The Frank H. McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee is hosting a series of Sunday lectures on the Civil War in Knoxville, starting this Sunday. While you’re there, you can check out the Ft. Sanders exhibit; it’s pretty cool. Click here for details.
Category Archives: Appalachian History
While Continentals, Redcoats, and militiamen were battling it out in the American Revolution, a related struggle played out on the frontiers of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia as settlers and Indians wrestled for control of the West. This frontier war for land and independence doesn’t get as much scholarly attention as the conventional war to the eastward, which is why I was glad to see the release of Richard D. Blackmon’s Dark and Bloody Ground: The American Revolution Along the Southern Frontier a couple of months ago.
Blackmon demonstrates that colonial officials tasked with maintaining the Indians’ loyalty had long struggled with unscrupulous traders and land-hungry frontiersmen, and found their role even more difficult when those frontiersmen became rebellious colonists. In the South, this responsibility fell on the shoulders of John Stuart, Superintendent for the Southern Department. Both Stuart and his Whig opponents tried to secure the support (or at least the neutrality) of the southern tribes, which required supplying the Indians with the arms and powder on which they depended for hunting and persuading the tribes to expel agents working for the opposing side.
All-out war finally erupted on the frontier in the summer of 1776, after Stuart and his deputies failed to convince the Cherokees that a general assault on the settlements would only inflame white Whigs and Tories alike into reprisals. The response from the Carolinas and Virginia was precisely what Stuart had feared. Frontier militias rebounded from the attacks and marched into the Indian towns, burning crops and dwellings while engaging in battles with war parties. These invasions of Cherokee country forced the tribe to trade land for peace, although a faction of warriors led by Dragging Canoe refused to lay down their arms and instead moved south to continue resistance against the settlements.
The Creeks, meanwhile, were divided over whether to join Britain’s war against the colonists, reluctant to take up arms without the support of British troops and supplies. Pro-British Creeks did attack the Georgia frontier in 1778, although the Whigs kept part of the tribe neutral by supplying them with goods. When British armies finally invaded the South, the Whigs faced the two-front war which they had long dreaded, but British military activity in that region was never as well-coordinated as advocates of a frontier strategy desired.
Ultimately, those Native Americans who cast their lot with England lost their military gamble, as British troops evacuated the southern posts they had been trying to maintain since the late 1770′s, leaving the Cherokees, Creeks, and other tribes at the mercy of an independent United States. Although the war brought devastation and bloodshed to the frontiersmen (the Cumberland settlements in present-day Middle Tennessee and the Kentucky settlements proved especially vulnerable), it reduced residents of the devastated Indian communities to an especially precarious existence, and the final peace between the U.S. and England in 1783 proved to be a mere intermission in the contest for the West.
My only complaint about this book is a curious omission. Blackmon’s description of the struggle between frontiersmen and Cherokees in 1776 is quite detailed, but it doesn’t really cover the summer attacks on the settlements in what is now northeastern Tennessee. He does deal with the wrangling among Tennessee settlers, British officials, and Native Americans that preceded these attacks, as well as John Sevier’s later battles against the Chickamaugas, but readers interested in the early history of the Volunteer State may be disappointed that the siege of Ft. Caswell doesn’t get the same coverage as the Ring Fight, the defense of Boonesborough, and the Battle of the Bluffs.
That criticism aside, this book is a great addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the American Revolution or the early frontier, utilizing both official documentation and eyewitness accounts of the major engagements. Blackmon’s analyses of Andrew Williamson’s exploits and the negotiations at Ft. Patrick Henry are the best I’ve read. Even if your knowledge of the war’s backwoods battles is extensive, it’s heplful to have a solid overview of the entire frontier war for the South in one volume, placed deftly in the context of the larger war as a whole.
Check out the latest post in Gordon Belt’s series on the memory of John Sevier, in which he examines the work of James R. Gilmore, the nineteenth-century writer who did for Sevier what Parson Weems did for George Washington.
Today is the 101st anniversary of the Cross Mountain Mine Disaster, a coal mine explosion in the Coal Creek Valley of Anderson County, TN. Despite a rescue effort mounted by the new U.S. Bureau of Mines, eighty-four of the eighty-nine men who were in the mine at the time of the explosion lost their lives.
