Saturday, August 3, 2019

Invading Tennessee

Commander K. invading Shiloh Battlefield
Shiloh National Military Park

According to the Wall Street Journal, Civil War tourism in the USA is down around 70% from the heights it reached in 1970 (/  This is a blow to the state of Tennessee which has more Civil War battlefields than any state other than Virginia.  The fracas over Civil War monuments and the current race climate in the US has contributed to this loss in interest. A sad state of affairs.  Those who ignore their history are doomed to repeat it.

James K. Polk
Polk House, Columbia TN

Tennessee is blessed with an abundance of history that extends far beyond the US Civil War.  Andrew Jackson made his home in Tennessee building the splendid Hermitage near Nashville (  Jackson's acolyte, Jams K. Polk, became the 11th President of the United States.  He was, in my view, the most consequential single term president in American history.  Polk was hardly the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with -- he was all business.  Polk extended the boundaries of our country acquiring by negotiation and force (Mexican American War) the Pacific Northwest, California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and more.  Love him or loathe him, this much under appreciated President got stuff done.  Polk's family home can be found today in Columbia Tennessee (

Admiral Daniel Farragut, who was born in Tennessee, remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War.  Farragut captured New Orleans for the Union. The Farragut Museum in Farragut Tennessee (near Knoxville) is free of charge and friendly (

Admiral Farragut
Invader of New Orleans
One of my own ancestors, Captain Cortlandt Van Rennsselaer of New York and the Union Army, was an "Invader" of Tennessee would lost his life in the Civil War.

In the years that followed the US Civil War, Tennessee punched well above its weight in terms of military history.  Alvin York, from Pall Mall Tennessee, emerged as the most decorated American soldier of World War I.  His life will be featured in our upcoming work 101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur.

This is what we had to say about fighting in Tennessee in our earlier work America Invaded, a State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil...

"Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State because of the enthusiastic role Tennesseans have played in America’s battles, so it is not surprising that this state has seen its share of invasions and fighting.
The first humans in Tennessee arrived thousands of years ago. e Tennessee Path was a network of footpaths that stretched throughout the woodlands of Tennessee and beyond. The Mississippian culture built mounds in eastern Tennessee around AD 1200.

The Shawnee, Cherokee, and Chickasaw were some of the most important tribes native to Tennessee.
The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto was the first European to “invade” Tennessee in 1540 on his circuit through the southeast. Other Spanish explorers would also enter the area. For instance, Tristán de Luna led a small expedition into the Tennessee Valley, which managed to subdue the Napochie tribe temporarily. However, in the long term it was Europeans from elsewhere who would have an impact on Tennessee.
e French were also interested in Tennessee. In 1673, Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet set o on their expedition down the Mississippi. Robert de La Salle explored the area on a 1682 expedition, building a stockade at Fort Prudhomme. In 1739, the French also built Fort Assumption near present-day Memphis in order to fend o the Chickasaw.

And the British were taking an interest in the area too. For instance, they built Fort Loudoun. However, in 1760, a few years after the fort was built, the Cherokee besieged the fort, and the garrison was forced to abandon it. While withdrawing from the camp after negotiating their surrender, the garrison was attacked by Cherokee warriors.
Daniel Boone
"Cilled a Bar" in Tennessee, maybe...
The end of the French and Indian War saw the end of French colonial hopes in the area. Subsequently, despite Native American claims to the land and despite British restrictions on settlement, numerous settlers began to move into the region. A tree in Washington County is inscribed “D. Boon Cilled a. Bar on tree in the year 1760.” So, Daniel Boone may have “invaded” this part of Tennessee in 1760. Certainly, Daniel Boone and frontiersmen like him were a major feature of the region in this period. Boone was involved to some extent with the 1775 Transylvania Purchase, which was supposed to buy land from the Cherokee, but the deal caused trouble with colonial authorities.

