History of Tennessee/Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Gilded Age in Tennessee (1861-1900)

Historically, the State of Tennessee has always been an agrarian state with cotton and cattle being two of the main industries. As a mostly agrarian society, slavery had been a vital part of the state economy since the formation of the state from North Carolina. 60 years after the State of Tennessee's founding the American Civil War began, the war had slavery and States' Rights as the foremost causes. The war not only further ingrained the idea of slavery into Tennessee culture but also increased its economy's reliance on slavery. In February 1861, the governor of Tennessee Isham Harris would try to break ties with the United States in a referendum. The referendum would be put down as East Tennessee had more Union supporters than the rest of the state. In April 1861 when President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion in the south, Governor Harris would respond by telling Lincoln he would raise 50,000 troops in the defense of the south and its borders. Tennessee would secede in June 1861 and would be the last of the 11 Confederate states to do so. Tennessee would fight for the Confederates throughout the Civil War and enlist more men than any other state in the Confederacy. Tennessee would fall under Union control in 1863 and thus would begin the reconstruction process of the state.

Women in the Civil War in Tennessee

National Association of Army Nurses

Due to the issue of joining an infantry division not being a plausible option for the majority of women, patriotic Confederate women in Tennessee had to find other means to support the Southern cause in the American Civil War. Though only a small number of women experienced life on the battlefield, all women experienced the influence of the Civil War on their lives; whether through loss, showing their support, or a newfound sense of patriotism, women were involved in the War in more varied ways than soldiers often were. The famous role that women played, on both the Confederate and Union side, was that of nurses: caring for the sick and wounded soldiers. Due to it being within the accepted realm of female ability during this time, it was often upper and middle-class white women who were matronly, unmarried, and childless that took on these roles, or were at least considered best suited for the position. In larger Tennessee cities such as Nashville, Confederate women founded hospital associations to offer their services to injured soldiers. This was done by fundraising for the sick, sewing clothing and other items, and working as nurses and laundresses to help other hospitals in surrounding areas. One benefit that was held, ‘Soiree Dansante,’ raised eighty-five dollars for the sick and injured in the area. These women would often simply visit the sick and wounded in hospitals to comfort those that were dying, to show their gratitude and support, and it is said that this helped to improve morale and mortality rate. The work done by these women, in the name of the Confederate cause, helped to lessen the Confederacy’s urgent demand for medical care in the early stages of the war as well as at the height of and late into the war and was recognized by surgeons and soldiers alike as live-saving work.

Nursing is not the only role, however, that women took on to support their men during the Civil War. Aside from general support and cheering their men into battle, women would also cook and clean for the soldiers, and sometimes Confederate prison escapees, passing by their homes, offer their houses as a meeting place or headquarters for Confederate Generals, make clothing and textiles, and bring needed supplies to soldiers on the field. During the Civil War over 1000 Southern women worked as administrators overseeing the labor in areas of cooking, laundry, and nursing. In Rhea County, Tennessee, a group of Confederate women even formed a cavalry to visit nearby Confederate companies and bring them clothing, food, and nick-nacks. However, these women were eventually arrested by Union forces and forced to take an oath of allegiance to the Union.

