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

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

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

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


One of the most divided regions of the Confederacy, East Tennessee was the site of fierce Unionist resistance to secession, Confederate rule, and the Southern war effort. It was also the scene of unrelenting 'irregular, ' or guerrilla, warfare between Union and Confederate supporters, a conflict that permanently altered the region's political, economic, and social landscape. In this study, Noel Fisher examines the military and political struggle for control of East Tennessee from the secession crisis through the early years of Reconstruction, focusing particularly on the military and political significance of the region's irregular activity.

Fisher portrays in grim detail the brutality and ruthlessness employed not only by partisan bands but also by Confederate and Union troops under constant threat of guerrilla attack and government officials frustrated by unstinting dissent. He demonstrates that, generally, guerrillas were neither the romantic, daring figures of Civil War legend nor mere thieves and murderers, but rather were ordinary men and women who fought to live under a government of their choice and to drive out those who did not share their views.


November 5, 1861. Crab Orchard, Kentucky. Despite a lack of men, a shortage of supplies and transport, and an incessant rain that has turned roads into muddy streams, Brigadier General George H. Thomas continues preparations for a movement into East Tennessee. He is now only forty miles from his destination, and his scouts have probed almost to the border. But Brigadier General William T. Sherman, commander of the Department of the Cumberland, does not share Thomas's resolve. Doubtful that his troops can take and hold East Tennessee, overcome by fears for the security of his position in Kentucky, and on the verge of nervous collapse, Sherman calls off the invasion. Thomas protests but complies, and his forces remain at Crab Orchard, unable to intervene in the events that will soon transpire.

November 8, 1861. Jacksborough, East Tennessee. Brigadier General Felix K. Zollicoffer, commander of the Confederate Department of East Tennessee, watches apprehensively for the large Union force reported just across the border in Kentucky. For the past weeks he has been increasingly burdened by the conflicting demands of this inhospitable region, attempting with his inadequate force both to defend his department and pacify a hostile population. In the last few days he has marched constantly from one point to another, chasing vague reports of massing Federal troops, and the strain is evident in his recent dispatches. The threat in his front will soon dissolve into phantoms, but even now the enemy in his rear is poised for action. In a few hours the population that he hoped had become reconciled to Southern rule will rise up and attempt to break free from the hated Confederate grasp.

November 8, 1861. Knoxville, Tennessee. Colonel William B. Wood, post commander at Knoxville, also waits, not for an invasion but for the rebellion he senses is imminent. Unlike Zollicoffer, Wood has no illusions concerning the loyalties of this people. He knows that Unionist partisans outnumber Confederate forces, and he has detected an increasing restlessness among the loyalist population in the past few weeks. He is certain that in some fashion, and soon, disaffection will boil over into rebellion. Wood can only hope that the reinforcements for which he has pleaded will arrive first.

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