Sister States, Enemy States: The Civil War in Kentucky and Tennessee

By Kent T. Dollar; Larry H. Whiteaker et al. | Go to book overview

“An unconditional, straight-out
Union man”
Parson Brownlow and the
Secession Crisis in East Tennessee

Robert Tracy McKenzie

Most in the auditorium on that May evening in 1862 were surely disappointed by the guest of honor’s appearance. From his reputation, they had expected the “celebrated exile” from the Confederacy to look more imposing, to embody physically the undaunted courage and unflinching resolve that all knew to be his defining traits. Instead, the “martyr” from East Tennessee looked thin and frail, his shoulders stooped, his face haggard and—to be candid—homely. (What else could you say about a man whom a sympathetic reporter characterized as “not quite as handsome as Mr. Lincoln”?) Yet, when the speaker was led on the stage by the president of the Young Men’s Republican Union, the packed assembly at New York City’s Academy of Music sprang to their feet as one. As a member of the audience described the scene: “The clapping of hands seemed almost to shake the very walls; gentlemen waved their hats and ladies their handkerchiefs; and all this was followed by cheer upon cheer, indicating the ‘irrepressible’ enthusiasm of the crowd.” The speaker did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm, for he proceeded to enrage and inspire his admirers with a graphic account of the “reign of terror” that gripped his native land and a moving tribute to its persecuted patriots “whose only offense was love of country.” Relating how his business had been shut down and his life threatened because of his faithfulness to the Constitution and the Union, he hastened to add that East Tennessee was teeming with suffering heroes just like him. The Union men of East Tennessee, he assured his listen-

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