There were many challenges to being a Confederate woman in Tennessee during the Civil War, especially for those who resided in East Tennessee. Though Tennessee was a Confederate state, there was a strong Union presence in East Tennessee that was especially prominent during the Union occupation of the state. Nevertheless, Confederate women continued to support and fight for their cause in the face of this division, often by creating problems for Union authorities. Most commonly, it was the case that the higher economic standing a woman held, the more likely she was to support the Confederate cause. This was usually due to the fact that she would have come from a slave-owning family. Sometimes, however, women were divided between their husband’s beliefs and their own beliefs and would usually end up siding with their husband; meaning some women sympathetic to the Confederate cause, had to become a Unionists due to the influence of family. As the war went on, under Union occupation, Confederate soldiers behavior worsened; they would steal livestock, and other items, have their houses broken into and items broken, and when women refused to feed them, the women were reprimanded for not properly supporting the cause. Confederate women, however, were often driven by the need to take care of their families, therefore, once they experienced these loses and could no longer support, or did not want to support, the soldiers, they lost interest in supporting the Confederate cause. It became easier for rich families to continue to support the Confederacy than poor ones as the rich could afford the consequences of doing so. Even those who still wanted to support the cause, however, had a tough time due to the hatred and animosity they had to endure from Unionists. Though support did continue through caring for soldiers by providing food, bandages, and warning the Confederate soldiers of Union plans, often women had to go into hiding with their families due to the punishment they would face from Union soldiers. Some Confederate women disregarded the risks and would spy for Confederate authorities, one of the most notable being Belle Boyd; this was considered unladylike conduct and if caught they would be arrested and forced to take an oath, or they would be expelled from the state. Many women could not accept the Confederacy loss and actively fought back against the Union claiming that they would never forgive the federals. Women were expelled from the state for many reasons, including using unladylike language, being the mother of Confederate sympathizers, or sewing Confederate flags. Often women who left, or were forced to leave, lost their homes forever and refused to go back to Tennessee even after the war was over, due to the possible consequences they could face under the new Union rule.

Confederate women also faced all of the difficult experiences of war on the home-front. Separation anxiety from their loved ones, fear of what was to come, loneliness, and the pressure to keep the family and home running as normal. Due to the division of the state, some mothers also had to face the trauma of their sons fighting against each other on opposite sides of the war. Women had to cope, often alone, with the harsh realities of the war, while still being expected to support the Confederate cause.

East Tennessee - Confederacy


Tennessee’s standing during the Civil War was not as clear as other states, specifically in East Tennessee, eventually developing into a war between the Unionists and Confederates. The people were severally divided as 70% of citizens were against separation. At first, the Confederates wanted to keep the peace and show that they were no threat to the Unionists, they even tried to persuade some Unionists to join the Confederacy while in the beginning the loyalists were the violent ones with attempting to drive out some Confederates and even trying to kill some. The Confederacy tried very hard to live in harmony with the Unionists in the beginning and made many attempts to show that they were not harmful even going as far as to start a “peace mission”. They agreed to not harm the Unionists as long as they did not commit any rebellious acts that would need repression. Another condition of the unionist/confederacy solidarity was that the Unionists could not provide aid to the North if they needed it. In an attempt to show how much they valued Unionists, the Confederacy opened the poll election for Confederate rule to the Unionists despite being warned against this idea. This proved to be a bad idea as it sparked new forms of resistance from the Unionists. The persistent Unionist resistance began to upset the Confederates considerable, especially General. Felix K. Zollicoffer, who had initially been in favor of living peacefully with the Unionists. The Confederates began moving against forms of rebellion and sent out arrest warrants for loyalists. This proved to not be effective as many Confederates still felt this was too harsh and decided to release loyalists on the condition that they would sign an oath of allegiance to the Confederate government and be on good behavior. The Unionists still did not back down and went as far as to even burning down major bridges to essentially trap the Confederates so they were unable to get supplies. This made the Confederates even more upset, even resulting in the Confederate War Department stepping in. They began a what was similar to a witch hunt, looking for the men who burned down the bridges and the order was to execute anyone found guilty of the bridge-burning immediately. At this point, no Unionist was safe and even those who were previously granted immunity could be arrested. Deciding that things were getting out of hand, The War Department decided to bring in reinforcements to restore order, but before change could come the war was finished.

Infighting Within The Confederate Army


Fighting within the Confederate Army was not uncommon. The most notable was the rivalry between General Evander McIvor Law and General Micah Jenkins. Law and Jenkins were at odds as they were both striving to fill the position of Lieutenant General after the previous one General John Bell Hood got hurt . This rivalry was further fueled by General James Longstreet who supported Jenkins and actively favored him over Law . Law was eventually promoted to Lieutenant General, despite the fact that Longstreet believed that Jenkins deserved the position due to the number of years he had served . Longstreet continuously blamed Law for issues that arose despite him having nothing to do with it. This occurred most notable when Longstreet blamed Jenkins inability to attack Knoxville on Law by saying it was due to his mismanagement . This all came to a head after the Army of Tennessee was defeated at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge and had to retreat back to Georgia . Longstreet had once again blamed Law for this loss in order to protect his and Jenkins careers despite that fact that it was partially his fault. Law eventually resigned from the army due to Longstreet’s behavior but continue on in serving the Confederate army while Longstreet created problems in East Tennessee by arresting officers and being argumentative . Law was not the first-person Longstreet had issues with during this time. He had previously been at odds with General Braxton Bragg and even gotten into an argument with President Davis . Many historians believe that Longstreet believe that he always wanted things to be done his way and when they hadn’t in previous events it caused him to feel unappreciated thus causing him to take his frustrations out on Law .

