Tennessee -- the Volunteer State
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
Text for this article was taken from the writings of M. F. Sweetser, published in 1891.
Probably the first white people to look upon Tennessean soil were the Spanish cavaliers of DeSoto's army, in 1541, reaching the Mississippi at the site of Memphis. La Salle built Fort Prud'homme, 140 years later, on the Fourth Chickasaw Bluff; and in 1714 the French erected Fort Assomption, on the same site; and later the Spanish stronghold of Fort San Ferdinando de Barrancas received a garrison of Dons here.
France claimed the territory of Tennessee, as a part of Louisiana; Spain claimed it as a part of Florida; and North Carolina extended over its entire area, according to the charter of Charles II. Equally indifferent to all these diplomacies, the Cherokees held the east and the Chickasaws the west, unconscious of their would-be European lords. In 1748 a party of Virginians discovered the Cumberland Mountains, Gap, and River, which they named after the Duke of Cumberland, the merciless victor of Culloden. The North-Carolinians entered Tennessee as early as 1754, but they were hurled back across the mountains by hostile Indians. Two years later Fort Loudon was founded, on the Little Tennessee, with a red-coat garrison and twelve cannon, which in 1760 capitulated to a besieging force of Indians, the people being butchered or reduced to captivity. In 1761 a little army of Virginians and North-Carolinians, under Col. Grant, crossed the Alleghanies, and defeated the savages in several bloody battles, after which they sued for peace.
About the year 1770, the strong tides of migration from Virginia and North Carolina began to flow into Tennessee, some through Cumberland Gap and along the river, and others down the Tennessee Valley and around the Cumberland Plateau. Traversing the mountain-passes on foot, with their household effects packed on horses, they occupied the great wilderness, abounding in timber and game. Settling along the Holston, Watauga and Nolechucky, they inaugurated Virginian laws in the deep wilderness, and suffered many troubles with the Royal Government and the Indians. John Sevier organized the Watauga people and led them in the battle of King's Mountain, against the Tories and British; and afterwards was outlawed as Governor of Franklin. In 1779-80 a fleet of open boats made an astonishing voyage of 2,000 miles, from Fort Patrick Henry, on the Holston, down the Tennessee and the Ohio and up the Cumberland, to French Lick, where they founded Nashville. The commander of the fleet was John Donelson, whose daughter Rachel married Andrew Jackson.
The history of the region for the next 60 years deals with the expulsion of the Cherokees and Chickasaws, the slow advance of internal improvements, the vigorous politics of the Polk and Harrison and other campaigns, and the settlement of the West. The bread of the pioneers was either johnny (journey) cake or ash-cake; the butter, bear's fat or goose-fat; the coffee, a decoction of parched rye or dried beans. The people wore homespun and buckskin, the women with huge calico bonnets, the men with racoon-skin caps, and both with buckskin moccasins. Their homes were log-huts; their churches, barns; their laundries, the woodland springs; and their forts, palisades running around the cabins.
In 1784, North Carolina ceded Tennessee to the United States, and a year later repealed the Act of Cession. The transmontane counties then seceded, and, in 1784, formed the State of Franklin; but Congress ignored its delegates. In 1787, the young State returned its allegiance to North Carolina. In 1790, it was ceded to the Government, and became part of the Territory of the United States South of the Ohio River.
In 1861, the Tennesseans refused to summon a convention to consider seceding from the Union; but three months later they voted, by 57,675 majority, to leave the Republic. Within less than a year a great part of the State was restored to the Federal authority, and Andrew Johnson became military governor. Grant and Foote took Fort Henry (on the Tennessee) and Fort Donelson (on the Cumberland), with 15,000 prisoners, after a short but severe campaign, and occupied Nashville. Thence Grant advanced with 40,000 men to Shiloh, on the Tennessee, where he was surprised and beaten by Johnston's Confederate army; but on the arrival of Buell, with the Army of the Ohio, a day later, he re-won the bloody field, the losses on both sides reaching 23,000 men. By June the entire Mississippi-River coast was free, the Federal fleet having utterly destroyed the Confederate gunboats off Memphis, and occupied the city with a permanent garrison.
