Tennessee Waltzed in, then out of Union

As published by the Daily News Journal, Sunday, June 5, 2011

Isham Harris was Governor of Tennessee from 1857-62, then a Senator from Tennessee from 1877-97 (his death).

Isham Harris was Governor of Tennessee from 1857-62, then a Senator from Tennessee from 1877-97 (his death).

By Jonathan Fagan

“All we ask is to be let alone,” said Jefferson Davis, February 18, 1861 upon delivering his inaugural address as President of the Confederate States of America from the portico of the Alabama Capitol in Montgomery.  As he spoke these words, resplendent in his silk piped Price Albert coat and white silk cravat to match the six white horses that had drawn his carriage to the affair, Davis’ new Confederacy comprised seven Southern states.

Tennessee was not one of them.

Just nine days earlier, Tennessee’s voters had rejected by referendum the secessionists pleas of Governor Isham Harris, a Winchester Democrat who convened a special session of the legislature to force the issue.  Rutherford county voted to preserve the Union by a margin of 1,529 to 1,003.  Its senator, John D. Richardson (D-Murfreesboro), had even attempted reconciliation by proffering a compromise that included a complete prohibition of the slave trade, among other things.

Rutherford County’s Unionist sentiment vanished a mere two months later, however, when President Abraham Lincoln ordered Tennessee’s militia to join in “suppressing” the Confederacy and blockading Southern ports.  His order did not have the desired effect.

Immediately, another special session of the Tennessee Legislature was called, a new referendum was scheduled, and John Woods (D-Murfreesboro) rose to propose converting the Hermitage into a Confederate National Military Academy.  This time on 73 of Rutherford County’s voters chose to keep Tennessee in the Union while 2,392 favored joining the Confederacy.  Clearly, Rutherford County shared Jefferson Davis’ sentiment that the Confederate States of America should be “let alone.”

Tennessee declared itself a Confederate State on June 8, 1861.  Wednesday marks the 150th anniversary, or sesquicentennial, of the pivotal  day.

The years to come would be fraught with death and hardship.  Though Tennessee was the last to secede, it was second only to Virginia in the number of bloody battles fought on her soil, and a long Federal occupation would devastate its civilian population.

Over the next four years, the Daily News Journal will publish diary entries of Rutherford County citizens who experienced the hardship first hand, contributions from current citizens who have stories to tell and details of educational events for those who would like to learn more about Rutherford County’s role in the conflict.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans will host a memorial service for the fallen in Murfreesboro’s Evergreen Cemetery today (June 5th) at 2PM.  Smyrna’s Sam Davis Home will display an in-depth exhibit entitled “This Cruel War” detailing life during Rutherford County’s Federal occupation for the entire month of June, and will also host a Summer Soiree featuring live Civil War era music, a barbecue dinner, and re-enactors at 6PM, Thursday, June 23.  Tickets are $10 and you can RSVP by calling 615-459-2341 or emailing director@samdavishome.org.

We hope your family can take advantage of these opportunities to learn more about our community’s rich history.

Jonathan Fagan is the Communication Director for Rutherford County’s Sesquicentennial Committee, chaired by Denise Carlton and comprised of community members dedicated to the preservation of Rutherford County’s Civil War heritage.

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