Civil War Battles in Tennessee



Western Theater (Union forces in Blue and Confederate forces in Red

Tennessee was in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. The Western Theater encompassed a massive area including the states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Eastern Louisiana, and Western Florida. A fair amount of battles fought in the Western Theater occurred in Tennessee, from the Battle of Shiloh, one of the most brutal conflicts ever fought, to the Battle of Stones River, which changed the purpose of the entire Civil War. The main aim of these Union campaigns in the Western Theater and Tennessee was to cut the Confederate States of America in half along the Mississippi River and blockade the Southern states from vital resources. This was part of the Anaconda plan to strangle the Confederate States and force them to concede and rejoin the Union. The Union also wanted to help support Eastern Tennessee which was still largely loyal to the Union.

Battle of Fort Donelson

Battle of Fort Donelson

At the beginning of the war, the Union Army realized that the key to the Western Theater would be the major rivers. Following the successful capture of Fort Henry on February 6th, 1862 Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant moved his forces 12 miles to Fort Donelson. On February 13th, with twenty-five thousand men surrounding Fort Donelson, Brig. General Grant performed small attacks to test the Confederate defenses before attacking the fort. This was an important strategic location for the Union as it gave them the means for a southern invasion. Over the first few days, the Union was just moving troops to Fort Donelson. By February 15th the fort was surrounded, and the Confederates decided to launch a surprise attack. They were fended off by the Union forces and the Confederates gave an unconditional surrender the next day. The battle lasted 5 days, ending on February 16th, 1862 with over 800 deaths.

Battle of Shiloh

Union Forces at the Battle of Shiloh

The Battle of Shiloh was fought from April 6th to 7th, 1862 in Southwestern Tennessee around Shiloh Church. The Union Armies were the Army of Tennessee commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant, and the Army of Ohio commanded by General Don Carlos Buell. While the Confederate Army of the Mississippi was commanded by General Albert Sidney Johnston, who, following his death on April 6th, was replaced by Pierre G.T. (P.G.T.) Beauregard. The two Union armies were divided, and Johnston hoped to attack them before they could combine. Johnston amassed 40,000 soldiers and on the morning of April 6th, 1862 attacked Grant’s unprepared army. The Confederates threatened to rout the entire Union army but determined Union resistance at key locations like the Hornet’s Nest and Sunken Road, as well the death of Johnston allowed the Union army to reform around Pittsburgh landing. In the morning of April 7th, Buell arrived and the combined Union armies now outnumbered the tired Confederates 54,000 to 30,000. A general Union assault drove the Confederates back and the battle ended in a Union victory. With Shiloh leaving 23,000 casualties on both sides with 3,000 men dead, it was the bloodiest battle in American history up to that time. The battle drew a lot of criticism and led to any notion of this being a quick and relatively bloodless war being crushed. The battle was the first major Union victory of the war and led to Northern Mississippi, and Vicksburg being opened up for Union actions.