The first American fort, Watauga, was built near what is currently Elizabethton from 1775–6 in order to protect the frontier settlers from attacks by Native Americans, who were being subsidized by British gold during the American Revolution. More Americans migrated to the Tennessee frontier after the American victory in the Revolutionary War.

Parts of Tennessee were under the control of North Carolina, while eastern Tennessee declared its independence as the short-lived state of Franklin. The 1794 Nickajack Expedition saw frontiersmen inflict a significant defeat on the Chickamauga Cherokee.

Tennessee became the sixteenth state to join the Union in 1796. As more settlers moved in, the process of bribing and pressuring Native Americans to cede their land began. e period from 1798 to 1806 saw a number of land cession agreements with Chickasaw and Cherokee.

Andrew Jackson Bust
Hermitage, TN
Andrew Jackson, a veteran of the American Revolution, was elected one of Tennessee’s first congressmen in 1796. He grew cotton on the Hermitage, a plantation near Nashville, which he purchased in 1804. He was elected as president of the United States in 1829, the first to come from Tennessee. His path to the White House was paved by his remarkable military career. During the War of 1812, Jackson led bands of Tennessee volunteers in the Creek War (see Alabama) and the Battle of New Orleans. “Old Hickory” was the most distinguished American land commander of the war.

Davy Crockett, a former congressman, led a group of Tennesseans who defended and died at the Alamo in 1836.

Major areas of land under Native American control in Tennessee soon disappeared. e last portion of Chickasaw land between the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers was bought in 1818. And in 1838, almost all the Cherokee in Tennessee were forced out on the Trail of Tears.

In June 1861, Tennessee voted by referendum to become the last state to join the Confederacy. Most of eastern Tennessee, however, opposed secession. thirty-one thousand Tennesseans fought in the Union ranks, while many more served in Confederate gray. Over 20,000 freed slaves from Tennessee joined the Union Army.
Tennessee’s geographic location in the Upper Confederacy and its extensive rail and river networks made it a strategic target for both sides during the Civil War. More battles were fought in Tennessee than in any state other than Virginia. Over 2,000 engagements were waged within the borders of Tennessee, and this volume can touch on only some key events.

General Albert Sidney Johnston assumed responsibility for the defense of Tennessee from Yankee invasion in September 1861.

The Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers were vital strategic routes, and in early 1862, Union forces mounted a successful campaign along them. Ulysses S. Grant, an Ohioan, was a bold, aggressive commander who said, “I will take no backward step.” His meteoric career was launched in Tennessee. On February 6, 1862, with the aid of Union gunboats, he captured Fort Henry. From February 13–16, the Battle of Fort Donelson was fought. When the Confederate commander, General Buckner, asked for terms of surrender, Grant offered “no terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender.” Although Tennessee’s own Nathan Bedford Forest did manage to escape with about 2,500 cavalry, around 15,000 Confederate soldiers did lay down their arms. Henceforth, the Union general would be known as “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.

On February 25, 1862, Union forces captured Nashville—the first Confederate state capital to fall into Union hands.

Shiloh Church 2019
Reconstructed in 20th Century

The Battle of Shiloh was fought in April 1862 on the banks of the Tennessee River near Pittsburgh Landing. Shiloh’s Baptist church was a prominent battlefield landmark that was used as a command post. Ironically,
shiloh means place of peace in Hebrew. The Confederates surprised the Union forces, winning the first day of the battle on April 6. Union Major General Prentiss and the 2,200 men of his division were captured at the Hornet’s Nest.

Ulysses S. Grant
Shiloh National Military Park, TN
The Confederate commander, Albert Sidney Johnston, was, however, killed shortly after declaring, “We must this day conquer or perish.”  On the rainy night of April 6, General Sherman observed to Grant, “We’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant replied, “Yes, lick ‘em tomorrow though.”

