Tennessee: A Very Short History of Their Civil War

To understand who the people were that I found in Old Gray Cemetery, I need to know what their Civil War experience might have been.  Most of my education about the Civil War is oriented towards the battles in Virginia and Gettysburg, because that is where my Pennsylvania and New Jersey ancestors were. In my research, I was surprised to find that Tennessee had the 2nd largest number of battles fought on its soil after Virginia.  It was also perhaps the most contentious state with its people divided in allegiance between the Union and the Confederacy.

Tennessee Battlefields Civil War

Tennessee Battlefields Civil War

The eastern part of the state (where Knoxville is located) was primarily Unionist and the western part of the state (that includes Nashville and Memphis) was mostly Confederate. To make matters worse, the Union Army had taken over Nashville and Memphis by early 1862 and the Confederate Army held Knoxville until the fall of 1863.  So that meant that both sides of the state experienced “occupation”, martial law, and all that it entails.  Both areas had rebel groups launching counter attacks and sabotage that resulted in hangings, imprisonment and a general state of unrest.  There were 38 battles fought in Tennessee; the battle of Shiloh was the most well known with 23,746 casualties (US 13,047; CS 10,699).  And finally, while the Federal and Confederate armies managed to keep the cities relatively safe and the people fed, the countryside had gangs (loyal to no one) roaming and terrorizing farmers.  They stole their food and money and at times killed them.  Many of the county people left their farms and came to the city for safety creating additional stress on limited resources of food and housing.  Tennessee was the embodiment of Civil War.

Nashville - The First Union Dress Parade 1862  (Library of Congress)

Nashville – The First Union Dress Parade 1862 (Library of Congress)

Abbreviated Timeline:

  • Lincoln elected President – Nov 6 1860
  • Tennessee’s voters rejected Referendum to succeed from the Union – Feb 9 1861.
  • Confederate States of America formed with Jefferson Davies as the President – States include South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas – February 18 1861
  • Lincoln inaugurated – March 4 1861
  • South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter and Lincoln sends Union troops to defend the fort – April 12 1861
  • Tennessee voted to succeed from the Union by Referendum. The total vote is 69% to 31% to leave the Union, but in Eastern Tennessee the percentages are flipped with 69% against to 31% in support of succession. – June 8 1861
  • Tennessee Unionists held convention in Greeneville that denounced succession and petitioned the legislature to have Eastern Tennessee become separate state – June 17-20 1861
  • Tennessee joined Confederate States of America – July 22 1861
  • Eastern Tennessee Unionists burned 5 of 9 railroad bridges that helped to supply the Confederates with provisions– Nov 8 1861
  • Confederate Army “occupied” Eastern Tennessee, implements martial law and executes many of the “bridge burners” – November 1861
  • Battles at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. Confederate troops surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant – February 16 1862
  • Federal troops occupied Nashville – Late February 1862
  • Battle of Shiloh – April 6 1862 (Federal victory)
  • Battle of Stone River – December 31 1862 – January 2 1863 (Federal victory)
  • Federal troops under Gen. Burnside took possession of Knoxville – September 1, 1863
  • Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia (Confederate victory) – caused Federal troops to retreat to Chattanooga, TN and Confederates surrounded the town – September 1863

    Fort Sanders, Knoxville, TN -  Col. Orlando Poe and Col. Orville Babcock 1863? (Library of Congress)

    Fort Sanders, Knoxville, TN – Col. Orlando Poe and Col. Orville Babcock 1863? (Library of Congress)

  • Battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge – Gen. Grant lead Federal troops to victory and siege of Chattanooga ends. Confederates return to Georgia – November 25 1863
  • Battle of Fort Sanders (Federal victory) and Knoxville are finally free of Confederate occupation – November 29 1863
  • Battle of Franklin (Federal victory) December 15-16 1864
  • Surrender of General Lee – April 9 1865
  • President Lincoln assassinated – April 15 1865
  • President Johnson declares war ended – August 20 1865

All of these events were important and had an effect on the people who are buried in Gray’s Cemetery.   Next you will hear about the Gammon Family and what they were doing before, during and after the Civil War.


  • Bergeron, Paul H., Stephen V. Ash, and Jeanette Keith. “The Civil War”. In Tennesseans and their history. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999. 132-157.
  • “CIVIL WAR TENNESSEE.” Civil War Traveler: Tennessee. Accessed March 17, 2015. http://www.civilwartraveler.com/WEST/TN/index.html.
  • “Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area.” Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area. Accessed March 19, 2015. http://www.tncivilwar.org/.
  • United States. National Park Service. “Civil War Battle Summaries by State.” National Parks Service. Accessed March 17, 2015. http://www.nps.gov/abpp/battles/bystate.htm#tn.
  • United States. National Park Service. “Civil War Timeline.” National Parks Service. March 4, 2015. Accessed March 17, 2015. http://www.nps.gov/gett/learn/historyculture/civil-war-timeline.htm
This entry was posted in Civil War, Knoxville Tennessee, Tennessee Genealogy. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Tennessee: A Very Short History of Their Civil War

  1. Kathleen Peppers says:


    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Val Sanford says:

    Holy Smokes. I had no idea there were so many battles fought in Tennesee. I like seeing the map and the photo of the soldiers in Knoxville.

  3. Val Sanford says:

    Reblogged this on Suitcase Full of Memories and commented:
    I’m enjoying learning about the Civil War through the eyes of a Yankee now living in the South. Well, she’s not really a Yankee, but a northern and would have stood with the Union. Thanks to Rachelle Joy.

  4. Laura says:

    Nicely done. You expanded my education today!

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