The Strange Case of East Tennessee

The Strange Case of East Tennessee

The Strange Case of EastTennessee

Tennessee was not one of the first states to secede from the Union. This usually catches a lot of people by surprise. In fact, it was actually in question as to whether or not they would secede at all. As late as February 1861 54% of the people of Tennessee were not in favor of holding a secession convention at all. That percentage would change after April 12th, 1861 the day that the Confederates fired on the Union outpost of Ft. Sumter.

In response to the attack on April 15th, President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion. This move pushed the rest of the southern states out of the Union.  On June 8th, 1861 Tennessee held their secession referendum. West Tennessee was overwhelmingly in favor of secession, East Tennessee was steadfastly opposed. It would be up to Middle Tennessee to break the deadlock and break it they did. Middle Tennessee in February of that year was 51% opposed to secession, by June and the vote that number had swung to 88% in favor. Tennessee would leave the Union.

East Tennessee

Now for the part that you may not know.

East Tennessee was not real happy with being forced to leave the Union and in a series of conventions, the twenty-six counties that made up that part of the state decided to secede from Tennessee. (Much like what happened with Virginia and West Virginia.) They made their petition to the state legislature in Nashville, who promptly refused it and for good measure sent troops in to occupy East Tennessee and keep it part of the state.

Am I the only one that sees the irony here? The State of Tennessee leaves the Union because Lincoln called for troops to keep states in the Union. But when a large portion of their population asked to breakaway from the state, they responded with force. Hmmmm.

East Tennessee would stay under Confederate occupation until 1863. All the while they provided troops to the Federal Army and maintaining a guerrilla war against the rebels. This base of support would end up leading to Tennessee being the first state allowed back in the Union during Reconstruction.