The next meeting of the Clarksville (TN) Civil War Roundtable will be on Wednesday, August 20, 2008, in the café of Borders Books in Governor’s Square Mall. This is located on Wilma Rudolph Blvd (Hwy 79) south of Exit 4 off I-24, then head south a bit. The mall is on the left. The meeting begins at 7:00 pm and is always open to the public. Members, please bring a friend or two – new recruits are always welcomed.
OUR SPEAKER AND TOPIC:
“Tennessee Can Only Be Quelled By Tennesseans:”
Southern Unionists and Federal Counterinsurgency Operations During the Occupation of West Tennessee
The Civil War remains the most significant domestic crisis in our nation’s history, and the occupation of the South challenged our military in unique ways. Using manuscripts, official records, pension files, and the records of the Southern Claims Commission, this program examines the relationship between southern Unionists and Federal authorities during the occupation of West Tennessee. Falling rivers in the summer of 1862 forced the Federal army into the strongly secessionist counties of West Tennessee in order to hold their tenuous supply lines. Concurrently, Federal authorities adopted a “pragmatic” approach to occupation hoping to reduce interaction with southern civilians. These two policies gave the Federal occupation of West Tennessee a “distinctive geography” and reduced their ability to deal effectively with insurgents in this region or revive latent southern Unionism. Their frustration increasing, Federal soldiers began to view even the most loyal southerners with skepticism and suspicion, and they increasingly adopted the policies of “hard war” to quell such activities by retaliating against southern civilians. By early 1863, most northerners began to believe West Tennessee was hopelessly unregenerate.
With guerilla activity growing and available troop strength diminishing, reluctant Federal commanders began raising regiments of Unionist West Tennesseans to assist in restoring law and order. Unfortunately, each side misjudged the objectives and capabilities of the other. West Tennessee Unionists were either too naïve about the ruthless nature of Civil War combat and succumbed quickly to the enemy or used the opportunity to seek vengeance against secessionists for persecution against themselves and their families. Federal authorities considered them inferior to northern troops and hypocritically chastised these units for their harsh treatment of their enemies. The result was an escalating cycle of violence and animosity sapping Unionist strength and morale, creating lingering bitterness between not only former Confederates and Unionists, but also between southern Unionists and their northern counterparts. This poisoned atmosphere of distrust and retribution ensured that any attempt at national reconciliation would be lengthy and arduous.
Our speaker: Derek Frisby is a Middle Tennessee native and graduate of MTSU and the University of Alabama. A US Marine Corps veteran of Operation Desert Shield/Storm, he is an active member of the MTSU effort to establish a Veterans’ Memorial on campus and the conference coordinator for the 2009 Society of Military History Conference to be held in Murfreesboro in April 2009. Dr. Frisby is currently the editor of the West Tennessee Historical Society Papers and an assistant professor in the history department teaching US military history and Tennessee history, and also instructs Middle Tennessee’s ROTC department’s military history courses.