War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869

By Noel C. Fisher | Go to book overview

1
The Switzerland of America

East Tennessee's position in the antebellum South was ambivalent. The mountain ranges that enclose this area on all sides cut East Tennessee off from ready communication with other regions, created a sense of isolation, and produced a set of distinct economic and cultural characteristics. East Tennessee was relatively poor in comparison with other parts of the Confederacy, and staple crop agriculture was largely absent. It relied little on slavery, and there are indications that by 1860 a free labor ideology had begun to take hold. At the same time, East Tennessee's rural structure was similar to that of other regions of the state, its manufacturing sector was still small, and its transportation systems provided links not with the North but rather with its Southern neighbors. Further, East Tennessee's political leaders, both Whig and Democrat, proudly identified themselves as Southerners, defended the institution of slavery, and supported Southern interests in Congress. East Tennessee's location in the Appalachians did not in itself separate it from the rest of the South. As John S. Inscoe and Kenneth Noe amply demonstrated, western North Carolina and southwest Virginia, Appalachian regions with economic structures similar to East Tennessee's, fully supported secession and supplied thousands of recruits to the Confederate army. 1

The territory that became known as East Tennessee was not penetrated by Europeans until the late colonial period. Many of these early settlers came west from Virginia and North Carolina, while others drifted down the valleys from Pennsylvania. They gathered in four settlements on the Watauga, Nolichucky, and Holston Rivers and engaged in hunting, farming, trade with Native Americans, and land speculation. Their first years were chaotic and their future uncertain, for this land belonged to the Cherokee and by

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