Battle of Stones River/Second Battle of Murfreesboro

Union General Rosecrans at Stones River

The Battle of Stones River, also known as the Second Battle of Murfreesboro, was fought from December 31st,1862 to January 2nd, 1863 along the banks of Stone’s River in central Tennessee. In the winter of 1862, the Union suffered two defeats at Vicksburg, Mississippi and Fredericksburg, Virginia which sapped much of their morale. The Union needed a victory to raise morale and help pave the way for the Emancipation Proclamation. Commanding the 55,000 men of the Union army of the Cumberland was the newly promoted General William Rosecrans and commanding the 38,000 strong Confederate Army of Tennessee was General Braxton Bragg. In October of 1862 Bragg was defeated at the Battle of Perryville in Kentucky and retreated south to central Tennessee around the town of Murfreesboro while Rosecrans resupplied around Nashville. Rosecrans received orders to attack Bragg and so he moved south and occupied positions along the banks of Stones River. On December 31st Confederate forces attacked the Union right flank and broke them; the day was nearly a complete disaster for the Union as, by the end of the day, the Confederates almost encircled the Union army. Bragg was surprised to find, on January 1st, that the Union army had not withdrawn and so he made preparations for another fight. January 1st had little fighting as both sides called a truce to tend to wounded men and prepare their positions. On January 2nd the Confederates attacked again breaking the Union left flank but a heavy Union bombardment blunted the attack in a field that would be known as ‘Hell’s Half Acre’ and the Union positions were retaken by a counterattack. After January 2nd both sides occupied the same positions they had on January 1st, but fresh Union reinforcements forced Bragg to withdraw causing Stones River to be a Union victory. The Battle of Stones River led to the Confederates losing control of central Tennessee, and Abraham Lincoln getting more legitimacy for the Emancipation Proclamation. The Battle of Stones River was also a turning point in the reason for this war, no longer was it a war simply about preserving the Union, it was now a war about freeing the slaves. After the battle of Stones River the Union army would advance South into Georgiauntil defeats drove them back to the fighting grounds of Tennessee.

Chattanooga Campaign

Map of the Chattanooga Campaign (Union forces in Blue and Confederate forces in Red)

Following the Union defeat at the battle of Chickamauga in Georgia in late September 1863, the Union Army of the Cumberland under the newly appointed General George Thomas was besieged in the town of Chattanooga by General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee. Chattanooga was a vital railway connection for the Union in the West and two Union forces were sent to relieve the siege. One coming from the Union Army of Tennessee under General William Sherman and another from the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker; overall command of the campaign for Union forces was given to General Ulysses S. Grant. The Chattanooga Campaign had three key engagements from November 23-27, 1863, the battles of Orchard Knob, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge. Bragg set his army up on two heights South of Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. At Orchard Knob on November 23, 1863, a small Confederate force was pushed from positions in front of Missionary Ridge by General Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland. On November 24th, 1863 Hooker’s Union troops attacked the slopes of Lookout Mountain, the battle would be referred to as the “Battle Above the Clouds”. Union soldiers pushed the Northside of the mountain and although the Confederates made determined counter-attacks within six hours the Union forces had won with Bragg withdrawing from the Mountain. On November 25th Grant ordered the attack on Bragg’s last major position around Chattanooga Missionary Ridge. Sherman attacked the Eastern part of the Ridge but was repulsed by the Confederates. However, an assault on the Confederate center by Thomas broke the Confederate lines and swept them off the hill. With the loss of both Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge Bragg was forced to retreat from Tennessee. Chattanooga led to the Confederates being forced out of Tennessee and allowed the Union to maneuver in the heart of the Confederacy.

Regiments of Tennessee: Examples and Organization of Tennessee Regiments


Geographically, Tennessee borders more states than any other and was right in the heart of the action, home to the second-largest number of battles in the war. The state was home to many important railroads, rivers, arms factories, and a great number of fighting men that would need to be controlled to win the war. The Richmond Enquirer went so far as to call it the “Keystone to the Confederate Arch”. The state was divided at the outbreak of the war and contributed soldiers to both sides of the conflict, and serving in a variety of roles such as Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery. Typically speaking, Armies during the Civil War consisted of on average ~80,000 men and could be broken down into two or three Corps, each of which was roughly 26,000 strong. Each Corps consisted of about two to three Divisions of 8,000 soldiers and each made up of two to four Brigades of 2,600 soldiers. Each Brigade was made up of two to five Regiments of 800 men, ideally, lead by a Colonel, and generally speaking later in the war the regiments that made up a brigade were of similar unit types with a few attached cavalry regiments to increase cohesion and effectiveness. Tennessee, with its vital supplies and railroads, and central geographic position between the waring states, played a crucial role in the Civil War, and its people fought in large numbers on both sides, a contributing factor to a large number of savage battles fought within its borders, all of which would have their role to play in the outcome of the war. Now, with a basic understanding of a regiment, and its role in the field of battle, what follows are a few notable examples of regiments drawn up from Tennessee throughout the war and their exploits.

