The Tennessee Secession

June 8, 1861 – Tennessee voters approved the legislature’s measure (endorsed by Governor Isham G. Harris) to secede from the U.S. and join the Confederacy.

The Tennessee State Flag | Image Credit:
The Tennessee State Flag | Image Credit:

The final popular vote was 104,913 to 47,238. Voters in the state’s western part, which held a slave population of 30 percent, approved secession by a 7-to-1 margin. But voters in the 30 mountainous counties of eastern Tennessee, where the slave population was eight percent, opposed secession by 2-to-1. Despite the eastern opposition, Tennessee became the 11th Confederate state.

Following Tennessee’s secession, Unionists gathered at Greeneville in the eastern part of the state to protest the move. Former political enemies joined forces in a common pro-U.S. cause, championing the non-slaveholding small farmers and business owners who resented the slaveholding aristocracy. Among these new friends were Democratic Senator Andrew Johnson and William G. Brownlow.

Johnson called the slaveholders a “cheap purse-proud set they are, not half as good as the man who earns his bread by the sweat of his brow.” “Parson” Brownlow, former Methodist clergyman and current editor of the Knoxville Whig, viciously attacked secessionists and declared that eastern Tennesseans “can never live in a Southern Confederacy and be made hewers of wood and drawers of water for a set of aristocrats and overbearing tyrants.”

Convention delegates proclaimed their allegiance to the U.S., but their rhetoric needed the backing of Federal military forces to truly be heard.



Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 49, 51; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 36, 38-39; Lindsey, David, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 745; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 83, 86-87; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 283-84, 304

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