Union occupiers, beginning with Ambrose Burnside in 1863 [this reminds me that we need a modern book-length study of the Union army's invasion and occupation of East Tennessee, 1863-1865. As far as I know, none yet exists]. The postwar period, which saw a great exodus of pro-secession families from the region (esp. from Knoxville), is also covered at some length.

From a look at the bibliography--the word 'wow' comes to mind--and notes, it is apparent that Fisher condenses a great deal of indepth research and knowledge into his relatively short and highly readable manuscript. This summarization of results and focus on prominent community and military leaders may disappoint some readers, and it is probably true that the book would have benefitted from including more passages that directly relate the traumatic experiences of the region's inhabitants, both unionist and Confederate. Overall, though, I would consider War at Every Door essential reading for those trying to understand the Civil War in East Tennessee.

[On a related note: Although the pages have since been removed, a search website aimed at academic papers and journals once had back issues of Civil War History available for viewing. I wish I could remember the volume and number as I would like to revisit it, but a historian contributed a lengthy combined review and analysis of Fisher's War at Every Door and W. Todd Groce's Mountain Rebels: East Tennessee Confederates and the Civil War, 1860-1870 for one of the issues. Since I've now read Fisher's work (but not Groce, unfortunately), I would like to reexamine the criticisms levelled at the book.]

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