1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment - Confederate

Photograph of Sam Watkins

The First Tennessee Infantry Regiment, known as Maney’s Tennessee Infantry, was organized on May 9, 1861, in Nashville, Tennessee and mustered into service August that same year. The regiment was largely comprised of the former Rock City Guards militia that had been under the command of George Maney, making up the original 10 companies. Colonel Maney would be promoted to brigadier general for his gallantry in command of the regiment at the battle of Shiloh, and so the regiment would be reorganized, adding three more companies from the former Nashville Battalion and electing Captain Hume R. Field as the new colonel, which he would remain until the end of the war, and the regiment became known as Field’s Tennessee infantry. They joined the Army of the North West for the campaign in Cheat Mountain, General Robert E. Lee’s first campaign, which only lasted five days before they were defeated at the Battle of Cheat Mountain by Union forces. Following this unsuccessful action, they joined ‘Stonewall’ Jackson in his campaign in Virginia and the Potomac. Next, they would join the Army of Tennessee, wherein they would reside for the remainder of the war. Here under Maney they would take part in the battle of Shiloh, where they were ordered to partake in an attack on a stubbornly defended Union position, with Maney leading the charge. They smashed through Union lines, leading to their retreat to the river. General Cheatham would describe it as “one of the most brilliant… decisively successful, movements of the day.” Following this, he was ordered to the extreme right to relieve General J. M. Withers, and once again led a shattering charge against the Union. In his memoirs, Samuel R. Watkins would recall the charge: “When the order to charge was given, I got happy… I shouted. It was fun then… One more Charge, then their lines waver and break. They retreat in wilt confusion… [d]ischarge after discharge was poured into the retreating line. The[ir] dead and wounded covered the ground.” They would also join in the invasion of Kentucky, where they would suffer heavy casualties in the battle of Perryville, losing more than half its fighting men. Then, they would retreat to Murfreesboro to take part in the action there, after which they were consolidated with several other infantry regiments in Bragg’s Army. On the Kennesaw line, they would participate in the famous battle of ‘dead angle, before going back to Tennessee to participate in the Battles of Franklin and Nashville in November and December of 1864. They would be harried and harassed as they retreated for the remainder of the war, and by the time of their final surrender, only 125 men of the original 1,200 were left alive.

1st Tennessee Cavalry Regiment - Confederate


The First Tennessee Cavalry Regiment (also known as the 12th Tennessee Cavalry) was organized in Spring Creek, Madison County on the first of April in 1862. Through the course of the war, they would find themselves under the command of Colonels Thomas Claiborne, John T. Lay, H. Clay King, and John T. Cox. They performed outpost duty in the campaign following the battle of Shiloh and were commended for their “good service” by Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler for their action in the Kentucky Campaign and battle of Perryville. They also saw action under Major General William J. Hardee in the battle of Murfreesboro in December 1862. Later on, in June 1863, while the Union soldiers were perusing Confederate troops following the capture of Shelbyville, the First Cavalry volunteered to delay the Yankee advance allowing for Confederate general Wheeler to escape by swimming across Duck River. In this action, the unit was almost destroyed. Captain C. H. Conner assumed command of what was left, and the regiment participated in the Chickamauga Campaign under General W. T. Martin. Following the battle of Chickamauga and the reorganization of the Army of Tennessee that followed, they were moved under the command of Brigadier General John H. Kelley. They would go on to participate in the Atlanta campaign after which they disappeared from official records, taking part in ‘special duty’ under General John B. Hood for his invasion of Tennessee. After this, the war nearing its end, they were amalgamated with several different regiments to form a temporary brigade before their final surrender to the Union in Gainesville Alabama, May 12, 1865.

