Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Civil War in Knoxville

Knoxville, a small city of about 3,700 people according to the 1860 census, was strategically very important to the Confederates during the Civil War. The shortest rail route from Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, to Chattanooga and hence the rest of the South was through Knoxville. Without Knoxville in Confederate control, supplies, soldiers and information had to travel longer routes on either side of East Tennessee.

Equally important to the Confederates were the food stuffs and natural resources, such as saltpeter and copper, that could be supplied by East Tennesseans. And, of course, if Knoxville was important to the Confederates, it would be important to the Federal forces for the same reasons.

Knoxville and East Tennessee held a unique position in the Confederacy. Although Tennessee voted to join the Confederacy, East Tennessee remained throughout the war staunchly Unionist. To complicate matters, Knoxville was a blend of Union and Confederate supporters. This combination would ensure that Knoxville and East Tennessee saw their share of political and military fighting during the Civil War.

Knoxville was the home of one of the most intense Union supporters, William Brownlow, editor of the Knoxville Whig newspaper. Even after Tennessee voted to join the Confederacy, Brownlow kept up his attack on the Confederacy and its leaders. Finally the Confederates imprisoned Brownlow, later forcing him into exile outside of Tennessee where he lectured and wrote to further the cause of the Union. After the war he was elected governor of Tennessee.

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Note: Governor Brownlow holds a very special place in Melungeon studies.

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