Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Deep in the Smokies, a divided Cades Cove keenly felt ravages of the Civil War

Photo: Brian Stansberry / Creative Commons
Millions of people each year drive the 11-mile loop around Cades Cove, Tennessee, enjoying panoramic valley views, log cabins and the occasional bear sighting.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park maintains the cove to look like the early settler days. Rustic log cabins dot the landscape, which has been devoid of residents for about 70 years.

But there was a good deal more hustle and bustle in 1860: 700 residents farmed and conducted business with the nearby communities of Maryville and Knoxville. They built clapboard homes and largely prospered.

“It was not considered to be so isolated by the standard of the 1860s,” said Aaron Astor, associate professor of history at Maryville College, a small liberal arts institution.

But four years of brother against brother changed that.

Aaron Astor
“The Civil War really soured the residents and they turned inward,” said Astor, who is helping to lead a Great Smoky Mountains Civil War tour this Friday and Saturday (Dec. 13-14), with several stops in Cades Cove.

“Cades Cove was mostly a mix of ambivalence of just wanting to stay out of the war and support for the Union,” said Astor. Throw in a smattering of abolitionists and pro-Southerners, and you have a recipe for nasty conflict.

Most residents were pro-Union, while some prominent citizens, businessman Daniel Foute among them, backed the Confederacy.

In Eastern Tennessee, communities connected by railroad to Georgia or Virginia were more connected to the Southern cause, Astor told the Picket.

Knoxville, which eventually fell to Federal forces, had split allegiances.

“When we talk about loyalties in the Civil War, we have to realize they are not always a steadfast thing,” said the historian, who has written several articles for The New York Times Civil War blog, Disunion.

“A lot of people’s loyalties can shift around…. People had to do what they had to do to survive,” said Astor.

Among his areas of interest are the war’s border regions, where sentiments for both sides simmered and bloody guerrilla warfare and raids are widespread. Astor’s 2012 book on the subject is entitled, “Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation, and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri.”

(NPS photo)

“Cades Cove did not have large battles,” according to Astor. “But it was considered a perfect raiding ground, particularly by Confederates, to take all kinds of livestock and grain.”

The people of Cades Code formed home guards to protect their property and livelihoods from raiders.

“There would be children who would blow horns or make certain sounds to indicate that raiders were coming,” said Astor.

The first stop in Saturday’s tour – sponsored by the Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association -- will be just outside the park, in the community now called Walland.

The so-called “flagpole incident” occurred when Confederate troops and recruiters were warned to leave a U.S. flag alone – or else.

“They were not exactly welcomed into this heavily unionist section of the mountains,” said Astor. “They were able to get in there and out alive.”

The flag remained flying.

Primitive Baptist Church (Brian Stansberry / Creative Commons)

For many, questions of allegiance evolved as the war ground on.

With little fertile land, Cades Code had virtually no slaves when war broke out. Those belonging to Foute, whose homestead will be visited Saturday, toiled elsewhere in Blount County.

“There is a huge segment of the upper South that are conservative unionists who believed the Union was the best protector of slavery,” said Astor. They feared a war would break down the social structure.

By late 1862 and early 1863, with the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, the war is perceived to be largely about ending slavery.

Federal forces secured control of Knoxville in 1863.

Pro-Union newspaper editor William Gannaway Brownlow, who was to become Tennessee governor after the war, called fence sitters traitors.

Before and after Knoxville fell, Confederates harassed and attacked those with Union sympathies. Many fled to Kentucky, with hopes of one day returning.

“Confederates are seeing them as disloyal to the South,” said Astor. “It is open season to move in.”

View of Fort Sanders (Library of Congress)

During the Fort Sanders campaign, “Both armies are just trying to take food and they do not carry who is loyal to who.”

The tour will include the homestead and gravesite of Russell Gregory, who was killed in a Confederate reprisal attack in 1864. His son, Charles, was in the unit that returned to the valley and killed Gregory.

By then, war-weary Cades Cove inhabitants had less protection and support after federal commanders had taken the war to Georgia.

“There is a feel of abandonment and distrust of all outsiders,” said Astor.

Other anticipated stops Saturday are the Cades Cove ranger station, Cable Cemetery and the Primitive Baptist, Methodist and Missionary Baptist churches.

Astor hopes participants will come away with a deeper knowledge about what happens in a no man’s land, caught between North and South.

“This is a mountain version of a community caught in between a war nobody in there wanted. It is a story of survival, a community having to rely on its own internal resources.”

-- Click here for more information on the tour. Registration is required because of limited spots. Another tour will be done in April, according to Astor. You can reach the professor at (801) 349-8889 or aaron.astor@maryvillecollege.edu.

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