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Civil War Sesquicentennial

Searching for Civil War History in East TN

Photo of Civil War map goes here.Searching

for the Past:

Civil War 

Tours in

East Tennessee

By Holli W. Haynie

During the Civil War, Knoxville, surrounding towns and rural areas of East Tennessee were a hotbed of 1860s-era military activity. This was an early frontier for the war's movement westward.

Thankfully, modern visitors head out in search of more peaceful pursuits.

Self-guided driving tours produced by local destinations -- including a Knoxville Civil War Driving Tour and a Bridge-to-Bridge Tour --showcase the region's eclectic Civil War sites and help deliver the lessons of history.

Above right is Bleak House in Knoxville. This antebellum home was occupied by Confederate General James Longstreet during the Civil War campaign in East Tennessee.* 

Divided Loyalties

Before beginning a drive tour, it helps visitors to soak up just a bit of the historical background. To view the area that this story encompasses, see the Blue Star below on the map for the Tennessee Civil War Heritage Trail; this state site provides details on major Civil War sites in TN.

Photo of Civil War Map goes here.The strategic focus for both sides in east TN was heavily focused on one factor -- the railroad. 

The Confederacy needed to protect the railway tracks and rail bridges between Chattanooga and Virginia.

That would assure continual movement of supplies and intelligence informationThe alternative was a longer, more difficult rail route through Georgia.

In turn, the Union's intent was to cut Confederate supply lines. So in 1861, Union supporters in East Tennessee proposed a plan to burn all rail bridges between Bristol and Chattanooga.

President Abraham Lincoln approved the plan. He also promised federal troops to protect the arsonists. Ultimately a half dozen bridges were burned before the Union efforts were thwarted. 

But why were the Union troops such a problem? After all, Tennessee was part of the Confederacy. 

Uncommon in the South, many east Tennesseans remained staunch Union supporters. In some cases, the result was brother fighting against brother, tearing apart families.

Photo of Knoxville Visitors' Center goes here.Knoxville's Civil War Driving Tour

To begin learning about this interesting Civil War history, pick up the excellent Knoxville Civil War Driving Tour brochure at the Knoxville Visitor’s Center (865-523-7263 or www.knoxville.org), at One Vision Plaza, 301 S. Gay St. 

Or, call in advance for a copy to be mailed. The center is shown at right.*.

Photo of Confederate General Longstreet goes here.


This tour encompasses sites related to the 1863 attempt by Confederate General James Longstreet (shown at left in a photo by famed Civil War photographer Matthew Brady*) to capture Knoxville and the army of Union General Ambrose E. Burnside (shown below.*)        Photo of Union General Ambrose Burnside goes here.

The tour includes stops at cemeteries, hospitals and battle sites.

Be sure to visit Fort Dickerson Park, 3000 Fort Dickerson Rd. On site is an earthen Union fort atop a hill overlooking the city.

Moving on, you'll see sobering reminders of the viciousness of war -- including blood stains and bullet holes -- at Longstreet’s headquarters at the Bleak House (865-522-2371), 3148 Kingston Pike, Knoxville.

Historic Bleak House tours are available Wednesday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 children under 18. Bleak House is the white mansion shown below left.*

 Photo of Bleak House goes here.       Photo of the Mabry Hazen House goes here.

Also, visitors who enjoy historic homes or Civil War tales might tour the pristine Mabry-Hazen House (865-522-8661 or www.mabryhazen.com), 1711 Dandridge Ave in Knoxville. It features lovely Victorian and Civil War architecture and interior appointments.

This antebellum home was used by both Union and Confederate forces. The home is shown above right.*

The Mabry-Hazen House is open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission to the home is  $5 for adults, $4.50 for seniors, and $2.50 for those age 12 and under.

The nearby Bethel Cemetery contains the graves of 600 Confederate dead, including 300 soldiers killed in the battle of Fort Sanders. Also interred here are 50 Union soldiers and 20 Civil War veterans. The cemetery is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. 

Bridge to Bridge Tour

Another excellent day trip is the "Bridge-to-Bridge Tour," encompassing 40 miles of driving and 23 Civil War sites.

Photo of the Strawberry Plains Bridge in the 1860s.For a copy of the tour booklet contact the Rose Center Council (423-581-4330 or www.rosecenter.org), 442 W. Second North St.) in Morrisville

Or, call the center and ask for a copy to be mailed to you.

We began this Bridge-to-Bridge drive tour at the Strawberry Plains Bridge site over the Holston River.

At left, see a photo from the US. Library of Congress; the bridge is shown with a burned out structure in the foreground.

Only 15 miles from Knoxville, this 1,600-foot-long bridge with 11 piers was considered by many to be the most important bridge in East TN.

Many attempts -- some successful -- were made to destroy the bridge. It was rebuilt several times during the war.

After viewing this site, then the drive tour takes you on to Jefferson City to check out the battle site of Mossy Creek.

This battle on Dec. 29, 1863, was the first major battle in the Civil War's western theater. By most accounts, it resulted in a Union victory.

Photo of the Rose Center goes here.Cemeteries dedicated to Union and Confederate soldiers are along the way to Morristown.

Within Morristown, stop for a visit to the Rose Center Council of the Arts' Civil War display. The center is named after Judge James G. Rose, a Civil War hero.

A view of the Rose Center with its interesting architecture is at right.*

Then it's on to Russellville to visit Longstreet's Billet.

This home was occupied by General Longstreet during the campaign in East Tennessee in the winter of 1863-64.
Photo of a guide in a Confederate Civil War uniform goes here.
Shown at left on the steps of the home in Confederate military attire is Reece Sexton, curator of Longstreet House and chair of the Lakeway Civil War Preservation Association.*

Another important stop is the Bethesda Church and Cemetery, 4708 Cherokee Road (Hwy 67), Jonesborough. 

Visitors can see that a cannonball hole still remains embedded in the church’s brick wall.

The church served as a hospital and a smallpox quarantine during the war. It now features an informational display concerning the area's battles.

The final spot on this drive tour is the Lick Creek Bridge; this bridge was one of many attacked by Union soldiers from TN's own Sevier County.

If you’re game for a little more driving, head north to Harrogate to visit Lincoln Memorial University (423-869-6235 or www.lmunet.edu).

Photo of the Lincoln Museum goes here.The university's Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum (shown at right*) houses one of the nation's largest collections of Lincoln memorabilia, artifacts and papers.

Admission to the museum is $5 for adults, $3.50 for seniors, $3 for children 6-12.

Either of these two drive tours mentioned above create an enjoyable day trip for couples and families seeking to get out and about in east Tennessee.

And for the Civil War aficionado in search of distinctive sites, Knoxville and its surrounding counties showcase the diverse east Tennessean perspectives of the War Between the States.

For More Information

Middle East Tennessee Tourism Council in Knoxville
Holli W. Haynie, a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN, contributes to many local and regional publications. She specializes in lifestyle, health, culture, family and travel. She is currently expanding her reach into national publications and completing a teen novel.

*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of The Tennessee Department of Travel and the Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corporation. All rights reserved. The photo of the historian in a Civil War uniform is by Holli Haynie with all rights transferred to SouthernTravelNews.com (TM). Please do not link to nor copy these photos.

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