January 4, 1863, Bragg's army was driven from Murfreesboro by Rosecrans's Nationals, after a four days' battle, in which 22,000 men were lost on both sides. Rosecrans pushed the enemy out of Shelbyville and Chattanooga, but at Chickamauga Bragg turned at bay, and terribly defeated the Federals (35,000 men being killed or wounded on both sides), whom he besieged in Chattanooga. In October, Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Hooker, and Sheridan broke out of their beleaguerment, and in the magnificent battles of Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge drove the Confederates into Georgia.
When Sherman's great Army moved from Atlanta toward the sea, Hood's Confederate army dashed into Tennessee, driving Schofield before it, but losing 6,000 men in front of his lines at Franklin. With 40,000 men Hood kept on to Nashville, where he encountered Thomas's Federal army, and suffered a complete overthrow, losing 53 guns and 4,500 prisoners, besides many thousand killed and wounded. In the summer of 1863 Burnside led the Army of the Ohio down the East-Tennessee Valley, and occupied Knoxville, which he defended against the heroic assaults of Longstreet's Southern infantry. The slaveless people of this mountain-land had remained true to the Union, and contributed 30,000 brave soldiers to the Federal army. Upwards of 30 counties of East Tennessee refused to join in the Secession madness.
Tennessee is a Cherokee word, meaning "A Curved Spoon," or "A Bend in the River." It was derived from Tanasse, the chief village of the Cherokee tribe, which stood on the shore of the river. The name was applied upon motion of Andrew Jackson, although it had previously been given to the country by popular usage. The pet name of Tennessee is The Volunteer State, on account of the military spirit of the people. The corn and pork product of Tennessee reached such great proportions between 1800 and 1840, that the land received the designation (now obsolete) of The Hog and Hominy State. Tennessee has been called The Mother of Southwestern Statesmen, having given the Republic three Presidents, Jackson, Polk, and Johnson, besides Thomas H. Benton, Hugh L. White, John Bell, Felix Grundy, David Crockett, Admiral Farragut, Houston of Texas, Gwin of California, Watterson of Kentucky, Sevier and Garland of Arkansas, Claiborne of Louisiana, Regan of Texas, and Morgan of Alabama.
The arms of Tennessee were adopted in 1796, and bear a plow, a sheaf of wheat, and a stalk of cotton, with the word Agriculture beneath. Below this is a laden river-barge, with the word Commerce.
The civil division of West Tennessee includes 20 counties, and extends from the Mississippi to the Tennessee. Middle Tennessee, with 40 counties, extends thence to the centre of the Cumberland Plateau; and East Tennessee's 33 counties cover the remainder of the State. West Tennessee rises gently from the Mississippi, in long and level lowlands, traversed by sluggish westward-flowing rivers. The alluvial Mississippi bottoms, covering a thousand square miles with their magnificent forests and lakes, and cedar and cypress morasses, reach eastward to the long steep bluffs of the great undulating plateau which runs east 85 miles to the Tennessee, and covers 9,000 square miles. Back of the rivers are leagues of rich black mould, with wonderful harvests of cotton, tobacco, and grain.
Farther east, beyond the Tennessee Valley (which is ten miles wide), opens the great elliptical central valley, like the bed of a drained lake, surrounded by the highland rim, 300 feet high, and covering 5,450 square miles with fields of grain, cotton, and tobacco, and the largest red-cedar forests in America. This is called the Garden of Tennessee, with every kind of charming scenery, an unusual variety and opulence of products, and vast herds of valuable domestic animals, fattened on the blue grass.
Next eastward comes the great Cumberland Plateau, a thousand feet above the Tennessee, and covering 5,000 square miles, rich in coal and limestone, with an abrupt and formidable rocky rampart on the east, and a broken and jagged western slope, cut into by deep coves. One of the chief towns is Rugby, founded in 1880 by Thomas Hughes, the author of Tom Brown's School Days, and settled partly by Englishmen and Northerners.
