Sunday, July 22, 2012


[The Civil War in Appalachia -Tennessee in the Civil War, Volume 2 edited by Spurgeon King (The Tennessee Historical Society, 2011) Softcover, map, photos, notes, index. 232 pp. ISBN:978-0-9615966-4-4 $25).

To commemorate the Sesquicentennial, the Tennessee Historical Society is republishing articles from their scholarly journal Tennessee Historical Quarterly in a twelve volume series titled Tennessee in the Civil War. Published in 2011, the second book, The Civil War in Appalachia, comprises ten articles selected by editor Spurgeon King, who also wrote the introduction.

In the first article, Charles F. Bryan traces the efforts of the East Tennessee Convention of 1861, a hastily assembled collection of Unionist delegates, to galvanize opposition to the upcoming secession vote. Often viewed as a failure (secession succeeded after all), Bryan argues that it was instead a crucial event in unifying the pro-Union cause in the state, bringing together old political enemies and forging new bonds for a common purpose. Martha Turner's next chapter builds on the first, providing readers with a brief summary of the class, cultural, economic, and political origins of Tennessee's brand of Appalachian Unionism. The fact that pro-Union does not always equal anti-slavery always bears repeating for the benefit of the more casual readers that tend to conflate the two stances.

The essay by Sam Bollier is a particularly revealing exploration of how the region was viewed in the north via the lens of the popular media of the time, specifically newspapers. Before the war, the stereotypical northern view of southerners as lazy was also applied to Appalachian residents, with an additional nod to their supposed fierce independence and savage appearance and behavior. This immediately changed during the war, with Yankee values like thrift and hard, honest labor now ascribed to mountain Unionists, who were also often mistakenly assumed to be members of the abolitionist cause. After the war, these cause serving projections of commonality with northern society disappeared and all the old prejudices returned.

Until recently, the preponderance of the literature dealing with Civil War guerrilla warfare focused on the deeply personal level, and that is the case here with Robert Wasner's account of the killing of former deputy provost Joseph Devine. Beyond providing readers with insights into the nature of East Tennessee violence against civilians, Wasner also examines the legend that the killing was instigated by Confederate general John C. Vaughn in retaliation for Devine's arrest and deportation of Vaughn's family. The author found no evidence of any direct involvement by Vaughn.

Of course, no volume of essays dealing with Civil War East Tennessee can omit the person of William G. Brownlow. James Kelly's lengthy contribution, originally published in two parts, serves as an excellent, and balanced, mini-biography and appreciation of "Parson" Brownlow's prominent political role during the years of Civil War and Reconstruction. While acknowledging the very distasteful (and even corrupt) nature of Brownlow's public life as a newspaper editor and politician, Kelly tempers this with the argument that, although Brownlow was certainly over the top, much of the man's tone was consistent with what was expected of partisan newspapermen of the period.

Letters home written by Confederate engineer Richard McCalla figure prominently in Robert Partin's article about building and maintaining bridges and fortifications in the East Tennessee-Southwest Virginia theater.  The variety of wartime roles assumed by Confederate women (e.g. provision of food and clothing to combatants, petitioning governments and military occupation authorities for redress of grievances, intelligence gathering, even prostitution) are explored by William Strasser, with a nod also to their key presence in post-war memorial organizations.

In recognition that battles and campaigns also significantly shaped the Civil War experience in Appalachian Tennessee, a trio of military themed articles were also included. Douglas Cubbison offers a piece lauding the generalship of Joseph Hooker and John White Geary at the Battle of Lookout Mountain.   The legend of "Long Tom", a cannon placed atop Cumberland Gap that could reportedly fire five miles in any direction, is thoroughly debunked by William Provine. Finally, Melanie Greer Storie briefly chronicles the career of the Union's 13th Tennessee Cavalry (the regiment that killed John Hunt Morgan), gazing backward from its 1896 veteran's reunion.

Of course, any collection of previously published essays from a single journal on a specific theme, as opposed to commissioned pieces, will have some gaps, but editor Spurgeon King does a generally fine job of covering the bases in The Civil War in Appalachia.  His selections also effectively convey to readers the important truth that supporters of secession also formed a significant presence in the region.

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