1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery Regiment (African Descent) - Union


In April 1863, the Union realized the need to raise a regiment of heavy artillery for the defense of Memphis, and so under Colonel I. G. Kappner, the black regiment was mustered at Fort Pickering numbering some 1153 men. Though orders stated the staff and commissioned officers to be appointed were all to be white, they also stipulated that the non-commissioned officers were to be raised from the ranks. The regiment was also to receive pay and allowances equal to what any white artillery regiments were receiving at this stage of the war. The regiment also underwent several re-designations throughout its existence, initially titled the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery Regiment (African Descent). In April 1864, it was re-designated to the 2nd Tennessee Heavy Artillery Regiment (Colored), and finally, in late April, the designation was changed one final time to the 3rd U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment. In June 1863 they were deployed as garrison troops in Fort Pickering, participating in the defense of Memphis in this capacity until being transferred to the District of West Tennessee in September 1865, where it remained until the regiment was mustered out of service in 1866.

Reconstruction of Tennessee

Andrew Johnson

In 1862, Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson as Governor of the state of Tennessee. Lincoln did so because of his lack of trust in other candidates running for governor within the state. Johnson was a Southern Unionist and was put in this position because of his prior experience in politics and loyalty to Lincoln. Lincoln and Johnson both agreed that power should be held by Unionists in Tennessee. They also believed in reconstructing the constitution of the state, one that included emancipation. Johnson would now seek approval from Middle and Western Tennessee which were the more Confederate-leaning parts of Tennessee. Eastern Tennessee had been pro-Union for quite some time, the east had sent troops to the Union and had backed emancipation.

President Lincoln tried to put an end to the war quickly by allowing any rebels who left the army amnesty if they swore an oath to the Union and the country. This angered many Unionists in Tennessee and all over the country. It was seen as an easy way out for the rebels who had just recently fought in the north and against the Union itself. The idea was that by allowing rebels to join the Union Lincoln would be taking away a vital resource for the rebels, manpower. The rebels had been outnumbered and outlasted throughout most of the war, which by now had more so become a war of attrition. The South had fought well, winning many battles but they could not keep up with the manpower the Union had at its disposal. Andrew Johnson would instead make “loyalists” (rebels who had taken the amnesty) take a more rigorous oath, swearing to defend the constitution and would call for county elections in parts of the state in March 1864. Johnson would also deny suffrage to ex-Confederates, meaning the vote had been in Unionists' hands which it ended up succeeding in doing. During the Federal elections in November 1864, it had been a fear of Lincoln and Johnson that the Democrats may win if Conservative Unionists and ex-Confederates had a vote. Again Johnson devised an oath that specifically helped their plan of keeping Tennessee in control of the Union. The oath was more radical, it talked of how these oath swearers must oppose peace talks or negotiating with the South, eliminating the other state Governor candidate. Lincoln also tried to sway the vote by allowing soldiers to vote without taking the oath, hoping this may allow for northern men who fought to vote for Lincoln. Lincoln would crush his opponent in the Federal election and keep power to finalize his idea of reconstruction of Confederate states. Johnson would become the Vice-President of the United States and his term as Governor of Tennessee would end on or before March 3rd, 1865. Meaning he would now have to find a suitable replacement who would follow through with his and Lincoln’s vision of reconstruction of Tennessee. In January 1865, a convention would be held in Nashville bringing over 500 Unionists together to discuss the topic of a new constitution. Over a month later the Unionists and Johnson would agree to abolish slavery in the new constitution and dismissing any laws which the confederate government of Tennessee had put in place while in rebellion. Johnson then began to give back power which he had taken to secure a stable and Unionist legislature, he would give them the power to decide on suffrage qualifications. He also called for an election of a new Governor on March 4th. The widely Eastern Tennessee convention in Nashville decided upon William G. Brownlow. The convention was a success in the eyes of Johnson and Lincoln, they had abolished slavery and implemented a stable State Government and changed the constitution to their liking. Brownlow would win and become Governor on March 4th, one day after Johnson had left to become the new Vice-President.

