East Tennessee River Valley Commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War

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The East Tennessee River Valley commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War (1861 – 1865), a tragic time characterized in East Tennessee and portions of north Georgia by divided loyalties between the Unionists and Confederates; destruction of homes, communities, and landscapes; food shortages, illnesses, and death; acts of heroism and kindness; and eventually the foundation for the growth of a stronger state. The East Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide, a partnership in sustainable travel with National Geographic, features many significant historic sites, exhibits, and special events showcasing the key moments and complexity of life on the battlefields and the homefront.

Courtesy of the East Tennessee Historical Society

Battle of Fort Sanders Courtesy of East Tennessee Historical Society

While the larger war raged, East Tennesseeans waged their own "war within a war," dividing families, churches, and communities.

The East Tennessee River Valley commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War through a series of events and exhibits that explore the key moments and complexities of the war on the battlefields and on the homefront. Each community is using its unique places and events to focus on what happened in their area during the war.

Tennessee, with its major transportation routes via river, roads, and rail as well as its farms and industries, Tennessee was strategically critical to both the North and the South and more than 1,400 battles, including at least one in every county, were fought in Tennessee, more than any other state than Virginia.

While Tennessee was a Confederate state, East Tennessee was predominantly Unionist, but with a passionate Confederate minority. “While the larger war raged, East Tennesseans waged their own “war within a war,” dividing families, churches, and communities,” says Cherel Henderson, director, East Tennessee Historical Society. “With the men at war, women were left to tend farms, care for families, and fend off bushwhackers and foragers of both sides.” Sickness, death and food shortages were a part of everyday life. Balancing the hardships were stories of heroism, kindness to strangers, and underground efforts to bring freedom and citizenship for African Americans. The region is dotted with battlefields, historic buildings and monuments, and exhibits explaining the rich history of the Civil War.

The 2013 signature commemorative event co-sponsored by the Tennessee Sesquicentennial Commission and the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area is a symposium on “Occupation and Liberation” to be held at the Chattanooga Convention Center and surrounding historic sites on October 9-12. Presenters will discuss the battles, events, and stories, as well as offer brief dramas and musical performances. Special tours will be given to area Civil War battlefields and cemeteries. For more information and to register for the event, go to http://www.tnvacation.com/civil-war/events/.

From June 5 – October 13, the Museum of East Tennessee History is featuring an exhibit, “Of Sword and Pen,” recounting pivotal moments in the region’s Civil War history through rare documents and artifacts, many of them on display for the first time. Other programming includes the “Divided Loyalties” section of the permanent exhibit, an August 17 History Fair focusing on various aspects of the Civil War, a research collection and genealogy workshops to find your Civil War ancestor. In conjunction with the History Fair is a “Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee” visit by the Tennessee State Library and Archives in which the public is invited to bring family and other Civil War items for documentation.

Visitors can experience Civil War history firsthand at one of several battle and camp reenactments taking place this fall. The Battle of Tunnel Hill Reenactment will be held on September 7-8 in Tunnel Hill, Georgia. The weekend will include tours of the Historic Western & Atlantic Railroad Tunnel, the Tunnel Museum, and the Clisby Austin House, headquarters of General William T. Sherman in early May 1864. The 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga will be held on September 19-22 at Mountain Cove Farm in Walker County, Georgia. This was one of the critical battles of the war in which the Confederate Army held off the Union forces on their march to Chattanooga, a critical launching point for the invasion of the Deep South and the capture of Atlanta.

In the Knoxville area is the October 10-13 reenactment of the Battle of Fort Sanders, unique because it takes place against the backdrop of a reconstruction of an earthenworks bastion, rebuilt to the original fort scale, and located on a 140 acre farm in Corryton, TN. The Fort Dickerson Civil War Weekend will be held on November 8-10 at Fort Dickerson Park, located on the original fort site with a beautiful view of the city. The event features skirmishes, Blue and Gray encampments, demonstrations, such as Civil War medicine, uniforms, firing of weapons and ladies wear. Both battles turned away Confederatee invasions of Knoxville.

The Buttonwillow Civil War Dinner Theater in Whitwell, TN brings to life the complexities of divided loyalties in families during the Civil War through a two-person play, “Grandaddy’s Watch” about a brother and sister who meet on the battlefield in 1864,he a diehard Unionist, his sister a Confederate sympathizer secretly running medicine to their cousins across the line. The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center in Townsend, TN is hosting a special exhibit of Civil War memorabilia through October, and its video describes life in the Smokies during the Civil War.

The State of Tennessee and several communities have developed driving or walking Civil War tours. The Southeast Tennessee Civil War Trails brochure provides a designated path to see battlefields, cemeteries, monuments, churches, train stations and tunnels, and other important Civil War sites. Highlights include a ride on the Tennessee Valley Railroad over antebellum rails through the slave-constructed Missionary Ridge Tunnel to Chickamauga and the Chattanooga African American Heritage Museum and Bessie Smith Cultural Center, which will host a traveling exhibit, “Free at Last”, on the emancipation.

Knoxville has opened a Civil War Gateway, located above the Blount Mansion Visitor Center, featuring information – and a walking tour – on the role of key sites in Knoxville, including Blount Mansion, the Mabry Hazen House, and the Confederacy Memorial Hall/Bleak House, in the Civil War. And many important sites are found in rural communities throughout the region, including General Longstreet’s Headquarters and Bethesda Church and Cemetery in Morristown, TN.

Founded in 1850 as a rural garden cemetery, beautiful and peaceful Old Gray Cemetery is the final resting place of many notable Knoxvillians through time. Unionists and Confederates who were once bitter enemies now lie within yards of each other. The annual lantern tour, September 29, will feature food, carriage rides, and some amazing stories on “The War on the Homefront: 1861-1865” and will recognize that “By the end of the Civil War, regardless if they had been a soldier or a civilian, everyone in Knoxville was a veteran”.

These are only highlights from a vast wealth of events and sites. Take a look at the East Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide to learn more about these Civil War sites and other geotourism venues and adventures and find out what makes this region a National Geographic Destination.

The East Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide, a partnership in sustainable travel and tourism with National Geographic, is an online planning guide to a region “Where Rivers and Mountains Meet,” from the Smoky Mountains through Knoxville, Chattanooga and North Georgia. The MapGuide is a program coordinated by the Southeast Watershed Forum, a nonprofit organization helping communities protect and enhance their land and water resources.

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