Beyond the forest-filled East-Tennessee Valley, deep channelled in the dolomite and sandstone, comes the mountain-land of East Tennessee, from seven to twenty-eight miles wide. On one side the Chilhowee range lifts its gray peaks over 5,000 feet into the sky, and on the other side tower the Great Smoky and Bald ranges. The East-Tennessee Valley covers 9,200 square miles, between the Alleghanies and the Cumberland Plateau; and its final frontier toward Carolina is formed by the Great Smoky and the Unaka Mountains, rising beyond 6,000 feet, and bearing on their bare brows the vegetation of Canada. The wild country south and southeast of Knoxville has been made famous by Miss Murfree's stories, In the Tennessee Mountains. There Tuckaleechee Cove and Cade's Cove lead inward to the Great Smoky peaks, culminating at the Siler Bald (5,600 feet high), Clingman's Dome (6,660 feet), and Old Smoky (Mt. Guyot) 6,636 feet. The mountains are covered with valuable forests of pine and hemlock, chestnut and black walnut, growing to immense size, and producing large exportations of naval stores and lumber.
The caverns of the Cumberland Mountains are many miles in extent, and contain powerful subterranean streams, bones of extinct animals, and deposits of nitre, much of which was removed during the War of 1812. Elsewhere in Tennessee are the mysterious sink holes, hopper-shaped cavities on the surface, through which the waters drain down into subterranean streams.
The Tennessee River is formed four miles above Knoxville, by the confluence of the French Broad, from the mountain-land of North Carolina, and the Holston from Virginia. It is 650 miles long, traversing the valley of East Tennessee to Chattanooga, 194 miles, and then cutting through Walden's Ridge and skirting the Sequatchie Valley, and sweeping around through Alabama, whence it turns northward and again crosses Tennessee, entering the Ohio at Paducah. It drains 41,000 square miles, falling 2,000 feet, and receiving many important tributaries. It is navigated by steamboats from the Ohio far into Alabama, 260 miles, and from above the Muscle Shoals to Knoxville. Several steamboats ply on the river between Chattanooga, Kingston, and Loudon (142 miles), bearing large freights; and hundreds of laden flatboats from Virginia and North Carolina come out of the French Broad, Watauga, Hiawassee and other streams, bearing produce to Knoxville and Loudon. Steamboats ascend the Clinch and Emory Rivers to Harriman, one of the new iron-making cities. The commerce of the Tennessee exceeds $5,000,000 a year, mainly in lumber and grain, ore and live-stock, forage and merchandise, and other valuable products of the mountain-land and the valley counties.
The Holston, 350 miles long, is formed 180 miles above Knoxville by the union of the North and South Forks. The French Broad River has 121 miles in Tennessee, with a navigable channel of 90 miles, up to Leadvale, at the mouth of the Nolechucky River. The Little Tennessee flows down from the Blue Ridge 134 miles to the Tennessee, with 13 miles navigable. The Hiawassee, of equal length, comes from the Blue Ridge of Georgia, and steamboats ascend its course to Charleston, 20 miles. The Clinch River is born in Virginia, and steamboats go up to Clinton, for 70 of its 400 miles.
The Cumberland River has most of its navigable waters in Tennessee, although its source and mouth are in Kentucky. Steamboats ascend 192 miles, from Smithland on the Ohio to Nashville, during eight months; and for a briefer time they can ascend to Point Burnside, 517 miles from the Ohio. The entire length of the river is 740 miles, and there are several navigable tributaries. The Mississippi River pours its great navigable floods along the entire western frontier of Tennessee for 160 miles. Its chief tributaries are the Big Hatchie, formerly navigable 240 miles, as far as Bolivar; the Wolf, emptying at Memphis; and the Forked Deer, which has been ascended by steamboats as far as Jackson, 195 miles. Reelfoot Lake, in the northwest, was formed during the great earthquakes of 1811, and has a length of 17 miles.
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