The last two bodies recovered were those of Eugene Ault and Alonzo Wood, both of whom managed to leave farewell messages for their families before suffocating. Ault’s last statement is inscribed on his monument at the cemetery of Briceville Community Church:
Dear Father, Mother, Brothers, and Sisters, I guess I have come to die. Well I started out and I came back to side track, and Lonzo Wood is with me.. Air is not much now. Will be good, and I aim to pray for God to save me. All of you tell Clarence to wear my clothes out. Give him my trunk. I guess I will never be with you any more. Give Bessie Robbins a stick pin of mine. Tell her goodbye, so goodbye. Give them all my love.
Nine years before the Cross Creek disaster, this same church hosted a memorial for miners killed in an even deadlier explosion at the Fraterville Mine which killed 216 men, making it the costliest mining accident in Tennessee history. And a decade before that incident, it served as a temporary jail for miners involved in the Coal Creek War, an uprising prompted by the use of convict laborers to break a coal strike.
You can learn more about the turbulent mining history of the Coal Creek area by clicking here.
Here’s an interesting event for all you folks in Knoxville:
“The Welsh of Tennessee” is the subject of a Brown Bag Lecture and book signing at the East Tennessee History Center at noon on Friday, December 7. Dr. Eirug Davies, associate member of Harvard University’s Celtic Department, will discuss his new book and the remarkable story of how the Welsh helped develop East Tennessee’s fledgling iron and coal industries after the Civil War.
The Welsh presence in East Tennessee goes back to the very beginning of white settlement in this neck of the woods. One of the region’s most prominent early settlers was Evan Shelby, an immigrant from Wales who moved from Maryland to Sapling Grove (present-day Bristol) in the early 1770′s. He served in Dunmore’s War and in a number of other campaigns against the Indians, and his son Isaac was a soldier and statesman who’s appeared on this blog before.
They’re both coming to the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville. One of them tells the stories associated with some Civil War tombstones; the other is a traveling exhibit from the Tennessee State Museum.
While looking up some information on Cumberland Gap I ran across something that all you heritage tourists and genealogists out there might enjoy. It’s a firsthand account of one man’s long-distance bike ride through the Gap and along Boone’s Wilderness Road, following the same route his ancestors took all the way to Indiana.
- Ph.D.’s in history are finding plenty of work outside the academy, but surprisingly few of them in public history. I don’t think graduate programs encourage candidates to consider careers in public history as much as they should.
- Possible remnants of the Rev War’s first day have turned up in Massachusetts.
- Oldest living War of 1812 widow tells all.
- Another Civil War movie is in development.
- Mort Kunstler talks about the research for his Hunley painting.
- National Parks Traveler asks readers to name their favorite Civil War park. Personally, I think Gettysburg’s pretty hard to beat.
Eastern Kentucky University just acquired a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite. This isn’t the sort of thing I’d normally bring to your attention, but this meteorite has an interesting provenance. It’s probably from the same bunch of space debris that turned up in my hometown of Tazewell, TN in 1853.
Other than the nineteenth-century angle, this doesn’t have much to do with American history, but look—I find something in the national news about a meteorite in my hometown, it’s going on the blog.
As long as we’re on the tangential subject of meteorites in my immediate vicinity, the town of Middlesboro, KY is actually inside a meteorite crater, and it’s about fifteen miles from Tazewell, just on the other side of Cumberland Gap. (Here’s an article from the Planetary Science Institute.) That’s two separate instances of big honking things hurtling down from space and smacking into the ground near where I’m sitting as I type this. Tomorrow I’m buying a hard hat.
Hey, all you inconsiderate dolts who are defacing the cannons at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Peek-a-boo! You’re being videotaped.
Those artillery pieces aren’t replicas. They’re genuine relics from Chickamauga and Chattanooga, and if you’re old enough to go pee-pee by yourself, you should have enough sense not to write, carve, or play on them.
While we’re on the subject of the Civil War at CGNHP, here’s an image I’ve had on my computer for a while that I don’t think I’ve posted on the blog before. This is Cumberland Gap as seen from the Kentucky side when the Union held the pass. The print itself is in the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, within sight of these very mountains.
The Pinnacle is at the top left, Tri-State Peak at top center, and the road into Yellow Creek Valley is in the foreground. Check out the fortifications on top of the ridge and on the slopes.