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Feeding the Conspiracies: A Letter From Knoxville

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Eastern Tennessee in the Civil War is one of those areas that rarely gets attention, even from us Western Theater folks. A letter from "ORA" published in the Mobile Advertiser and Register describes the deep divisions among the people of east Tennessee. By this part in the war, General Kirby Smith's army had entered Kentucky and was only two weeks out from its overwhelming victory at the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky on August 30th. Bushwhacking was a major problem as his men trudged through the mountains in Tennessee and Kentucky, and the Confederate army found little sympathy from their fellow southerners. The mountainous region crawled with Unionist sympathizers and irregulars.

On the topic of Don Carlos Buell, ORA fed plenty of conspiratorial ammunition to Buell's critics who already questioned his loyalty to the Union. It is interesting that a strong rebel such as ORA lavished such praise on an enemy general, even before the Kentucky Campaign fully kicked off.

In this image from Harper's Weekly, Tennessee Unionists swear allegiance to the United States flag.
In this image from Harper's Weekly, Tennessee Unionists swear allegiance to the United States flag.

Mobile Advertiser and Register

"August 15, 1862

Knoxville, Aug. 10, 1862

[From our Special Correspondent]

The state of affairs in Middle Tennessee is daily becoming more critical; so far as its tenure is concerned by the Federal troops. The grand programme laid down by Andy Johnson and Bill Brownlow, of possessing East Tennessee, has proved a total failure, and the brilliant scheme which they were sure of carrying out, is fading from their view like the delusive hopes of the mariner, who finds what he took to be land, was but a mirage. Instead of capturing East Tennessee by the aid of the abolition Union element which they counted on so confidently to sustain them, they now find that Middle Tennessee has proved a mouse-trap, from which it will be difficult to extricate themselves.

The emancipation scheme of Lincoln has opened the eyes of Western men, and its effect is producing a wonderful change in their loyalty and patriotism. Last week two hundred Kentuckians, of the 2d (Federal) regiment came over in a body to our lines from Bull Nelson's command, now stationed at McMinnville, and desertions from their ranks in large numbers continue daily. Abolition Lincolndom must fall with abolition England, who seeing the error of her ways has turned about to pursue the paths of virtue as her only salvation--while, "Old Abe" is stretching boldly out on his course, like a swimming pig, which the longer it struggles to gain the opposite shore, the faster it cuts its throat!

General Don Carlos Buell, Library of Congress
General Don Carlos Buell, Library of Congress

Gen. Buell, who is the only gentleman in the Yankee army, and the only officer who has conducted this war on civilized principles and usages, is himself becoming disgusted with the abolition government and the barbarous conduct of the Yankee officers; and finding their cause growing more hopeless every day, he would gladly resign if he could get out of the scrape decently. It is said he insisted on Mitchell's arrest long before his (Buell's) arrival at Huntsville, in order to stop the villainous career which that worthy was pursuing in North Alabama and Middle Tennessee, and that if Lincoln had not called the miscreant Mitchell to Washington for trial, Buell would have resigned. The Mitchell letters to his friend, the Cincinnati doctor, on cotton speculations and other rascality, have been forwarded by General E. Kirby Smith to General Buell, to be used as evidence against Mitchell on his trial in Washington, which is now progressing.

General Buell has been lately vilified by the Yankee press, especially by those Abolition hounds, Mercer, of the Nashville sheet (Nashville Daily Union, a Unionist newspaper), and Prentice, because he has protected private families from insult and theft by making severe examples of some of his officers and men. They charge him with protecting the property of rebels, and denounce him for having a Christian and gentlemanly proclivities, which are high crimes with these brutes and blackguards.

A number of arrests were made at Loudon last week, on the Tennessee, by Brig. Gen. Churchill, a most gallant and vigilant officer, who allows no abolition Union men to snuff the same breeze with himself. Among them were a Colonel with a Federal commission, but who produced a resignation signed by the Yankee Secretary of War; also a Captain and Lieutenant in the Yankee service, who had come home on leave! A number of Union men were also arrested, who scornfully refused to take the oath. If this course shall only be continued in East Tennessee, we may hope soon to rid ourselves of these so-called Union men, enemies of our country, who are permitted to sojourn among us, trading and speculating, spying and bushwhacking, and yet protected and enjoying every security.

Gen. Buckner, who has been exchanged, has been ordered to East Tennessee. Whether he will take command of a brigade or division is not yet made known.

I learn that Geo. N. Sanders has gone to Europe to execute a contract for the government for the delivery of a number of iron clad war steamers. Mr. Sanders has two sons in our army--one, Louis Sanders, a lad of eighteen, in Forrest's cavalry, greatly distinguished himself at Fort Donelson and at Shiloh, and has since been promoted to a Lieutenancy. The other, Maj. Reid Sanders, is Brigade Quarter-master on Gen. Hawes' staff. They are both most gallant and chivalrous young men, and have fought their way up from the ranks.


For anyone interested in learning more about the divided loyalties of the border regions of the Civil War, consider this for further reading:


Derrick Lindow is an author, historian, teacher, and creator of the WTCW site. His first book, published by Savas Beatie, will be released soon. Go HERE to read more posts by Derrick and HERE to visit his personal page. Follow Derrick on different social media platforms (Instagram and Twitter) to get more Western Theater and Kentucky Civil War Content.

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