Invading Shiloh Battlefield
Shiloh National Military Park

On April 7, the second day of Shiloh, Grant proved as good as his word. Having been reinforced by new troops, Grant’s Army of Tennessee enjoyed a substantial numerical advantage. Union General Lew Wallace, later known as the author of Ben Hur, had brought 7,000 fresh troops. they had previously taken a wrong turn and missed the fighting on April 6. When the Minié balls finally stopped flying, over 3,400 soldiers had been killed on both sides, with many more wounded. Though casualties were roughly even, Beauregard, Johnston’s replacement, ordered a retreat. Delighted to have discovered a winning general, Lincoln exclaimed of Grant, “I cannot spare this man. He fights.”

Grant’s 1862 victories in Tennessee established a base for the Union to invade Mississippi and capture Vicksburg in 1863, effectively cutting the Confederacy in two.

Murfreesboro saw numerous clashes during the war, and the second battle there, though inconclusive, resulted in major losses on both sides.

In 1863, Union forces captured Chattanooga. A Confederate victory at the Battle of Chickamauga then led to the siege of Chattanooga. However, Union reinforcements led by Grant launched a campaign that eradicated the Confederate threat to Chattanooga and forced the Confederate’s Army of Tennessee to retreat to Georgia.
In April 1864, Confederates captured Fort Pillow. Thee Confederate forces are accused of massacring surrendering African-American Union troops.

General John Bell Hood launched a desperate bid to recapture Tennessee for the Confederacy in 1864. On November 30, the Battle of Franklin was fought between Hood and Union Major General John Schoffeld. A plantation belonging to the Carter family and the home of a German carpenter named Lotz were at the center of the Union’s entrenched positions. Confederate General Patrick Cleburne, born in County Cork, declared, “If we are to die, let us die like men.” Nearly 2,000 rebel soldiers would die in the frontal assault, including Cleburne and 51 percent of his divi- sion. Confederate casualties for the battle exceeded those of the Union by
nearly three to one. Nevertheless, Union troops withdrew that night back to Nashville.

My ancestor (CRK), Captain Cortlandt Van Rensselaer, who was described by the New York Times as “one of the most meritorious officers in our army,” died near Nashville on October 7, 1864. He had been wounded previously at the Battle of Missionary Ridge and is buried at the Albany Rural Cemetery in New York. He was twenty-seven years old, and a veteran of Chickamauga and Vicksburg.

In one last desperate bid, Hood launched his Army of Tennessee toward Nashville. In the two-day Battle of Nashville, fought on December 15–16, 1864, Hood’s army was crushed, and 150 Confederate guns were captured. Five months later, Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Courthouse.

In World War I, around 100,000 Tennesseans would join the American Expeditionary Force to fight “Over there” in Europe. Alvin York, from Pall Mall, became the most decorated American soldier of the Great War.
Tennessee was not, of course, invaded during World War II. More than 300,000 Tennesseans, however, served in American armed forces in the war.  The Manhattan Project built plutonium for the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in Oak Ridge from 1942 to the war’s end.

On Memorial Day 1994, the mortal remains of Lieutenant Simeon Cummings were brought to Tennessee for burial with full military honors under the Stars and Bars. On August 3, 1863, the unfortunate Cummings accidentally shot himself while serving aboard the CSS Alabama o the coast of Cape Town, South Africa (see Alabama). Though he had been born in Connecticut, Cummings became the only Confederate serviceman to have died and been buried outside of the United States. His body was transferred from the private cemetery on the Kliprug Farm in South Africa to Elm Springs.

On July 16, 2015, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a twenty-four-year-old naturalized American citizen born in Kuwait, opened re on a naval recruiting station and a naval reserve center in Chattanooga. Four US marines and one sailor were killed in the attack, as well as the gunman. The FBI identified the attack as an act directed by “foreign terrorist propaganda.”'

If you enjoyed reading about Invasions of Tennessee you would also appreciate all 49 other states that are covered in America Invaded...

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