The Gilded Age in Tennessee


The Tennessee Centennial Exposition of 1897

Illustration of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition

The Tennessee Centennial Exposition in many ways represented the height of the gilded age and reconstruction era in Tennessee. Hosted in 1897, the event was invested with one-million dollars to help plan, build and organize the fair grounds. According to John W. Thomas, the President of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, “the celebration is prompted by reverence for the past as well as a desire to advertise the advantages of Tennessee.” Despite the fact that Thomas and many of his fellow organizers were wealth railway tycoons and saw the Centennial exposition as an opportunity to further their own wealth. It is unique how his words reflect a melding of both a historic and new Tennessee post civil war. Coming at a time when new peoples such as African Americans and women were seeking greater equality and rights the celebrations would help to highlight these attitudes and were used to market Tennessee as a modern state. Ultimately, the Tennessee Centennial Exposition would under perform at its goals of marketing Tennessee as the modern state its creators had hoped at national level due to lower than projected attendance. But despite this short coming the Exposition still played an important role in the Tennessee reconstruction period and helped to highlight Tennessee’s new industry, as well as a shift in the social attitudes towards African Americans and women.

Highlights and Contributions of Tennessee's Economy at the Centennial Exposition


When examining the Tennessee Centennial, it is important to recognize the overtly intended impact the Exposition was hoped to have on both Tennessee and the nation. Supposed to be modeled after the Chicago Worlds Fair, the Tennessee Centennial had hoped to draw in 2,000,000 people over its six-month period. However, it only came close to about 1,800,000 people and so did not stand out as the marketing phenomena that it had sought to be. However that being said the Centennial provided an impressive variety showcasing Tennessean ingenuity and industry. This included the Minerals and Forestry Building, the Machinery Building as well as the Commerce Building. Of these structures, the Minerals and Forestry building housed examples of both local and national resources.The Machinery Building was constructed with the intention to highlight the marvel of machinery and industrialization, despite being powered by engines constructed in Ohio its presents demonstrated that Tennessee was an industrious state with a modern economy. Lastly was the Commerce Building,  which housed exhibits from both local business as well as international ones in order to display Tennessee as a truly international state which could contribute and compete in the globally. In the long run despite these buildings having little impact on the national view of Tennessee they all helped to fuel civic pride in Tennessee and many aspects of the exhibit are memorialized at Centennial Park in Nashville to this day.

Highlight of the African American Community's Contributions to the Centennial Exposition


The Tennessee Centennial Exposition can be examined to see a shifting in attitudes during and post reconstruction particularly in the African American community. Though it would be a far cry from our modern views, the Exposition made an attempt to incorporate the African American community into the celebrations. On March 13th, three months before the celebrations began the Negro Building was constructed and boasted 300 exhibits. Lead by Professor W. H. Council, principal of the Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes, all of the exhibits featured information on black education, science, technology, banking and art. Additional the Negro Building hosted special presentations from Booker T. Washington and Frisk University, all of which was presented in hopes to demonstrate the abilities of African Americans to be productive members in a free and equal society. Additionally, it is important to recognize the significance of the grounds on which the Tennessee Centennial Exposition was built on. This is because the Exposition was built on the former grounds used by the State to muster troops for conflicts, including the American Civil War. Symbolic acts like this, although minute can be indicative of a desire to progress attitudes in the state and begin a new in a post war period of reconstruction and a rebirth of industry. However, upon examining historical documents one can see how these acts can be redirected as is the case with the Forestry Building of previous mention. This is because it was designed to mirror the estate of former Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Of course acts like these would long hang over African Americans well on into the 20th century.

Highlight of the Women's Contribution to the Centennial Expos

The Woman's Building at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, 1896

Through examining Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition, like African American’s, we can also see a change in social attitudes to woman in the state. After the Civil War women began to observe African Americans receiving many rights that they themselves had not yet earned which resulted in the establishment of many women’s suffrage groups in the 1880’s in Tennessee. Ultimately this would come to a head in 1897 when Nashville became host to the state suffrage convention, resulting in the states very own Equal Rights Association. While the suffrage movement was tearing through the state it is little coincidence that these growing popular attitudes were reflected at the Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition. The Women’s Building on the fairground was designed by Mrs. Sarah Ward-Conley, and was host to many exhibits organized or designed by women. Examples of this included clothes and inventions made by woman, as well as cooking lessons given in a model kitchen. Much of this would have been a new and uncommon sight for women to see and by hosting it all in one place it helped to fuel a growing call for women’s suffrage across the state.